Are We Afraid of Single Pastors? (Part 2)
Where did the prejudice against single pastors come from, and how do we move past it?

Read part 1 of "Are We Afraid of Single Pastors?"

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.

February 15, 2011

Displaying 1–10 of 45 comments

Dave Weidlich

August 07, 2011  11:14am

Mark, I feel for you. I've seen the difference as I have searched for ministry positions both as a single person and as a married person (with a really cute family portrait - I think they got me some jobs). I live in Petaluma too. Are you still in town. Contact me. Let's network. I'd like to invite you to our Petaluma pastors group - Blessings.

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Robert Padgett

June 08, 2011  10:51pm

It is unfortunate that a person with your talents and many abilities is still unemployed...and unmarried. In Genesis 9:1 the Lord commanded Noah and his descendants to be fruitful and multiply. Can we condemn congregations dominated by families from preferring a pastor who honors that commandment?

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Julia Duin

April 08, 2011  8:23pm

Mark, I am so glad a male pastor is raising awareness on this awful issue. The prejudice against singles in evangelical churches is breathtaking. I have been writing about this for 20 years in various books; mostly recently in the 5th chapter of my 2008 book "Quitting Church." I've been quite amused by some of the above comments that assume that singles are raging sex-o-maniacs. If I've been hit on by anyone at church, it's been the married men! Anyway, singles are leaving church in droves. You think it's bad being a single in church; try adopting as a single parent. The condemnation is something else.

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March 29, 2011  9:49am

On a different but similar subject I too have experienced discrimination in other ways than listed by the author. After being unemployed for over five months and having applied to nearly eighty churches across many denominations I am convinced that there is much discrimination being exercised in America that goes far beyond marital status. Here are a few that I have encountered: a) age related discrimination b) denominational affiliation discrimination c) image discrimination. For instance, your chances of getting noticed in large progressive churches increase dramatically if you are young and under 40. I actually had a Christian consulting agency tell me this. Denominational discrimination is a result of churches avoiding altogether any potential theological conflicts or differences between them and the candidate, so they avoid candidates that may not reflect their values and theological views even though they may have no proof to the contrary other than the denominations you have been affiliated with. So, due to the desire to avoid a conversation about such matters, their avoidance is based solely upon the denominational affiliation of the candidate alone listed on their resume. Image discrimination refers to the candidates fashion style and overall look including size. The same Christian consultant company told me that churches today are into branding themselves and worship leaders and pastors especially need to reflect the brand which means that the candidates style is as important than substance. After being in ministry for over 20 years and engaged in a lengthy job search for the first time in my life it has been a very disheartening process, especially to discover that there are so many obstacles in front of the candidate in the form of discrimination. However, I'm afraid the concern is very likely to be of no effect based on my experience. Churches are not motivated to behave any differently because all denominations have their own interests and ways of doing things and religious organizations are not obligated to adhere to the same discrimination laws as in secular society. (As a clarification, these observations are particularly true of progressive large/mega churches all over America (1500+).)

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March 25, 2011  12:25pm

I think the article and some of these comments are valid when describing Christians in general, but when we are talking about being a pastor, then there are altogether different requirements that includes living a life that is "above reproach." You wrote, "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." You are right that Paul is speaking of both married and unmarried Christians in 1 Corin. 7, but he is not addressing the qualifications for pastors here, where he does explicitly in 1 Tim 3. I think that is extremely important to acknowledge. As one who is in the process of entering the ministry, I personally knew and acknowledged where I struggled with specific sin and temptation. Namely, I have never met a single man who has not dabbled into pornography a certain percentage of his life. As a married man, that particular temptation has been reduced dramatatically( although not completely). Honestly speaking, unless you are a eunuch, then lust will be something you will struggle with for the rest of you life. Yes, both married and single Christian men will struggle with this, but single men will logically have more (all other things being equal). Perhaps the most important practical reason that 97% of protestant evangelical pastors are married is that it is part of how a man proves his leadership ability and seems to be the "norm" by what scripture teaches and by what we see today (e.g, I've never met a single senior pastor). That is why Paul addressed these issues. It was something that came up then, so God divinely inspired him to write it down for when it comes up now. This is also what Al Mohler was talking about. He wasn't talking about what the norm is for Christians, but for pastors. Finally, I believe in the absolute sovereignty of God in all things. Meaning, if it is God's will that you be married, then you will be. However, if you desire to be in public ministry, then biblical wisdom would say that you should be desiring marriage just as much. You need to how to bear witness with someone who changes poopy diapers all day and the dude who doesn't know why his wife doesn't love him anymore. I will be bold enough to say that, a single person cannot counsel a married person with marriage issues. Its like having never played football and trying to help a professional (maybe not pro) football player with his game. Get out of here.

