The Dreaded “D” Word in Ministry: Can I lead a ministry being divorced?
I am a believer in Jesus Christ and have been since the age of ten. I am a God called preacher and have been since my late teenage years. I have been involved in ministry leadership much of my adult life including pastoring for many of those years.
For the past seven months I have preached most all of the Sunday morning services at our home church near Hammond, LA. It has been an amazing opportunity for which I am thankful and humbled. My intentions for the past several years was for Heather and I to start a new ministry in another community near our home. We actually had a few planning meetings in that home exploring our many options. My father’s terminal illness and two floods put all of it on hold. We continued to attend and serve in our home church when circumstances developed that allowed me to do some supply preaching and later step into a more active preaching role. To be honest that ministry and its people have captured my heart. I cannot preach to such a loving group for that amount of time and not be moved deeply for them. I have prayed for them, served them, cried over them, hurt in my heart for them, and availed myself to the God of Heaven trying my best to be led of the Spirit as I have preached and taught the Word of God. I know in my heart and spirit, because of the timing and other circumstances, that God is involved, He is doing a work, and I am loving it.
My life isn’t perfect. I am a sinner and I have failed the Lord more times than I would care to admit. I do try to live my life daily for the Lord and with the help of the indwelling Holy Spirit. I am so glad my salvation isn’t based on what I do but on what Christ did at Calvary. I do not say this as an excuse. According to the Bible it is the truth for all of us.
My wife and I have both been through a divorce. That experience has forever affected us. It also affects daily our love for one another, our view of life, our convictions, our determination, our goals, our handling of others, our view of ministry, and so much more. We know first hand what it is like to have the dreaded “D” word plastered across our foreheads because we experienced many hurtful things from hypocritical folks who really had no direct knowledge or involvement with us, our families, and the circumstances in which we found ourselves. To be honest it really wasn’t any of their business. In our greatest time of hurt and need we remember well those who judged and spoke unkind things about us and those who loved and prayed for us in spite of the circumstances. We have some amazing God sent experiences and memories from some precious saints of God who were there for us, loved on us, and encouraged us when we needed it most. Some of these individuals were involved in national ministries and yet they took time to be a blessing. Much was learned by those experiences. They have helped us have a better understanding and compassion for others, especially in ministry. God has been so good and has greatly blessed our lives, our marriage, our family, our businesses, and our continued involvement in ministry.
Some believe divorce disqualifies a person completely from serving in a church leadership role. The passages used for this belief are those dealing with the character qualities of a pastor found in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. The phrase “husband of one wife” is the foundation for this belief. I have never embraced this idea because this phrase is not a reference to divorce but to a man’s present character and faithfulness in reference to his wife. The literal translation refers to a pastor as being a one woman man or being faithfully devoted to his wife. I am fully aware that divorce and marriage can play a major factor in a person’s ministry. But to take this one wife meaning would also mean a man could not pastor without being married first (some believe this to be the case) and he would have to stop pastoring if his wife died or left and he remarried a second time (it’s silly but he would no longer be the husband of one wife – some also have this belief). To be disqualified for life for a failure in marriage no matter the reason simple goes against the principles of forgiveness, mercy, and grace found in God’s Word. However, as a character issue, a man would be most certainly disqualified if he is a womanizer.
Years ago I studied these passages in depth because of knowing several men personally who had experienced divorce and who were successful pastors. Recently I renewed my study because of my own situation and the desire to do things properly and according to God’s Word. I have also sought advice from several men involved in ministry and while some believe having a divorce will be an issue it is a man’s call and character that matters most. My view of these key verses has not changed.
It is not my intent to debate or offend with my view. I am simply expressing my heart, my view of scripture, and where I am coming from in my own life and current situation. The Lord continues to burden my heart for ministry. He also continues to give me opportunities to preach, lead, and be involved in ministry. I simply desire to be obedient to His call on my life.
Dr. John MacArthur is a highly respected Pastor and Bible teacher. He leads Grace Community Church, Master’s University, Master’s Theological Seminary, and the international ministry called Grace To You. He has authored and edited over 150 books. The following information is from the MacArthur Bible Commentary.
Husband of one wife. Lit. in Greek a “one-woman man.” This says nothing about marriage or divorce. The issue is not the elder’s marital status, but his moral and sexual purity. This qualification heads the list, because it is in this area that leaders are most prone to fail. Various interpretations of this qualification have been offered. Some see it as a prohibition against polygamy. An unnecessary injunction since polygamy was not common in Roman society and clearly forbidden by Scripture (Gen 2:24), the teaching of Jesus (Mat 19:5-6; Mar 10:6-9), and Paul (Eph 5:31). A polygamist could not even have been a church member, let alone a church leader. Others see this requirement as barring those who remarried after the death of their wives.
But, as already noted, the issue is sexual purity, not marital status. Further, the Bible encourages remarriage after widowhood (1Ti 5:14; 1Co 7:39). Some believe that Paul here excludes divorced men from church leadership. That again ignores the fact that this qualification does not deal with marital status. Nor does the Bible prohibit all remarriage after divorce (see notes on Mat 5:31-32; Mat 19:9; 1Co 7:15). Finally, some think that this requirement excludes single men from church leadership. But if that were Paul’s intent, he would have disqualified himself (1Co 7:8). A “one-woman man” is one totally devoted to his wife, maintaining singular devotion, affection, and sexual purity in both thought and deed. To violate this is to forfeit blamelessness and no longer be “above reproach” (Tit 1:6-7). Cf. Pro 6:32-33.