The Gospel Coalition

 

A friend wrote me about how I would respond to the recent New York Times article chronicling the frustration of singles pursing pastoral positions. I probably came to his mind because I am both single and a pastor. I am completing 14 years as senior pastor at Bethel Church—a church that bucked the apparent bias and took a risk on a 29-year-old single fellow. It has proved to be a great ministry partnership. I am no crusader for singleness in ministry, and I address this subject with a fair amount of shyness. Truthfully, I would very much like a wife and family and have prayed consistently since I was 18 for God's provision and gift.

I am well aware of the cultural expectations for marriage and ministry, both here and in other parts of the world. I recall candid discussions in Sierra Leone and Romania where men are not allowed to be pastors without a wife. An unmarried American pastor teaching and preaching there was a source of some concern and amusement. I have experienced countless moments of bewilderment and awkwardness from others when I answer their inquiry about my wife and children by pointing to the lack of a ring on my finger. The U.S. evangelical church's perspective is well summarized by an experience in North Dakota a few weeks ago. I was enjoying a visit with some former members of our church when their 6-year-old daughter whispered to her mom, "Is he married?" She replied, "No." The little girl proclaimed loudly, "That's odd!"

Not a bad summary of the attitude The New York Times highlighted when it comes to singles in pastoral ministry: "That's odd!"

Should It Be?


The question is, should it be? From the perspective of the New Testament, it is hard to see why. As is often pointed out, the head and hero of the church is a single adult male. Jesus obviously gets a Messianic pass and is not often factored into the "oughtness" of married pastoral leadership. Yet the early church was dominated by apparently single men (at least when the manuscripts were written): John the Baptist, Paul, Luke, Silas, Barnabas, Timothy, and Titus. When this list is combined with a single Savior, we should at least be in a position of neutrality on the matter.

It would be hard to see Paul as neutral, at least in respect to his own singleness in 1 Corinthians 7. He speaks to the single man's freedom from anxieties (7:32) and freedom to serve with "undivided devotion" (7:35). The married man (pastor) has responsibilities that "divide" his attention. This is balanced by Paul's affirmation that marital responsibilities are good and holy and also a "gift" (7:6). Paul teaches neither singleness nor marriage is inherently more spiritual or holy, although the freedoms of singleness lead him to say, "I wish that all men were as I am" (7:8). Paul's basic starting point is that marital status in the kingdom is spiritually neutral, each with its own benefits and responsibilities.

He goes on to say that marriage is a category that, along with the world, is passing away:
This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away (1 Cor 7:29-31, ESV).

Here is where today's bias against single pastors betrays an eschatological weakness. It projects a perspective of kingdom priorities that will not stand the test of time. Jesus points out this same failure when the Pharisees tested him with the scenario of a woman who married seven brothers. "Who's wife will she be after the resurrection?" Jesus' reply is simple, "In the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage" (Matt. 22:28). Marriage in the future kingdom is not even a category of consideration. I think our ecclesiology could use a little eschatology. The resurrection will change our thinking in many ways. Human identity as married or single is most certainly one of them.

A Wonderful Blessing


Too often the debate feels the need to pick one or the other. Does God prefer married pastors or single ones? I affirm aspects of what Al Mohler recently blogged on this. There are practicalities about marriage and ministry that advantage the married pastor in some categories. Every married pastor would affirm that a godly wife is a wonderful blessing both personally and pastorally. We should recognize and celebrate that a married pastor's marriage is a tremendous asset in both his personal growth into holiness and the resources it generates for shepherding a flock.

But we must also recognize that a pastor's singleness is equally valuable in different ways. Speaking from experience, singleness has its own anvil on which God shapes character and pastoral gravitas. In addition, single pastors have some tremendous gifts to share with their congregations. When I speak of my loneliness, how many hearts leap with hope identifying with my trial? When my voice quivers as I describe life lived with unmet and unfulfilled expectations, what heart can't hear the echo? A normal red-blooded, sexual, single, Christian man battling all the normal desires yet pursing contentment in Christ is a living sermon that Jesus alone is sufficient. These strengths, combined with the greater energy and time that single pastors can pour into their churches, should lead us to conclude that singleness ought not be viewed as a negative. If Paul was serving on the search committee, I think he'd argue for it as a positive.

Arguments that cast Paul as prioritizing marriage in ministry wrongly make the helpful reality of marriage a biblical preference. It is important to note that the pastoral qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 were written by a single apostle (perhaps a widow or even a divorcee but nevertheless single). Would Paul write qualifications that handicapped himself as a pastor? Further, we have no indication that Timothy and Titus were married. Yet they are charged with identifying and laying hands on elders who would serve under their leadership. It seems that what is good for the apostolic goose should be good enough for the pastoral gander.

Apostolic Logic


Finally, if we affirm that 1 Timothy 3 teaches that marriage is a near requirement for pastors/elders, in order to be consistent we would need to require a pastor to have children as well. Taken one step further, he would have to have more than one child since "children" is plural. This is all unnecessary and unwarranted. Paul is simply describing how a pastor/elder must be faithful to his wife IF he is married, and he is describing the quality of a pastor's parenting and leadership IF he has children.

At my 10th anniversary, Bethel Church very graciously threw me a big celebration. It was one of the high moments in my life. One of the points emphasized that night was how my singleness had been a blessing to the church. One faithful member told me, "I selfishly hope you stay single so you can stay focused on us." There was kindness in her words and some pretty good pastoral theology, too. We would do well to cherish all of God's gifts to the church, including single men called by God and gifted by the Holy Spirit to shepherd a local congregation.

