The Mailbag: Can a divorced man be a pastor?



Is it OK for pastors to be divorced?

Not just any man is qualified to be a pastor. The Bible sets forth a specific list of requirements for pastors and elders in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. One of these requirements is that he must be “the husband of one wife.” Unfortunately, this phrase has sometimes been misunderstood to mean that pastors and elders must be married (which would exclude never married, divorced, and widowed men) or that pastors and elders must never have been divorced for any reason.

I pretty much agree with John MacArthur’s position in this article, which helpfully explains that the phrase “husband of one wife” actually means “a one-woman man,” not “never divorced,” or “wife required.” Unlike MacArthur, I might not say it’s “extremely rare” that it would be OK for a pastor to have a divorce in his past, maybe just “rare.”

I really think we need to look at it on a case by case basis, especially if the man was divorced for one of the two biblical exceptions: the wife’s infidelity (Matthew 5:32) or an unbelieving wife divorcing him (1 Corinthians 7:15). Although I respect an autonomous church’s right to set whatever policies it deems appropriate (as long as those policies don’t violate Scripture), I, personally, don’t think it’s right to deny a man the office due to his wife’s sin that he had no control over and may have done everything in his power to prevent.

I also think we need to look at how long ago the divorce took place and whether it happened before or after the man was saved. What about a man who was divorced 30 years ago due to one of the bibilical exceptions, but has been a godly husband to his second wife for the past 25 years? What about a man who was divorced 30 years ago, subsequently got saved, tried to reunite with his ex-wife but was rejected, married a godly woman, and has been a godly husband to her for the past 25 years? There are prohibitions against being a drunkard in the biblical qualifications, too. Would we deny a man the office, if, prior to salvation, he was a drunkard, but got saved and has been sober for 25 years? These are issues churches should work through prayerfully when considering a candidate.

A man already in the office of pastor/elder who goes through a divorce should step down for a significant period of time. If the divorce was for unbiblical reasons, he has probably disqualified himself. But even if it was for biblical reasons, he needs time to heal and to focus on helping his children. For the same reasons, I don’t think a man who has been recently divorced should be considered for the office.

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