It’s fairly unassuming, the mysterious letter “m.” In fact, like most letters, we probably don’t give it much thought outside of the sound it makes in creating a word and, on occasion, the word it stands for in an acronym. In fact, “m” occupies a place of prominence in many of our church acronyms: it stands for ministry.
If we were told that CM stands for Children’s Ministry we probably would think, “That makes sense.” By the same token, if we were told that WM stands for Women’s Ministry and MM stands for Men’s Ministry, we would probably still be on board (although that second one might have us craving M&M’s). In each of these situations, we generally look at the word ministry and realize that it’s the focus of this particular group or organization. The word in front — children, women, men, etc. — are just ways of describing this particular ministry. The focus, however, remains on that last letter: M stands for Ministry and that is the whole point of the group’s existence.
The difficulty often arises when we focus all our attention on one word: “single.”
It’s an interesting situation when we take the same concept and apply it to the acronym SAM: Single Adult Ministry. The word ministry is as obvious as it is in any other situation. It is placed in the same spot. It is a noun that happens to be qualified by the phrase single adult. If we were to apply the previous examples to this particular acronym, we would think that SAM is a ministry that focuses on adults who are single. And this is completely true.
But there tends to be a strange phenomenon that happens when many see the term “Single Adult Ministry.” There is a tendency to take that first word — single — use it as the fulcrum around which the rest of the phrase spins. It’s not a bad thing in itself. After all, SAM does focus on singles. Unfortunately, when we focus so deeply on that first word, it’s easy to forget about that vital final part – ministry. This can lead to a great deal of misconceptions about SAM. It can lead us to a place where our mentality is “S Focused” instead of “M Focused.”
The “S Focus”
Often when we focus on the word single, the next move is generally, “So what can we do to fix this problem? How can we make single people not be single anymore?” This “S Focus” often comes out of a good place, for the most part. After all, people want to reach out to others. Many who have happy marriages want to share that joy with others. Thus, there is a natural assumption that single people must be lonely and so the best way to help is to match them up with someone else. In some cases, they look for any available member of the opposite gender and push them together – loneliness solved! It generally comes out of a place of compassion but, sadly, this mentality can actually do more harm than good. When a match is man-ordained (even good-natured-person-ordained) rather than God-ordained, people who are not ready to be married find themselves in a relationship that is meant to last them for life.
This “S Focus” also causes many single adults to shy away from SAM (again, they also focus on the word single and forget about the word ministry). Some are not in a place to think about marriage – some don’t feel ready, some are recovering from a tragic loss and need time to grieve, others are simply content waiting until (and if) the right person comes along – and they worry that SAM events are full of desperate people looking to marry the first available breathing human who crosses their path. If not that, then there must be some perky matchmaker who will try to force them into a relationship with someone they can’t imagine spending more than five minutes with – let alone forever. It’s enough to scare anyone away.
As it stands, neither perception is true.
The difficulty often arises when we focus all our attention on one word: “single.”
It’s not an unfounded perspective: after all, secular programs that use the word “single” generally focus on quick fixes – find someone to marry or date. Secular singles events are often advertised as places to find that “special someone” — either for a moment or for forever. It’s the mindset people go in with and, unfortunately, sometimes people even bring this idea into the church. But the operative word here is secular.
The idea that matchmaking is the point of singles ministry is far more secular than it is spiritual.
The “M Focus”
If we could make one small shift in our mindset when it comes to SAM, let’s try this: can we take some time to put the focus on the word “ministry” instead?
After all, when we see “children’s ministry,” we naturally assume that this is a ministry that reaches out to children. In fact, let’s look at the way we see children’s ministry:
We don’t assume that children are broken by their children-ness and that we must cure them.
We don’t try to force children to hang out with adults for the sole purpose of helping them become adults quickly.
Instead, children’s ministry seeks to understand children and to help them serve God where they are.
It reaches out to them as children based on their unique life experience.
It prepares them for whatever changes may come but it doesn’t force them into those changes or tell them there is something wrong with them because they are still children.
Thank God for children’s ministry and for the people who take the time to love and understand children!
What if we used the same mentality in seeking to understand SAM? What if we focused our understanding around the idea that this is a ministry that reaches out to adults who just happen to be single? How would this change our mindset?
First, we would understand that the focus is on ministering to people rather than marrying them off. We would look at them and see people. Just like we see women’s ministry as a ministry that reaches out to women and men’s ministry as a ministry that reaches out to men, we would see singles ministry as a ministry that reaches people who are single.
We would also understand that the focus of SAM is on disciple-making. Like any other ministry in the church, we would see SAM as a ministry that reaches out to single adults and helps them to understand a few key ideas:
They are fearfully and wonderfully made. They are created in the image of God and He knew exactly what He was doing when He formed them. Every aspect of their character first existed in the mind of God before it was manifested in the adults they have become.
They were created with a purpose. If God knew exactly what He was doing when He fashioned their hearts, minds, and character, He also had a reason for creating them. There is a purpose for their life and He wants them to fulfill it.
They are complete in Him. Sometimes single adults have been broken by past relationships. Sometimes they feel incomplete because they have been waiting for so long and have bought into the secular idea that their “other half” must one day come along to “complete them.” Whatever the case, SAM exists to help heal the brokenness that causes so many precious children of God to seek completion in other people — people who are often as broken and incomplete as they are. SAM does everything possible to help them break out of this mindset — to realize the freedom that comes in realizing that God is the Author and the Finisher — so that if the time for a relationship comes, they will not be two halves trying to complete one another in vain but two people who have found completion in God and are able to serve together from a place of fullness.
There is a place for them in the kingdom. When single adults begin to understand the unique identity they have in Christ, SAM also seeks to equip them to serve. It helps them to understand what they can do for God right now — that they do not have to wait until they are married to serve Him in their local churches. It helps them to heal so that they are ready to reach out to others in need.
Shifting Our Mindset
There is so much that can be accomplished with a simple shift of focus. When we take on the “M Focus” rather than the “S Focus,” we unlock the key to the potential that lies in every single adult and help them to see that for themselves. Moreover, it helps us to understand the twofold mission of Single Adult Ministry:
Ministering to Singles.
SAM seeks to be a vehicle through which God can minister to single adults — to restore their faith when it has become weak; to lift the fallen; to heal the brokenhearted. It strengthens the weak and revitalizes the strong.
This is ultimate goal of SAM. We strive to reach out to single adults and minister to them so that they can receive what they need spiritually to live victorious lives in Christ but that is not the only reason. We want to reach out to them so that they will be equipped and empowered to minister. The purpose is not to give so that everything can be hoarded inside — it is to give so that personal healing can take place and can in turn spark ministries around the world. We focus on them so that they can focus on others.
It’s not a pipe dream — we see the results all the time and, if you think about it, you probably do as well. There are single adults who pastor churches. Some evangelize. Many play an active role in our worship services by singing, playing music, or even writing the songs that lead us into God’s presence. A huge number work in our Sunday schools and youth ministries, using the gifts God has given them to raise up a church for tomorrow. You will find countless others on the mission field and involved in outreach activities, doing everything in their power to reach out to the world.
Single adults strive on a daily basis to impact their world, following the example of the greatest Single Adult who ever lived: Jesus Christ.
When we understand that the focus of SAM is on ministry, we release our single adults to focus on becoming who God created them to be and, in turn, to spread this glorious hope to those around them. What a difference an “m” makes!