 


Comments:

Lonnie

September 6, 2011 at 12:35 AM

Let me see if I can figure out how go go about saying what I want to say... No person on the face of this earth is going to get everything they want. We live with frustrations, disappointments and disillusionment all the time. We will never, ever be 100% satisfied or content with our lives; there is always going to be something that is in the way of what we may consider to be a "perfect life." It doesn't make a difference if we are married or single, if we believe in Christ or not, how much money we make, how good looking we are (or not!), what our gender is or our color or anything else. I am single, 40 years old and cannot say I have come even close to finding a woman who would want to marry me, and it is indeed frustrating to think that I may never get married, but if I don't, well, that's life! That's just the way it is! God never once promised to give us every single thing we want; indeed, God has been far better to us than we deserve so how can we complain?

I am not saying that I like the single life, but this is where I am, God has said "no," and I have no chance of convincing Him otherwise, so there's no sense beating my head against a steel wall. Instead, I have accepted this frustration and realized the good that He has given me. Would that all of us do the same thing, no matter where we may be; I wish that everyone would realize that being a Christian is not a ticket to a frustration-free life but instead it is a walk with the Lord through good and bad (and BOTH of them WILL come).

Leslie

September 3, 2011 at 08:33 PM

In our community there is a pastor who was in his 50's before he married a wonderful lady. This pastor is known throughout the community, by many who are not even in his church, because as a single man he took every opportunity to minister, not only in the pulpit but as a volunteer fireman, visiting at the hospital and nursing home, etc. His character and maturity did not suffer from the lack of a spouse.

Lynn Barton

September 3, 2011 at 08:24 PM

Tracy - The leap you've taken with your comment has already been dealt with, but I'd like to look at another aspect. You mention people "choosing" not to marry. Why do we assume that if someone is not married it is because they have made a choice to stay single? Could it not be that the person is waiting on the Lord to bring a suitable mate into their life? And if this has not happened by age 27, 35 or even 41, are we in a position to assume that person has made an unbiblical choice? We talk about God's sovereignty yet when it comes to the issue of marriage, we seem to think men should just get out there and find a wife. That is not a biblical attitude.

[...] have written a defense of singleness and ministry that is available online here, so I won’t go over it again other than to say, from my experience, there are massive advantages [...]

Ryan

September 1, 2012 at 12:31 AM

But my assessment is still accurate. They look at themselves and what they lack, not at God and what He can provide, and then make assumptions based on that. The failure to believe anyone else could possibly do what they cannot is a failure to believe in what God can do. Seeing Paul as a special mystical man, thus making him able to live in such a way, makes the source of Paul's ability Paul himself and not God. I'm not saying you are wrong or your assessment is wrong, it terms of people's attitudes, but I am say that the ultimate reason, the reason behind these attitudes, is a lack of faith in the power of God.

[...] ‘That’s Odd’: On Bias Against Single Pastors A friend wrote me about how I would respond to the recent New York Times article chronicling the [...]

[...] ‘That’s Odd’: On Bias Against Single Pastors. [...]

Lindsay

May 23, 2011 at 09:36 PM

I just came across this post, and relate to what you wrote, Steve. I am a single woman in my 30s and work at my church. Of all environments, one would assume that the church would be the most affirming of Christian singleness. I have not found that to be the case among some congregants, even though I love my church family and have the full loving support of my co-worker pastors and directors. It's not easy to find my "fit" in ministry, despite a call and certain spiritual giftings, but I know that I'm to ultimately please the Lord, not man. He is pleased in my waiting for His timing regarding marriage, and in my desire to follow His plan for my life. He strengthens and upholds me through misconceptions, loneliness, sexual desire, etc. I believe that we, as singles in ministry, can bring new perspectives, and focused, undivided time & energy to our work. And, like married ministers, we each have our own unique giftings (regardless of our marital status), that should be offered sacrificially to the church body. Let's press on toward the upward call of Christ, which does not rate marriage any better or worse than singleness.

[...] upon over the past week. There is a post written at The Gospel Coaltion blog about being a single pastor. Then there were two “relationship” lists for men and women that I found very [...]

Tim Melton

March 30, 2011 at 05:17 AM

I agree that at times being single is a hindrance to getting a job in ministry, but what perspective should we have as single pastors. As we examine ourselves and walk humbly with our God will He not open the doors that He wants open and close the doors that He wants closed? If God controls the hearts of kings (Prov. 21:1) does He not also control the hearts of search committees and missions agencies. I agree with the writer of the article, but I am just not ready to trust my future and my calling to the cultural and theological whims of man. Yes we need to prepare our resumes and go to interviews, but if God has called us, and if we are walking with Him, then He will make a way where there seems no way. Whether I am full-time, part-time, or volunteer, my calling remains the same. As we love God and love neighbor I believe God will make things right according to His will and not ours. He works all things for the good. May we rest in Him, even when we are searching for where God wants us next.

Here is a new blog written for single ministers and missionaries http://singleandcalled.blogspot.com/

Strike Against Me? « GodSideKurt

March 29, 2011 at 12:16 PM

[...] a single pastor who addresses the issue of bias towards singles. I encourage you to check it out HERE. (Thanks Michael! ~ who ironically is getting married this [...]

2013 Calendar

March 29, 2011 at 11:21 PM

Well it does say if you can be single and be fine then do it! Otherwise for others who have desires that would involve marriage than do so. I think it would be wise to have a woman counsel women if I were a single pastor!

