Today, divorce strikes at the heart of over 50% of our nations homes. More shocking, you’re only a few Google clicks away from discovering that born again Christians are more likely than others to experience a divorce. When I was a newly ordained minister, I filled out many resumes for employment. It had become almost second nature to know that one of the first questions asked is “Have you ever been divorced?” This immediately placed me in the mindset that as soon as I answer “YES,” I might as well just get ready to be Triple-X’ed like a bad act on America’s Got Talent. If you took the time to read my testimony you already know that I have been divorced before. It was a time in my life that I was not a follower of Christ nor understood God’s true design for marriage.
Through my job search experience, I became amazed at how many pastoral leaders try to use a divorce in a person’s past as means to say that they are not qualified to be a pastoral leader today. For instance, I think the best example I found used by church leaders was in reference to 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9. These scriptures point out many qualifications as pastoral leaders aside from just the “faithful to his wife” part. Do these scriptures really convey that a divorced man is not qualified to lead God’s flock?
Let’s break down what I believe to be a huge misconception that is flowing in our churches today. When looking at these verses as reference, it should be noted that Paul’s letter to Timothy was written to give instruction to Timothy concerning the pastoral care of the churches in Ephesus. “The overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2). This was not written to assert that Christian leaders must be perfect; however, it does mean that he should be a man filled with integrity who, as they say, “keeps short accounts.” Paul’s qualification standards also note, “A man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient” (Titus 1:6). I will be bold and say that many people who have attended a church service can attest that there is a much higher probability of seeing a pastoral leader with wild and disobedient children running around than a pastor who once was divorced. So the question begs to be asked. Using these standards of judgment, a pastor with wild and disobedient children should be removed from the pulpit?
As men living in a fallen world, we all have a sinning nature. Therefore, none of us have been “blameless’” over our entire life, for example. To take the view that this passage is going back over a person’s entire lifespan with regards to marital history is simply not what the passage is saying. The qualifications for which Paul addressed refer to the present life of a man; in the past few years, has his life met these qualifications? The irony of this view is that some people who have been “married” for years, but yet have been flirtatious, promiscuous, or have even engaged in pre-marital sex before marriage, are still allowed to be pastors or deacons later on in their lives. Yet if some poor guy’s wife leaves him to perhaps run off with another man, he’s removed from pastoral consideration for life.
The real question becomes one of, “During the person’s present spiritual life, have they remained faithful to the qualifications of God’s Law?” While the Bible does detail God’s negative view of divorce, the same person that wrote the guidelines for scriptural qualifications for elders and pastors, Paul, provides further clarification. Paul provides occasions when remarriage is permitted; one of these is when the unbelieving spouse initiates the divorce (1 Corinthians 7:15). In summary, while God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16), He is also gracious to the innocent party in different situations. Since remarriage in itself is not a sin, it is not necessarily a blight on a man’s character.
In the context of ministry, more importantly as a pastoral leader, I do not look at my marital past or other pastoral leaders as a blemish. In my opinion, the real testimony of marriage and divorce is not on the one who says they have never been divorced. It lies within the testimony of the one that can say that they have walked through the fire and into the loving acceptance of God’s grace. My past is a testament of why sexual abstinence and waiting for God to provide you with the right person is so important. God uses circumstances in our lives to get us ready for the purpose for which He has called us into; “God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
I live my life today as I would convey to every youth I come across, “Don’t let anyone look down on you… but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). Albeit, a pastor falling after ordination is a completely different topic I’ll address at a later date. However, to sum up this topic, I’ll close with one thought. In my case, had I never been divorced it is highly doubtful that I would have ever found the Lord; nor accepted God’s calling into ministry. It is by the grace of God that He calls men and women into ministry who have not followed biblical standards before coming to Christ. Make no mistake Satan has a vested interest in your future. He may intended to harm me, “But God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people” (Genesis 50:20).
Building HIS Kingdom One Soul at a Time…