Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Single men in ministry

Monday's New York Times ran a story about the Rev. Mark Almlie, an ordained minister in the Evangelical Covenant Church who has expressed frustration because he can't find a flock to shepherd. Reason? He's single and childless while many, if not most, evangelical churches specifically seek a husband and father as a pastor.

But where he sees discrimination, which I understand and appreciate, I see safeguards from inappropriate entanglement.

For several years I participated in one of my church's home groups; after asking me to take a turn in leading the group's semimonthly Bible study, hosted by a couple, and apparently impressed on more than one occasion with the job I did, the man, now an elder, suggested that I consider leading one of my own.

Yes, I have the heart, knowledge and skills to be a lay leader in this or any church. But I will not do so as a single man in part due to my own emotional vulnerabilities; in the mid-1980s I experienced being fawned over by a woman I knew to be unhappily married (though I never responded to it). And since we Christians are instructed to avoid even the hint of evil, becoming an elder would simply not be a good move on my part because that means I would likely have to do some counseling with such women. I'd just rather not deal with that temptation.

The article also quoted a Jackson W. Carroll, an emeritus professor of religion at Duke University, as saying that, in insisting that pastors be married with children, "evangelicals are responding to the sexual revolution of the 1960s, which they saw as a real threat to the family." And while he was specifically speaking of pastors, the same could probably be said about lay leadership in the church.

Many singles refer to Paul's passages on singleness, saying that not having a spouse would mean more freedom to do ministry. They must be taken in context, however -- Paul and much of the church of that day believed that Jesus would return at any moment or at least in their lifetimes, in which case marital status wouldn't matter. It's also true that Jesus Himself was never married but because, in His culture obsessed with ethnic purity, no good Jewish father would give his daughter in marriage to Jesus not knowing who His earthly father was.

I won't say that marriage will simply and completely remove such temptations; my present and two past churches have experienced adultery among staff. I just don't want to be another statistic just for the sake of having power and authority in the congregation.

And if you're wondering -- yes, I am looking.

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