I was interviewed by author John Greco or a piece he was working on for Boundless, a ministry of Focus on the Family. He used portions of the interview for that article. The full unpublished interview is below.
Why is there a need for young adult/singles ministry—both in the local church and outside of it?
We are in a new season in the Church. There are more singles now than any decade before. The Church is learning about the needs of a growing singles population. Not only are the needs misunderstood but the volume of people with needs can be overwhelming. I get calls from churches and ministry leaders asking me hard questions that I’m not sure I have the answers to – but I can share what I’m seeing and hearing from singles.
I think there is a need for singles ministry because options for singles to have fellowship and discipleship specific to their needs are few and far between. Singles left to themselves are open to temptation. Accountability is only successful through deep connection. Just as the local church can’t serve all the needs of married people, it can’t serve all the needs of singles. So ministries outside the church are needed and useful for marriage, singleness or other life circumstances.
I see a great need for singles to connect in the same way married people connect – social life and spiritual life. Yet there are more opportunities for those that are married. Many churches have activities and conferences for married people but there isn’t a lot for singles to grow in the understanding of themselves or how to build healthy relationships in general. A well rounded social life has started to become more difficult for those that want healthy friendships. The reasons vary but many singles are moving due to job opportunities and find themselves “starting over.” Finding ways to make new spiritually mature friends takes time especially if you are walking into a community that already has established relationships. Keeping friends can be a challenge as well because when people begin to date or get married the dynamics change. Naturally married folks tend to develop relationships and fellowship with other married people. This makes the cycle of starting over occur even in a community singles have been in for years. If the church or ministries outside the church aren’t providing areas for singles to connect they will find connection in unhealthy ways or isolate themselves. Both of those results yield fruit that is effecting the foundation of family in our society – because those singles often get married and bring their unhealthy habits into the new relationship. So honestly, I believe that if we focus on helping singles get healthy and whole spiritually and emotionally we will see a decline in divorce and an increase of strong family units. What if we looked at singles ministry like preventative medicine so we avoided the triage that happens in marriage ministry?
Is there a mistake you've made in ministry that you wish you could go back and tell your younger self to avoid?
Yes, there are a lot of mistakes I’d warn my younger self about! Here are two that quickly come to mind.
Avoid reacting to situations out of emotion: I had a lot of responsibility when I was young in my faith and ministry. I cared so much about honoring God that I stressed out when conflict came up with volunteers or other co-workers. I would tell my younger self that I don’t have the power to make anyone change so just set healthy boundaries, be clear in your expectations, resolve conflict quickly, don’t give up on people so quickly, believe the best even when you see the worst, and ask God how He sees the person that is irritating you the most! If you’re not sure what to do just imitate Jesus in how He loved people.
Avoid the pride that comes from thinking it all depends on you: As a leader there were personal disciplines I was good at keeping but I wasn’t good at taking care of myself so I’d say, have more fun, take more time to rest and be forgiving of yourself. Everything good we do comes from a place of rest even in a busy season. (Ex 33:14)
Do you have any advice for how one might engage the senior pastor/other pastors on staff when attempting to start a new ministry?
I think it depends on the structure of the church someone is involved in. Because most church leaders are so busy they can’t take on another thing. There is a fine line between taking leadership that hasn’t been given to you but offering to help lead where there is a need. Be sure you have served in the way the ministries are already set up. Prove yourself faithful first. Then present ideas that are helpful and that you can actually participate in as part of the solution and not just complaining about how they aren’t doing anything or doing it wrong. Offering to serve, pray and submit to authority is a great start. Also checking your heart and asking the questions like are you called to start a new ministry from the Lord and not because you have a need to be needed, affirmed or exalted? Making the time to serve a need within your gifting and passion is a consistent lifestyle discipline. Are you ready for what that requires? I think once those questions are answered in your heart and mind, engaging a pastor about staring a new ministry will be well received.
How do you measure success in young adult/singles ministry?
Oh the dreaded how do we measure question! I’m a romantic so I’m probably not the best person to ask this question. My answers are frustrating to leaders who like charts, stats and are left brained. But since you asked me how I measure I’ll tell you something I felt God put in my spirit. When I started the online magazine for Christian singles, Single Matters I was frustrated with the amount of work it took for the small amount of Facebook followers, visitors to the website and comments. I wasn’t getting the numbers or accolades from singles or from churches that I felt were due for the amount of my work and self sacrifice. (I know it’s ugly to see the process behind things sometimes.) I was praying and asking God why He called me to do something that I didn’t know how to do … nor had the funds to pay for Facebook Ad’s, seminars on how to grow an online ministry etc. I’ve often heard that you will know God called you to it if it’s “successful” and there is “provision for the vision.” I felt convicted when I sensed God say, “You know Jill, I got my will done way before social media came around.” Let me give you a different example. I’ve been a part of church leadership meetings that felt like they were pleasing God when the church grew to a certain number or could account for a growth in small groups. I get that we need to know the impact we are making based on the resources we pour into a strategy … and so we measure numbers. But I don’t think God sees things the same way we do. That was a long set up to say that I measure success in young adult/singles ministry by the affirmation I get when I spend time with the Lord. Testimonies of changed lives, growing Facebook followers, well attended events etc are icing on the cake. Criticism disappoints me but doesn’t take me off course. I trust if I am faithful to work hard, have integrity and love well I’m successful in this ministry the eyes of God.
