What Churches Should Know When Their Pastors Are Single

(Photo by Angel Origgi on Unsplash)

"But I wish everyone were single, just as I am" (1 Cor. 7:7, NLT).

That the apostle Paul was either a lifelong single or widowed seems to be the consensus of scholars.

There's an old joke about a committee telling a young pastoral candidate why they would not consider him. "You're not married." He responded, "The apostle Paul was not married." A member of the team said, "Yes, but he couldn't stay out of jail long enough to take care of a wife!"

It's not that pastor search committees are against singleness. Every member of the search team either is now or has been single at some point. It's rather that they believe marriage has a good effect on a man, and they prefer a pastor who has the balance in his life which only a loving, faithful, dedicated female can provide.

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Also—let's admit the obvious here—they're deathly afraid of what might happen if the preacher starts dating someone in the congregation! Horrors.

Jimmy, a single pastor, tells me churches fear the notion of calling such a person as their shepherd for various reasons:

– They think he won't be able to minister to families if he doesn't have one of his own. Never mind that he grew up in a family!

– Perhaps they fear scandals such as those rocking the Catholic Church. As though marriage would cure a pedophile.

– Or maybe they feel his lack of experience as a husband/father/head of household would limit his ability to relate.

Either way, says my friend, such churches would end up bypassing the Lord Jesus and the apostle Paul for their pastors.

Paul Recommended Singleness in Ministers

Most of our churches have not quite known what to do with 1 Corinthians 7 but it's there, in their Bibles:

I say to the unmarried and widows that it is good for them if they live even as I am. But if they cannot restrain themselves, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion (1 Cor. 7:8-9, MEV).

Now concerning virgins, I have no command from the Lord. Yet I will give my judgment as one who has obtained mercy from the Lord to be faithful. I suppose therefore that this is good because of the present distress, that it is good for a man to remain as he is. Are you committed to a wife? Do not seek to be uncommitted. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you marry, you have not sinned. And if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Nevertheless they will have trouble in this life, but I would spare you that (1 Cor. 7:25-28).

But I prefer that you have no concern. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord. ... I say this for your own benefit, not to put any restraint upon you, but for what is proper, and that you may serve the Lord without distraction (1 Cor. 7:32, 35).

I think–without going into it here—we know what Paul is saying. The married pastor is expected home for dinner, will be attending his kids' ball games and helping them with homework, and will necessarily be dealing constantly with domestic issues. A single person presumably has none of these distractions (and is able to work 12 hours a day and be on call 24/7).

That's the plan, at least. But there are two sides to every one of these points.

I'm recalling a Catholic priest from earlier in my ministry who was a good guy and a friend of some of us Baptist preachers. Sam battled alcoholism, however. A colleague said to me, "If I had to go home to a cat the way Father Sam does every night, I might have a drinking problem, too!"

So, there are pros and cons to everything.

Some pastors weigh in on this subject:

Andrew, a single pastor for perhaps 15 years, married a lovely lady not long ago. After reading the above, here are his thoughts on the subject....

– I had a search committee tell me, "You need to be married so your wife can play the piano and be involved in church." It was a small congregation.

– I learned early on that single pastors have to beware of the occasional married woman who is unhappy in her marriage. She may see the pastor as her ideal husband: spiritual, godly, kind, a leader. In one church I was especially cautious around a particular lady. She was young, attractive and dissatisfied in her marriage. And she gave these great hugs. So, the pastor has to guard against his own mind in these instances.

– Single pastors are not lacking in anything as a result of being unmarried. God has him single for a reason.

– My single years provided an opportunity for the church to minister to me. I urge the churches to pray for their unmarried pastor in the same way they would pray for their own sons who are single. Do not treat the pastor differently.

Curtis has been at his church 18 years. He is usually my go-to resource on the subject of single pastors. Here are his thoughts:

I'm 39 now. My people are less concerned by my singleness now than they were 18 years ago when I came to this church.

– My church gets a higher percentage, a bigger slice of the pie of me, than if I were married and had kids. I cannot imagine giving this much time and energy to ministry if I had a family.

– If your pastor is single, you shouldn't expect to be able to drop by his home and find it spotless and tidy. That is, unless the housing allowance includes maid service.

– Credibility in counseling families and couples in a church is always earned, regardless of the marital status of the minister. It's harder to earn as a single, of course, but most of the time I have a waiting list for counseling.

– The church should never base the pastor's salary on his marital status. It's not fair to penalize him for being single.

– When the church has dinners, it's always a good idea to prepare some takeout for the pastor's fridge. Unmarried pastors appreciate the thoughtfulness.

– Church members should be cautious in trying to set up the preacher with a niece or granddaughter. This can be awkward and lead to difficult situations.

– Finally, the pastor will appreciate people not constantly referring to his singleness or making jokes about it.

The two unmarried pastors I consulted (along with Andrew, the newly married one) tell me they are pro-marriage and would love to be married. But she has to be "the one" the Lord provides.

Jimmy gets the last word on the subject. He said to me, "Even though I am not married, I love my wife. Bless her heart. Whomever the Lord sees fit to send will have to be a special lady, indeed. It will be nice to have someone to share in the joys of ministry, but at the same time, I dread to see her have to share in the low moments and despair."

Thank God for faithful pastors. Let us pray for the Lord's shepherds.

Joe McKeever is retired from the pastorate but still active in preaching, writing and cartooning for Christian publications. He lives in Ridgeland, Mississippi.

This article originally appeared at joemckeever.com.

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