Search this blog

Steve DeWit, who is single and is a pastor, pens a poignant article at TGC on the issue of single pastors, sparked by a recent NYT piece on the subject.

Albert Mohler also blogged about this, but from a different perspective.

But I found Pastor DeWit’s observations on 1 Timothy 3 persuasive:

Arguments that cast Paul as prioritizing marriage in ministry wrongly make the helpful reality of marriage a biblical preference. It is important to note that the pastoral qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 were written by a single apostle (perhaps a widow or even a divorcee but nevertheless single). Would Paul write qualifications that handicapped himself as a pastor? Further, we have no indication that Timothy and Titus were married. Yet they are charged with identifying and laying hands on elders who would serve under their leadership. It seems that what is good for the apostolic goose should be good enough for the pastoral gander.

Finally, if we affirm that 1 Timothy 3 teaches that marriage is a near requirement for pastors/elders, in order to be consistent we would need to require a pastor to have children as well. Taken one step further, he would have to have more than one child since "children" is plural. This is all unnecessary and unwarranted. Paul is simply describing how a pastor/elder must be faithful to his wife IF he is married, and he is describing the quality of a pastor's parenting and leadership IF he has children.

And I found this section from Pastor DeWit to be especially moving:

Every married pastor would affirm that a godly wife is a wonderful blessing both personally and pastorally. We should recognize and celebrate that a married pastor's marriage is a tremendous asset in both his personal growth into holiness and the resources it generates for shepherding a flock.

But we must also recognize that a pastor's singleness is equally valuable in different ways. Speaking from experience, singleness has its own anvil on which God shapes character and pastoral gravitas. In addition, single pastors have some tremendous gifts to share with their congregations. When I speak of my loneliness, how many hearts leap with hope identifying with my trial? When my voice quivers as I describe life lived with unmet and unfulfilled expectations, what heart can't hear the echo? A normal red-blooded, sexual, single, Christian man battling all the normal desires yet pursing contentment in Christ is a living sermon that Jesus alone is sufficient. These strengths, combined with the greater energy and time that single pastors can pour into their churches, should lead us to conclude that singleness ought not be viewed as a negative. If Paul was serving on the search committee, I think he'd argue for it as a positive.

Read the whole thing here.

It’s worth noting that this is a subject where biblical theology can be enormously helpful, and no one has done more insightful work on the issue from this angle thanBarry Danylak in Redeeming Singleness: How the Storyline of Scripture Affirms the Single Life (Crossway, 2010). It may be worth reprinting again John Piper’s foreword, which provides a helpful summary:

* * *

The greatest, wisest, most fully human person who has ever lived, never married. Jesus Christ. His greatest apostle never married, and was thankful for his singleness. Jesus himself said, that in the age to come we do not marry. And he added that the age to come had already broken into this world.

Therefore, the presence of single people in the church not only "attests the sufficiency of Christ for the reception of God's covenantal blessings in the new covenant," but also reminds us "that the spiritual age has already been inaugurated in Christ and awaits imminent consummation."

When I met Barry Danylak at Tyndale House in Cambridge, England, in the summer of 2006, I was amazed at the research he was doing on a biblical theology of singleness. Not only was the scope of it unprecedented, but the theological and practical insights struck me as biblically compelling and practically urgent. I don't know of anyone else who has ever provided the extent of biblical reflection on singleness that Barry has provided for us here.

Both marriage and singleness demand the most serious and solid biblical insight. These are realities that affect every area of our life and thought. We cannot settle for superficial pep talks. Our lives cry out for significance. And significance comes from seeing ourselves the way God sees us. Including our singleness. My guess is that virtually every single who reads this book will finish with a sense of wonder at who they are, and how little they knew about this gift and calling.

Barry is keenly aware of the progress of redemptive history and its stunning implications for the single life. Early in that history, marriage and physical children were fundamental to the blessings of the Mosaic Covenant. But they are not fundamental to the New Covenant the way they were then. And what is beautiful about the way Barry develops this historical flow is that the glory of Jesus Christ is exalted above all things.