That being said I do measure success by the amount of people being helped, growing in character and engaging with the ministry. We need to see that fruit at some point. Maybe it’s about being willing to recalculate our original vision or going back to God for a new thing in the next step. I’ve changed strategies sometimes because something wasn’t working but it was in partnership with God … taking my concerns to Him and being willing to do something different to see if there was more engagement. But honestly, He often tells me to do less not more! It all comes down to doing my best and leaving the results to God.
The whole point of any ministry is to grow in a deeper relationship to the Godhead. The enemy doesn’t want that to happen. So often in the beginning of any new ministry, we come against opposition and discouragement. We must remember what God called us to and find our affirmation in Him. If even one person is helped we have succeeded. The amount of resources we pour in is must be weighed between obedience and good stewardship. So if there isn’t fruit we should go to prayer. But ultimately I’ve found success isn’t defined by numbers.
What advice would you give to a twenty-something looking to start a young adult ministry from scratch?
RUN! Just kidding. I’d tell them love is the key to everything. I truly believe that. You won’t have God’s blessing or authority over anything you don’t love … for others sake not yours. (Phil 2:4) Pray and ask God to show you where you are called. Pray and ask God to give you confirmation from others. Pray and ask God to open doors no one else can open and shut doors that will keep you tied up in distractions. Get an intercessory team together to pray for you. Find a leadership team that can pray with you and help you in areas you aren’t gifted. Ask lots of questions and be teachable. Take time to set it up well don’t launch before it’s ready but don’t feel the need to make it perfect either. Be humble to admit your need or mistakes. Your age doesn’t disqualify you. Have fun and remember this is God’s work that you are privileged to manage. But the most important thing I’d tell them is that they can do anything they have a pure heart to do!
How should a young adult ministry engage/interact with the church family at large? Is there a danger of creating a church within a church?
I’ve honestly never thought of that before so I realize I risk giving an uneducated answer. But I don’t think there is a danger of a church within a church – most of us gravitate to those we have things in common with in life. There is more danger of not being involved than having close friends or a large community. I think the only danger is alienating a group as better than another based on man made measurements. Wouldn’t it be awesome if the largest givers were those in young adult ministry? Or the volunteer team was made up mostly of singles? Or when someone had a need the ones that called first were young people? I don’t think anyone would care that the church of young adults were strong and well connected and more prominent than other ministries. I think that’s supposed to be the case anyway since Paul addressed the gift singles are to the Church. If we do or not do things based on a fear then we are really saying we don’t trust God to blow something up beyond our abilities because we are afraid we can’t control it. I think a young adult ministry that was so powerful that it felt like a church within a church would be a blessing and inspiration to the Church … not a danger.
What are your goals for Single Matters? And are they any different than when you first started out?
This is a hard question because I’m in a season of asking God the timing for what is next. My vision for Single Matters hasn’t changed but the timing of meeting the milestones has had to adjust. When I first started out I wanted to help singles be healthy and whole emotionally and spiritually through articles and other resources. I planned on building an online community first and then adding live events or retreats/conferences. Some of what I hoped to do hasn’t happened yet because I can’t do it by myself or without additional financial resources. I fully submit the timing of the fulfillment of my vision to God’s vision. I often remind myself that I just manage what He’s entrusted to me so if it’s not been clarified I keep doing what He’s shown me for now until He gives me more.
The magazine has been growing and I have an amazing team of 15 volunteers plus numerous writers that make it happen each month. I hear testimonies of people being encouraged through our social media strategy too. I’m so pleased at the fruit. But I have a desire to bring together singles who have fun together and serve together. I’m developing a new program for that right now. I think Single Matters is just the foundation for the “more” that God wants to do with singles.
What's the greatest obstacle to successful ministry?
Our greatest obstacle to successful ministry is losing focus on the fact we are sons and daughters of King that were created to love Him and love others. What we believe in our heart about ourselves, God or others comes from knowing who we are in Christ. We act out of those beliefs. We teach others from those beliefs too. We build ministries based on fear or confidence in the power of the Gospel. We make disciples that look like us – good or bad. So if we aren’t looking to God to know who we are and live according to who He says we are then we can’t make disciples of Jesus … because we don’t really know what that means in our own hearts. We must be careful to not start or continue to serve out of a place of unhealthy emotional or spiritual brokenness. None of us are perfect or without sin. So perfection isn’t needed to succeed. A humble and contrite heart is pleasing to God. The enemy wants us to think like him about ourselves, others or God. He wants to encourage us to have: Pride. Holding an offense. Fear. Insecurity. Unforgiveness. Unrealistic expectations. Desire for affirmation. Unresolved conflict. Gossip. Jealousy. Strife. Envy. Sexual sin. But when we know who we are in Christ those things have no place in our personal walk with God or ministry.
Even if we fail a thousand times, God will never stop being on our side. But we will fail 100% of the time for the things we never try … So I pray the body of Christ knows how loved they are by God and just start ministering out of that place. We can’t fail when we love because there is no obstacle too big for love.
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