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  • Hannah Williamson

The Blessing & Curse of the Single Leader


I’ve always been one to say it as it is. You know the type of person that says what people are often thinking in a meeting but no one wants to say. The ‘elephant in the room speaker’ type. It has been both a blessing and a curse over the years. Often a blessing because people are just glad someone would say it but also often a curse when I’ve maybe not timed what I have said so well! I think the older I get the more I try to measure my words and use this both annoying and great gift God has given me! I have also found that due to some of what I have been through it has opened up opportunities for me to speak into things others have not been able to. I found for example that when I went through a deep season of grief a few years ago that this was something people did not openly speak about so I’ve made it my aim to speak up and make the conversation around grief easier for people rather than burying it away and hoping it will go away…which it never does!


One such topic that is rarely spoken about is ‘singleness.’ In younger years the thought of speaking openly about this would have been horrifying to me. The shame and embarrassment or the expectation of people’s awkward and needless comments like ‘don’t worry, you’ll meet someone’ would have been too painful. I mean, maybe I will meet someone but regardless, comments such as this are alway so unhelpful, because what if you don’t meet someone! There has, I believe, been a stigma unintentionally created in the church world which says that if you are not married and have children you are somehow inferior, especially by the time you get to your 30’s. Don’t get me wrong I believe it’s vitally important that as the church we affirm and celebrate marriage and parenthood especially in the world we live in. My only request or hope is that we would also celebrate singleness as there are many in our churches of whom that is their reality. Both Jesus and Paul were single - sometimes I think that’s easy for us to forget. So, today, I’m going out on a limb, baring my soul and writing about the blessing and curse of the ‘Single-leader.’ I write as someone who is not married but there are some in the church who are widowed or divorced who this could equally be applicable to.

 

“You have so much more time!” / “It’s so easy to burn out!”

There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 3:1


Now, the blessing is that this is very true. As a single leader, I have a lot more undivided time to give to serve Jesus. My evenings are my own. For 15 years I youth pastored in East London working with some very challenging young people. I was able to pour my life into them and give huge amounts of time that I would not have been able to had I had a family with small children as many of my peers did. The young people, in many ways, became my family. We can see this in how Jesus, as a single man, did life with his disciples. So much of his time was spent with them, pouring into them, challenging them, discipling them and preparing them for their futures. We also see with Jesus that the people had high expectations of him. Mark 1:35-37 says, “Very early in the morning while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for Him, and when they found Him, they exclaimed, ‘Everyone is looking for you!’ I find it interesting that the disciples went looking for him - surely they could just wait until he was ready to come back and find them? The reality for many single leaders is that unrealistic expectations can often be put on us ‘because we are single and have more time’ and because that is true we often feel we should live up to these expectations placed on us.


How can you be more aware of the single leaders in your life?

Ask them how their ‘rest-life’ is going rather than just their ‘work-life’. I am grateful for people in my life who ask me if I am doing too much or ask if I am taking enough time to rest. It keeps me accountable and ensures I don’t overdo it and burn out.



“You have less responsibilities” / “I have different responsibilities”


“I would like you to be free from concern.” 1 Corinthians 7:32 / “Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.” 2 Corinthians 11:28


Again, this is true and a blessing. I do not have the responsibilities that many of my married friends have or many of my friends with kids. I don’t have in-laws that I am trying to manage. I don’t have kids that have full diaries themselves and so becoming a mum-taxi. Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 7:32 of being free from concern. That is correct. But ignorantly assuming a single leader has less responsibilities than a married one is somewhat frustrating for a couple of reasons. Firstly, a single leader may long to have those responsibilities but have to come to terms with the fact that they may not have them. It is somewhat insensitive to make comments about this when a single leader may be struggling with this. Secondly, their responsibilities could be very different. They may have other family responsibilities or work responsibilities. They still have a home to keep and friendships to develop and a calling to fulfil. A single leader would have given themselves to serving Jesus and so have the responsibilities for a church or department or organisation. Paul again says in 2 Corinthians 11:28 how his responsibilities, which come with a level of pressure and concern, are for the churches he pours into. These levels of responsibility are not less, but different.


How can you be more aware of the single leaders in your life?

Be careful of how you talk! Sometimes unintentionally we can rant and rave about the craziness of our lives because of the family responsibilities we have. This could make a single person feel a bit ‘out of it’ or misunderstood. Instead, ask them about how they are doing and the different responsibilities they are carrying alongside talking of what you are facing.



“You have more time alone” / “I often desire authentic community.”


