The Discrimination of Single Pastors

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 implied 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--specificially 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?"

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23 Responses to “The Discrimination of Single Pastors”

  1. # Anonymous Anonymous

    This is a really excellent post Terrace. Thanks for bringing this difficult subject up.

    I'm freshly out of Bible college and I know that a lot of my married friends are having trouble landing jobs in ministry because they are young or expected to do it full time for free. It is doubly hard for those who are single. I don't know of a single, singly friend that has successfully made their way into paid ministry.

    Been reading your blog for a long time now - never commented before though. This post brought me out of hiding.  

  2. # Blogger Tony Roos

    I am an old married guy in youth ministry. I have been in my current church for 8 years and have been involved in district happenings for that long. Two guys in those years across the state have been hired as single guys. One was engaged and one was dating a girl. Neither of them caused any problems with the church.

    The thing that upsets me about your article is the jump from single to gay. That is flat out wrong and un-biblical. I guess as is thinking that marriage must be required. Wasn't it Paul that said tis better to be single?

    I will say in the dealings with letting people go for "morality issues" they have not been single guys...

    That is all.  

  3. # Blogger Terrace Crawford

    @Jonny - Hello! Glad you decided to connect. I appreciate your comments here. Let's continue the conversation, shall we?

    @Tony - Thanks for your comments. I've seen successes too, but my question to you is this: Are you upset that I wrote the article with this angle or that churches are putting (single) youth workers through this?

    It's obvious to me that jobs are hard enough to find in ministry during this season, but this post was written after hearing story after story of (single) youth workers who have been put through the ringer when trying to land a position. If you read the entire piece you'll see that I also think taking the issue of "singleness" to "homosexuality" is wrong (so we agree!) and that my frustration is that many churches are going there!


  4. # Blogger Tony Roos

    @terrace I am disgusted that churches disqualify those whom christ has qualified.  

  5. # Blogger Audrey

    Where I live, (Oklahoma) it seems that single youth pastors are hired for smaller churches. Often, these are part-time jobs. I think these churches actually prefer a single guy because he can usually live on the part-time salary.

    I do know of several single youth pastors that are on staff full-time at large churches as well.

    I wonder if these churches who are discriminating have ever heard of Paul?!?  

  6. # Blogger Tim Liu

    There was this other guy in the Bible who was single too. I think his name was .. Jesus?  

  7. # Anonymous Josh Harris

    As a single pastor that is currently looking for a position I have had two churches question my marital statues and said "no thanks." Even toward the end of my tenure at my last church I was questioned by a parent of a guy about me working as a single minister. That was disheartening because I put in a lot of effort to be "above reproach."
    One of the other issues that I have faced is being told I wouldn't be able to hold activities with girls because I wouldn't have a wife to oversee these activities. Many youth pastors wife's that I known don't take this role on anyway. It is done by volunteers.  

  8. # Blogger johngf

    Paul even wrote bits in the Bible about about the benefits of being single. Imagine that! It's in the Bible and everything!

    Paul also wrote that an elder should be the husband of one wife. Though I think there can be many interpretations of that.  

  9. # Blogger Beth

    My experience is so different. Granted I'm a married woman. During interviews I asked about expectations of my family. At the time I had two high school daughters, a middle school daughter and a younger son. The answers varied between they will attend everything we do to we're hiring you, not your family, we have no expectations. I went with the church that had no expectations. I knew it wouldn't be an issue that my kids went to youth group elsewhere (along with their own) or occasionally attended other churches with their friends.  

  10. # Anonymous Anonymous

    I worked very hard in getting my bachelors degree in ministry. I was looking forward to being on staff at a church. BUT I have not been given a chance at all due to my marital status of single. I would marry as soon as possible but I have not met her yet. So should I feel horrible that I am not married and all my time and student loan money that it is having to be paid back prevents me from reaping the harvest of my hard work? I understand everyone has thier story BUT this is an excellent article. And though the term "Discrimination" may not be agreeable with some readers... It sure feels valid and ever so true when it happens to you. Trying hard not to resent my hard work re: my education and now looking for other options. It is a very sad place to be in personally. Discrimination IS what it is. Changes do need to take place in our American Church Society. Being abstinent in dedication to Christ as a single man Should be respected by those that are married in the church and not ridiculed. In defence of Paul... He was single BUT Christ himself was also. Chris being the son of the living God. plz dont email me hate mail fellow believers... :)  

  11. # Anonymous Anonymous

    I enjoyed reading this, a lot of good insight. Just last week I was turned down for what I thought was a slam dunk job interview. I am happily married for 6 years and the job went to a single guy. Side by side, marital status excluded, we were essentially the same person. The rationale from the church was that with the salary they were paying, they could take better care of the single man. I have been looking earnestly for over 2 years for a job, landing many interviews but with no luck.  

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