This question is addressed in several Bible passages. First Timothy 3:2 says, “A bishop (elder) then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach,” and goes on to say, “Let deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.” Titus 1:6, 7 agrees, saying, “Appoint elders in every city as I commanded you—if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination . . .” These three passages have been interpreted by some to indicate that an elder or deacon must be a married man. 

The issue is not the elder or deacon’s marital status, but his moral and sexual purity. This qualification heads the list because leaders are most vulnerable in this area. Some people think that “husband of but one wife” means that deacons must be married. But that is not correct. In Greek, the phrase “husband of one wife” literally reads “one-woman man.” For a married man to be considered for a position of church leadership, he must be committed to his wife. This qualification is speaking of fidelity in marriage and sexual purity; it is not a requirement of marriage. If it were, a man would have to be married and have children, because the second half of 1 Timothy 3:12 states that he “must manage his children and his household well.” We should interpret this to mean that if a man is married, he must be faithful to his wife; if he has children, he must manage them well. 

Some think this requirement excludes single men from church leadership. But if that were Paul’s intent, he would have disqualified himself (1 Cor. 7:8). A one-woman man is one totally devoted to his wife, maintaining singular devotion, affection, and sexual purity to her in both thought and deed. To violate this is to forfeit blamelessness and to no longer be “above reproach” (Titus 1:6, 7). The apostle Paul praises the state of singleness because it enables more faithful service to the Lord (1 Cor. 7:32-35). Why would Paul restrict men from church leadership positions when he believes that “an unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs, how he can please the Lord” (verse 32)? In the first nine verses of this chapter, Paul establishes that both marriage and singleness are good and right before the Lord. An elder or deacon may be either married or single, as long as he meets the qualifications of godliness as outlined in 1 Timothy and Titus.

General Conference Ministerial Association