Sunday, August 20, 2006

The difficulty of singleness in the pastorate

In response to a previous post on singles, ministry, and seminary, Tom commented that [PCA Teaching Elder and RUF Campus Ministry Coordinator] John Stone once remarked that "being an unmarried minister in the PCA is worse than being the devil in many people's minds."

John has a gift for hyperbole, but I don't think he's too far off in this case. But why?

I haven't done any investigation into this. I'm actually intrigued by this topic and would like to look into it more. But my gut tells me that there are a handful of factors working against the single pastor (all speculative, based on observation alone):
  • Many (most?) Christians view marriage as a necessary condition of maturity in the Kingdom. (It doesn't stop there, by the way-- following this line of reasoning, having children makes one more mature than being married, while having teenagers increases maturity more still, and having grown children-- and grandchildren-- increase it even more.)
  • Without knowing any stats on this, I would speculate that the married portion of the adults in the Church represent much more than half. Singles are simply outnumbered in most, if not all, churches.
  • Most people want their pastor to be almost exactly like themselves-- or rather, the selves that they wish they could be. Think "me on my best day spiritually, mentally, physically" and you've got the picture that the average Christian thinks of when they think of the perfect pastor. (If this is true, it may suggest that an overweight pastor will face a similar difficulty.)
Add these up and they suggest the primary reason behind the struggle of a single pastor: he is perceived to be an inferior choice based on his singleness alone. Even many singles may not want a single pastor, if my last point is accurate, because they see their own singleness as a problem rather than simply their present (and maybe permanent) circumstance.

I'd love to get some feedback on this one. What do you think-- how far off am I?

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Saville said...

I think you're definitely right about the difficulties. It was a long wait after finishing at CTS before I finally received and accepted a call, and singleness was definitely a big factor.

I think you're reasons seem to be on the mark. I would also had that there seems to be some concern about how the single minister will relate to the women (especially the single women) in the congregation. If the pastor's ministry includes youth ministry there is concern about how he will relate to the young women in the youth group. I sense that these fears are big enough for most churches to prefer a pastor who is married.

A question I have though is why the preference for married ministers seems to be so strong in the PCA and other Reformed churches (as opposed to some other denominations where it's not so big a deal). Also, why now? This did not seem to be a big deal a few generations ago when men would often finish seminary at a young age and begin their pastorates before marriage (eg. M'Cheyne, Bonar etc.) Any ideas?

Ed said...

Thanks for the comments Michael, and the confirmation of my thoughts. I think you're right on in the addition you made.

As for the emphasis in PCA/Reformed churches, I can't account for that-- at least not in comparison to other denominations.

As far as "why recently" goes, here are my thoughts (supplemented by Marcie): for one thing, everyone is more suspicious of everyone else when it comes to relationships, because predatorial relationships are far more common today than before. So singles may get the brunt of the focus because too much confidence is placed on the fidelity of the heart of a married man. Also, in M'Cheyne's day it is likely that a single woman would still be living with her family, whereas today that's rarely the case-- so there wasn't concern for impropriety then as there is today.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget that singles' ministries often attract the social outcasts that other ministries (specifically marriage and family ministries) don't. There is a much greater percentage of perceived "weird people" in singles ministry. This leads many in the church to view all singles as these type of social misfits.

There's also the idea that a man who isn't married by the time he's 25 or 26 is a "failure". "How can he lead our church, he can't even get himself a wife?!?" Be it truth or fantasy, many who have married young do not understand what it is like to be single and post-college. (I have an old saying that I stick by. Married people forget what it's like to be single within 6 months.)


Ed said...

Good points, Tom. I like your saying, though I would add to it: "if they ever knew what it was like". I think so many married folks marrid young enough that they never really understood singleness, except to fear it.

Add to this the increasing complexity of being single-- which grows also in direct correlation to age-- and it's safe to suspect that most marrieds don't "get" singleness, even if they were single for a while themselves.


Anonymous said...

I definitely agree.

Unfortunately, you and I are on very few (if any) personnel committees on sessions. Perception (right or wrong) isn't going to change overnight.

Perhaps a project that byFaith could tackle is to do a profile on single ministers, their help for the church and unique difficulties that they face (i.e. how do you date someone in your congregation well while you're in a fishbowl?).

Ed, I think this sounds like a job for you! :)