For the first ten years of my pastoral ministry (ages 20-30), I was unmarried. The Lord had called me to preach when I was 13 years old, and the first church called me as pastor at age 20. Here are my reflections on those years as a single pastor.
- I don’t think I was wrong to serve as a single pastor. I realize others believe that 1 Timothy 3:2 requires pastors to be married, but this text does not forbid singles from serving in this role. It’s fair to say, though, that the text assumes most pastors will be married—and that’s the case.
- I had more time to do ministry as a single adult. This is simply a practical reality: a single adult generally has more time to do ministry throughout the week. I admit my workaholism, but I visited in members’ home most nights of the week as a single pastor.
- I wish I’d known then what I know now: it’s always wise to have somebody with you when you’re doing ministry. I was the only pastoral leader in my small country church, and I didn’t try hard enough to involve and train others. It was just too easy to do it myself as a single.
- I faced unique dating challenges as a single pastor. More than one well-meaning member tried to fix me up with a potential spouse. A couple of single ladies actually told me they sensed God’s leading for us to date. At times, I found myself attracted to members who weren’t interested in dating their pastor. When Pam (my wife-to-be) and I started dating, it wasn’t easy to avoid the spotlight. Such were the realities that come with serving as a single pastor who assumes marriage is in the future.
- I should have sought more help with counseling. Because I was called to pastor, I was convinced I was fully equipped to counsel anyone – including doing pre-marital and marital counseling. I wasn’t married long, though, before I realized I didn’t know nearly what I needed to know about counseling!
- I needed accountability. I was a young man fighting all the temptations that young men face, and I wasn’t smart enough to know I needed others to help me fight them. My singleness made me too much a loner.
- I took advantages of my singleness to do international missions. My calendar allowed it, and I traveled when I could. If I were a single young leader today, I would take mission trips as often as feasible. I’m a more global leader today because of those choices when I was single.
- I learned grace via a single adult failure: a broken engagement. I got engaged briefly to a church member’s granddaughter, and I ended the engagement when I realized I had rushed ahead of God. I even offered my resignation to my church then, but they put their arms around me and loved me through the process. I suppose such a difficult issue is always possible for a single pastor.
- God granted me a spouse, but not every pastor is called to be married. I’m incredibly grateful for Pam, my partner and friend in marriage and ministry (and, by the way, we were fixed up by two church secretaries!)—but God’s call for some is to pastor and remain single. They must face the unique challenges and take advantage of the unique opportunities that singleness offers.
- With the exceptions of my notable failures, I would do it all over again. I enjoyed my single years of ministry, and God taught me much through pastoring in those years. When I did marry somewhat later than others (age 30), though, God’s timing was perfect. My responsibility was to serve Him well at all times.
If you’ve served a single pastor, what reflections would you have?