A question I frequently get about my work at FamilyLife is: What brought you into family ministry as an unmarried woman? This is an understandable question, since I’m not and have never been a wife or a mother, though I hope to be.
The temptation, then, might be for me to believe that my crucial role in the family doesn’t begin until I find a husband and start “my own” family. And truthfully? That’s a temptation I’ve fallen into believing many times.
I also have friends who sense the Lord calling them to long-term singleness, just as clearly as they sensed Him calling them to their careers, their church, or other ways they glorify God. What is their role in the family?
Before I answer these questions, I want to set something straight.
Married or unmarried, you have an irreplaceable role to play
In case you’re one to skim over subtitles, let me say it again: Your involvement in your family matters. Your singleness does not exclude you from the crucial role God has placed you in within your family.
I think sometimes we feel most comfortable putting unmarried people in their own category. Most churches have a family ministry, and some have a singles ministry. These contextualized ministries are meant to help people connect with others in their season of life and to get the most relevant resources and connections into their hands. This is good and necessary.
But it is equally good and necessary for us all to remember that singles need to actively participate in the family. It’s OK for a single person to enjoy their independence, but not to the point of isolation. Singles have a lot to give and a lot to learn from spending time with families, especially their own. Our marital status is just one way we can be part of a family—we’ve each had a role to play from the moment we were born.
If you’re a Christian, you gained a new role in the family the day you got saved. If you aren’t a Christian, I hope this article inspires you to grow closer to your family and that you will also consider what it would mean to belong to God’s family.
Singles and their biological or adopted families
What comes to mind when you think about your role in the family? Maybe you think about being a son or daughter, sister or brother, grandson or granddaughter, niece or nephew, aunt or uncle, etc.
But what does it look like to actually live out these roles?
It looks like making an active investment in your family member’s life. What are some ways that person might feel cared for? How might God want to use you (your personality, abilities, etc.) in your family member’s life? How can you learn from one another?
You might be wondering, will my presence really make that much of a difference? Think back to a time when a family member’s kind gesture or words of wisdom really impacted you. Do you believe you can have that same impact on others?
If being part of your family has been a difficult or painful experience, perhaps God wants to use you to start a new legacy—to be that safe person, that example of Jesus to others. God may want to use your specific ways of relating and encouraging to lead a family member to Him.
A special note: I want to recognize that not every family is safe. If you come from a physically and/or emotionally abusive household, God grieves with you. Your safety is of utmost importance, and we encourage you to call the National Domestic Violence hotline (800-799-7233) if you are in a dangerous situation.
Singles and their spiritual family
Spiritual family is not a type of pseudo-family or a term we should only bring out when talking about singleness. No, according to the Lord Himself, our spiritual family is the deepest form of family we have.
We see Jesus live out this reality when His mother and brothers want to speak with Him while He’s teaching. Rather than going to them, Jesus gestures to the crowd He’s speaking to and says, “Here are my mother and my brothers” (Matthew 12:46-50).
I used to find this story very confusing. Was Jesus being rude to His own family? But in verse 50, Jesus says, “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” You see, Jesus is honoring God’s purpose for Him in that present moment: ministering to His spiritual family.
I believe God has divine responsibilities for unmarried people to live out in both their biological and their spiritual families. You have a unique contribution to make by using your skills and passions to serve your church and community. Are we treating our place in God’s spiritual family as eternally significant?
The Bible is essentially the story of God inviting us into His family. In the Old Testament, you were a child of God if you were born into a tribe of Israel. But in the New Testament, Christ makes it possible for anyone to become a child of God by accepting His death and resurrection on our behalf. Believers are no longer born as children of God but are adopted into His family (Ephesians 1:5; Romans 8:15). Because of Christ, Jews and Gentiles alike can now “cry out, Abba, Father!”
Starting in Acts, Scripture focuses more on the church and how Christians are to love and relate to one another. In 1 Timothy 5:1-2, believers are instructed to treat other church members as family.
Okay, so how do I invest in my family?
I know this might be tough to hear, but sometimes you need to be the one to make the first move, whether it’s making that phone call or offering support and a listening ear to an exhausted parent. Maybe it’s organizing a meal train for a couple who just had a baby or is dealing with an injury or illness. Or maybe it’s showing up to watch your niece or nephew perform in the school play.
It’s a matter of giving but also receiving. According to Proverbs 27:17 (NLT), “As iron sharpens iron; so a friend sharpens a friend.” God wants to use these relationships to teach both of you.
I’m grateful to have friends in different walks of life, whether they’re unmarried or married, a parent, and/or an empty nester. So, if you admire someone in your life for their role in the family, let them know. Maybe it’s a text or quick comment, or maybe you could ask them to grab coffee with you.
Whether you’re reaching out or being invited in, your participation in your family and the family of God is so needed. You have a job to do, in your biological family and in your community. You have people to serve and be served by, people to grow with and experience life with.
The difference your involvement can make
Your involvement in the family is so significant because our relationships were designed to demonstrate the love of Christ to the world. Your family relationships can encourage people who don’t yet know God. They might even be the avenue through which you came (or may come) to know the Lord. They can also be the supportive anchor you need as you step out in faith to love others.
The influence an unmarried person can have on the families in his or her community is demonstrated clearly in how FamilyLife first got started. Our ministry began because of the burden God placed on a single woman’s heart.
That single woman is Ney Bailey. She saw families serving in ministry but not prioritizing their relationships with each other. Her strong conviction that something needed to change, along with the efforts of staff like Dave and Sande Sunde, Don Meredith, and Dennis and Barbara Rainey sparked the beginnings of the Weekend to Remember®, which grew to become FamilyLife.
Thank goodness Ney Bailey saw God had a role for her to play to influence the families in her corner and all around the world. God used her to not only transform families but to inspire single people like me to serve in family ministry.
As a single person, you have a unique role to play in your family. So, how can you further invest in the family God has placed you in?
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Alex McMurray works as a Service Coordinator at UPMC Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She recently relocated from Orlando, where she served with FamilyLife as a content writer from 2020-2023. She graduated from Cedarville University with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a concentration in child and family studies. In her free time, she enjoys having deep conversations over coffee, playing board games, and adventuring outdoors. You can read more of her content at alexmcmurraywrites.com or follow her on Instagram @alex_mcmurray_.