Are We Afraid of Single Pastors?
If being unmarried was good enough for Jesus and Paul...

Is being a Protestant single pastor like being a married Catholic priest? Is it an oxymoron?

I never would have thought so until the economic crisis hit, and I had to find a new pastoral position. For the first time in my career my future was in the hands of a search committee, rather than a personal connection.

I'm ordained, 37, single (never married), with experience pastoring in large churches. Given my credentials, I had zero anxiety initially. Then I started reading "job requirement" phrases like these in pastoral job applications:

-"We are looking for a married man"

-"Preferably married"

-"Is married (preferably with children)"

These churches explicitly were not looking to hire someone single–like Jesus or Paul. I then was surprised to discover that even though the majority of adult Americans are single (52 percent), that only 2 percent of senior pastors in my denomination are single! Something was clearly amiss.

Why were so many churches "requiring" a pastor to be married? Jesus wasn't. Paul wasn't. Almost all pastors were single until the time of the Reformation. Is it wise to "require" that our Evangelical pastors be married? Is it biblical?

Some Perspective from Church History

For the first 1,500 years of church history singleness, not marriage, was lauded as next to godliness. Let me say that again—for the first fifteen hundred years.

St. Jerome's 4th century holiness codes (which were widely embraced), taught that celibate singleness was 100 percent holy, widowhood 60 percent, and marriage a paltry 30 percent. One reason for this pervasive way of thinking was an overly physiological interpretation of Psalm 51:5. "In sin my mother conceived me" was taken to mean that the act of having sex was sinful because it passed on the sin nature.

Thus married couples who kept having sex were considered only 30 percent holy. Widows were no longer having sex so they moved up the perceived holiness ladder to 60 percent. Celibate singles never had sex. Ergo, in the Christian culture of the Middle Ages, singles were the moral high class of society.

Sound ridiculous? It was. It still is. It made an idol out of singleness.

One of the biggest scandals of the Reformation was Martin Luther preaching that it was okay to renounce your vow of celibacy. Against Jerome and the church fathers, whom he criticized as "never having written anything good about marriage," he had the audacity to preach that marriage was a good thing. Then the former monk did the most "unholy" thing imaginable: he got married. It's quite possible that no one in the history of the church has done more to elevate the status of marriage than Luther.

January 31, 2011

Displaying 1–10 of 55 comments


November 19, 2013  12:46pm

I dislike the attitude of many churches and denomination about how they mistrust and debase singles and single hood. Not only is it unbiblical it is unkind and ungodly. I believe any person today- male or female- called to the ministry should go the non-traditional route and start their own church. It would require you having a second career, but that is something that can be done and was done in the past as well. If you remember the Apostle Paul was a tent maker by day and preached on his time off. I realize that starting a church is hard work, but if you really feel the Lord has called you to preach then he will empower you to do the church plant. I am single and not sure if I ever will marry- at 48 it is very hard to find anyone compatible and for a man like me the idea of having to change my current lifestyle is not something I am willing to do just for a job. I like being single- I am accountable to no one but myself and God. I have always been a very independent type of person- sort of a loner to some extent. I tried to have a roommate- a nice Christian guy- but after a while even he and I didn't see eye to eye on some things and was glad when he moved out. I just think with me being so set in my ways that i would not be happy married. I am not a hermit- I enjoy having friends but the whole romantic marriage thing just does not appeal to me at all. I found out also how churches frown on single ministers when I tried to find a ministry job. I mostly applied to children's ministry positions. Most churches want many years of ministry experience. I am a school teacher and just finished up my MDIV last year, but even with years of teaching experience under my belt most don't even take into account teaching as the type of experience they want for a pastorate. I'm not sure if I will continue to look for a ministry job or not- I will just stay in teaching and I may try to start my own church. I have also considered doing evangelistic speaking engagements. My dad is a pastor so I know the ins and outs of what pastors go through so I might be happier just speaking instead of doing the counseling and other hum drum things pastors are expected to do. I also don't like the attitude that churches today have that the pastor is to do all the visiting and witnessing and bringing the people into the church. Sorry but that is not only unbiblical but the main reason main stream churches are dying- Christian people are not bringing their unsaved friends to church nor leading people to Christ. The great Commission is for all Christians not for the pastors. It says "Go ye"- not "go pastor" into all the world preaching the gospel. So again I challenge single people called to ministry to consider starting their own church. With so many single adults who are unchurched why not consider starting with a bible study group that could potentially become a church? I think it is about time people reach singles for Christ. Singles desire authentic community. Singles have different needs than married people. Many are lonely and need godly relationships. We- single ministers- can help to fill the void many singles need- their need for Christ and for community.

