"I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married m an is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord." - 1 Corinthians 7:32-35
I'm about a month and a half away from getting married, entering into a new season of life. And while in we live in a time where getting married "later" is the new normal, there are other norms that inform when one should be getting married. Coming from an Asian cultural and being the firstborn son of a firstborn son, there was both unspoken and violently exclaimed pressure to find someone foolish enough to take this next step with me starting from my late 20s. Add to that the societal pressures of watching your closest friends slowly drift away because of new commitments in their lives as they get married and have children.
Yet the part I wanted to reflect on most that sits nearest to my heart is the aspect of being a single male pastor. As Paul reflects, the single male pastor might be the most fully devoted and sold out believer dedicated to service for the Lord. Yet it's amazing how in many conversations I've had with other single men in ministry, we're often derided and cast aside by others because of our lack of a marital status.
Some top hits because it's fun to give examples:
1. Having a congregation member directly tell me they didn't respect me because I wasn't married and that I wasn't a real pastor.
2. Going up before a presbytery meeting to introduce myself and the very first question asked regarding my qualifications for ministry was if I was married and why I wasn't married yet.
3. Being told by another pastor in a church that a couple didn't want to talk to me about any of their personal issues because I was single and couldn't possibly speak into their lives.
Of course these examples aren't the norm. By and large, I'm blessed and encouraged and empowered by so many of those I serve over, alongside of, and under. I simply know though that what I've experienced above is no different than what many single pastors have experienced as well.
Look, are their creepy single male pastors? Absolutely. And they ruin it for the rest of us. But there are a ton of creepy married ones too. So being single doesn't make you creepy. Being creepy does. That's not an issue of life stage, that's an issue of character. Some might say, "Well marriage is the same thing right? An issue of character?" Well, no, not really either. Spend enough time around married men when their wives aren't around and you'll realize that this definitely isn't the case either.
Ultimately, the point I wanted to reflect on in this weird post is that as I get ready for marriage, there are many people who will see this as a graduation. They congratulate me and wish me well and talk about how much this will be of benefit to me. And they're absolutely right. Even in the short period of dating and engagement, I've learned and discovered so many things about myself that I definitely would not have realized apart from my fiancee. I've been educated on so many aspects of relationships that I wouldn't have figured out on my own. And there's so much more to go, much more to learn. And all this will help me grow as a pastor.
Yet I know some might disagree with me in saying this but I refuse to believe marriage will make me a better pastor. Only a different one. I don't think marriage makes a Christian better, only makes them understand faith from a new perspective. Marriage surely will sanctify. But so does singleness. What the Lord has always cared about is whether in platonic or covenantally bound relationships, He is honored and glorified and kept first.
The new challenge before me is learning to do this with someone else as one. To be a pastor while learning to balance this with caring for my wife. It will be strange, weird, and wonderful. Marriage will surely teach me in its own way to love and depend on the Lord more. Yet know and understand that so many of my single brothers in ministry have their own knowledge, their own experience, and their own struggle that has formed and made them to be the servants that they are. There is much to gain from allowing them into your lives and we would be wise to ask them to do so.