Single Minded

By Jennifer Johnson

It doesn’t surprise me that Mark Thornton is single.

Not because he isn’t great—in fact, this God-loving, hard-working guy will be a catch for the right mission-minded girl. (Ladies, I have his number.) But because he’s chosen to live and work in the inner city, I guessed he was unmarried even before our phone interview confirmed it.

Jacob’s Well in Lincoln, NE, works to meet the physical and spiritual needs of people in its inner-city neighborhood.
Jacob’s Well in Lincoln, NE, works to meet the physical and spiritual needs of people in its inner-city neighborhood.

“I’m a single guy with no kids, so I don’t mind living with sex offenders all around me,” he said during that conversation. “But I understand when people move out or don’t want to minister here.”

I do, too, but it’s one more reason why we should be encouraging our single leaders and celebrating the unique advantages they can bring to ministry. Instead, too often I find singletons being considered unfit for leadership at all.

A few years ago I attended a meeting in which a representative from one of our national church planting organizations remarked, “We don’t allow single men to plant churches.” During my dating decades, I met only three single men who were serving as senior ministers in our movement. (I married the third one.)

I’m not sure why churches seem so leery of hiring single men to lead. Perhaps there is a fear that an unmarried senior pastor will be unstable (because all the married leaders are so together) or promiscuous (because the married guys are never tempted by sexual sin). Maybe, especially in the smaller churches, they want a minister with a wife so they can score a second (and unpaid) staff member. Maybe it’s just a symptom of our couple-focused culture.

Whatever the reason, guys like Mark (and, oh, the apostle Paul, and Jesus) remind us that not only can single guys lead effective ministries, but they may even be better candidates for the rougher assignments. We’re not all called to move our families into dodgy urban areas, but as the body of Christ we are responsible for working together to take the gospel there. Single, married, child-free and so-many-kids—our circumstances are different but we’re in this together. Instead of emphasizing the one life milestone our single brothers (and sisters) haven’t yet reached, let’s focus on the thousands of people they might reach for Christ in ways we can’t.

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Read more about Mark Thornton and the ministry he founded, Jacob’s Well.

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