Tracy Irvin

March 29, 2011 at 11:11 AM

Phoebe and Ryan,
My comments are neither unbiblical, denial of scripture, nor a hurtful standard. They are debateful, as I said, a thought. I stated above that Jesus, Paul, et al are the exception, not the rule, descriptive and not prescriptive. Christ, though not married, was in a "one flesh union" with the church, AND a union with God the Father and the Holy Spirit. He may have been literally single, but not spiritually. No, I do not think Paul was teaching a false message about Christ and the church in 1 Cor, but again, in his writings, that is an exception. But, ANY aberration of marriage, not just singleness, does indeed send a false message of the Gospel. If Paul says he is speaking of Christ and the church, how am I making an unbiblical leap? Paul says it first, not me (Eph 5.22-33). Homosexuality says there can be two Christs, or two churchs. Adultery by the husband says that Christ is not faithful, and the same for the wife. Divorece (unbiblical) says that Christ can be separated from his church at the least, and you can lose your salvation at the worse (if salvation could be lost). Spousal abuse says that Christ is not protecting his church but abuses it. A domineering wife says that the church rules Christ, and not Christ the church. Promiscuity before marriage says there is no one flesh union between Christ and the church, that there can be many Christs, or many churches (instead of the one true church). Marriage is the greatest manifestation of the sacrificial love of Christ for the church, his bride. Ryan, there is too much bridegroom and bride language for me to be making a leap that the bible does not support.
I will grant that there are SOME who choose not to marry for VALID biblical reasons. But,the human heart is deceitful, wicked, beyond understanding (Jer 17.9). We all know that there are many people out there, ministry people included, who do not get married for unbiblical reasons, such as fear, economic, pride, selfishness, etc. I am not saying Steve is one of them, I do not know him. But I know some of those people, went to seminary with them, and speak from experience. Those who choose to remain unmarried for unbiblical reasons ARE sending a false message about Christ and his church. I am not judging anyone, and certainly not by a false, hurful standard. I do make a strong charge, though, that anyone who chooses to remain single for unbiblical reasons (or any of the above aberrations of marriage, not just singleness) is making a false statement about the gospel, the relationship between Christ and his church, and they will be held to a standard higher than mine, yours, or any others. The Gospel of Christ is at stake.

John

March 29, 2011 at 09:05 AM

Mohler, i believe, was partly saying that as a matter of reality it's harder for singles to get a job. Reality check, no doctine. Another issue he brought up is sex, singleness is good but for those who won't 'burn with passion'. This disqulifies the vast majority of men. On this fact alone single pastors will be the minority. Singleness is a gift from God that few have, it is a unique and awesome gift that can be for his glory. Catholics force this 'gift' on all their leaders often with terrible consequences. This is not to say that married men don't have sex issues, but the scripture is clear and Christian men have a God designed and glorifying means of expressing sexuality in marriage where single men have none. Lust/sexual self control is the hardest thing most men deal with, often for their entire lives. Also from the scriptures, Mohler was not diqualifying singles simply saying it's the norm to be married. Seems reasonable to me from the passages cited. I could throw in Genesis 'it is not good that man should be alone', this should be balanced obviously with Paul's words. Saying a single as pastor is not 'the norm' does not equal saying it is wrong, some here are making that faulty leap. Because many christians are wrongly biased does not make the premise erroneous. Some want to throw out the baby with the bath water as it were. Finally I'd say Paul is not a good example, Paul was an apostle not a pastor. Their functions are significantly different, with huge implications both practically and spiritually. The early church, from what I know, had pastors who were most all married, so married pastors was the norm then as well. One definition of odd: 'differing in nature from what is ordinary, usual, or expected'. This term can apply well to single pastors, both to describe reality and the Biblical picture, provided you understand it doesn't say it's wrong rather can in fact be good. This article's title seems to imply that odd = bad, not true! All Christians should be quite odd compared to the world.

Tracy Irvin

March 29, 2011 at 05:24 PM

Ryan, I stated that choosing to remain single for unbiblical reasons is what is sending the false message. If singleness is truly a gift, just as salvation is, then we cannot choose it except by wrong reasons. If someone is gifted with singleness, they will be supernaturally equipped to bear the burdens of being single: the loneliness at times, the sexual frustration, etc. If they are gifted, they will bring glory to God through their singleness. If someone chooses to be single and is battling those things and others, he is not gifted, and will bring dishonor to God (I know there are many other things this can apply to, but the topic at hand is singleness and marriage). We would not let the guy who says it is his spiritual gift to teach loose in a classroom, when it is clear to those around him that is not his gift. We would say "brother, we don't think that is your gift, but I do see this __________ gift in you and point him in the right direction. That is not judgmental, but corrective." Let me expound some on my personal experiences. I have seen men (seminary students and ministry workers in particular) who claim to be gifted with singleness speak to and about women in flirtatious ways that do not match with that gift. I have seen godly young women mourn because they long for a godly husband, and the men around them are pursuing everything but marriage, living in perpetual adolescence. I watched this while in seminary, and am seeing it today in my ministry field. I know several young women who are single and don't want to be, and I empathize with them. My heart breaks for them, because they are relying upon God to provide for them a godly husband. They are not being passive, but they are not pursuing men simply to get married either. However, I know several young men whose "gift" of singleness is simply an excuse to justify their independence, selfishness, fear of making mistakes, etc, all in the "name" of ministry. That is sin and needs to be called sin. That is not being judgmental, but admonition. The heart is deceitful, and we will find ways to sanctify and justify our sinful desires, even in ministry. I am not judging single people, but am calling those who use their singleness to justify sin what it is, sin, that is all. By their sin, they are giving a false message of the gospel, just as any aberration of marriage does, whatever form it takes does.
Again, some may called to/gifted for singleness, but that is the minority, and they will be supernaturally equipped for it.
Btw, I currently know of four wonderfully godly women who are in need of husbands, two with ThMs, and one about to go to the mission field. ;-)

David R. Brumbelow

March 29, 2011 at 05:15 PM

Good comments. May God bless your ministry.

Hey, even the single Jesus Christ said, "I am the good Pastor."
David R. Brumbelow

Ryan

March 29, 2011 at 04:36 PM

The unbiblical leap comes in when you go from saying marriage represents the relationship between Christ and the church, which the Bible does say, to saying that choosing not to marry a person sends a false message about Christ and His church. The very simple truth is the Bible does not say that. So it is a leap. It is as simple as that. And again, Paul actually urges people not to marry. He in fact says "it is good for them to remain single." I think that shows fairly clearly that you are simply wrong in your assumption. Personally, I would like to get married, but if someone else doesn't, if they feel called to singleness, what basis do you or I have to judge them? The answer, quite simply, is none.

mark

March 28, 2011 at 12:41 PM

mark almlie here again (the single pastor in the new york times article). sorry didn't mean to send that last comment as it was unfinished.