Barry elevates but does not absolutize the calling of the single life. It's greatness lies in this: "It is a visible reminder that the kingdom of God points to a reality which stands beyond worldly preoccupations of marriage, family and career." Indeed. And that greater reality is the all-satisfying, everlasting friendship of Jesus himself in the new heavens and the new earth. Marriage and singleness will be transcended, and Christ himself will make those categories obsolete in the joy of his presence. A life of joyful singleness witnesses to this.

View Comments


26 thoughts on “On Bias Against Single Pastors”

  1. 40YearOldManSeekingtobeaPastorinaBiasedCulture says:

    All the qualifications that Paul gives to be an elder are defined by _character_, none of them have to do with legal status (i.e. must be married or have children).

    In the Old Testament context, it was better to be married; in the New Covenant age, I would argue, teaches that it is better to be single because it is more beneficial for the kingdom of God.

  2. 40YearOldManSeekingtobeaPastorinaBiasedCulture says:

    P.S. Albert Mohler is sadly myopic on this issue. It is a discouragement to see he thinks as such.

    As an aside, those who say that single pastors cannot counsel married people (I disagree), it cuts both ways, can married pastors counsel singles, especially if they got married very early in life? Think about it.

    1. AStev says:

      Not everyone who holds a different opinion from us is “sadly miopic”. This is uncharitable, and presumes they haven’t given the issue serious thought.

    2. Jeffrey says:

      Why wouldn’t a married person be able to counsel a single person? The married person was single at one time so he would be very qualified to do so.

      1. Sara P says:

        40yearold already stated that he disagrees with the notion that a single pastor cannot counsel married people–the question about the opposite case was rhetorical. Also, I think it’s important to note that he did add, “especially if they got married very early in life.” Being single at 35 is completely different than being single at 20.

        All in all though, a good pastor can counsel ANYONE. Clearly, NO pastor can have similar life experiences to ALL his parishioners.

  3. Dean P says:

    One theory that I ran into that is mentioned in the ESV Study Bible is the theory that Paul conscienteously mentioned “husband of one wife” in response to the long struggle with Polygamy among the Israelite people. Perhaps this might have been what the apostle had in mind when he wrote this to Timothy for requirements of elders, and that it wasn’t really about saying that single men should not become teaching elders or pastors.

  4. Jon Coutts says:

    So would you say that pastors adhering to the charges in the Pastoral Epistles also don’t have to be men? Mohler at least seems consistent with his complementarianism.

    1. Justin Taylor says:

      There are specific requirements about men and eldership. As Dr. Mohler acknowledges, there may be an expectation but not a requirement regarding marital status.

    2. 40YearOldManSeekingtobeaPastorinaBiasedCulture says:


      Paul makes it explicit (not implicit) in this context that teachers/elders must be men:

      “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” (1 Tim 2:12)

      “Not everyone who holds a different opinion from us is “sadly miopic”. This is uncharitable, and presumes they haven’t given the issue serious thought.”

      Mohler’s school fosters an ethos that marriage is superior over singleness. Those who attend there, know this to be a fact. Hence, his myopic bias.

      1. AStev says:


        Though I think Mohler is mistaken on this issue, what say we turn up the grace and turn down the bitterness, okay?

      2. Jon Coutts says:

        In my view the 1 Tim 2:12 passage is as properly given a “redemptive history” reading as any of those referred to above. Not sure how you’d make the interpretation given in the above blog post on one side of the gender roles issue and an interpretation that sees the eventual abolition of slavery on the other side of the gender roles issue, and yet leave Paul’s instruction in 1 Tim 2 intact as a universal command without contextualization along a redemptive trajectory. Especially given the context of the church in Ephesus to which it was written.

  5. mark almlie says:

    Thank you for writing about this very important but seldom talked about topic. I’m pastor Mark Almlie, the single pastor in the New York Times article. It was my two posts on “out of ur” that someone forwarded to the New York Times and that’s how they found me (“Are we afraid of Single pastors?” is the title of the original two posts).

    I am happy that a national conversation has been sparked, and people’s perceptions are being driven to seek the scriptures. I hope that a rising tide will lift all boats.

    Justin, I would love to see a panel discussion on this topic, in much the same way that you and Dr. Mohler discussed the Rob Bell book. There are thousands and thousands of single pastors out there like me. Are they qualified or disqualified for being single pastors? Should churches hire them or should they not?

