Editor’s Note: This article is part of “Change Makers,” our recent CT special issue focused on some of the ways women are influencing the church, their communities, and the world. It includes articles that explore trends in women’s discipleship, examine research on women and leadership, highlight women who are making a difference, and grapple with the unique challenges female leaders face. Click here to download your own free digital copy of “Change Makers.”
Since 2014, single adults have outnumbered married adults in the United States, but church ministries and programs often don’t reflect this reality. Pastors rarely talk about singleness or dating from the pulpit, and churches struggle with integrating singles into church life. If it’s difficult to be a single woman in the church, imagine the burden of being a single woman in church leadership.
Is Marriage the Goal?
First of all, the church’s focus on marriage can be difficult to navigate. A clear message—however unintentional—seems to be communicated: Singleness is a less-than status, a stage of life meant to be passed through as quickly as possible, a stepping stone on the path to wholeness. Certainly, most Christians would heartily disagree with this theology, and yet it’s what so many single people grasp from the way the church talks—or fails to talk—about singleness. Chi Chi Okwu, senior church advisor with World Vision and former associate pastor, says, “It’s hard not to let those messages get deep inside you. You start to think, ‘Maybe there is something wrong with me. Maybe I shouldn’t be leading in this capacity.’ ”
“I never really thought much about being single,” Okwu continues. “Working for a church, it becomes very pronounced because everything is about the family. It’s the goal. It’s like there’s a piece that’s missing until you get married.” This message is so prevalent, she jokes that there must be a verse that says, “Thou shalt get married.” “All I’ve found,” she insists, “is Paul saying it’s better to be single.”
Aleska Barkoviak of Eastview Christian Church in Normal, Illinois, explains that many well-meaning people have shared false promises with her like “your time will come,” or “someday you’ll be married.” She’s quick to correct them: “That’s not something that the Lord has promised. He has promised to never leave or forsake me, but he hasn’t promised that human companion.”