Why the Church would benefit from more celibate leaders

(Photo: Unsplash/Priscilla Du Preez)

The Catholic church is often criticised for its celibacy requirement for priests. In the Protestant church there is the opposite pattern, with mostly married pastors. Yet there are many advantages to celibacy for a pastor and the church. Here are 6 reasons why the Protestant church would benefit from many more celibate leaders:

1. Orthodox teaching on celibacy for people who are not married / gay / divorced etc rings hollow if few of the church's leaders practice it

When hearing criticisms of the Catholic position on priests, it's common to hear comments such as: "it's such a burden and a barrier to ministry", or "mandating celibacy is a cause of the sexual abuse scandals", or "it's unnatural".

However it's worth remembering that churches which hold to traditional or orthodox teaching on sex and marriage consider that celibacy is a requirement for most of the population who are not in their first marriage. That's nearly half of the adult UK population. If you are preaching a tough line on sex outside of marriage, you would expect that leaders are able to follow it too. If celibacy is so arduous for church leaders, why would anyone expect ordinary Christians to manage it? 

2. Singleness is described as better in the Bible

The praise given to the single life in 1 Cor 7 is rarely emphasised – expect perhaps to singles unhappy with their lot, who don't usually welcome it! The passage's encouragement towards marriage for those who 'burn with passion' is perhaps better known. But it's clear that St Paul is advising there are spiritual advantages to celibacy: "An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord's affairs—how he can please the Lord." However a married man's "interests are divided". He continues: "I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord." (v 32-35)

Surely this devotion is particularly needed in Christian leadership?

3. It's a tall order to be a really good spouse, parent and pastor at the same time

So you get a call from a parishioner who is in a crisis. At the same time, one of your kids is in tears and your spouse has had a terrible day. Who is the priority? Many "pastor's kids" talk of the challenges of having a parent who is a church leader. For the single person, there are fewer competing demands on time – though their own needs for friendship or relaxation etc should never be ignored.

4. It's cheaper

A minister has fewer financial needs and responsibilities without a family – allowing them to be more free to follow ministry as God leads them. While churches shouldn't pay singles any less – it gives more wiggle room to the minister and less stress.

5. Our society is more and more single - nearly half the adult population at present and rising

Plenty of research has shown that the church is not serving single people very well. The drive for churches to be 'family friendly' has left many singles excluded.

"While 47 per cent of GB adults are married, married people make up 60 per cent of those who regularly attend church at least once a month," according to research by Single Friendly Church. "Churches are relatively successful in catering for married people, especially those aged 30 to 44 years with children, but fail to reach other groups - including singles."

Having more pastors who understand singleness would help to reach more people.

6. It can be a beautiful sacrifice

In an age that idolises sex and romance, yet does both very badly, to be celibate by choice is hugely counter-cultural. Yet if the reason is to serve God more effectively or to have greater devotion to Him, it becomes something beautiful, and a witness to a hurting and broken-hearted world.