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March 23, 2011  11:42pm

"Especially the fear of human sexuality/desire." Mr. Almie, you lament the evils of prejudice but I have to ask, do you fear those who have a different sexuality?

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March 23, 2011  3:58pm

Thanks Mark for a really interesting article. I'm a single young man in seminary in the UK preparing for pastoral ministry in an evangelical Anglican context, and this is something that has come up a few times at college. Several of my friends who are single men in their final year looking for pastorates have admitted that their singleness has been a factor in their inability to find openings, and has caused some awkward questions. From my own experience, I was grilled several times during my denomination's selection process about my singleness, with a clear implication in several interviews that there was either something wrong with me, or that I would be a liability to my future church as I would always be fending off "cassock chasers", or worse, getting involved with them... Whilst I don't think marital status is defining for the pastorate (Jesus and Paul and many others are testimony to that), I think there is a legitimate point to make that the calling to celibacy for ministry is pretty rare, and God's plan for most people includes marriage. In a Western culture where a lot of individuals (especially men) are refusing to grow up and take on the responsibilities of life, of which marriage is often one, I think there are valid questions to be asked about someone who doesn't appear to be making an effort to get married, and whether there are deeper character issues that are behind this, and in a position of responsibilty like the pastorate, those issues are important. That said, there are plenty of immature married men around with equally serious character defects that raise questions about their suitability for the pastorate. In reality, I suspect it is more likely to be one or more of three fears: he's gay, we haven't got a wife to run mothers' groups/ bake sale etc, or he can't do marital counselling. In my experience, the minister's wife is definitely seen as an unpaid member of staff, and it's very hard to wean churches away from that. FWIW I'm currently dating a lovely girl in my church who I'm sure would make a great minister's wife (as several people have told me!), but if we end up married, it certainly won't be to further my career!

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March 23, 2011  11:36am

The point of singles having limited ability to counsel married couples and families is well taken, but let's be fair and admit that pastors and lay people who marry very young, usually under the protection of their parents, have similarly little idea of the challenges that single adults face. Even more so perhaps because singles acknowledge they don't have that experience whereas a lot of married people in the church won't. All people face real life, albeit, different challenges regardless of their station in life. It is possible for a person to grow and mature as an adult without the benefit of a spouse. Those who marry while still in or right after school often have no concept of what single adulthood looks like beyond the age of 22. We're still freewheeling kids to them. It's insulting, but it also gives them permission to ignore our needs. The lack of single pastors only reflects this attitude.

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Mark's cousin

March 23, 2011  1:58am

The following personal illustration shows our human tendency to attribute incorrectly, as well as to identify with those we perceive as similar to us... In a small group my wife and I were part of, two new couples joined. The leader asked that we focus on getting to know the younger of the two families, because "they are your AGE." We subsequently learned that the younger couple was 10 years our junior, while the older couple was 3 years our junior. We were about 5 years younger than the leaders. Upon reflection, we realized that not having kids made us seem much younger and "disqualified" us (in the minds of the leader) from relating to the older of the two couples, as they had two children. The couple that was a decade younger than us had no children. From our perspective, we enjoyed getting to know both couples. In general, we have friends and family of all different ages and stages. It seems that many, including our leaders, feel most comfortable with people "like themselves," and draw false conclusions about people who are at a different life stage from them (i.e. - our age).

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March 23, 2011  1:06am

This is exactly why I left the church so many decades ago. So much discrimination, hypocrisy, and baggage. Mr. Almlie would be better off forming his own ministry and establish a church where ALL people are accepted in a nondiscriminatory way.

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