On The Ministry: Celibacy and Marriage

On The Ministry: Celibacy and Marriage

One of the great changes in the reformation was that clergy were no longer required to be celibate. This has had a tremendous effect on the Reformation churches.  Not only does it allow for married clergy, but it allows for dynastic clergy families. The Walter A. Maier family and the Robert Preus family, for example, have had generations of professors, presidents, and other church leaders. These men continue to be a blessing to the church, long after they have been called to glory. But married clergy is not just about the heritage that continues to follow a pastor.

There is much talk in Roman Catholic circles about the admonitions from both our Lord and St. Paul.  But the Roman Catholic church has admitted that there is no scriptural mandate that clergy remain unmarried: eastern Rite Roman Catholics allow married priests, and there are a few married clergy in the US, who have colloquized from the Anglican Communion.

There are very practical reasons for a celibate clergy. The priest can devote more time and attention to the flock under his care if he is unmarried. In addition, the cost of supporting an unmarried priest is significantly less than that of supporting a pastor and his entire family.

By having a married clergy, the Lutheran Church has taken a dramatically different posture toward the work of the pastor.  In addition to the extra funds required to support a family, the pastor has other duties and responsibilities.

There is a quiet debate among clergy as to what place the church and the family should take in the pastor’s life. There were several generations that claimed that the pastor’s family must take second place to his work in the church. This did not just mean that, given an emergency, the pastor would leave the dinner table to go and be with a dying parishioner. (Every pastor has done this.) It meant that the pastor’s evenings would be filled with meetings of church boards, societies, and organizations, outreach efforts, planning sessions, etc. After all, the church should be busy doing things. (What things? Hard to say, but she needs to be doing them.)  The pastor was to spend less time on the business of being father, than he was to spend on being about his Father’s business.

About the time that this model of pastoral ministry took hold, another change arose. Clergy dynasties stopped. It used to be that a pastor would expect his sons to enter the ministry. Now, clergy are happy if their children continue to attend church at all. The younger generation of clergy have noticed this, and so have adopted the attitude that “Being about the Father’s business begins with the business of being a father.” Pastor’s no longer joyfully attend meetings three and four nights a week. They do not spend every waking minute “doing ministry.” They carve out blocks of time to spend with their family, and that time is yielded only to the gravest of problems.

This change is not always easy. Parishioners remember how Pastor Fridfelt used to do things, and they want pastor Jones to do it the same way. But Pastor Jones does not do it that way, for a simple reason: He is following the scriptural requirements for being a pastor. St. Paul admonishes, “He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?.” Pastor’s today understand that this means they must spend time with their children. But even more than this, St. Paul is saying that one of the requirements of being a pastor is knowing that there must be a balance between church and home, and knowing how to say “enough” and leave the work of the church. This does not mean that pastor’s are not aware of the work of the church left undone. They know that there is more that they could do. But they are not free to do it.  They have responsibilities to their family, and those must also be taken care of. (Pastor’s generally love spending time with their family, and so do not think it an imposition to do so.) Rome is right when they say that married clergy cannot fully devote themselves to the work of the church.  It is true.  Married clergy is about far more than just whether the pastor has a wife. It is about the nature of the ministry and the work of the church itself.  To allow married clergy is to concede that, while we are all willing to die for our faith if necessary, pastors need not kill themselves to keep the local parish running.

The Reformation stand on clergy marriage means that pastors will not be available at all hours of the day and night for work in the church. This is not to say that they are not always on call and ready to respond to emergencies that arise. But they are not free to spend every night in meetings, visiting with parishioners, going to community events etc. Time must be spent with the family. And those hours are the same as the hours for every other activity: 5pm-8pm.  A congregation should not have the pastor for more than two or (at most, and not consistently) three nights a week at that time. Saturdays and Sundays can not be filled with events from dawn to dusk. If a congregation is overloading the pastor’s family time, then they need to readjust their priorities and tell the pastor to take an extra night off once a week.  Does he really need to attend every meeting of the trustees and the men’s club? If you have him scheduled to teach two or three nights a week, then evening visitations will be difficult to schedule on a regular basis. The congregation, in setting the schedule, sets their own priorities. But pastors today will not respond well to the expectation that they are to spend every waking moment working for the church, and that the pastor’s family must be sacrificed for the sake of the congregation.

The days of the family-neglecting married pastor are gone. Pastor’s today take very seriously the admonition of St. Paul. They take even more seriously the admonition of our Lord, “What God has joined together, let man not put asunder.”

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