    Here is one exerpt from my blog on the I Tim 3 scripture:

    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.”

    If we can reduce the fear of the unknown, and prejudice towards singles in general, and exegete well the whole of scripture–which really seem to point towards a freedom to be single or married and still be effective pastors–we will have been helping the Church overall become more biblical and healthy.

    grace and peace,
    Rev. Mark Almlie M.Div

  6. I was really encouraged by how measured and grounded in Scripture Pastor DeWitt’s response was.

    There’s one other issue that I haven’t seen raised yet, namely, what kind of pressure this places on young seminary students to marry rashly, settling for or choosing a wife based on a self-centered, and potentially extra-biblical list of “job” qualifications, so as to remove a perceived barrier to finding a pastorate after graduation. The idolatry of ministry is always a temptation. Surely this is another way to feed that?

    Beyond that, given Pastor DeWit’s desire to marry, what role might the elders and leaders of his church have in helping him toward that end? Surely in the same way the elders of a married pastor might work to nourish and protect the pastor’s marriage, the elders of a single pastor could be working to support and encourage the single pastor in his search (as well as support him in his singleness)?

    1. 40YearOldManSeekingtobeaPastorinaBiasedCulture says:

      Rachael, well said!

      “There’s one other issue that I haven’t seen raised yet, namely, what kind of pressure this places on young seminary students to marry rashly, settling for or choosing a wife based on a self-centered, and potentially extra-biblical list of “job” qualifications, so as to remove a perceived barrier to finding a pastorate after graduation.”

      This pressure happens, I know for a fact, at one Southern Baptist seminary.

  7. Sam says:

    As a single, 30 year old, Christian woman who desires marriage but also wants to be content with where Jesus has me this day, I struggle with the church’s response not only to single pastor’s but to singles, IN GENERAL.

    The Christian mindset in this country leans so heavily towards you MUST be married and you MUST procreate. Those are wonderful things that I want with all my heart but God has a different plan for each of us. It’s about calling, not whether you have a little gold (or platinum) ring on your 3rd finger on your left hand.

    I, like Pastor DeWit, am a person who wants to follow the call of Christ, the specific and unique call he has placed on my life. Yet the church (in general and in my own personal experience over the last few years) either ignores me or pretends I’m not there.

    There has to be a change to the church in general views marriage. It is not the be-all, end-all in this life. Yes, it’s important and we should nurture those relationships if we are called to them. But don’t define a person’s worth to be a pastor or leader or servant based on their marital status. It’s short-sighted.

    All this said, if you know of any nice, responsible, mature single men between 30 and 40 who are looking for a godly wife who’s about to go to law school, shoot me a comment at my blog. :-) One never knows what the Lord has in store for them each day.

  8. James says:

    “When I speak of my loneliness, how many hearts leap with hope identifying with my trial? When my voice quivers as I describe life lived with unmet and unfulfilled expectations, what heart can’t hear the echo? A normal red-blooded, sexual, single, Christian man battling all the normal desires yet pursing contentment in Christ is a living sermon that Jesus alone is sufficient. These strengths, combined with the greater energy and time that single pastors can pour into their churches, should lead us to conclude that singleness ought not be viewed as a negative. If Paul was serving on the search committee, I think he’d argue for it as a positive.”

    I found this quote to be very moving an inspiring for me as a single 25 year old man, i will keep this pastor in my prayers and hope he is kept from sexual sin and finds a wife soon.

  9. Kris says:

    I know that the most obvious translation of 1 Timothy 3 from the Greek is “husband of one wife”, but wouldn’t it be more helpful to see it as “a one woman man”?

    It is possible for a leader to be a “one woman man” even if that man is single, by the way he is faithful and respectful towards the members of his congregation. It is possible for a man to *not* be a “one woman man” in his attitude and behaviour, even if he is married to only one woman. Surely Paul is referring more to the character of a leader, rather than to his external, legal marriage status?