“God sets the lonely in families.” Psalm 68:6

I can get frustrated when people make comments about ‘before they had kids.’ I have seen these social media posts that speak about it and make everyone without kids feel inadequate. I hold back from commenting as what I say may come out wrong or appear as if I have a chip on my shoulder! The reality is I do have more time alone. I am an introvert so alone time is great and refreshes my soul, however I have a deep longing like everyone for authentic community. In your 20’s you tend to have a friendship group that is made up of singles and couples. I believe this is so healthy as there is a good mix. Unless friends become the type that only hang out with their spouse, you tend to have good community. I have found this can change when you reach your 30’s as your friends begin to have children and you are probably one of the only ‘singles’ in your friendship group. Couples tend to spend a lot of time with couples or families with families and the singles just drift along on their own. I have to say at this point, I am so grateful for friends who have not been like this with me. I am grateful for married friends who invite me to their house for dinner or take me on holiday with them. I have also at times had to have a level of boldness in me and got over the awkwardness of inviting myself to someone’s house because they will rarely come to mine in the evening because of their kids bedtimes. Psalm 68:8 describes how God believes in the ‘lonely’ being in families. I am sure every single person never wants to describe themselves as lonely but the reality is without real community it can be lonely. Sometimes we singles have to work a little harder to help our married friends ‘invite us in.’


How can you be more aware of the single leaders in your life?

Build community with them as much as you would with your married friends or friends with kids. Invite them for dinner. When you go out with friends, don’t just have ‘double dates.’



“You have no chance of hiding behind a spouse” / “I am more vulnerable and have to be brave”


“Be strong and courageous, because you will lead….” Joshua 1:6


When I speak to many married female leaders they are often struggling to find their place in the world of leadership because of living in the shadow of their husbands. This point is probably a lot more unique to women over men, I think. I know that had I married young, this would have been my reality because I know my personality can veer towards hiding behind others because of a lack of confidence. It is a blessing (often in disguise) that I have had no chance to do this. It does however make me at times feel particularly vulnerable. When I walk into a room full of leaders, I have to walk in as myself rather than have someone alongside me. This can at times be nerve racking. I have to be fairly vulnerable and pretty brave very quickly! I have to have a level of confidence in order to do this. The reality is I am forced into this which is a good thing but not always easy. Many ‘church leadership’ rooms are also full of either married couples or men. As a single female leader, I am somewhat of an ‘oddity.’ Maybe that’s too harsh a word but it can be what I feel. I have also become keenly aware of this struggle for single women leaders when seeing my mum have to face this after my Dad passed away. Although I am sure at times my Dad hid behind my mum, the reality is for her now, walking into rooms of leaders she has to walk alone. Which means she needs a level of bravery that she didn’t need before. She has to be confident in her own skin whilst facing the pain of not having the love of her life there. Although the relationship between Moses and Joshua was not a marriage, you can imagine the pain for Joshua at going from walking alongside this great leader to having to lead on his own. I think this is why God reminded Him over and over again to be strong and courageous.


How can you be more aware of the single leaders in your life?

Be aware of spaces that a single leader may walk into alone. Invite them into your conversation, introduce them to others, sit beside them.



“The world is your oyster!” / “I’m always on the go”


“He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” Mark 16:15


A definite blessing is the freedom I have to go anywhere at any time! I remember the level of planning that my mum went into in order for her to go on a 7 day missions trip to Thailand when I was a child. It was the first time we’d been left with Dad to look after us and his cooking skills were questionable. I was about 10 and my sister 6. We made sure to tell my mum that dad nearly set fire to the kitchen when cooking fish fingers! When I travel, I don’t need to plan for what happens at home while I’m gone. I do have a level of having the freedom to travel here there and everywhere and yes, it is an absolute blessing! When I look at the great commission, highlighted above in Mark 16:15 I do have more freedom than my married friends or friends with children to ‘get up and go!’ This does however possibly come back to the point made earlier about how easy it can be to burnout. It can be easy to constantly be going from one thing to the other. In some ways this masks the loneliness of going home to a space alone if you live on your own as a single leader. It can also stop meaningful friendships from being developed because you are always in a new place without the time to build relationships of depth. I am currently writing the story of a single female missionary who is now in her 80’s. She expresses time and time again through her book the importance of friendships. Her closest friends are now all over the world because of the nature of the missions works she did but even in her late 80’s she speaks to some of these friends weekly on the phone. She had made enough space for these relationships.


How can you be more aware of the single leaders in your life?

Constantly check in with them in order to build a strength of relationship that they so deeply need. Single leaders don’t go home after a long days work to chat to a spouse. They need deep and meaningful friendships.



 

I finish in conclusion with a quote from Pete Scazzero’s book, ‘The emotionally healthy leader.’ I love this book because he speaks of both the single leader and the married leader equally. That is rare. He says this,






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