I have to admit, I have never been a single officer. So why write this? I have friends who are single officers, I have heard of some of their difficulties and frustrations. I can sympathize, and begin to recognize that I had no idea that being a single officer was that challenging. Admittedly the life of a Salvation Army Officer is, by the nature of the ministry, challenging in and of its own right, but ministering alone has its own set of blessings and frustrations.
Together with a few of my single Officer friends, we set out to create a brief “Single Officer survey” just to gauge the perceptions and experiences of other single Officers. We wanted to know if some of the experiences my friends have had along the pathway of duty resembled that of others serving in the same capacity.
Perhaps the question lingering in the title of this article cannot be answered. Perhaps it isn’t even about which is more difficult but rather “Are single Officers considered as valuable to The Salvation Army as married couples?” I do not ask this question to be condescending or insensitive but rather because the perception is (which is not always true but instead felt)that single officers are simply not considered as valuable.
The Survey Questions and Results
Results and Interpretation
One must be careful how one interprets such data, and we simply want to be fair and objective. Is there sufficient data to support the concerns of many single officers? Yes. What can be done? Perhaps listening to these strong voices, these leaders who have answered God’s call for their lives and, many times without the support of a partner, have led well within many types of ministries.
Question 1 – “Have you ever been sincerely affirmed as a single Officer by someone other than a friend?”
The affirming statistic here is that nearly 55% of those within this survey felt that they had in fact been sincerely affirmed as a single officer. Perhaps the affirmation came from another officer, leader, or soldier but regardless of where it came from the majority (albeit a small margin majority) of our single officers are being affirmed.
On the flip side over 36% of those within this survey felt that they had not received affirmation from others around them including fellow officers, leaders and soldiers. I do not believe that this statistic supports a longing for personal “pats on the back” or a few “atta boys” but rather something many churches and organizations struggle with in terms of affirming and encouraging those that serve within its ranks.
Prescription: Whether you’re a department head, leader or otherwise take the time to listen to the needs of single officers. Really listen. We recognize the sheer number of officers on the field outnumber leadership within DHQ’s and THQ’s but Officers need to know that they are cared for and loved. Constant expressions of hope, encouragement and shepherding is desired by all Officers regardless of marital status. Within the Central Territory there are currently a small number serving within the “pastoral care” department…this is such a vital department to officers that it begs the question “why aren’t there more pastoral care officers for the territory?” Perhaps this isn’t true for other territories but we do need to re-examine how we shepherd our officers from both the territorial and divisional levels. We have to admit though that our Army is improving from the structural staunch leadership (almost militant) models of yesteryear, though we still have room to improve.
Question #2 – What Blessings Do You See in Single Officership?
Here are list of some of the answers –
“to concentrate fully on ministry“
“freedom from other commitments and time flexibility“
“responding to the will of God and being faithful to his call”
“being called to be like Jesus, totally free to focus on ministry”
“When it’s a busy season, such as at Christmas, it’s nice not to have to worry about a family and be able to focus soley on my job…”
“I was able to concentrate on ministry with no obligation to spouse or children. I was able to use my free time in a very “selfish” way — all I had to worry about was myself. Frankly, one great blessing of single officership is that the Army has structured a number of “rewards” (ICO, Brengle, commission memberships, etc.) so that there is single representation — so if I had remained a single officer my chances of going to ICO would have been much higher than they are now that I am married.”
Question #3 – “What challenges do you see in Single Officership?”
Here are a list of some of the answers –
“It’s all a challenge. It’s difficult to be everything to everyone and expected to be good at it all. People assume that because I’m single, I don’t need ‘family time’ or ‘me time’.“
“1.Have nobody to share the good and bad news etc. 2. And share the work“
“Loneliness, pigeon holed into certain types of appointments. Also single officers are moved at a higher rate than married officers and are convenient ‘plugs’ when there is a breakdown, I had 4 appointments in my first 5 years of officer ship due to this.“
“Even though I am smart enough, I am talented enough, I am responsible enough, being a single officer isn’t “good enough”. What I mean by that is I don’t run big corps on my own, have seminars just for singles that actually address some of my issues, and I am not heard. I had officers in Officer Care and Development ask me at an Officer’s Councils what my needs were. I told them and they forgot! By the time my TOI rolled around a year later the very same officers said they had never heard about these issues before when I addressed them again with another fellow, single officer.“
“Moving more, work alone, treated different than married officers”
“I have had challenges in people seeing me as an adult. My current DC is the first DC I’ve had so far in my officership that treats me like an adult. Having the title “associate” instead of a CO with the fellow officers at the appointment, causes you to be less of an officer (no matter what policies and pocedures says), working along side officers that say, “You’re my kids age” (this is never good). It’s hard to get away from the office many times because people assume you have nothing better to do, so it’s expected you work. Fellow officers who preach sexual purity from the pulpit and then make fun of you to your face for it. It’s frustrating to be told to go find young families when growing a corps, when I don’t relate to them at all. And it’s difficult to do marriage counseling or family counseling. Not having someone to vent to or to bounce things off of.“
Question #4 – “Do you feel the Army spends an equal amount of time teaching others about single Officership as they do with Married Officership?”
