Thursday, August 4, 2011

Marriage: The "Unwritten" Requirement in Ministry

I'm still planning on heading to grad school in two weeks but that doesn't keep me from looking at what Youth Pastor jobs are out there. I mean, you never know, maybe there's one where they don't care that I'm going through school and in fact want to pay for it, supply a free house and still pay me enough to satisfy my Starbucks addiction. One can hope.

I was looking at job post a few months ago and saw one in Pennsylvania that seemed like a good church. I read the expectations and felt like I could meet most of them. I read the doctrinal statement and was glad that we were on the same page of the essentials. Finally, I went through the job requirements: bachelor's degree- check, a call to youth ministry- check, be married- uh, not check.

Seriously... "be married"?

I tweeted this after I read it and almost immediately got some support from a friend that's youth pastoring while single. The subject had already been something in the back of my mind for awhile though. While in my first year of college, a roommate asked if I planned on getting married and I replied "Yeah, but we'll have to see." His response was "Well, don't you plan on working in a church?" At the time I took him to just be a bit extreme but a couple of blogs that I had read a few months prior to this job posting brought up the same issue. Both were responding to a New York Times article on the subject but one was from a single pastor and one was from a seminary president. The pastor wrote about how his church had really come around him and learned to appreciate his singleness. He wrote that he'd like to be married but that it hasn't happened yet. The seminary president wrote that he tells students that, whether it's right or wrong, they'll have a harder time getting a job in a church if they're single.

While this made me angry, he's probably right.

A lot of churches operate under the impression that the reason their pastor or youth pastor needs to be married is that there's no way they could minister to both men and women, guys and girls if they aren't married. You know what, that's probably true in some cases!

There is a barrier there when there's an issue that should be dealt with by a girl speaking to a girl or a guy speaking to a guy and someone who is single doesn't have that spouse there to step in. On the other hand, singleness is a gift... not a curse. Paul is clear in 1 Corinthians 7 that the unmarried are able to focus more intently on ministry. There's less to worry about. It's not that singleness is better than being married because it's clear that, on the whole, we were not meant to be alone. Both are gifts, however, and both have their limitations.

All of that being said, I don't write this as someone who intends to be unmarried for the rest of my life.

I write this as someone who doesn't want to get married just to get a job.

In an age where so many are constantly fighting for the Biblical definition of marriage, it just doesn't make sense to view marriage a job requirement rather than understanding it as a gift that God gives at His own discretion. (This has nothing to do with the need for guys to initiate and everything to do with God's sovereignty.) Marriage is so special and unique that it's what God uses as a picture of His relationship to His church. We cheapen it by simply viewing it as a needed skill set for ministry.

So, this is a call for those in a position to hire people into ministry. Marriage is good. It is not a job requirement though. Let's stop treating singleness like a disability and start treating it like a time in life that God has placed people to be able to serve Him with a single focus.

I also pray that when I am married... I do not forget what it is like to be single.


  1. I wouldn't jump on the bandwagon that a person should be married so that they can minister to both men and women. Rather I would think that it is somewhat necessary to minister to hurting marriages, and this in the case of a pastor (especially if he's the only pastor at the church). But this also requires a look at elders in the church. What do they do. Not what should they be doing, but what is the actual role of elders in the specific church. If it is one of actual leadership and spiritual mentoring, then there is more leniency toward marriage being a requirement for the pastor, but if their job is basically a board of directors type of position, then it should probably be more strict.

    Marriage is a requirment for the position we are applying for on the mission field. I think that in the case of youth directors it is associated with being safer to not fall into sexual sin with the youth. However, I don't think that is a fair nor accurate association.

  2. I appreciate your perspective, Jon. I have heard the "ministering to marriages" argument before as well and my only push back is that I would say being able to handle the Word is more important than being in a similar situation. I will always go back to 1 Corinthians 7 over and over again as the example that singleness is not prohibitive to ministry.

    If we make marriage a requirement using a passage like 1 Timothy 3 then we have to make children a requirement as well (v. 4). You guys have both covered :) but I don't think you'd say that childless pastors are out of line...

  3. Even though I'm not married, I have learned/am learning a lot about marriage and relationships because my parent's and brother's marriages have failed. Although I can't minister to married couples the same way a married couple can, I know I could pass off some principles and understanding to support a marriage. As we are part of the church, we need every person to encourage and build one another up; I think it has become too common for groups of people to be organized based on certain and/or various commonalities.