Let’s face it. When a Christian leader considers their ministry to-do list, it’s the equivalent of swiping through a newsfeed on a smartphone. Barring Jesus’ return, that list is never, ever going to end.
To press the metaphor further, there’s a word for getting so lost in your smartphone that you ignore the physical people sitting next to you. It’s called phubbing. And if we’re honest, there’s an immense temptation to phub our way through leadership as well — to become so drawn to need after need, so focused on being as efficient, effective, and efficacious as possible in our “kingdom work,” that we neglect the people closest to us. We disregard both their need for us and our need for them.
Single leaders may find that they’re too busy to experience the restorative company of friends. Married leaders may find that the relationship with their spouse suffers. We forget that both singleness and marriage are gifts, and we should recognize how enjoying these gifts can help us be better leaders.
Ironically, when we neglect these relationships, it’s often a failure to recognize that leadership isn’t a checklist, but a matter of imaging God through our whole life.
In The Emotionally Healthy Leader, Pete Scazzero notes the shaping roles that singleness and marriage play in how we image God:
Our whole life as a leader is to bear witness to God’s love for the world. But we do so in different ways as marrieds or singles. Married couples bear witness to the depth of Christ’s love. Their vows focus and limit them to loving one person exclusively, permanently, and intimately. Singles . . . bear witness to the breadth of Christ’s love. Because they are not limited by a vow to one person, they have more freedom and time to express the love of Christ to a broad range of people. Both marrieds and singles point to and reveal Christ’s love, but in different ways. Both need to learn from one another about these different aspects of Christ’s love.
Scripture is full of examples of single adults who bore witness to the fullness of Yahweh’s attentive love. These include Ruth and Naomi’s care for one another; Jeremiah’s prophetic ministry; the roles that Mary, Martha, and Lazarus played in Jesus’ life; and Paul’s apostleship and explicit encouragement regarding singleness. Most notably, of course, is Christ’s life lived out in anticipation of the unity that will come when He returns to welcome the church as His covenantal “bride.”
Marriage, on the other hand, is consistently painted as an up-close-and-personal shadow of God’s covenant faithfulness. In Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Hosea and Gomer, Mary and Joseph, and others, we see the enduring richness of God’s mercy and long-suffering.
Since both singleness and marriage point beyond themselves to Christ, Scazzero further asserts that a singleness or marriage that is dedicated to God is a sign and a wonder. By extension, how well you love in these contexts becomes your loudest gospel message.
Therefore, Scazzero boldly encourages leaders to make either a healthy singleness or a healthy marriage their first ambition, adding, “We cannot bear witness to the Lord Jesus unless we have rearranged our lives to abide deeply in him. This means we must slow our pace and activities in order to intentionally cultivate our oneness to Jesus.”
How then can we make the invisible love of God visible in our own lives so that we can lead out of an overflow?
First, practice delight in God’s presence. What do you thoroughly enjoy doing with God just for the sake of doing it? David found delight both in making music and dancing before God. Some Christians meet with God while they garden or fish. One of my favorite delights is bringing my thoughts before Him as I enjoy a slow walk down the country lane in front of my house. Since I appear to be talking to myself, quite possibly in an animated fashion, a neighbor once directed her husband to follow me in his truck and make sure I didn’t need help!
Next, if you are single, prioritize time with your closest friends or in cultivating friendships through hospitality. Or if you are married, prioritize time with your spouse. If this time isn’t set aside, it will surely be taken over by more pressing responsibilities. What can you do together that will leave both parties feeling refreshed and restored? While all deep relationships have both serious and light-hearted dimensions, remember to be intentional about activities that create delight in the relationship.
Finally, practice self-care. Steward your physical and mental health. Remember that self-care is not selfish. For example, as an introvert, I need to be alone at times in order to think clearly and make good decisions. I’ve also discovered that exercising in the early afternoon and reading before I go to bed not only restore my mind and body but also bring energy to both my relationships and my ministry responsibilities.
Mirror and magnifier
The demands of ministry will always threaten to fill all of our time. And yet, God has graciously designed our lives so that each component has the potential to reflect His goodness. In both marriage and singleness, God provides us with relationships that serve to mirror and magnify His love. They aren’t distractions from the gospel but embody the gospel themselves.