THE SINGLE MINISTER
Dennis Franck, Director
Single Adult/Young Adult Ministries
Assemblies of God
Little has been written concerning the minister and/or pastor who is unmarried in the United States today. The fact the overwhelming majority of pastors/ministers in evangelical churches in the U. S. are married, besides being fairly well-known, (how many single pastors/ministers do you know?) provides a possible reason at least, and a potentially good explanation, at most, for the dearth of material pertaining to the minister who is single.
It should be stated from the start that the word "single" refers to at least four types of people: the never-married adult, the single-again adult who is widowed, the single-again adult who is divorced, and the single parent who may fall into any of the previous categories. Suffice it to say that all of these individuals are single by chance, change, or choice, whether theirs or someone else's choice.
Perceptions of the Single Minister
When one listens to the comments of single ministers pertaining to attitudes about singleness of his/her peers and superiors, one sees a diversity of thoughts and opinions felt and expressed. The following information serves to illustrate this diversity well. A survey of six single ministers of various ages (three males and three females) in a variety of ministry roles was taken in preparation for writing this material. Many of their responses will be noted throughout this lesson. To begin with, however, two questions and responses will be offered.
Do you sense any difference in attitude or response from your PEERS concerning the fact that you are a minister who is single vs. ministers who are married? What/how?
"My peers have been very accepting and supporting of my ministry as a single adult. There hasn't been any negative response that I can recall."
--John-age 40, Pastor/director of single adult ministry in an Assemblies of God
"Having never been married, my peers who have been through divorce are concerned that I may not be able to relate to their circumstances, and rightly so! Although I empathize and am comfortable talking with them about their concerns, I do realize that those who have walked in their shoes may be able to respond more effectively to their questions and needs."
--Vickie-age 44, Pastor/director of single adult ministry in a non-denominational
"There is more of a ‘social attitude' than a ministerial attitude concerning this. Your gifts make a place for you, married or single."
--Sylvia-age 58, Missionary in a foreign country
Do you sense any difference in attitude or response from your SUPERIORS concerning the fact that you are a minister who is single vs. ministers who are married? What/how?
"I mostly sense different responses when it comes to my personal life...often people think that being a single person means that life is filled with partying and fun."
--Vickie, age 44, Pastor/director of single adult ministry in a non-denominational
"I can think of none."
-Paul, age 52, Editor/writer/administrator at the Assemblies of God national office
"Sometimes I feel awkward as a single adult at some church functions (because of attitudes of others)...as years have gone by, though, these people seem to be more comfortable around me."
--Colleen, age 44, Pastor/director of single adult ministry in an A/G church
"Those in authority over me sometimes do not see the opportunity that I have as a single person to serve in ministry without the responsibilities of marriage. They may think not being married is a huge disadvantage and I do not somehow relate to married people."
--Jim, age 30, Development Coordinator in A/G national Single Adult/Young Adult
As can be seen, opinions and perspectives from the minister's peers concerning his/her singleness are usually positive, except in the case of being a never-married single adult relating to formerly married single adults. Opinions and perspectives concerning the same from superiors vary more greatly. This point will be amplified and seen more clearly throughout the lesson.
Marriage Expectations of the Church
After twenty-six years of ministry to/with single and single-again adults of all ages, serving as a pastor to single adults in six churches, having the opportunity to speak across the country to thousands of single adults and hundreds of churches, and beginning the national single adult ministries office for the Assemblies of God, one thing is clear. The majority of evangelical churches in the U. S. are mainly marriage-and- family-focused. Pastors and church leaders are usually more concerned with reaching families, especially the nuclear family with children, than with reaching single adults.
The desire and effort to reach families is certainly biblical and should not be discouraged. The dilemma, however, is in the fact that most churches put little or no emphasis on reaching the single adult. Only 20% of the 12,300 U. S churches in the Assemblies of God have any kind of targeted ministry to single adults!  This reality automatically puts the single or single-again minister at a disadvantage because of two major problems:
an early age) have children, and take their places as responsible, mature families in the Church
or widowed person and do not become involved in their life beyond the polite, expected phrases of "how are you doing," and "how can I pray for you"
Time, space and purpose do not permit amplification of these two observations. Suffice it to say, however, many unmarried ministers are acutely aware of these issues and intentionally work to not let them hinder their personal or ministry life.
