How to Win the Senior Pastor's Support for Your Singles Ministry
by Rick Stedman
What is the difference between singles ministries that make it and those that do not? Is it a super-dynamic leader or a great team of volunteer leaders? Is it financial support through the church budget? Is it facilities?
While all these are valuable, a far more important factor is: The success of a single adult ministry can often be measured in direct relationship to the support the senior pastor gives to the single adult ministry.
Oh, yeah. The senior pastor — the guy who has to juggle a hundred priorities. Or the pastor who wants you to do something big, but is not willing to back that with a sufficient budget. Or the married pastor who would like you to attract thousands of singles but is not really attracted to the singles ministry himself.
Yes, the senior pastor is an important key to unlocking success in single adult ministry. I would even say: Unless the senior pastor supports single adult ministry, it will be difficult for the ministry to flourish.
But how can single adult leaders win the support of their senior pastor? Here are three suggestions:
Talk Their Language.
In the book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey suggests that we must “seek first to understand, and then to be understood.” This is good advice for single adult leaders.
Something drives every senior pastor. Deep inside lies the dream that drew him into the ministry, the vision that guides his decisions, the program that thrills him. Something motivates all senior pastors, and those in single adult ministries need to catch their senior pastor’s vision and then relate the potential of singles ministry in terms he values.
Unfortunately many in singles ministry spend time and energy trying to convert the senior pastor to their vision and purpose, rather than listening to and catching the senior pastor’s vision and motivation. Single adult leaders expect their senior pastors to jump on their bandwagon. Some do, but far more do not — and singles ministries suffer.
A better approach is to discover what your senior pastor’s bandwagon is and jump on it. Determine what your singles ministry can do to best help his vision become a reality.
I do not mean to suggest that God has not called and directed single adult leaders with specific purposes. Neither am I suggesting that single adult leaders are to be chameleons in terms of their goals, simply blending into whatever environment is around them. I am not advocating that singles leaders should become rubber-stamp personae with no vision of their own. They, too, need their distinct calling and vision that God in His grace richly provides.
Instead, I remind single adult leaders that God has called their pastor — not them — to be senior pastor. Ultimately, it is the senior pastor’s vision — not the single adult leader’s vision — that will permeate the church programs. If the single adult ministry goals are not in sync with the senior pastor’s, promotion, planning, and execution will run into multiple roadblocks. On the other hand, if single adult ministry closely fits the senior pastor’s vision, every step of the process will be smoother.
Some senior pastors feel the primary purpose of their church is worship; others feel that the church centers around expository preaching. Some senior pastors in the older denominational traditions feel their primary calling is nurturing and shepherding, while many in the newer churches are driven by a desire to reach the unchurched. All feel the importance of each area, but one theme will especially float their boat. One purpose or vision will particularly resonate within them.
In the early years of my ministry I worked with three pastors in developing a single adult ministry. One pastor was skeptical of single adult ministry. The second was open but not interested. The third was interested and excited, but only after the single adult ministry began to share his vision of ministry.
Under the third senior pastor, Tim Coop, the singles ministry had been functioning for about 10 years before I arrived. Tim was supportive of that ministry but not excited. The emphasis of the ministry at that time centered on relationships and mutual support. This emphasis was important to Tim, but it was not the most important. He was motivated by the desire to reach the unchurched. That vision drove his ministry.
As a result, I changed the focus of the single adult ministry to outreach. Tim responded with excitement, support, and involvement. In fact, other singles pastors told me they envied his support of my ministry. Here is what I learned and still believe today.
Work Hard Toward Integration
Senior pastors will become most excited about singles ministry if it becomes truly integrated with the rest of the church and in step with their vision.
By integration, I do not mean sharing facilities. Many singles ministries meet on church grounds but function as a mini-church. At one church, almost none of the singles attended the regular worship services of the church, and no one on the steering committee was a church member. They met in the church’s fellowship hall but were part of the church in name only. The senior pastor felt their lack of integration. The singles felt he was not supportive of the singles ministry, but it was their separateness he did not support.
Some groups do not need the larger church. They have their own officers, small groups, worship, music, social events, etc. Because of this, they do not have the need to go to another worship service. This is one reason I resisted singing worship choruses in our Sunday morning singles classes. We had table discussions instead. This made it easier to encourage them to attend the morning worship services.
The class for younger singles, however, lobbied hard for singing in their class. They developed a worship team. Although it was a nice addition to their class, I noticed some hung around in the parking lot afterward and talked rather than attending the main worship service. When I ask why, several responded, “I really don’t feel like sitting through another church service. After all, what we do in class is worship in God’s eyes, isn’t it?” While that was true, they missed out on the greater benefits of the larger church assembled together, and the larger church missed out on what the young singles had to contribute. In a strange way, when a singles ministry becomes complete in itself, it may be harming the integration process with the larger church body.
We worked on integration by encouraging singles to join the choir, teach children’s classes, serve as ushers, participate with other church members in feeding the homeless, etc. It is easy to train people to serve only their needs. Senior pastors sense this separateness. To them the singles ministry can seem self-serving. Senior pastors also notice when the singles are serving the larger body. Tim remarked to me several times how happy he was to have so many singles involved in different aspects of church life. He noticed this far more than I did. To me, the singles are just regular people serving. To Tim, they represented a whole new resource that was benefiting the larger church. As a result, his support of the singles ministry deepened.
Invite the senior pastor to participate in the planning process
Integration also includes involving the senior pastor in the planning process. It is easy to work in a specialized area of ministry, plan things on your own, and report to the senior pastor. But often the planning is the most enjoyable and fruitful part of the process.
I made it a habit to brainstorm with Tim concerning the programs, ideas, and progress of the singles ministry. Long before these ideas were presented to a group and even before they were presented to the leadership team, I talked with Tim. I found his insights helpful, and the programs benefited from his experience. But best of all was the excitement in him as the programs emerged — he felt a part of the team.
Anticipate Their Concerns
The vast majority of senior pastors are married, have children, and know best the concerns of more traditional family life. The singles’ world is often foreign to them. Senior pastors feel uncomfortable. Thus they may tend to be leery of singles and singles programs — maybe even pessimistic.
Think through the concerns and reservations your senior pastor may have, then meet him at his point of understanding. Provide relaxed opportunities where he can meet with and learn from your single adults.
Because the senior pastor is not 100 percent enthusiastic for singles programs, single adult leaders often feel alone and isolated. But the support of the senior pastor can be won through prayer, through planting seeds, and through thoughtful responses. Such support means the world to singles and their growth process.
One single woman said to me, “It is so nice to hear Pastor Tim talk about our events and to feel his enthusiasm for what we are doing. It makes me feel I am an important person and not an outcast like I have felt before.”
The real benefit in winning the senior pastor’s support for your singles ministry is not just the support you will feel. In the final analysis, it is the support the singles themselves will feel and the heightened sense of esteem they will experience. They will truly feel part of God’s family — the church — and not just a part of a group of singles or outcasts on the fringe.