Serving as a missionary on the foreign field is one of the most exciting calls in the world. Seeing lives changed from darkness to life, sharing the Gospel with the lost and being a light in a very dim area is just a few of the pros about serving on the foreign field. But with all of the blessings, there are no doubt struggles. Learning a new language, being “different” with the cultural distinctions and seeing people fall away after you had great expectations for them are just a few of the challenges. There are enough existing hurdles already that we must be careful not to make any unnecessary hurdles. Amongst the unnecessary hurdles is that of being single as a missionary.
Without a doubt, there are people who are going to be single and still serve God (possibly the Lord has led them to be single or they believe they can do more as a single person), but doing ministry as a single person will bring more obvious struggles than that of a married person. This short article has the purpose of revealing the why, in my opinion, it can be more difficult serving as a “single missionary” than a married missionary. My desire is not to scold or mock the unmarried person but to 1) reveal the hardships of being a single missionary and 2) encourage people to pray for a life’s mate with whom to serve God on the field.
A single man has more temptations. While it is true that a single person can devote more time to the things of God (I Cor. 7:32-33) because the married man has a responsibility to his spouse, it’s also true that there are more temptations for a single guy. God made the sexual relationship to be a gift fulfilled only in marriage. Sex is not the most important thing in life but it sure seems to be one of the biggest attention-getters that the secular world promotes and offers. Billboards, magazines/newspapers, commercials, movies and books are just a few of the ways the media pushes the sexual agenda. Whether a man is pure and holy, if he opens his eyes in this world, he can’t ignore the sexual pleas the world throws at him. Marriage is not the solution in the least, but marriage is the outlet created by God for the sexual desires. If a young man (or woman) goes to the mission field single, he is going to be hit by the flamboyant and seductive temptations and will more easily “take the bait” as opposed to a married man. Marriage helps stabilize a man and provides an extra set of defense from the sexual temptations.
A single person cannot effectively minister to married couples, or at least not out of personal experience. Society and media certainly know nothing about marriage, so where do married couples get their advice and help? They can learn not only from the Word of God, but also the messenger teaching and living out the Word of God in every aspect of Christianity. A single missionary teaching on marriage is not as credible as a married missionary speaking from experience. Obviously just being married doesn’t mean someone has a good marriage, but a married missionary who works at his marriage and has a good marriage will have a firm platform from which to teach and preach.
A married missionary is able to help other married couples, but also his wife can help other wives, single ladies, youth and work in any women’s ministry. It would be unnatural for a single man to help ladies (married or single) or work in ladies ministries (or vice versa as in the case of a single missionary woman working with men), so the married couple becomes a team working with both the men and women.
Every missionary has moments of discouragement, but a single missionary does not have a spouse to encourage him/her. The wise king Solomon said that there is power in a team (marriage can be the greatest earthly team known to man) because when one falls, the other can lift him up, but “woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up” (Ecc. 4:10). Anyone who has been in ministry long enough has surely had times where they have questioned if they should quit, move on or even invest in certain people. The single missionary is in danger because when he/she hits that low spot, they have no spouse to “help him up” as Solomon said. We all need to encourage others, but we all need to be encouraged at times and a spouse could be just the person who helps the missionary get back on their feet and continue serving the Lord.
One of the greatest dangers in being a single missionary, in my opinion, is the fact that the single missionary has no one with whom to practice real Christianity. It’s somewhat easy to put on a smile and tell everyone at church you are fine or to be patient for an hour or two with a “needy” church member, but a married person goes home with their spouse. Christianity is truly lived out at home. If a man can lead his home, he can lead a church and ministry. If a man can live out the fruit of the Spirit at home, he will not have any problem living it out anywhere else. Marriage is probably the greatest testing ground for living out the Christian life… and a single missionary loses out in this area.