Single Ministers in the Old Testament
Although marriage was the norm and singleness the exception in the peoples of Old Testament cultures, single ministers clearly existed. There are several examples of significant, prominent unmarried people, (single for various reasons) whom God used in the Old Testament to fulfill His purposes. Three of these were the prophets Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Hosea.
Jeremiah-This major prophet was commanded not to marry. "The Word of the Lord came to me. You shall not take a wife, nor shall you have sons or daughters in this place" (Jeremiah 16:1). God's command to Jeremiah to stay single was not really a rejection of marriage, but, rather, related to an historical situation as a judgment upon it, or perhaps as a priority because of circumstance. It is not known if the restriction to not marry was ever removed; however, it is clear that he was one example of a great prophet who was single.
Ezekiel-Marital status did not seem to be of great importance in the life of Ezekiel either, whose wife was taken suddenly from him by the Lord. He was not even allowed to weep or mourn but was to continue in the ministry God had assigned him
Hosea-This prophet experienced a broken marriage (divorce) but still continued a recognized ministry. God told him to marry a whore (Gomer), whom He knew would later leave him for other men, illustrating the one-sided love that God had for Israel
(Hosea chapters 1-3). In all three of these examples, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Hosea, marital status was not an issue for effective ministry. God was interested in the prophet's integrity, obedience and the ability to say what God wanted to be said. God certainly used many single adults as mighty ministers and influencers to proclaim His message. Besides Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea, others include Deborah, Hagar, Dinah, Miriam, Naomi and Vashti.
Single Ministers in the New Testament
Time and space do not allow a full discussion of the many ministers in the New Testament who were unmarried. As will be seen, a new emphasis on singleness and its accompanying benefits for ministry was expounded by Paul the apostle and Jesus at separate incidents and writings. This expanded treatment of singleness was exemplified by many men and women who were Disciples of Christ and also authors of the New Testament. Certainly Paul, John the Baptist, Anna, Mary, Martha, Lydia, Titus, Timothy, Mary Magdalene, and greatest of all, Jesus, were effective ministers as single adults! It is hard to imagine many refuting the effectiveness of these single adult ministers!
The Gift of Singleness in the New Testament
The New Testament brought a new emphasis on and recognition to singleness as a viable option for ministry. Paul in I Corinthians 7: 7-8, and Jesus in Matthew 19:11-12 both speak of the "gift of singleness" and the fact that not all will be married in this life. Paul's comments concerning singleness show unity with the comments of Jesus in Matt. 19: 11-12. He goes a step further than Jesus, though, by expounding on the subject to recommend that widows and the unmarried remain single.
Jesus' Teaching Concerning the Gift of Singleness
Jesus taught on the issue of singleness, something not seen in the Old Testament, and actually called it a gift as marriage is a gift. Matthew 19:11 says "all men cannot receive this, save they to whom it is given." Then in verse 12, "He that is able to receive it, let him receive it." Jesus was addressing and expanding an issue that had become a contemporary and relevant one during His time. He felt it imperative to do so.
I strongly believe the "gift of singleness" Jesus refers to is a valid, credible and biblical gift that is alive and resident in the lives of some single ministers today. Although only a small percentage of single adults actually have this gift, it is necessary and wise to teach it from a biblical perspective along with the gift of marriage. Sadly, few churches today teach the gift of singleness along with the gift of marriage. It is possible that some ministers who have remained single for many years may, in fact, have the gift of singleness and don't understand the gift. They could benefit greatly from biblical teaching on this subject.
Paul's Teaching Concerning the Gift of Singleness
The gift of singleness is addressed by Paul in I Corinthians 7:7-8.
"I wish that all men were as I am (single and self-controlled). But each has his own gift from God, one has this gift, another has that. Now to the unmarried and the widows, I say it is good for them to stay unmarried as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion" (NIV).
What is Paul saying? The apostle wishes that all had the ability to remain single like he was for the following reasons:
1) To avoid the troubles in life that stem from marriage! (7:28)
2) To be free from the concerns and anxieties that arises from the demands placed upon spouses to care for each other (7:32-34).