For those interested, the New York Times article was picking up on a post that I wrote on 'out of ur'. the title of the article is "Are We Afraid of Single Pastors?"

excerpt:
The bottom line is that it is not about being single or married. It’s about being called and gifted by the Spirit to minister to people both like and unlike us (race, gender, marital status, etc). I plead with search committees everywhere to reflect on the implications of 1 Corinthians 7 before overlooking your next single pastoral candidate. They deserve to be evaluated on their excellence, not their marital status.

-the single and still unemployed Rev. Mark Almlie M.Div

mark

March 28, 2011 at 12:36 PM

Steve,
This is an excellent post. Thank you for drawing out the meaning of the text in I Tim 3 with care, tact, and grace.

I am the single pastor mentioned in the New York Times article. I am very happy that a national conversation has been sparked on this topic of bias towards single ministers. I hope that a rising tide will lift all boats.

Steve, I'm wondering if Dr. Mohler would be open to a panel discussion on this topic--like the one they did last week on the Rob Bell book? I think that could be a huge inspiration for single ministers all across this country. Having yourself, Justin Taylor and myself on the panel might be helpful.

First Timothy 3.2 says, “Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife” (NIV). Does this verse imply that pastors must be married? The phrase is one of the most ambiguous in the New Testament. The Greek phrase reads “of one woman a man.” The NRSV translates the phrase, “married only once.” That was also the major interpretation of the early church. Another reasonable interpretation is that an overseer should not be involved in a polygamous marriage, but instead should be “the husband of one wife” (NASB).

Paul, a single pastor, is setting the general standards for overseers in the church. Surely he wouldn’t disqualify himself, especially in light of his words in 1 Corinthians 7 affirming that it is good to be a single pastor (vs. 8).

The bottom line is that the phrase is unclear, and to build a theology around such an unclear statement is unwise.

susan hepler

March 28, 2011 at 12:22 PM

My husband and I learned and grew more from your sermon on marriage then any of the married pastors we have ever sat under.It doesnt surprise me,people often follow what they think is right instead of what the Bible says...

Roger Ball

March 28, 2011 at 11:46 AM

This reminds me of a recent review of a new book "The Way of the (Modern) World, or, Why It’s Tempting to Live As If God Doesn’t Exist"

Here's a quote:

"If there is one thing that lends itself to promoting practical, or "functional," atheism in our churches today, it is running a church like a business—with its (the administration's) maintaining control the ultimate objective. This fails to treat people as real individuals, instead of members whose everyday needs are secondary to the status-quo of the organization."

What I hear Paul saying is that the needs of the people would be better met by a single pastor. Why should this be a secondary consideration?

Rachael Starke

March 28, 2011 at 11:11 AM

Ian, brother, if that's the list of requirements the agency has, find another agency. Any agency who makes such an utterly extrabiblical list of requirements for doing the work of the ministry is expressing far deeper, more serious issues in a lack of understanding of the gospel.

Ryan

March 28, 2011 at 09:54 PM

The problem is what you say is not founded on the Word of God. You are taking ideas from Scripture, such as the connection between marriage and the relationship between Christ and his church, but then leaping to a conclusion that the Bible itself does not support, namely that choosing not to marry is sending a false message. And if you think about it, saying they are "sending a false message about Christ and His church" is a very strong charge to make without any real support from Scripture. It is virtually calling them a heretic. In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul makes clear that he is single by choice, and even advocated it as life style for others to follow: "To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am." (1 Cor. 7:8) Do you think Paul is teaching a false message about Christ and his church here? Of course not (I hope). I am sorry, but you just cannot say what you just said. You have no right to judge people by a false and hurtful standard.

Kevin Alber

March 28, 2011 at 08:24 PM

Great article, Steve. May God's blessings continue on your ministry.

Lacye fay hepler:)

March 28, 2011 at 08:04 PM

I am sixteen yr old girl…what do I know about marriege or anything relationship wise??very little.(a wee,a tad,a smidge)…but I think what a great example you are to alot of people….:).My mom always says to me “Do not worry about getting married..they all get bald and fat in the end anyway..plus you arn’t even married in heaven.:)" ..she is teasing:):)…but either way.God has a plan for everyone and our main concern should be to serve him :)….....oh yeah and Paul was single and what a great,humble,bold follower of God even though He's dead He still speaks..(smiley face) .

[...] responding to another thread, provided a nice piece from Steve DeWitt, writing for The Gospel [...]

Phoebe

March 28, 2011 at 07:43 PM

"If a person “chooses” (I put it in quotations because I cannot italicize) to remain single, they are sending a false message about Christ and His church."

Tracy, you would do well to read 1 Corinthians 7 and Matthew 19:11-12. Your statement above is patently unbiblical and a clear denial of Scriptural teaching.

Rebekah

March 28, 2011 at 07:29 AM

Thank you for a thoughtful post that focused on what is rather than what is not! It's easier to react than it is to provide a response to a difficult issue that emphasizes scripture and maintains a respectful tone with those whom you might disagree. Although I don't really desire to be single, I do want to walk with God and be used by Him in the ways that He sees fit. When I lead Bible studies at my church, like you, I am reminded of the privilege I have been afforded to spend so much time in scripture. If I had a life more similar to most of my friends at 30, I'd have been married several years with two or three kids. Those great blessings come with a lot of responsibility and time invested that would have divided my attention. So, I am very thankful to have a firm foundation. May God continue to grow you and use you in the capacity to which He has called you!

