Randy Stinson has been at Southern Seminary for 21 years. During that time, he’s seen a lot of students — single and married — come and go. As a professor of family ministry in addition to his responsibilities as provost, Stinson has watched students steer themselves through the often-rocky waters of seminary life. Here are a few of his tips for students who are also single, permanently or not:
1. Find your place in the family of God.
In the New Testament, the paradigm for the church is the family. Older men are called to be like fathers to the younger men; older women are to be like mothers to the younger women. There is brother-sister language throughout the New Testament. A single person can find their place in the larger family of God — a family in which they are a mother, father, sister, or brother. As important as marriage is, the church itself is a family to which all believers belong. We should avoid seeing a person’s marital status as their most important, defining characteristic, and encourage them to find a home in the church.
2. Take advantage of your time in seminary.
I think it’s rude when people on campus (nearly always men) imply that women are in seminary just to find a husband. That is not true. Seminary is a huge sacrifice — and a unique opportunity for ministry. You are here to get a degree in preparation for serving the Lord. Don’t wait to get married before getting involved in the church and doing the ministry you’re preparing for. Do the things God is calling you to do right now.
3. Be ready for marriage in the future, but don’t forget about today.
Statistically speaking, the vast majority of single Christians will end up getting married. But many single people I know concentrate too much on preparing themselves for marriage. Of course, that is not a bad thing — everyone should consider whether they are ready to be a good spouse, and whether they have the discipline and thoughtfulness a healthy relationship requires. But don’t bail on your relationships right now. Ask yourself: “Am I serving the Lord faithfully where I am right now?” Do you have relationships right now in which other Christians are holding you accountable and challenging you to grow? It is through those relationships that God will grow your character, sanctify you, and make you more Christlike.
4. Manage the time you have.
If you are single, you simply have more discretionary time than married people. Use it for the kingdom. At every stage in your life, you should maximize the time that God has given you. That extra wealth of time should prepare you for hard decisions you’ll have to make in marriage.
That doesn’t mean you have to spend every moment at church or in ministry. But the burden of extra time means the single person should thoughtfully budget their free time for the good of the kingdom. That will not only integrate you further into your local church community, but it will also prepare you to use your time wisely once it is more restricted.
5. Be on the lookout.
Most of the time when you serve, there are other people serving alongside you who are of the opposite sex. Now, don’t get involved in ministry for the sole purpose of finding a husband or wife — that turns your service to the church into a hunting ground. But God will often use those ministry environments to introduce you to a potential spouse.
6. Don’t let your singleness define you.
Singleness can feel like limbo, and sometimes well-meaning Christians can make you feel like a second-class believer. Try not to make too big a deal of any stage of your life — the Lord is sovereign. Don’t be worried about people accusing you of only caring about finding a spouse.
7. Avoid unreasonable expectations.
Everyone has their idiosyncrasies regarding the person they want to date — small “hang-ups” they can’t get over (“I don’t want to date someone taller than I am” is a common one for men). But try not to have too many of those. Don’t let your expectations soar so high that you miss a potential spouse who is standing right in front of you.
8. Be the person you’re hoping to find in marriage.
When I was single, I had a friend who liked to talk about finding a Proverbs 31 woman. I would always say to him: “Are you the Proverbs 31 man the Proverbs 31 woman is looking for?” And, well, he wasn’t. Spend more time during this season of singleness (however long it may last) ensuring your walk with the Lord is moving in the same direction as the person you’re hoping to marry. Be prepared to grow together with your spouse. Find somebody who is growing spiritually in the same direction and at the same rate as you are, then get married and do that together.
When you’re single, you have a unique opportunity to serve in ways that you won’t later. My older two boys have done yard work off and on for various families in our church, and my oldest two daughters have regularly helped with babysitting (I don’t think anybody wants my two boys to care for their infant). Those kinds of service opportunities are not small things. As someone who has been married for 27 years, I know what it means to have the burden of costly child care taken off my shoulders. You’re not just providing free childcare — you’re making an investment in someone else’s marriage that in turn builds up the body of Christ. Identify the most challenging things in the local church and resolve to help.
10. Single Men: Develop your leadership now.
Let me speak directly to the men: A lot of the teaching in the Bible about manhood and womanhood is given in the context of marriage. But how a man treats his wife will be directly connected to how he treats all the women God puts in his life — mothers, sisters, friends, coworkers, and fellow students. One of the ways God measures whether a man is fulfilling his calling is how he treats women in general. So if you don’t get married, those habits are essential for being a godly brother in Christ to everyone. If you do get married, those habits should be cultivated way before then.
Masculinity is not about athletic prowess, hunting, or how much you can bench press. Leadership and responsibility don’t just “show up,” but they are rather cultivated over time. Invest in behavior now that will prepare you to be a good leader. Whether that calling includes marriage is irrelevant. Be a leader now.
A bonus piece of advice for the married people:
Trying to pair your friends together constantly might not always be healthy. Matchmaking is usually innocent and well-intentioned, but it can often imply that singleness is God’s Plan B for someone’s life. Married couples need to be more careful about how they highlight someone’s singleness. If you’re a pastor, preach more about singleness from the pulpit. Encourage the people in your church who have the gift of lifelong, permanent singleness that God has a holy purpose for their lives, and encourage those who don’t have the gift to develop the disciplines necessary to get married.