With North America's economy only beginning to thaw from the Great Recession, perhaps now isn't the best time to talk about careers.
Yet despite the stereotypes and demographic variants which complicate singlehood, virtually all of us share in the world of work. Whether we're recently-minted college graduates, mid-career professionals jockeying for legacy posts, or rank-and-file employees just trying to make ends meet, few concerns unify singles more than employment.
Which makes it ironic that among all of the mischaracterizations Christian singles face in church, one of the most rampant involves the idea we have oodles of time to volunteer.
How often has the nursery coordinator at your church visited your singles class asking for help with the kiddos, and then you find out yours was the only class solicited? Does your church leadership take your time for granted when somebody needs help moving, or an event needs organizing?
Targeting Singles for Ministry
Not that singles should be exempt from ministry. Nobody is. Being an integral member of a faith community requires our investment of the time, talents, and treasures God has given each of us. And when it comes to time, both singles and marrieds generally spend more of it at work than they'd like, which means we all have scheduling concerns. But how legitimate is the assumption that simply because we don't have a spouse or a family, somehow we have more free time to volunteer than marrieds, or that our career concerns aren't as valid?
True, the apostle Paul used the time he would have spent on spousal and family obligations in ministry, and instructs us singles to do likewise. Some Bible scholars suspect Paul was widowed, otherwise he wouldn't have been accepted into the Sanhedrin, which evidence suggests was Paul's pre-conversion goal. If so, Paul could have literally seen how time he would have spent with his wife, had she been alive after his conversion, was now spent in his ministry instead.
Nevertheless, before his conversion, we do know Paul had a high-profile career and was a fanatical workaholic. The Bible tells us he had status and privilege, yet not only did he give it all up for the sake of the Gospel, but he counted it all nothing (Philippians 3:7-9).
Hmmm… so when your pastor asks you to teach a Sunday school class when your boss wants you traveling on company business, you should quit your job?
Whose Time It Is
Of course, that depends on a lot of variables. But just because your church has designs on your time, does that mean service is more important than work?
All of the time that you have has been given to you by God. The seconds, hours, and days you spend in your various activities all accumulate into a montage of how you value God's purpose for your life. If we're seeking to honor him, we should be able to look back over our lives and see a pattern of dedication, sacrifice, and willingness. How much of that dedication, sacrifice, and willingness gets applied to our church, work, and relationships depends on the degree to which we look to God for his direction and desires for us, doesn't it?
Just as God specifically called Paul to be an apostle, he also calls believers to be bankers, teachers, and plumbers. Regardless of our marital status.
Whatever You Do ...
Some people say that a person responsible for the welfare of a spouse and/or family needs to be given deference when it comes to time-consuming matters. We've all heard stories of the single gal at the office who volunteered to spend six months on assignment in Thailand so a married co-worker didn't have to be away from her family for so long. Maybe there will be seasons when God calls us to spend our singlehood on our job, being salt and light to our co-workers. But what about the weekly grind, where overtime and missed flights eat up the hours we think we should be spending in ministry?
- First, shouldn't pastors and church leaders view all of their congregants equally in terms of their career responsibilities? All workers owe their employer honest labor, regardless of marital status. Should ministry leaders assume singles have any less duty to their bosses just because they're not providing for a spouse and/or family?
- Second, people going into jobs requiring significant career devotion, such as corporate management programs and law enforcement, should prayerfully evaluate ways to balance those demands with whatever other ministry obligations may arise. A lot of employers talk about life/work balance, but don't wait for them to do it for you. If you find yourself having to fight for PTO or just to leave the office at a reasonable hour, maybe your employer wants more from you than is fair.
- Third, the Bible never gives a percentage breakdown for how much time God expects us to serve in ministry, does it? That's probably because he expects us to be in ministry all the time, not just when we clock-in at church. How many opportunities might you find during the workweek to model the Gospel, take a frustrated co-worker out for coffee, or chat with an elderly parishioner by phone from your hotel room?
- And fourth, don't marginalize people just because of how they earn a living. If you're zooming up the corporate ladder, is volunteering in the nursery beneath you? Or if you're a diesel mechanic, does facilitating a Bible study seem too intimidating? Assuming that one's career encapsulates their identity and embodies their potential is an easy fallacy to adopt, but can often deprive people with broad skill sets of their purpose within the body of believers.
If there's one thing to learn from the surprises of today's economy, it's that we can't derive our identity from our job. Our identity rests in Christ alone, and he provides us the resources we need to work for him first. Your singlehood may even be a tool God can use to make your job its own ministry.
Your faith. At work.
From his smorgasboard of church experience, ranging from the Christian and Missionary Alliance to the Presbyterian Church in America, Tim Laitinen brings a range of observations to his perspective on how we Americans worship, fellowship, and minister among our communities of faith. As a one-time employee of a Bible church in suburban Fort Worth, Texas and a former volunteer director of the contemporary Christian music ministry at New York City's legendary Calvary Baptist, he's seen our church culture from the inside out. You can read about his unique viewpoints at o-l-i.blogspot.com.
**This article first published on June 3, 2010.