Tracy Irvin

March 28, 2011 at 03:14 PM

I appreciate the thoughtfulness that Steve has given to the issue of singleness. But I wonder if there is another argument for marriage of ministry workers: the relationship of Christ and His church. Paul says in Eph 5.32 that he is talking about Christ and His church when he is taling about marriage. It is "odd" that a minister of the Gospel should not be married if marriage is such an important picture of the Gospel. Married people have a great opportunity to "proclaim" the gospel through their marriage, in a way that singles cannot. By not marrying, you lose one of, if not the greatest opportunity to manifest the gospel as husband and wife. If a person "chooses" (I put it in quotations because I cannot italicize) to remain single, they are sending a false message about Christ and His church. For example: children represent disciples in the Christ/Church meataphor. Children need both a father and a mother to raise them properly (regardless of what current studies say). A single parent by choice says that disciples can be made by either Christ alone or the church alone. Disciples need both Christ and the church, just as children need both parents. There may be exceptions, but they are simply that, and not the rule. The singleness of Jesus, Paul, and others are the exception, not the rule, and are descriptive, not prescriptive.
Just a thought...

wlh

March 28, 2011 at 01:53 PM

Steve,

I think you address some very important issues in your post, including the cultural bias associated with singleness and marriage. Like you said, neither are more or less spiritual than the other.

The following is a criticism I have about your argument. This is not a personal attack, nor is it intended to be combative in spirit. I only write this because I want whoever reads this to know that this is a genuine question. Also, I'm not questioning your personal position, or your church.

In your post, you compare the leadership of Jesus and the Apostle Paul with expectations of pastors. I don't want to say Jesus isn't a pastoral example, because 1 Peter 5 quite explicitly says that he is, a pastor of pastors, shepherd of shepherds. But undershepherds, pastors/elders/bishops serve in between Christ's ascension and his return. As such, God, through scripture, can give us requirements for what elders should look like that may be different than who Jesus is. For instance, why not female pastors? Its not just because Jesus was male that we wouldn't allow a female pastor.

Regarding Paul, you said:

Would Paul write qualifications that handicapped himself as a pastor? Further, we have no indication that Timothy and Titus were married. Yet they are charged with identifying and laying hands on elders who would serve under their leadership. It seems that what is good for the apostolic goose should be good enough for the pastoral gander.


Why not? Were Paul, Timothy, or Titus identified as pastors anywhere in scripture? Are apostles also pastors? Certainly an apostle could also be a pastor (i.e. Peter), but its not a necessary condition. Many members, many gifts. Eph 4 seems to make some separation between the two giftings, though together they contribute to the maturity of the church. In otherwords, I don't think its the best comparison to make between apostle and pastor. The function of one doesn't determine the function of the other.

I want to ask: by saying that someone is not qualified to be a pastor are we saying anything about them as people? Well, only if they are disqualified on moral/character terms. But pastors are only one part of a wholistic ecclesiastic gospel mission. And they are not the head at that (Jesus is). They guide and equip and teach and shepherd, important roles, but not by any means the only roles in the church. Is the reason why this question is such a big problem because we have unscripturally exalted the office of the pastor so far above all others? Also, I think we may have unscripturally equated ministry with being a pastor. To say someone could not be a pastor has become tantamount to saying someone can't minister. In my opinion, if a single person, or female, (or anyone else, for that matter) weren't the pastor, they may actually be able to do more ministry (which is what Paul is saying in 1 Cor 7).

So, I provide the counter-argument that I think there is wisdom is seeking pastors (a plurality thereof!) for local churches who are married with children (in addition to the host of other moral guidelines) because scripture gives us those guidelines, for our own good.

This doesn't mean that a single person couldn't do the job well, or even that a female couldn't do it well. In fact, you are a prime example of a single person doing it well. But your example doesn't change the qualifications in Scripture. In the crucible of the home, a qualified pastor is formed.

Again, I'm not calling for your resignation, nor am I offended at you. I felt that providing a counter-argument may be helpful to this discussion.

Please feel free to respond, rebuke, correct, admonish at will!

Lovingly and sincerely yours,

Wesley H.

Scott J. Barbieri

March 27, 2011 at 12:32 PM

Scott J. Barbieri

I know Mark Almlie, who the New York Times article was about, personally. He counseled my wife Melissa and I before we were married, and then he officiated our wedding. I am happy to say we are celebrating our 4th wedding anniversary next month and are expecting our first child in July. Mark did an excellent job working and praying with us before we married and we will always love him for it. Thank you Mark!

As I understand the concept of Churches wanting a married Father to Pastor their congregation, I believe it is unfair to say that a single Pastor could not just as good a job.

For one to think they were biblically justified in saying that God is not able to use a single Pastor in just as many and powerful ways as He can with a married father is ridiculous and quite intellectually limiting. Shame on them!

[...] the whole thing here. It’s worth noting that this is a subject where biblical theology can be enormously helpful, [...]

Kerry Prochaska

March 27, 2011 at 08:56 PM

Very, very well said! I am certainly glad to read that there is a church that accepted a single man as pastor. I came to faith in Christ a couple of years after breaking up with a long-time girl friend at the age of 40 (just as I was feeling ready to start another relationship) and instead was pulled out of the world of living by my own will to another world of living by the will of our Lord. It has been 16 years since that time when I heard His called and responded; there hasn't yet been a blessing of marriage and there may never will be one. But who do I live for? For a future wife or for the Lord? The latter is the answer and I stand by that regardless of the children who think it's weird that I am not married.

Tom

March 27, 2011 at 07:49 PM

You make a fine argument for something our brothers in the Catholic church have believed for a very long time. Good to finally see a Protestant who can argue that it's okay.
Thanks for devoting all of yourself to this ministry and for being so transparent in your blog.

Brooks Waldron

March 27, 2011 at 07:17 AM

Thanks for writing this wonderfully encouraging article! It would be a blessing to the church and the world if more Christians adopted this biblical mindset.