Over 80% of those polled within this question responded “No”. This is a telling statistic. We are not out to criticize or attack our Army, just the opposite, we love our Army. Can we improve and help those who feel this way? Absolutely “Yes”. Perhaps there is a stigma, unspoken as it may be, in the Army and the attitude towards single officers. I have heard the hurtful gossip directed at Single Officers, and I’ve confronted it when I’ve heard it. Sometimes people assume that because someone is single and an Officer that there is something “wrong with them“. There is also sometimes an assumed notion that just because a person is a single officer they are less equipped than a married couple…which is usually baseless and wrong. Can we work towards better education in the Army when it comes to Single Officers? Short answer: Yes.
Question #5 “Do you feel Single Officers are pigeonholed in certain appointments?”
Nearly sixty-six percent polled felt that Single Officers were in fact pigeonholed to certain appointments because of their marital status. Assuredly we can see some of the reasoning for certain appointment changes – the expenses of relocated a Single Officer over a married couple is less, as mentioned in question 2 there is more flexibility, and perhaps this makes Single Officers “more portable”. These may be some of the reasonings for certain appointment decisions but is there a way for Leadership to break these molds and pigeonholing? I believe we are improving within this area, albeit slowly. There is still room for much improvement. It would be easy to chalk this survey up as just a bunch of officers complaining and make the comment “why can’t they just be faithful and obedient?” For in many minds being obedient to Army leadership equals being obedient to God…which I disagree with. Sometimes decisions are not made because of God, but because of convenience and less “ripples” in a move cycle. These are not the grumblings of Single Officers and myself, these are perceptions and experiences.
Question #6 “Who do you feel gains more respect (in general) on the field Male Single Officers or Female Single Officers?”
This statistic was almost even – Male Single Officers – 37%, Female Single Officers – 32%.
Responses to this question:
“Because female single officers tend to be a dime a dozen.”
“Fewer single men”
“People tend to listen to male leaders more than female – assertiveness in a woman is seen as a negative thing but for men it’s seen as good leadership“
“I think if you do your job people will show you respect“
“both are equal in my many years as a single officer”
“As a Single male officer, I was always asked in private If I was was a Homosexual because I was not married.“
Question 8 (I’m skipping 7, you can read the results for yourself)
“What could the Army do to better include Single Officers? “
“Stop highlighting them as ‘single’ officers. That puts people into a box of single or married. Why not just refer to all of us as ‘Officer’ so as to not make anyone feel separated or singled out?“
“I think the army is making improvements and i am being realistic i do understand that when you have a married couple it’s pretty much your getting two for one, but I think that better things are yet to come in this area just like so many others things that have changed through out time. i also that marrieds without kids can be put into this pigeon hole as well“
“You should show me the same care you would as a married officer and don’t move me around all the time, because you wouldn’t do that to married officers. Give more opportunities to serve in ministries where marrieds cannot. And don’t just shuffle us around because you have NO IDEA WHAT TO DO WITH US“
“Find us a mentor or friend or someone that we can call when we feel like we have no one else to turn to, and teach us that it is always OK to call them, and what we say or feel won’t affect our future appointments.“
“Have conferences for singles and other opportunities just like married people. Show us we matter too!“
“Better pastoring (could be true for all officers, though), and not just an occasional bone thrown by a DC’s wife. What I experience and hear from my other single friends is that there is no one to listen to us when we need to share what’s burdensome. Married people have a spouse to share some of the burden, someone who can at least listen at the end of the day/week/minute and say “yeah, that sucks,” but singles (in my experience) don’t often have another officer who listens and supports.“
Question #9 – “What opportunities do you have as a Single Officer that you wouldn’t have normally?”
“I feel as if I have less opportunities as a single officer, not more.”
“I think sometimes you get to make your ministry what it is. I love to visit with people. To just sit and listen to them, laugh with them, pray with them-I have more time to do that as a single person because I am assisting, to have that ministry.“
“A lot less because so there are so many one starred events that I have to go to”
Question #10 – “As a Single Officer do you feel that you have a voice in the Army? “
Positively over 52% of those polled felt that they do indeed have a voice within the Army. Less than 20% felt adversely. This should be considered a good thing. Less Single Officers feel as if they are not heard. This does not contradict earlier questions within this survey it simply reinforces perhaps an area that the Army is fulfilling to some respects. As Officers, decisions made in a Corps are the Corps Officer’s decision regardless if it be a single Officer or married Officer. Leaders within ministries have voices. The real question begs to be asked though, are the right leaders listening to these voices? I believe we are making strides in the right direction…but we’re not there yet.
What I have learned as a Married Officer within this study:
I thought I knew the struggles of all officers…turns out I didn’t. My single Officer friends have helped me glean some very helpful knowledge here. I have learned a great deal as an individual.
Secondly, I have learned that we still have room for improvement within our Army. I didn’t realize that some of my fellow sojourners as Single Officers felt this way. That there are stigmas associated to the perception of Single Officership. I have learned that in some cases a single Officer feels out of place and are treated quite differently than a Married Couple.
Lastly, I have gained a source of deep respect for Single Officers out there who fight the good fight and have answered the call of Officership. You are truly leaders in your own right! You are strong people and I pray that you continue to be emboldened to use your voice, to lead, to change the world and the Army world so that the Mission of Christ is furthered. Thank you for sharing these concerns, hopes, blessings and challenges with us!
Something for the Army world to ponder today.