In my previous article I spoke about several aspects of the single life that may be difficult for a single church member. I mentioned in particular that I worry about not being useful or of value to the church. I would like to expand on this by exploring the idea of how single individuals can in fact be of significance and even important to the church. This can and should come through our acts of service.
Writing this was quite intimidating for me. I can in no way pretend to be an authority on this topic and also need reminders myself to work toward possessing a servant’s heart. Knowing my shortcomings in this area, I have reached out to other single individuals and was shocked and encouraged by the great response. The majority of this article is the fruit of an amazingly uplifting evening discussion among twelve single individuals (aged young to experienced) in our Protestant Reformed churches. I am humbled by the great ideas and witness these individuals provided!
We have all heard that Christians should serve their church and in general serve the body of Christ. We are called to live a life that displays thankfulness to God and reflects his love; we do this by using our time to serve God (2 Cor. 5:15). Each of us, whether married or single, has unique opportunities to do so according to Ephesians 4 (read all of verses 1–16, but I will quote verse 16 here): “From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” The church is often pictured as a body. But stop and reflect for a minute what a great picture this really is. Imagine completing a simple daily task without each of our body parts serving each other with its unique gift. How could you share your thoughts without your tongue? How could you get where God directs you without your feet, arms, and eyes? Not only does each individual have unique gifts to bring to the church, but it is beautiful in the eyes of God when the church is united in this way and the church is blessed for it. Psalm 133: 1–3: “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity… for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.”
It is not enough even to say that we do some things for the glory of God. Colossians 3:23–24 calls us to do EVERYTHING as if on fire for the Lord—with excitement! “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men: knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.” Living life heartily in service won’t allow us not to serve the church!
I’d like to discuss briefly how the act of serving may look a little different for single individuals than it does for married persons or families. It may seem that opportunities to serve come more naturally for married couples or families. Opportunities such as teaching their own children, volunteering in their children’s school/classroom, assisting other families in time of need, and joining together to support each other as fellow mothers/fathers are where the majority of service seems to be—or at least the obvious ones. Although these opportunities are not directly placed in front of the single person, this is not an excuse to refrain from serving; single individuals must remember they are part of the body of Christ mentioned earlier. Seek God’s guidance for what his desire is for you to do with your gift of time. It is currently God’s will that we be single. Ask yourself and pray to be shown what opportunity is he preparing us for.
Getting started is difficult; this is what hinders me from serving in areas I am capable. It is easy to say, “We should serve the church.” It is another thing entirely to consider exactly what this means. It has been a personal frustration of mine that this statement is so vague. How can I serve the church? Who has a need? Who can I help? Who is comfortable with my helping? What types of needs can I impact? Is it OK for me to approach someone about their need, or what I think is their need? Am I going to offend someone by offering help? How do I get to know someone well enough or approach them? What time do I have available to help? What do they need? Can I meet their needs?
Though difficult, we must strive to find opportunities to serve (Heb. 13:1–3, Phil. 2:1–5). Keep in mind the reward (re-read Colossians 3:24 quoted earlier) of impacting not only someone else’s life, but yours as well in a rich way. Take that first step; it only takes a bit of courage, and what follows will get easier and will be spiritually rewarding. Also, don’t discount the possibility that taking a first, courageous step just might point you in a direction you hadn’t yet considered, but where God intends you to go. A great example of this is one of our Christian school teachers who was hesitant (and maybe even scared) to start teaching Sunday school; but shortly after beginning, he realized that teaching was his life’s calling!
There are many examples in the Bible of single persons who are of great importance and assistance to the church. Read how Biblical characters were examples of service to Christ and his church. Read how Mary Magdalene left all earthly ties and devoted her life as a disciple of Christ during his ministry, aiding and comforting Christ in many instances. Read in Luke 10 and John 11 of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus’ service to Christ and his disciples. Many of us are familiar with Paul’s declaration that it is better to live in single life so as to be free for the service of the Lord (1 Cor. 7:7–8). Jeremiah was called by God to forgo marriage and serve as a prophet and a priest. Also consider the lives of Elijah, Lydia, and Rahab. These individuals provide us with excellent examples of how to live lives of love and service in a bold way. Imitate these individuals, read their stories, and note their characteristics; then pray how you may display these characteristics in your life.
There are some practical things we can do when communicating with our church family that can help us find areas in which to serve. A very small change in the way we offer our service may mean the difference in an acceptance or a decline: we shouldn’t ask IF we can do something for someone in need; rather, ask WHAT you can do. This encourages a positive response and makes the other person feel less as if they are placing a burden on you. Stating “I have Saturday mornings available and I would like to help you, what can I do?” is much more likely to receive an acceptance than “Let me know if I can do anything for you.”
Another idea to consider is that service in the church doesn’t necessarily have to be a grand gesture. It may be a small thing that you feel is inconsequential, but is probably of great significance to someone else. If you have an idea to try help someone, act on it without worrying if it is only a small thing. It will likely be greatly appreciated or even lead to more opportunities; the idea is just to START!
Befriend someone in the church, or befriend someone at work who appears to be struggling with their faith (or lack of faith). Pray for these individuals. The power of praying for someone is great; you will be amazed what this leads you to do both in your own life and the lives of others.
Look at the things in your life you enjoy or the things you wish you had more of. When you think sadly about an opportunity you may not have because you are not yet married or do not yet have children, ask yourself what you can do instead. For example, loving children likely leads you to wish for your own, but it is also an excellent reason to volunteer at one of our schools, start tutoring struggling students, or teach a music lesson or even consider obtaining a teaching degree. Craving companionship is a good reason to seek out others who may also need companionship. The elderly individuals of the church are good examples of those looking for more companionship. Find out what needs they have or just spend some time visiting with them. Something as simple as sitting with an elderly person is service to both the elder and their family, and you will soon find you were blessed by their wisdom as well.
The limitations of the length of this article do not allow for an intense investigation of what actual tasks we can do to serve. Because I have always been frustrated that such a list does not exist, I want to be sure to address this more thoroughly, so I will follow with another article to explore the possibilities. In the meantime pick just one thing that you could possibly change over the next month that might help you start or continue to show your servant’s heart. This can be something as small as adding a church member to your personal prayer and devotions.
I’m going to conclude similarly to my previous article by encouraging you to pray! Be intentional about what you are praying for; that includes how you can serve the church. Pray that you have ideas for using your talents for the church, pray that needs of the church be brought to your attention, pray for the courage to start something different, including offering your service to members of the church. Pray that members of the church remember you and your talents that you are able to bring, and even pray that your pastor remembers single individuals in his sermons and congregational prayers. Most of all, pray that God gives you a servant’s heart. If we live our lives with a servant’s heart, we will not need to wonder how we can be of value, but we will already be seeking for and acting upon any opportunity to serve others and ultimately God.
In Christian Love,
A Servant of Christ