Back in March, I read an article in the NY Times about a single pastor who struggled to find a job in ministry because he was single (unmarried). The piece stated that Mark Almlie (the single pastor) had responded to over 500 job postings and had no success in landing a position.
Here’s the part of the article that I found particularly interesting:
“Mr. Almlie, 37, has been shocked, he says, at what he calls unfair discrimination, based mainly on irrational fears: that a single pastor cannot counsel a mostly married flock, that he might sow turmoil by flirting with a church member, or that he might be gay. If the job search is hard for single men, it is doubly so for single women who train for the ministry, in part because many evangelical denominations explicitly require a man to lead the congregation.”
I’ll never forget sitting across from a search team a few years ago who was interviewing me for a position where I would be working with teenagers. They asked me a number of questions about my experience and background. Then came some very poignant questions about my personal life. They asked if I was single (unmarried), and then they asked if I was gay. I was floored. “No,” I replied. “I’m not gay.” I have to admit…that question felt like a punch in the face. Why such a poignant question? Was it because I was single and didn’t have a significant other at the time? “Do they ask all single pastors this question?” I thought.
Just a few short months ago, I sat down with two youth pastors (who happen to be single) at a conference. They wanted to share their hurts with me. During a conversation with me, one of the pastors stated that he had a difficult time finding a job in ministry. The other guy beside him (also single, never married) acknowledged that he did, too. Then he shared that he had been asked by a search team if he was gay. What? I thought, “You, too?” The other guy chimed in and said, “I was asked the same thing!” Not only were these pastors being turned down primarily because of their marital status, but they were being asked if they were “gay.” They were both offended by such questions and also felt there was an unfair discrimination against them.
The article I mentioned also states:
“Some evangelical churches, in particular, openly exclude single candidates; a recent posting for a pastor by a church on Long Island said it was seeking ‘a family man whose family will be involved in the ministry life of the church.’ Other churches convey the message through code words, like “seeking a Biblical man” (translation: a husband and a provider).”
The NY Times interviewed R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, in response to this, and he shared these thoughts: “It is unfair to accuse churches of discrimination because that word implies something ‘wrongful.’ Both the logic of Scripture and the centrality of marriage in society,” he said, justify “the strong inclination of congregations to hire a man who is not only married but faithfully married.”
While I might agree with what Dr. Mohler is saying here in part, there has to be an acknowledgement of the bias that seems to abound from the Church today, which seems to quickly discredit single pastors from getting positions in ministry. Furthermore, even though I understand a search team’s concern that their candidate not struggle with their sexuality, asking outright if someone is “gay” because they are single is just wrong.
This entire discussion, for me, makes me consider at least 5 myths that are present when it comes to single church leaders serving in youth ministry roles in the church today:
1. The myth…that married church leaders are exempt from sexual sin–specifically homosexuality.
2. The myth…that single church leaders might be gay.
3. The myth…that single church leaders will have difficulty connecting with teenagers and families.
4. The myth…that church leaders without (free-working) spouses are less effective in ministry.
5. The myth…that single church leaders have some kind of hidden quirk or they’d be married.
Do you agree that there is a bias? Why can’t the church lead the way in being an affirming community of all folks, including people that are single? How can we change the way we view single church leaders? Wasn’t it Paul who said, “It is better to be single”?