SIDEBAR: The Single Female Minister

Challenges and Opportunities

by Stephanie Nance

I’m a photo bomber. A friend recently tagged me on Facebook in a family picture where I randomly appeared in the background, forever captured in their beautiful family portrait.

Single female ministers often feel like photo bombers. Surrounded by ministry couples, male leadership, and family-focused churches, the single woman can wonder if she stumbled upon a scene in which she doesn’t belong.

Luke, the Evangelist, captured a sacred moment in Jesus’ life, intentionally inserting the prophet Anna into the narrative’s background, like a first-century photo bomber. Anna became a widow at a young age. Whether by choice or circumstance, she remained single and served God in the temple. On an ordinary day, Anna happened upon a sacred family moment where Simeon stood before Joseph and Mary, prophesying over Jesus. Whatever challenges Anna had experienced as a single woman in God’s service no longer mattered. She had witnessed the Christ.

Being a female “party of one” in ministry comes with its challenges. Some of the challenges may not be unique to single women, but single women uniquely experience them. Unmarried female missionaries explore the nation’s winding and vast road system, driving thousands of miles, with no spouse to share in the emotional ride of itineration. Forces to be reckoned with, many of these women know they follow the Spirit into dark, unsafe places. Unfortunately, single female pastors too often discover the only church doors open to them are financially unstable and district-dependent churches. Single women do what it takes to pay the bills by delivering pizzas or serving lattes between pastoral duties, surviving on little sleep. Some of these women burn out and leave the ministry or transfer to denominations with more opportunities.

While God may not sanction human-imposed limits, He often utilizes them to help these women reimagine ministry. This moves the single female minister outside the box to untraditional contexts, leading to a greater expansion of God’s kingdom. Church planting, healthcare ministries, missions, chaplaincy, and academia offer single women opportunities. Such ministries allow them to use their ministerial gifts while influencing culture and future generations toward change.

Opportunities also exist for other ministers to encourage their single female colleagues:

• Support them. Financially back single female missionaries and church planters. Also pray for enriching relationships, financial provision, and physical safety.

• Hire them. Take the résumés of single female ministers under serious consideration, and influence change.

• Preach them. Congregations need to hear from female ministers, single and married. In sermons, highlight women from the Bible and Church history.

• Include them. Sit down with them, listen to their stories, and ask questions. Invite them into ministerial networks, helping them create a solid support system.

God strategically positioned Anna to witness and proclaim the long-awaited Messiah. Today, He continues to position single female ministers for His purposes. Their complete devotion to God’s service leads them to places society does not expect and allows them to see Christ’s presence in moments others may not witness. Photo bombing can actually be quite exciting.

Stephanie Nance, former communications strategist, Network for Women in Ministry, Springfield, Missouri