3) To devote oneself totally to the Lord, using the extra time wisely that results from not having to care for a spouse (7:34-35).
4) To be happier. Paul thinks the widow(er) would be happier in remaining unmarried (7:40).
For the single minister, Paul's admonitions certainly apply. Not all leaders, however, recognize these to be true. Consider the comments of single ministers when asked a third question.
"If you could help pastors and Christian leaders understand one thing about being a single minister, what would that be?
"Validate that one can live single well, and encourage us in this journey, just as we want to encourage you to live married well and support you in your marriage."
--Vickie, age 44, Single, Pastor/director to/with single adults
"Don't exclude us because of our marital status. We can make very significant contributions to the body of Christ based on the gifts God has given us."
--Paul, age 52, Single, Assemblies of God Editor/Writer/Administrator
"I believe the perceptions of leaders are changing, but not fast enough. In the Catholic Church men and women of the cloth who give their lives for the service of the Church have been highly revered and honored for thousands of years. Why is this not true in the evangelical Church? Why is singleness considered by many to be dishonorable or second best?"
--Jim, age 30, Development Coordinator in A/G national Single Adult/Young
Adult Ministries office
It is clear there is a disparity between what Paul thinks and what Christian leaders think. For those who do possess the gift of singleness, however, these characteristics seem to be true. He/she:
1) Has reached a place of contentment in being celibate (single)
2) Is not overly concerned with having a romantic relationship
3) Gives little thought to/about marriage
4) Finds much satisfaction in using spare time to serve the Lord
Jesus, the Single Savior/Minister
It is widely believed that Jesus never married but stayed single during his thirty-three years on the earth. A few have challenged this generally-accepted truth. However, would a wife of Jesus have been left out of the scripture? The silence of the New Testament regarding his marital status lends much more support to the claim that Jesus was single than it does to the possibility that He was married. His full, busy, effective ministry life was probably one of the best reasons for remaining single. His singleness actually enhanced the opportunity for God, His father, to do great things in and through His life.
Considering the apostle Paul's comments about the gift of singleness in I Corinthians 7: 7-40, could it be that Jesus, himself, had the gift of singleness? It certainly would make sense for Him to have possessed the gift to aid in accomplishing His ministry while on the earth. Christ's thirty-three years of life ending with three years of travel, continuous speaking and ministry opportunities, discipleship and mentoring of the twelve, and numerous challenging personal circumstances seems to fit single life better than married life. His singleness is not a prescription. His example, however, validates singleness for a minister as a viable and credible option.
Paul, the Single Apostle/Minister
There really is no concrete biblical evidence showing Paul's marital state during his entire adult life. It is clear, however, that he was not married when he wrote I Corinthians 7:1-40, since he states in verse seven that he wishes the unmarried and the widows could remain unmarried as he was. In verses 25- 26 he concludes that it is better for a virgin (a person not yet married) to remain single. This pertains to both male and female as clarified in verse 29 by the words, "it remains that both they that have wives be as though they had none."
Why did Paul prefer singleness for himself and others, especially those in ministry?
1) Paul realized marriage was not for everyone and that singleness was a viable option. Not all adults will chose to marry today. Again, we would do well to remember the words of Paul in Colossians 2:10 which announce, "You are complete in Him."
2) Paul chose to be single because it freed him to better accomplish God's will for his life. The incredibly tumultuous and time-consuming ministry life Paul led would probably have been too much for a wife to bear. He would also not have had as much time to spend on ministry had he been married because of the needs of his wife.
3) Paul could develop more meaningful, personal relationships as a single
minister. Paul realized the need for close relationships could also be met outside of marriage. Paul was constantly referring to "my co-workers," "my brothers," etc. The last chapter of Romans mentions twenty-seven names of friends, most with a special word about them.
Theological Issues Affecting the Single Minister
Paul's opinion of having more flexibility and less anxiety as a single adult than a married adult (I Corinthians 7:32-33) should possibly be given more credit and carry more influence in the Church today than it currently does! The traditional expectation and commendation of marriage, especially for pastors, missionaries and key church leaders, seems to need scrutiny in light of the apostle's exhortation that for ministry reasons it is better to remain single. And, as if to add punch to the point, Paul himself was single when this admonition was written (I Corinthians 7: 8).
