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Monday, January 30, 2012

A Biblical Defense (and Advocacy) of Single Ministers/Pastors

We’ve all read them:
Wanted: Lead Minister/Pastor to serve at All Things Church here in beautiful Redrum Hills, WV. Applicant must have at least an undergraduate degree in Bible from an in-house institution, though a Master of Divinity is preferred. Applicant must have 263 years experience in ministry and must also be married, have 2.3 kids, and hold to sound doctrine while able to communicate well. Job requirements include … 
… I’ll stop right there, because the next part of the usual want ad leaves me just as concerned as the point of this post. However, I will say this: Please, elderships and search committees, read Acts 6:1-6! Other people can do things!

OK. Leaving that aside for now, I want to focus on that little phrase that sinks the heart of many of my brothers in Christ when looking for a local body to serve in. That phrase is brief, but it packs a punch. It reads, “must also be married”.

For the sake of all my single brothers out there, and as a gentle rebuke of the church-at-large, I want to say that this requirement cannot stand up to the test of Scripture regarding who can minister; particularly most effectively. A hard look at Paul’s instructions on the matter of marriage and service to God begs further reflection; and this reflection may help to serve the Body of Christ by granting access to leadership roles to the plethora of worthy men who just happen to not be married.

And as a note: I’m writing this as a married man, with 2.3 kids!

I would like to focus on Paul’s teaching regarding marriage that we find in his first letter to the Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul gives his (and the Lord’s) instructions pertaining to marriage, separation, re-marriage, etc. It is throughout this chapter that we can decipher how Paul views single-men ministers as advantageous to the Kingdom of God.

First, Paul tells the unmarried and the widows “that it is good for them to remain single as I am” (v.8). Now certainly what follows is just as important; that if the unmarried or widows cannot control their sexual desires, then they should marry instead of “burn with passion” (v.9). It is good to note here that v.9 shows us what Paul’s controlling authority in this entire section is: Holiness. God’s desire is that we are to be holy as He is holy; and here Paul is saying that it is good to remain single UNLESS one would become unholy by being sexually immoral outside the bounds of marriage (i.e. burn with passion and submit to it). We’ll come back to this point later.

So here we have an initial teaching by Paul: staying single, like he is, is better. It is not a command (v.6), but celibacy is a gift from God that some have (v.7; I’m also inclined to use Jesus’ somewhat strange teaching about eunuchs in Matt 19:10-12 here as well; i.e. “let the one who is able to receive this teaching, receive it”). Therefore, if one has the gift of celibacy, and they do not burn with passion, they can stay unmarried and Paul advocates such a position.

Moving on, there are four other times in chapter 7 where Paul points to his advocacy of singleness.

First, 7:28
But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. 
Then, 7:32-35 (which is the key text as for Paul’s reasoning as to why singleness is better for ministers)
I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord. 
Then, 7:38
So then he who married his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better. 
And finally, 7:40 (concerning women who are single after husband dies, v.39)
Yet in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is. 
Here we have five different times in the same chapter that Paul advocates singleness above marriage. Again, the exception to this “rule” is if the single person cannot maintain their self-control and their urges are too strong. Then, due to holiness, Paul certainly wants single men and women to marry so that sexual activity can happen within the marriage bond.

Verses 32-35 are the key text, which Paul lays the groundwork for in v.8. He is single and he is as free as one can be for the work of the Lord. He goes where he wants when he wants (as led by God) and he is not anxious about “worldly” things. This is who he wants people to be for the sake of the Kingdom and the proclamation of the Gospel. Verses 32-35 say what every single married person who is reading it knows: that when married, our attention and anxieties turn to things other than the Lord. On the other hand Paul says the obvious: that if one is not married they can have “undivided devotion to the Lord.”

To bring this full circle now: how should this rather explicit teaching regarding marriage and singleness inform us regarding the hiring and sending out of ministers/pastors; particularly lead ministers/pastors? I would argue that if the single man has displayed holiness in his single life and he has proven to be a man of self-control regarding his sexual desires, that he should be at the TOP of the list to be hired or sent (barring any other objections or other skill sets missing that others may fill better). However, what we find today is that the single man will rarely, if ever, be hired as a lead minister/pastor, except for perhaps a youth group setting. Married men will always be preferred, but what I fear is that some married men who are being hired are much farther down the holiness scale than a single counterpart; yet Paul always promoted holiness above anything else.

I understand the desire to have a “family man” in the pulpit or as a leader in another capacity. For one, it is indeed written that, “it is not good for a man to be alone” (Gen 2:18). Also, the apostles (including Peter) and Jesus’ brothers were married (1 Cor 9:5) and there is something to be said for that. More so, congregations want somebody who is experienced in family life because that is where most people in our society are going in life (getting married, having kids) unless they are already; and so they will want the lead minister/pastor to be someone most people can relate to. However, we must come to grips with the fact that this factor was not the consideration of Paul in this letter. Consider Paul as a good case of singleness. Then of course there is Timothy, who Paul put in charge of the church in Ephesus. For all we know he was young and he was single; yet there he was, pastoring these churches and placing elders and deacons on top of that! And obviously, there was Jesus, who was perfect in every way, and single to boot.

In summary, I would simply like to encourage local churches to not automatically rule out hiring a single man as a lead minister or pastor. As Paul told the Corinthians, a single man who has displayed holiness in his celibacy is a better choice, for he will only be anxious about the things of the Lord, and not the things of the world. This can only be good for the Kingdom.


1 comment:

  1. Good post! I'm glad a married guy posted this, if I posted it would just be perceived as complaining.