Report Abuse

Sermon Illustrations

January 04, 2012  7:34pm

I guess looking at as an isolated case it cannot be judged as right or wrong, but if there is a trend than I would probably side with those who believe it is a problem

Report Abuse

Jason C. Prater

January 01, 2012  11:30pm

Great article... Thanks for posting. A couple of thoughts... I certainly agree that having a married pastor is more of Western approach to leadership than to a Biblical to the pastorate. Churches like to have a model family - preferably good-looking - to model to the community and to its members. There is something about a married man that represents the feeling of stability. He is rooted and grounded (or so we believe). As a single man (divorced) in church leadership, I can see both sides of the fence. While I have made it a rule to never dispense marriage advice to anyone, it has more to do with my divorced background. However, I do believe that a single (never married) pastor is more than capable of giving advice to married couples. Here's why... The root of all marriage problems is sin. Plain and simple. From adultery to emotional abuse to lack of maturity... the root of all of it is sin. If a single pastor is rooted in the Bible and is mature, he can handle this AND should be be handled to trust such matters. Should a single pastor counsel a person of the opposite sex? No. But neither should a married pastor. Being single and in ministry - while tough - has been a major blessing. I am have been able to give everything I have to those placed under my leadership. If a call comes in the middle of the night, I can take it. If a congregational member needs to talk for two hours after church service, I can sit with him or her and talk without having a family dinner to rush to. My thoughts and prayer are always with those who are placed under me. What can be dangerous are two things: (1) The loneliness that comes with being single and (2) dating women. The loneliness can cause a weaker minister to fall in the area of purity by lacking any accountability during the hours of 9pm and 7am. Dating, if not done under the guidance and counsel of an older mentor, could be disastrous of the church. All in all, I believe a single pastor should be pursued and welcomed by churches. However, if a single man is called to a senior pastorate, I believe he must be a man who has been called to singleness and celibacy. In a way, a person who is dating is not yet complete. They recognize they need a helpmate and are working to seek one. A senior pastor MUST be a completely whole person; he must be a person of integrity lacking nothing and searching for nothing. If we are to use Paul or Jesus as the examples of "single ministers," we must see them in context; as two men who were called to be single. They were seeking for nothing. Just my thoughts...

Report Abuse


March 24, 2011  9:08am

It's hopeless guys. Give it up. Nothing will ever change. Everything will always be the same way it always was.

Report Abuse


March 22, 2011  2:59am

Listen to this.. "Paul wasn't crazy. There is nothing more holy, righteous, or godly about marriage than there is about singleness. Nothing. They are both equally good before God." Arguments pros and cons about being a married or a single priests by supposedly mature grownups trying to decide what a hypothetical superior being thinks or prefers. Why doesn't he, she or it (the hypothetical superior being) come down to the ground to tell us what he (she or it) prefers, so that we don't waste everyone's time with one more nonsensical discussion? Is it not in his/her/its interest to give you all some more clear-cut guidance on any of these endless doubts? When will we humans accept that any discussion on religion is permeated by nonsense? "Every religion is the holy truth to those of the faith but seems like a fantasy to outsiders." [Isaac Asimov, in essay "Is Fantasy Forever"] "Faith means not wanting to know what is true". Friedrich Nietzsche "You can't convince a believer of anything; for their belief is not based on evidence, it's based on a deep seated need to believe." Carl Sagan I only read this pathetic article because there was a link to it on NY Times. Good luck trying to convincing righteous believers that Superior Being thinks you're as good of a person as married ones.

Report Abuse


March 21, 2011  8:35am

Re Jane's Feb. 1 post: "Interestingly, while single men are a small proportion, it's about 4 percent nationally across denominations, about 24 percent of women pastors are single and never married." That's likely in part due to not a few women "pastors" being lesbian. (I believe the Bible was written correctly when it ruled out women being in leadership over men, most of all in the ministry, so I don't recognize women as pastors in any event."

Report Abuse


February 12, 2011  12:06pm

Yet another reason why the Catholic/Biblical model is correct. Paul, speaking for God, was right. Martin Luther was wrong.

Report Abuse

Rev. Jay Roberson

February 11, 2011  9:06am

I am a single (divorced) United Methodist Pastor who enjoyed the article, but I beleive it didn't go far enough. While I was married, and from what I've seen in my 25+ years as an evangelical Follower of Jesus, this whole issue concerns power, i.e. the ability to manipulate and control a Pastor using his or her family as leverage. Not overtly, or even consciously, but the familiarity of relating to other married people allows us all, clergy and laity alike, to subtly issue demands and expectations to move in our own direction. Justified by our ideas of God's will, we often beleive He needs our help to get people on the right path, and implied threats concerning spousal employment, children's education, or lose of income, housing, and other benefits in one fell swoop (or SPPR/Deacon's meeting)leaves Clergy vulnerable on days when faith isn't ready for such a very strong test. Yes, it's evn true in the system of guaranteed appointments in which I operate. Though I certinly respect my Church authorities, I place my trust in God, not Bishops, District Superintendents, or Committees. Of course for me this is easy, I'm single!

Report Abuse


February 10, 2011  8:08am

I posted a comment yesterday, but thought of this this morning. I used to be a singles pastor. In the 80's and 90's it seemed that most big churches were hiring singles pastors. That trend seems to have died out. I may be a bit out of touch, but has the singles pastor as a paid staff position become a lot more rare?

Report Abuse


February 10, 2011  7:26am

I just finished being a part of a pastoral search committee. One of the first questions I asked is if we would consider unmarried pastors? "Of course." I presented the resume of an unmarried pastor and in less that 5 minutes he was rejected, "Too much education." I wanted to accuse, (but didn't) "liars!" Needless to say we ended up with a young pastoral family with a baby on the way. I am certain we have a good pastor coming, it's just that the search committee couldn't be honest with itself, let alone with the congregation. Oh well, the entire process helped to shatter my confidence in church and I am seeking the cross more than ever before. (:>)

Report Abuse