A few posts ago I talked about the fact that your pastor doesn’t get it (the singleness thing that is). But today I want to take that a step further. Here is a real question that I think merits discussion. Is there a glass ceiling for singles in church leadership – and if so should there be?
In other words can a single person hold an elder, deacon or other leadership position? At first glance this may seem like kind of a weird question but think about your church – or for that matter any ministry. How is it set up? Think of the elders and/or deacons at your church – are any of them single?
Now one of the reasons is obvious – through recent history most of the older folks who would lead most churches were married. So it really wasn’t much of an issue. But times are a changing.
Now the Church has no problem with married people leading single people (obviously) so the real question is, can single people lead married people? I think there are three answers from the church. 1. Yes, 2. No, 3. Biblically yes but we don’t know how to handle it, so practically no. (Perhaps 4. If a person is called to singleness then yes – but we aren’t going to help anyone determine that.)
I think the Yes group is smallest. This would be a church where you see all sorts of people in leadership (assuming the other qualifications of course). I think the 2nd group is the next largest. This is the group that would point to 1st Tim. 3 and say that Paul is saying that if you haven’t managed your wife and kids then you can’t manage the church. To me this isn’t a very good argument – although at least they have the guts to make it. They would say Paul’s point is, how can an unmarried person mentor/counsel/lead others with families if they haven’t experienced it. Based on this argument though almost no one could lead anyone. How can I lead a person who is homeless if I haven’t been homeless. I haven’t experienced it, how can I understand. I get it, I just think it’s a reach.
This leads us to group 3 – by far the the largest. This is the church where anyone can lead but yet no single person ever mentors a married one. It is the one where even though they know they could have single leadership they don’t know how to integrate it. What if an elder dates someone in the church, or worse from another church, or worse yet if they break up? Or what if they mess up and have sex or give in to sexual sin (because that’s never happened to a married elder). They don’t know what to do even at a small group level. Can a small group of mostly marrieds be led by a single person, or gasp, by two single people – that aren’t dating? Should they just lead other singles (and marrieds just lead marrieds)?
Some would say that single people don’t typically want to lead, or volunteer at that level. I think there is some truth to that, especially as it has related to age in the past. But I also think that they aren’t asked as often, and many of them just assume they can’t do it. If they look around and see all married people in leadership why would they think they can do it? (It should be pointed out that there are some less “grown up” ministries that it seems only single people can lead).
There are about to be more thirty and forty something single people than ever before in history. Right, wrong or otherwise, it’s going to happen. So every church and ministry had better ask this question. What can single people lead? If the answer is not certain things -that’s fair, but have the guts to say it. If the answer is any position, then we need to figure out how to integrate it and build the leadership community together.