(This is a guest post I wrote for Crossway Books' blog. I look forward to your feedback!)
Two years ago this month, I joined a group of people who were starting a new church in Arlington, VA. Men, women, families, and single adults made up our team of primarily young adults who were moving to the urban suburb that once was part of the nation’s capital.
As with any new venture, it was all-hands-on-deck to launch our church, and that meant single women were integral from the start. One of the pillars of the team was a then-single woman named Johannah—the administrative assistant who kept everything on schedule, allowing our lead pastor to concentrate on the vision and theological foundation for the new church. (Johannah was married this month and moved a few hours away, a bittersweet moment for our pastors!) Another single woman, Lauren, helps administrate our children’s ministry and co-leads a weekly prayer group. Jen assists a single man who leads one of our small groups. Several single women joined the worship team, contributing their skills as musicians or vocalists to serve the congregation in music. Others signed up for communion service, women’s Bible studies, meal coordinators, greeters, outreach ministries and much more.
From the start, single adults—men and women—were treated as serious components of this new venture. Perhaps it helped that our lead pastor had been a singles pastor for many years and was attuned to the serious contributions single adults can make within the church. Or maybe because the residents of our new hometown are largely single, too—nearly half of Arlington’s households are single residents.
But contextualization and previous pastoral experience aside, Scripture reveals how important single adults, especially women, are to the church. After all, the first church ever planted in Europe began with a single woman.
Lydia, a successful businesswoman in the luxury trade of purple cloth, was the first person that Scripture records responding to the apostle Paul’s preaching when he reached Philippi (Acts 16:11-15). Her immediate and joyful response was to offer hospitality to Paul and his disciples. From there, the church in Philippi began to meet in her home. Due to her business, Lydia was no doubt influential in her city, but she was far more influential in the spread of the gospel as she teamed with Paul and Silas to establish the church there (Acts 16:40).
Today’s single women are just as necessary for new churches. While our leadership-focused American culture can put so much emphasis on the individual who leads any organization, a leader without committed and fruitful followers is leading a vacuum. A church-planter is one individual among many—a very gifted and called individual, for sure, but he can’t do it alone. And one of the ways he can ensure a new church will take root is to encourage the women of his church, married and single alike, to follow Lydia’s example in using their homes as outreach centers. Scripture does not make room for the American concept of the home as a personal retreat from the intrusions of others. Instead, we are to follow the many New Testament commands to offer hospitality and thereby connect with those around us—hospitality is not contingent upon marital status!
Lydia’s example is also relevant for the workplace. She traded in a luxury item and obviously had much influence in the marketplace to be able to do so. A single women today can also exert much influence in the marketplace and needs the support of a diverse church to help her wisely reach out to fellow workers.
Phoebe’s example is important to consider, as well (Romans 16:1-2). Paul calls her a patron, a benefactor of himself and many others. Like Lydia, Phoebe was also likely to be wealthy and well-connected, carrying Paul’s letter to the Romans to introduce him to believers there who had not experienced his ministry in person. Her wealth and social connections helped Paul to spread the gospel. But it was her service to her local congregation in Cenchreae that caused Paul to refer to her as diakonos, the word most often translated as “deacon” elsewhere in Scripture. No matter your ecclesiology or polity today, church-planters need single women who are so committed to serving the church that they are known as sisters and helpers who invest the gifts and talents they’ve received for the benefit of the gospel. In turn, we single women should be as eager to carry the rich truths of Romans to others as Phoebe was!
The beauty of church-planting is that it is symbiotic. Church-planting pastors need fruitful and committed members to embody their vision for a new church, and a diverse flock needs a gifted and called group of elders to lead them in a new adventure. Each are gifts to the other, evidences of grace from a generous heavenly Father who is eager to build his church so that through it, the manifold wisdom of God would be on display (Ephesians 3:10).
From the beginning of the church, single women have been making important contributions to the advance of the gospel—and that call remains on us today.