    Just a thought. :-)

  10. Theologian says:

    Regarding Al Mohler and giving grace to one another:

    I think that one of the more helpful things to remember with regards to Albert Mohler is that he has been charged (called) to lead The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In other words, even the name of the seminary points to the fact that it is a regional expression of a particular denomination. Albert Mohler has been called by God to live out the expression of his faith in the South at a Baptist school and to help train others to do so as well. Mohler should not be extravted from that context otherwise he becomes difficult to understand. Granted television interviews by CNN and the global reach of the internet make for an interesting clashing of cultures, even within American Christianity. Mohler is trying to help the young men that God has entrusted to his care succeed in a particular expression of the Faith. That being said, he is speaking out of what is “generally” best in that situation. When I remember this about Mohler it helps me to give him more frace and be thankful for his leadership and desire to serve the Church in his spheres of influence. All that to say, if Mohler’s assessment on singleness and marriage are “globalized” or viewed as the “authoritative Word of God then there is a problem.

    1. Jon Coutts says:

      Mohler should remember that when he tries to speak publicly for all evangelical orthodoxy, then, shouldn’t he?

  11. Listen to some of Paul’s comments on marriage and singleness in I Corinthians 7:
    vs 6-7 Now as a concession, not a command, I say this, “I wish that all were as I myself, But each has his own gift from God..
    vs 8 To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am.
    vs 17 Oly let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. this is my rule in all the churches.
    vs 26-28 I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. but if you do marry, you have not sinned…
    vs 32-34 I want yu 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.
    vs 38 So then he who marries his bethothed dies well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better.

    Seems like Paul, who wrote about the qualifications of elders/pastors, was making the case for both being married and being single. While he leaned towards singleness, as in his own personal case, he deemed it okay to be married. His point was to serve the Lord within the sphere of your own call, that the ability to be single and pure and stay single and pure is a gift, and his desire was to promote an undivided devotion to the Lord (vs 35).

    Yes, there is a bias against single pastors, but it is an uninformed bias due to lack of knowledge and application of the whole counsel of God’s word.

  12. JMH says:

    I like Mohler a lot, particularly for his ability to hold a prevailing worldview up to Scripture and point out its problems. That skill seemed lacking in his comments on this issue, where he basically said, “Well, that’s the way it is,” instead of “This is not how it should be.” I was surprised and disappointed.

  13. MSL says:

    Wow, we’ve certainly come a long way since Catholicism, haven’t we?
    Honestly, we have come to the point where churches expect pastors to have everything, I like to say they want a pastor who is “35 years old with 25 years of experience.” We think people can’t relate to or counsel others with different experiences, and that is a shame. I know that my ten years of marriage and three children have shaped me significantly. I also know men the same age as me, who have never married and different experiences have made them just as mature, or more, than me. It’s about what you do with your experiences.
    To me, the key is fruitfulness. We are all called to be fruitful (Gen. 1:28), but it doesn’t show itself in the same way. Having worked in a non-Western, almost exclusively non-Christian context for seven years, we have seen singles and childless couples able to serve and be fruitful in places we would never take our children, and with boldness that would be unwise if children are in the picture. At the same time, part of our fruitfulness and contribution to the Kingdom is the raising of godly children who will themselves be fruitful in varying ways. Part of our decision in the number of children has to do with our own sense of calling and giftedness in regards to being most fruitful.
    The truly sad thing is the number of Christians who are almost entirely fruitless–childless and living only for themselves, or with children and not raising them in a godly, kingdom-enhancing way.

  14. MSL says:

    One last thought. Having married, graduated seminary, and borne children at a rather young age, I have wondered about the requirement of Titus 1:6: “a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient.” Should I have excluded myself from church leadership?
    One might say this is an “if he has children old enough to believe and not be wild and disobedient.” type thing, but is that really fair? Perhaps part of the command is that the man actually be old enough for it to become apparent how he has raised his children.
    I guess if we wanted to be totally legalistic, I should be excluded. After all, I do have a two-year-old! Wild and disobedient describes him pretty well. Hoping we can have a little more time to straighten him out.

    1. reformedSteve says:

      That’s a great point!

  15. Jess says:

    Lol I think it is hilarious we are taking paul’s teaching about marriage as the basis for these requirements…wasn’t paul single? Worked for him, eh?

Comments are closed.

Search this blog


Justin Taylor photo

Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

Justin Taylor's Books