Chris Orcuse

March 27, 2011 at 05:45 PM

a very good point.well explained. it helps a lot to me since we were taught just recently that singles are not allowed to pastor a church. u just unlock the our mindset.thank you sir.

Anthony

March 27, 2011 at 05:09 PM

PS. Danylak’s writing is not only excellent biblical research on Singleness, but importantly, also offers an insightful perspective on God's covenantal promise and agenda from Genesis to Revelation. There are excellent exegesis of relevant passages from Scripture. Properly understood, it is in fact relevant and applicable to all relational statuses – single, married, widowed, childless, etc. It wonderfully reinforces eternity into the consideration, and thus challenges our goals and priorities in the present.

Anthony

March 27, 2011 at 01:58 AM

Thank you for sharing, Steve.

Regrettably, the Church/Christians, including most elders and leaders, are not as well biblically and faithfully informed and minded on this matter as we could and should be.

I would earnestly recommend all to Barry Danylak’s recent book “Redeeming Singleness: How the Storyline of Scripture Affirms the Single Life” (2010)(Foreword by John Piper) and Piper’s own sermon which drew heavily on Danylak’s initial research paper – http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/resources/single-in-christ-a-name-better-than-sons-and-daughters

Danylak’s initial research paper titled “A Biblical-Theological Perspective on Singleness” (2006) can also be found at – http://www.hantla.com/blog/images/biblical_singleness.pdf

Danylak’s writing is not only excellent biblical research on Singleness, but importantly, also offers an insightful perspective on God's covenantal promise and agenda from Genesis to Revelation. There are excellent exegesis of relevant passages from Scripture. Properly understood, it is in fact relevant and applicable to all relational statuses – single, married, widowed, childless, etc. It wonderfully reinforces eternity into the consideration, and thus challenges our goals and priorities in the present.

Anthony

March 27, 2011 at 01:33 AM

Thank you for sharing, Steve.

Regrettably, the Church/Christians, including most leaders, are not as well biblically and faithfully informed and minded on this matter as we could and should be.

I would earnestly recommend all to Barry Danylak’s recent book “Redeeming Singleness: How the Storyline of Scripture Affirms the Single Life” (2010)(Foreword by John Piper) and Piper’s own sermon which drew heavily on Danylak’s initial research paper – http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/resources/single-in-christ-a-name-better-than-sons-and-daughters

Danylak’s initial research paper titled “A Biblical-Theological Perspective on Singleness” (2006) can also be found at – http://www.hantla.com/blog/images/biblical_singleness.pdf

[...] (and actually, I added his blog to my reader as a result). I originally found this article on The Gospel Coalition blog. 3) Al Mohler’s response to the NYT article. Al Mohler is a guy whose opinion I greatly [...]

Lynda

March 26, 2011 at 12:51 PM

As a single woman in vocational ministry, I feel your pain! I not only deal with the gender restrictions that are often placed on women in ministry, but also with the "concern" from other believers because I am single. But, like you, even though I would welcome marriage if the Lord brought it to pass, I have found a great freedom in my ministry because I am not responsible for a husband or children. Although the loneliness still becomes a factor at times, after 30 years of ministry, I am content in whatever state God wants for me. Thank you, Steve, for your transparency.

Jason Nicholls

March 26, 2011 at 12:27 PM

Awesome. Well spoken. Your grace is evident as you write this reflective piece for us.

Mike W

March 26, 2011 at 12:01 PM

That man needs to write a book!*

*disclaimer - I am biased

Mike W

March 26, 2011 at 11:55 AM

I love this article.

Ricardo Estrada

March 26, 2011 at 11:51 AM

Wow, what a great article, I came in with a bias against single
Pastors, and by the time i finished reading it the bias was gone. Thanks for this brother.

Andrew Lisi

March 26, 2011 at 11:46 AM

Solid words that the American evangelical church definitely needs to hear over and over again in order for godliness to take priority over marital status when considering men for the pastorate.

Steve Cornell

March 26, 2011 at 11:21 AM

Not long ago, as I recall, there was some intense debate on this site about a pastor's age. In reading the current discussion on marital status, I am drawn to the same conclusion that character is the bigger issue. A primary trait that protects all leaders is humility--enough to acknowledge limitations to speak too definitively on matters outside of personal experience. Not to say that a single pastor cannot speak authoritatively about marriage. He can because his personal experience is not the authority. Yet in speaking and applying biblical truths, he can do so with a greater degree of tempered deference to how things get "worked out" in married life or in parenting. Steve's tone reflects this tempered humility. I was recently asked to speak on marriage at a high society retirement community near our Church. I opened by admitting that many listening to me have been married longer than I've been alive (although I am 50 and married for 28 years). But I truly respect years and experience beyond my own and our audiences will pick up on this attitude. We will also gain greater credibility before them by acknowledging it.

I've been a married pastor for 26 of the 28 years. When my wife and I moved to our town to start a Church we came as a team (even though I have always been the only paid member of the team). The Church has grown from 7 people to almost 600 in those years and we raised 4 children to adulthood (all of whom love God's work). I can say that my wife has been crucial to this growth. Her sacrifices and gentle and quiet spirit of continual positive support and gratitude will put her far ahead of me in a time of reward! But I know far too many situations where wives were either badly hurt by ministry or hurt their husbands ability to be effective in ministry. It's a tricky balance to juggle ministry with intense family life. If a man is married and has children, it is vitally important to look at his leadership at home before entrusting him with eldership. Marriage and parenting test a man and bring out his character and leadership strengths and weaknesses. I like that our elder team has a balance of men with small children, teenagers and adult children. I can assure you that after raising 4 children to adulthood and giving my one and only daughter's hand in marriage, I've gained a perspective that cannot be gained apart from experience. But Steve has unique abilities to identify with the really large and complex context of singles ministry.

Many blessing to you Steve! It is a joy to read of your example but I am still going to pray with you for a great companion in the work!

