Is it essential for an overseer to be married?
I assume the questioner is thinking about 1 Timothy chapter 3 verse 2 and Titus chapter 1 verse 6 rather than expressing any personal preference, for these are the only verses in the New Testament that may indicate marriage as a prerequisite to a brother serving as an overseer. I also recognize that this is a subject that has been discussed many times and that there is not a unified viewpoint as to what the apostle is teaching. The following answer touches on nothing that has not been aired in the past and, in all probability, it will not convince anyone that understands these scriptures in a different way.
In detailing the qualities that should characterize all overseers, the apostle Paul focuses on three aspects of the man’s life, his personality, his family and his testimony. Each should be beyond reproach, so that none can point an accusing finger at him and thereby discredit his service for the Lord. Interestingly, the expression ‘the husband of one wife’ in Timothy and in Titus is immediately preceded by the requirement for the overseer to be ‘blameless’ and I believe this has a significant bearing on what it means to be the husband of one wife.
An overseer’s personal testimony has to be such that no one can accuse him of behaving in an unseemly manner towards any woman; he has to be blameless. If he is married, it is not only essential that he is faithful to his wife but that his faithfulness is apparent to all. Anything less than this would bring him into disrepute and would incur dishonour on the testimony of the assembly within which he serves.
If we accept that Paul is teaching that an overseer has to be a married man we would have to concede that he must also be the father of more than one child, for both 1 Timothy chapter 3 and Titus chapter 1 refer to his ‘children’. On what possible spiritual basis would a godly man be precluded from being an overseer just because he was not able to have any children? Equally, why should a gifted, caring brother be unable to work as an elder just because he did not have a wife? In what way would that make him deficient to labour amongst the saints in the manner expected of an overseer?
There are those who believe that a remarried widower would not meet the requirements stipulated in the two verses cited above, believing that the brother was no longer the husband of one wife having been married twice. Apart from not being in harmony with the general teaching of scripture relative to the marriage bond, those who subscribe to this belief would have to answer the question as to why his remarriage would make him unsuitable to be an overseer. His desire to remarry would not indicate any less degree of self-control than that which necessitated him marrying the first time.
It cannot be denied that there are many blessings for an overseer to have a wife who is a godly complement to him in his onerous work for the Lord, but this benefit does not preclude unmarried brothers engaging in the same spiritual service. The qualities listed in Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus are given to ensure that an overseer is spiritually and morally suited for the work, being single does not render a man unsuitable on either count.
There is a definite sense in which a brother who is unmarried is able to devote more time to the shepherding of the assembly than a married man. In addition, he would be better able to relate to the needs of those who face issues that being single brings, for he would be in a similar situation to them. Of course, it has to be accepted that an unmarried brother would not have personal experience of the difficulties many parents encounter within family life. For these reasons a plurality of elders from differing domestic backgrounds can complement one another, and meet the varying needs of the assembly.