The New York Times published an article yesterday by Erik Eckholm that investigates the challenges that unmarried evangelical seminary graduates face when looking for a pastoral position. Bluntly: It ain’t happening.

My favorite part of the article, however, is the way it highlights how American evangelicals are so motivated by the construct of “family values” that they are willing to ignore scripture in favor of these values. Need proof? Take the always quotable Al Mohler, who says that a bias against unmarried pastors is not discrimination. Then there’s this:

“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.”

I obviously have nothing against married people (I am one), or pastors, or married pastors, but read that quote from Mohler in light of this one from Saint Paul in 1 Corinthians:

I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your 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 do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife—and his interests are divided.

In light of this, the logic of Scripture seems far less important to Mohler than the centrality of marriage in society, doesn’t it?

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Jonathan D. Fitzgerald

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0 Responses to Single Evangelical Pastor: Will Preach for Food

  1. Zach says:

    Not that its worth arguing anymore, but you and Sessions both seem to have a strange crush on anything Al Mohler says. Notice he responds to most all of his critics except you guys.

  2. Agreed. This is an example of how people often say that “scripture” supports their position just because it is somehow the more conservative or commonly held opinion among Christians, when in reality the scriptural support may be paper-thin, or in this case, even contrary.

    As a friend once said: the world is obsessed with sex. The church is obsessed with marriage.

  3. graceshaker says:

    jesus would never have been hired as pastor of an evangelical church.

  4. Matt S. says:


    I read this article, too, and was nonplussed by the absurdity of that quote from Mohler, as well as the broader situation the writer describes among evangelical churches. My mind went right to the passage from St. Paul you cite.

    I go to a church where our rector’s wife truly is a blessing, an integral part of his ministry. Not because she provides free labor — playing the piano, etc. — but because she has a remarkable spiritual presence, a gift of praying with and for parishioners, and also, seemingly, because their marriage is an enviable one where they view ministry as a partnership, and agree on what Christianity can and should mean.

    I think their marriage is an exception to the rule, and I wouldn’t want to extrapolate from it. Its a rare ideal I’ve haven’t experienced in any other church. Which is another way of saying they curiously prove St. Paul’s point — if they weren’t so remarkable, a single priest might really be better.

    What I don’t understand is how convince certain evangelicals of how captive they are to the categories and constructs of a particular age and culture. We all have our blind spots, of course, but this one seems particularly ridiculous to me. The Gospel seems to have absolutely no deconstructive power for these people — it challenges none of their assumptions, makes them question nothing they believe, and seems merely an adjacency to their right-wing political and cultural agenda. The fetishization of marriage pointed to in this article is one of the more glaring examples I’ve seen.

    Thanks for your good work.

    That said, I don’t think I’ve ever been in a church

  5. Timothy Zila says:

    The same deal applies to youth pastors, too. A young, male, unmarried youth pastor obviously can’t keep his pants on, so that’s a no go.

  6. odgie says:

    This is the reason that I got out of the ministry years ago. I’m happily married now, but there’s no way I’d go back.

  7. Adam says:

    Fitz, I’ve disagreed with most of what you’ve written in past posts, but I think you’re pretty much dead on with this one. “Bluntly: It ain’t happening,” what a great line. As a fellow fan of literary theory, I would say that Derrida’s oft-quoted “there is nothing outside the text” is appropriately exemplified by your piece; funny and thought provoking, thanks to your own humorous critical framework (“Single Evangelical Pastor: Will Preach for Food,”chuckle-evoking), and the deconstructive nature of Mohler’s own statements. Thanks for this.

  8. Rob says:


    That word: I do not think it means what you think it means.

  9. Adam says:


    That’s inconceivable.

  10. CW@UW says:

    A friend of mine recently interviewed for a youth ministry position at a small church. The invited him back for second interview, but required that he bring his wife along.

  11. Janelle says:

    Dead on, Jonathan!

    I read about this on Todd Rhoades’ blog, and I agree with both of you. Complete absurdity and a very apparent prejudice against people who choose to stay single and preach the gospel. I guess the missions field is the only place for them in evangelical society. :/

    As a very loyal evangelical who is sometimes critical of my own kind: DISLIKE.

  12. Matt Baker says:

    Applause. It was clever of you to play the sola scriptura game on their terms and win. Yes, I am going to say you win in this case because Ray Charles could see how clearly correct you are on this matter.
    There is much discrimination against would be single evangelical ministers (another strange construction?) and it’s so ridiculous. I myself was turned down for a Youth Pastor position in 2009 of which my singleness was cited as a reason. The pastor said and I quote “single people don’t really fit in at our church; they are kind of weird and fail to connect with here”. This was said to me a single pastor for hire visiting the church! Proper social skills and self awareness are lost arts.
    Marriage and family are evangelical idols to be worshipped. “Focus on the Family”? I thought the intention was to focus on God (first commandment anyone?) But what do I know? I only have a B.A in Bible. Your arguments are presented on their terms and truth prevails. Kudos!

    Matt baker

  13. Bruce says:

    Fitz – it seems you’ve touched a real vein there. As another comment indicated, if the exegesis of Scripture were based consistently on this kind of prejudice (over the matter of married ministers) then we’d have a very different looking Christian tradition. It’s actually eisegesis, not exegesis: we start from our established patterns and read into the text what we need or want to see and read. Imagine if most ministers were unmarried as Paul seems to call for — we’d have leaner, meaner churches — and we’d probably be doing a lot more social outreach because our leaders wouldn’t be (rightfully) preoccupied with their own families. We’d also probably have far fewer crashed-and-burned ecclesial marriages and messed up PK’s, simply because married ministers would be unusual.

  14. Bart Breen says:

    I think you’re missing the point. It’s not that Mohler thinks that single pastors should be discriminated on the basis of their singlenees. They should also be Young Earth Creationists, 5 point Calvinists (4 point if you want some diversity), not smoke, drink or give any appearance of impropriety and if they’re going to anything that could be considered a mission field then they have to be non-charismatic as well. Clear?

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