Marvin Dorsey

March 26, 2011 at 11:11 AM

Steve,

I never knew there were any single pastors left and who are content with that in the midst of others' stares and perceived concerns....deeply encouraging and refreshing.

Bobby

March 26, 2011 at 11:08 AM

As a pastor, who has been married eight years, but has no kids due to infertility issues, I share similar issues, though to a lesser degree.

People wonder what is wrong, or people assign motives for why we do not have children right now. I cannot imagine what it would be like to be a single pastor and field the questions, but I can relate to the issue of childlessness and the cultural expectations associated with it.

[...] the rest here. Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged Single pastors | Leave a [...]

Pastor Mike

March 26, 2011 at 10:54 AM

Well said brother. I agree - even as a pastor who is married with six children :-)

May the Lord bless your ministry and labors for his kingdom whether you remain as Paul or no.

Amy

March 26, 2011 at 08:59 PM

First of all, if there are any single men out there...nevermind not going there.

I think there's a bias against ALL single Christians. I was once told I wouldn't be able to volunteer for a young ministry at a church if I wasn't married BECAUSE single guys/gals *might* be encouraged to date the kids. Uh, ewww! And just because a guy or gal is married doesn't mean he or she is not going to have an affair with a teenager (again, EWW!) I mean, if you're going to get involved with someone underaged (I am finding it hard to control my gag reflex), I'm pretty sure you wouldn't care if you were married or not.

Then, of course, there's all the sage advice church members offer, like they're praying for me to find "the one." Maybe there is no "the one." Maybe God is "the One."

I'm open to marriage, but I'm really OK without it, too. It's too bad the rest of the congregation isn't OK with it, too.

Kathy

March 26, 2011 at 08:48 PM

You make some excellent points. I think this is one area where the evangelical church has developed an unbiblical imbalance. It makes me think of a friend, a single man serving on an isolated mission field. The only other European nearby was a R.C. priest. Our friend eventually converted to Catholicism, and we always wondered how much his singleness had to do with it. The Catholics understand singleness for the sake of ministry (though they are off-balance in the other direction) while evangelicals tend to treat it as "second best."

RB > Single and Married Pastors

March 26, 2011 at 08:08 PM

[...] (and actually, I added his blog to my reader as a result). I originally found this article on The Gospel Coalition blog. 3) Al Mohler’s response to the NYT article. Al Mohler is a guy whose opinion I greatly [...]

bill

March 26, 2011 at 05:14 PM

very encouraging to single men, thankyou.

James

March 26, 2011 at 04:22 PM

Need to revise my comment above. The pastor was not emphatic that Paul would not be hired because he was single. His response was that Paul might not be hired if he didn't meet the needs of the position, of which being married was an important one.

James

March 26, 2011 at 04:18 PM

Thank you so much for your article. It is hard to argue with the Bible, although some people continue to do so because of cultural bent. God's work marches on irrespective of the marital status of his undershepherds. When I joined the elder board in the midst of a search for an associate pastor, I noticed that our job description began, "We are looking for a married man . . ." I turned to the senior pastor in an elders' meeting and asked if this were a real requirement and if so, would the Apostle Paul be disqualified. The answer: yes, if he did not meet all our criteria. Hard to believe any minister of the gospel would say that. But I was there, asked the question and got that answer.

Ryan

March 26, 2011 at 02:49 PM

I'm a single guy studying and interning for the pastorate. I am not married. I would like to be, eventually, but I have no idea if it will happen or not. It is really up do God I realize, and I am ok with that. But it is a hard thing to be okay with and not be anxious. Reading the article in the NY post about single pastors was a bit alarming and discouraging. On top of that, reading Albert Mohler's article on the subject (and I am no Mohler hater by any means) was down right hurtful. What if I never do get married? Does that mean I do not qualified to be a pastor? I felt like I had been kicked while I was down.

Anyway, I really appreciate this article. It is really encouraging and it is the best kind of encouragement because I think it is deeply rooted in the Word of God. So I really want to thank you for writing this. It means a lot to me, and I am sure it will to a lot of other people as well. It could not have been easy to write because it is so personal, so I just want you to know it has really blessed me. Thanks so much, and I praise God for your story.

[…] marrieds, and some even suggest that singles should not serve as pastors. I have previously written in defense of singleness in the pastoral role. When I wrote the article, I had served as a single pastor […]

Mike Burbank

June 15, 2013 at 03:40 PM

So I pose the question as a single male ---
How does a single guy,called by God to be a Youth Pastor ever find a job then?

Steve DeWitt

July 23, 2011 at 06:09 PM

Lindsay, very well said. Thanks for the note and living example of single devotion!

David Fleet

January 7, 2013 at 07:54 PM

I didnt see any of those IF'S in Scripture...

John Morgan

August 4, 2013 at 11:49 PM

Excellent article Steve. There are many churches, especially SBC, that have actually banned single pastors from being hired. In my opinion, discrimination, mistrust, marginalization, and criminalization of single men is the number one ethical problem in America today. And as shocking as it may sound, churches are leading the way. The Baptists had to deal with a character like Albert Mohler for years in charge of their ethics commission who even proclaimed that singleness was sinful and "prolonged adolescence." Now they're having to deal with the misguided Russell Moore who has humorously issued a marriage mandate calling for all single men to marry as early as possible and thumping "true love does not date. It mates." Who would have ever thought that blasphemy would be coming from the largest Protestant denomination in America? John Morgan, St. Paul's Call International

Horatio

August 31, 2012 at 07:26 PM

I didn't say that I liked the idea, but I don't believe my assessment is inaccurate. The reason is, that the people who adopt this viewpoint know that they themselves lack the ability to remain celibate, and they cannot believe anyone else could possibly do what they themselves cannot do. They project their knowledge of their own lack of self-control on to the single minister, although they would never admit either (their lack of self-control or the projection) publicly.

