February 15, 2011
Are We Afraid of Single Pastors? (Part 2)
Where did the prejudice against single pastors come from, and how do we move past it?
Prejudice is like a cockroach: it is able to get into the smallest of places, and it never seems to die. What’s worse is that everyone carries the cockroach of prejudice somewhere inside of them. Prejudice is a pre-conceived notion, an irrational assumption, a judgment against another without any evidence. We believers are called to rise above showing “personal favoritism” (James 2:1), because there is “no partiality with God” (Romans 2:11). Even so, prejudice against single pastors abounds.
Prejudice against single pastors
When I press people on why they think single pastors are treated with suspicion, 99 percent of the time I get a list of fears rather than actual evidence:
“What if he’s gay?”
“What if he flirts with all the single women at church?”
“What if he tries to steal a married woman for himself?”
“There must be something wrong with him because he’s single.”
“Aren’t single pastors more likely to molest our children?”
Fear. That’s what binds these comments together. Especially the fear of human sexuality/desire. As if human desire is a monster that can only be tamed by marriage. This fear certainly doesn’t come from being bombarded by national sex scandals involving protestant single pastors! So where does it come from? It is the cockroach of prejudice creeping around in the dark corners of our mind. It’s an irrational assumption that singles lack self-control, while married people do not.
For example: a church I know has a new rule. There must now be two Sunday school teachers in each classroom. It’s a good rule to be sure. But the reason for the change was due to a single man who replaced a married man as the Sunday school teacher. The parents were “terrified” that the single man couldn’t be trusted. It’s hard enough to get men to volunteer at church. Here’s a guy that loves Jesus and wants to serve but is treated like a potential child molester because he’s single. This prejudice needs to be lovingly corrected and talked about if we want to overcome it in our churches.
Another common fear I often hear is, “A single pastor can’t give counsel to married people.” Yet it is on two single men that we base virtually all of our marriage advice—Jesus and Paul. Do you think Jesus and Paul gave inferior marriage advice because they were single? Family and marriage therapists give counsel all the time on things they have not experienced themselves (loss of a parent, divorce, drug addiction, etc). Experience is not our only teacher; formal training and learning from the experience of others are also good teachers.
Must pastors be married?
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. Barry Danylak, author of the excellent new book Redeeming Singleness: How the storyline of scripture affirms the single life (foreword by John Piper), sums up what we should glean from this phrase: “Being a ‘man of one woman’ means keeping your sexual activity within the confines of a single woman/wife as is in keeping with a high view of sexuality.”
Where do we go from here?
Our married pastors need to preach the goodness of singleness in accord with 1 Corinthians 7 (consider emailing this post to your senior pastor). Denominations should write position papers affirming singleness as equally biblical as marriage. And pastoral search committees need to stop listing marriage as a requirement in their job applications.
Finally, prominent Evangelicals concerned about the importance of marriage need to avoid obscuring the importance of singleness. Albert Mohler (President of the Southern Baptist Seminary) recently wrote: “From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible assumes that marriage is normative for human beings.”1 The Bible makes no such assumption. In 1 Corinthians 7, for instance, Paul argues that both marriage and singleness are normative for Christians.
The early church thankfully overcame their prejudice against Gentiles. Evangelicals can overcome their prejudice against single pastors. But the process will require candid and ongoing dialogue. Now is the time to start speaking out truthfully and graciously about this important but seldom talked about issue.