In view of Paul's strong preferences of the single life for himself and others, it is extremely intriguing that many church leaders have made him the chief authority for the "husband of one wife" test for a minister receiving credentials and appointments of elders and deacons (I Tim. 3:2, 12; Titus 1:6). It is also noteworthy that interpreting this phrase the way many do eliminates all females and all single people. In fact, this would have included Paul, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, Jesus and others!
Misconceptions of the Church Which Affect the Single Minister
There are many common misconceptions of singleness existing in the Church today which affect the unmarried minister. These misconceptions seem more prominent in the Church than in society at large because of the Churches' emphasis on marriage and family, and resulting lack of emphasis on single adults. The following misconceptions are some of the more obvious ones.
minister. Paul, a never-married editor/writer/administrator in the Assemblies of God national office, will state with conviction that he is called to a life of singleness. Yet, he relates a surprising statement by saying, "the question, ‘Why aren't you married' was asked at my ordination interview.
Sylvia, a never-married missionary in the Assemblies of God, addresses the issue by stating, "There is often a higher level of confidence in those who are married because of maturity issues. A single adult must prove by their conduct they are a person of integrity, maturity, and are responsible" (more than a married person must).
The apostle Paul addresses the issues of completeness in Colossians 2:10 by saying, "You are complete in him!" Marriage has nothing to do with it. Most people know many single adults who are complete and mature spiritually, emotionally, relationally etc. Most people also know married adults who are not complete and mature in these ways.
married adults think a person without a spouse has more time to spend on him/herself. Although it is true that a single adult does not have to spend time meeting a spouse's needs, it is also true that the many domestic tasks of a household such as cleaning, washing, paying bills, shopping, and the many decisions have to be accomplished without the help of a spouse. Two usually can do more than one.
Vickie, a never married minister to/with single adults relates, "I find myself reminding them that the chores of life, if they are to get done, will be accomplished only by me."
3. The single minister may be a threat to married adults. As a pastor to single adults, I have had more than a few tell me they were neglected, ostracized, or at the least, made to feel uncomfortable by married adults because of the "perceived threat" they felt when around certain couples. This attitude would surface in a wife subtly indicating concern that an attractive single woman might interest her husband, or a husband showing jealousy or reluctance about a single man getting too close to his wife. It may also surface in the opposite sex person in the marriage distancing him/herself from the single minister.
John, a divorced, single again pastor to/with single adults in an Assemblies of God church explains, "...their wives have seemed to be very uncomfortable with me as a single adult in ministry. There hasn't been any direct confrontation, or any allegations of wrongdoing. Yet, they have treated me with greater distance than my married counterparts."
4. The single minister has fewer problems than the married minister. He/she may, in fact, may have more problems than the married minister due to the lack of a partner to assist with the daily responsibilities of home care, auto care, children's issues, family issues etc. Decisions concerning everyday living are made alone without the help of a dedicated, interested spouse.
Colleen, a divorced pastor to single adults in an Assemblies of God church, explains, "I don't have someone to talk to (as married couples do) when I get home...no one to off load on and to share the burdens with."
5. The single minister wants to be married. This attitude is usually perpetuated by well-meaning married adults who wonder and sometimes ask, "I wonder why he/she has not married yet? Without meaning to be rude, presumptuous, or pushy, their concern, usually only observed but sometimes voiced by a comment or question, comes across the wrong way to the minister who is not married. There are many Christian married adults who would like to help the unmarried man or woman find "Miss or Mr. right! Although it is true that most single adults do want to marry someday, they do not need to be reminded they are single, nor do they usually need "help" in finding God's person for them. God is fully able to reveal that person in His way and time.
There are some single adults who do not feel the need or desire to marry. There actually is a "gift of singleness which Jesus in Matt. 19: 11-12 and Paul in I Corinthians
7: 7-8 speak about. Colleen illustrates this point by saying, "Some singles are not called to be married, and it's ok to be single. Many people are happy in their singleness. Don't push people to find a mate."