Most people think Paul was odd, or because he was an apostle (not an ordinary man) he had special mystical powers that mere mortals do not have. In addition, they see him as an apostle, not a pastor, never staying in one place too long to be a danger to anyone. And some probably don't believe he was really celibate either.

Ryan

August 31, 2012 at 07:08 PM

If that's what they believe it shows a sad lack of faith. Do we not believe that God is able to empower people to live celibate lives? How can one assume such things and then read the letters of Paul, the single Apostle? Do they he was either a closet homosexual or masturbating all the time or going out of town to hook up with a member of the opposite sex?

The Bachelor Pastor « All About Him

August 22, 2012 at 12:59 AM

[...] have written a defense of singleness and ministry that is available online here, so I won’t go over it again other than to say, from my experience, there are massive advantages [...]

Dani

August 15, 2011 at 01:47 AM

I know that I'm very late coming into this discussion! But nevertheless I wanted to respond to the statement that "If someone is gifted with singleness, they will be supernaturally equipped to bear the burdens of being single: the loneliness at times, the sexual frustration, etc. If they are gifted, they will bring glory to God through their singleness. If someone chooses to be single and is battling those things and others, he is not gifted, and will bring dishonor to God".

Clearly this is a common explanation of the 'gift of singleness', but I'm convinced it is not actually a biblical one. There is nowhere in 1 Cor 7 (or elsewhere in Scripture) which suggests that the gift of singleness is a special injection of the Holy Spirit given to rare individuals such that they will not battle loneliness, temptation and frustration in their singleness. When Paul refers to singleness as a gift he doesn't say he wishes all had what he has (ie. this special supernatural ability to 'bear' being single). Instead he says that he wishes all were as he was. What was he? He was single.

Not once does he say he was never lonely. Not once does he say he didn't battle temptation. Not once does he say that he was not frustrated by his singleness. And yet we continue to insist on reading all of that into one very short verse in Scripture.

According to 1 Cor 7, the gift of singleness is simply the gift of being single. It is a gift we are all born with and we will either keep it for life or be given a different gift (marriage) by God. Even then, we may be given back the gift of being single through divorce of widowhood.

Equating the gift of singleness with a special injection of the Holy Spirit to enable the recipient to be totally content and temptation free has two very unfortunate and harmful consequences. Firstly, it means that those who, under God's sovereign will, remain single for life (potentially God's plan for those four women Tracy mentioned at the end of her post... and potentially for me also), but who are not 100% content, do struggle with temptation and are lonely end up feeling cheated by God since He has not provided them with this special spiritual empowerment but has also withheld a spouse. Secondly, it totally misplaces the biblical call to contentment. In Phil 4 Paul talks about having learnt the secret of being content in any and every situation. That contentment came through God who gave him the strength to be content whethere in want or in plenty. Paul's secret of contentment was through cultivating prayerful dependence on God in his need and hoy in his eternal salvation... NOT through a special spiritual endowment which meant he never felt hungry or needy. Why then do we assume that being content in singleness requires a special spiritual endowment?

I would never want to condone single christian men to justify ongoing spiritual immaturity, ungodliness and unkindness to others (particularly to single women - of which I am one) by appealing to the 'gift of singleness'. However, I think we do both single christians - and God's word - a great disservice when we misunderstand and misapply the nature of the gift. Indeed, I think in consistently misunderstanding the nature of the gift we have all too often missed the goodness of the gift - especially when it is a gift God has chosen to give those of us who didn't specifically as for it.

[...] recent New York Times article exploring this topic has created quite a response in the Christian community, with some saying that pastoral search committees should be [...]

[...] can read Pastor DeWitt’s article here at the Gospel Coalition blog, for a glimpse of his experience as a single man in love with the bride of [...]

Rosie

April 3, 2011 at 07:56 PM

Thank you for sharing about your ministry as a single brother in Christ. It very well may be the way God is most glorified in your life. My mind goes to 1 Tim 6:6 "Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment..." May God continue to be gracious to you and those around you as you love and serve Him with all the strength He gives you to do so. Phil 4:13

Judy Scott

April 2, 2011 at 11:33 AM

Pastor Steve was my pastor for a very short time after he began the ministry. He is where God wants him and will continue to do His work either single or married as a pastor. The ministry of his church is proof enough that God can even bless a church with a single pastor. So here's to Steve in doing the work of God.

Bernadette Krivacs

April 2, 2011 at 10:50 AM

Lacy, May God bless you and keep you, may His face shine upon you as your post did mine.

Bernadette Krivacs

April 2, 2011 at 10:37 AM

I agree. Pastor Steve's sermons minister to the heart of the people. I have grown over the two years being at Bethel. Married or not it's about the heart of the Pastor. My husband and I have been married for 12 years, and if we needed marriage counseling I would go to Pastor Steve. He would give biblical counseling, not experience counseling.

Lucy

April 1, 2011 at 11:09 PM

Even though I'm not a pastor, I was so relieved to read this article. Relieved to know that marriage isn't the only picture of the Gospel. I've had a very self-centered view of my singleness. I hadn't considered my singleness as a testimony before; I'd only thought about how being single affected me and only me. Thank you for sharing the truth that being single also mirrors the Gospel - that encourages me to not waste my singleness.

Mo

April 1, 2011 at 05:12 PM

Thank you so much for this wonderful and refreshing article!

I have always just assumed so many pastors are married because people generally do get married. I guess I didn't realize that in some churches it is actually a requirement. That boggles my mind. As far as I know, it's not required in my church. But again, nearly all the pastors just happen to be married. (We are a multi-site church, so I am no longer familiar with all our people scattered throughout the city.)

As a single person myself, I can so relate to the loneliness and pain of it all. I would never wish "forever singleness" on anyone. But your congregation is indeed fortunate to have someone who understands that aspect of life. How weary I am of married people standing up there and telling us how wonderful it is to be single!