Article: ‘That’s Odd’: On Bias Against Single Pastors
Please note: the following is hosted by the Gospel Coalition Blog. They are “gender complementarians” and tend to be Reformed. I vehemently disagree with gender complementarianism and do not accept Reformed theology (to me, it’s the same as Calvinism, and I don’t like Calvinism either).
Excerpts (the guy who wrote this later went on to get married for the first time at age 44):
- 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.