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The Disconnect Between Leadership and Marriage or Singleness - An Excerpt from The Emotionally Healthy Leader
Going beyond simply offering a quick fix or new technique, bestselling author The Emotionally Healthy Leader. Interact with this excerpt today which challenges our default thinking about marriage and singleness in standard practice:engages beneath-the-surface issues unique to Christian leadership in
Understanding Marriage and Singleness as Vocations
Every Christian has the same primary calling or vocation: We are called to Jesus, by Jesus, and for Jesus. Our first call is to love him with our whole being and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Biblical writers use many analogies to describe our relationship with God (shepherd/sheep, master/slave, parent/child), but marriage is perhaps the most comprehensive and “least inadequate” (Ezekiel 16; Mark 2:19 – 20; Revelation 19 – 22).
In ancient times, marriage included two events, the betrothal and the wedding. During the betrothal phase, the man and woman were considered husband and wife (think of Mary and Joseph), but the marriage was not consummated until after the wedding. When we receive Jesus as Lord and Savior, we are effectively betrothed to him. This marriage will be consummated when we see him face-to-face at the end of our earthly life.
We work out this marriage to Jesus through our secondary callings, or vocations, as single or married persons. Throughout the history of the church, Christians have tended to elevate the importance of one over the other. For the first 1,500 years of the church, singleness was considered the preferred state and the best way to serve Christ. Singles sat at the front of the church. Marrieds were sent to the back. Things changed after the Reformation in 1517, when single people were sent to the back and marrieds moved to the front — at least among Protestants.
Scripture, however, refers to both statuses as weighty, meaningful vocations…both marrieds and singles point to and reveal Christ’s love, but in different ways. Both need to learn from one another about these different aspects of Christ’s love. This may be a radically new concept for you, but stay with me. God intends this rich theological vision to inform our leadership in ways few of us may have considered. Before exploring the connections between leadership and marriage or singleness, it’s important to understand the way marriage and singleness are commonly understood in standard practice among leaders today.
The Role of Marriage and Singleness in Standard Practice
I attended two excellent theological seminaries and routinely traveled to the best Christian leadership conferences offered in the United States. At no point during that time was the issue of integrating marriage and singleness into leadership addressed. Perhaps a well-known speaker might encourage those of us who were married to have a date night, a special evening with our children, or a well-planned vacation, but that was pretty much the extent of it. Sexuality was not talked about except for the occasional warning, “Don’t do it outside of marriage.” It was assumed, for example, that married leaders knew how to have a life-giving sexual relationship with their spouse. And little, if any, effort was ever made to acknowledge or include spouses at leadership events.
Over time, the unspoken message I got about marriage and leadership went something like this: Pete, seek first the kingdom of God. Build the church and everything else will be added to you. That includes a blessed marriage and family. You need a stable marriage (or single life) in order to have a strong, stable ministry.
So it’s not surprising that my first priority was to be an innovative pastor with a growing ministry. As long as I was not having an affair, not dabbling in pornography, and not married to someone who complained about me publicly or threatened to leave me, I was okay.
For single leaders, the same principle applied. Keep it together morally, but your first priority is to build the ministry and extend the kingdom of God. If little equipping was given to help married leaders, even less was provided for single leaders. The connection between singleness and leadership was rarely, if ever, mentioned. But the not-so-subtle message behind the silence was loud and clear: You would have a broader, more effective ministry if you were married. In some cases, single leaders were even considered suspect, the underlying message being, What’s wrong with you that you’re still single?
Among Christian leaders today, the default thinking about marriage and singleness in standard practice goes something like this:
- A leader’s highest priority is to build an effective and successful ministry to reveal Jesus’ love to the world. We give our best time and energy to achieve that objective. Marriage or singleness is important, but secondary on the priority list.
- A leader’s connection or oneness with Jesus is separate from his or her connection to a spouse (if married) or close friends and family (if single).
- How a decision might impact a leader’s marriage or singleness is a secondary rather than primary consideration in ministry discernment and decision making.
- Leaders need to get as much training and equipping as possible to improve their leadership skills. They should get training and equipping for marriage or singleness if they have problems or a crisis.
- Christian leaders need sound doctrine and a foundational theology, but they can’t be experts on everything. There are more essential things to know and understand than a theology of marriage, singleness, or sexuality.
- Christian leaders don’t need to be overly concerned about marriage or singleness of their team members. Senior leaders, in particular, should know how to care for these aspects of their lives by the time they get into higher levels of leadership.
I’ve stated them rather bluntly, but do any of these perspectives sound familiar to you? Do you recognize some of your own default thinking in the mix?
Within the Christian community, this pervasive disconnect between leadership and one’s vocation (as married or single) is so pronounced — and yet so pervasively considered “normal” — that only a powerful theological vision from God can reverse and redeem this dangerous state of affairs. But in order to live out a new vision, we need to understand what it means to do so in practical terms — to rearrange our lives and leadership in ways that enable us to truly lead out of our marriage or singleness. (pgs 86-91)
The Emotionally Healthy Leader is now available. Order your copy today to discover how transforming your inner life will deeply transform your church, team, and the world.
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