Finding Your Mate for Ministry
By Richard D. Dobbins
There is nothing like being married. If you are happily married, there is nothing like it. If you are unhappily married, there is still nothing like it. This is especially true for clergy couples.
The public nature of ministry puts the minister’s marriage in the spotlight. People grant other professionals a much greater degree of marital privacy than they do their minister. Few people care to know who the spouse of their physician or attorney is, but they know who the spouse of their minister is. And people generally impose high marital expectations on their minister’s marriage.
When a minister is happily married to someone who also feels called to the ministry, or is at least supportive of the ministry, his work and marriage reinforce each other. When a minister’s spouse has chosen another profession, she may feel her husband’s ministry conflicts with her career goals. Both may feel the ministry is an imposition on their marriage. In either event, the stage is set for marital tension, conflict, and potential disaster.
Of the thousands of clergy couples we have seen at EMERGE Ministries, Inc., most listed marital dissatisfaction as a major source of their pain. Other studies of clergy couples confirm this observation. So, the wise, single minister will learn from the painful experiences of others the need to carefully consider several important factors when seeking a lifelong mate.
Guard against allowing your friendship with a potential spouse to become overheated. Do not allow yourself to become a victim of the double funnel theory of mate selection. To see this theory in action, draw two funnels side by side. Above the funnel on the left write “Male.” Underneath “Male” write “Contact.” Above the funnel on the right write “Female.” Underneath “Female” write “Commitment.” These natural dynamics can and will drive your relationship if you let them.
When a man and woman are romantically inclined toward each other, the man usually wants and expects some contact; the woman wants and expects some commitment. According to this theory, when a man makes some commitment to a woman, he expects her to permit some contact. Then he wants more contact, and she requires more commitment. The farther down these parallel funnels a couple goes, the more slippery the funnels become. When the couple marries, they are not quite sure at what point in their journey down the funnels they reached this decision.
Do not let this happen. Your decision to marry is too important to be determined in such a physical way.
Ask God to help you stay in control of your sexual urges until you are married to either the person you are now dating or to someone else you meet in the future. Practicing self-control will enable you to reserve your final judgment about the wisdom of marrying a person until you have examined other dimensions of the relationship.
Until you are married, do not let anything transpire between the two of you that would embarrass you later should one or both of you decide against a future together. Remember, you are never as good as married until you are married.
Only God knows how many couples are married today because they thought it was the only honorable option left once they had allowed their passions to define their relationship. Another mistake in judgment, however, does not rectify the first. It is wiser to confess sin than it is to marry in hopes of rectifying it.
Happiness is a blend of love, peace, and joy. Are you a happy person most of the time? If not, are you ready for marriage? Why would you want to impose your unhappiness on another person? After all, no one but you can win the battle for your happiness. This battle should be fought and won before you get married. Otherwise, marriage just gives you someone to blame for your unhappiness.
Does the person you are considering as a spouse know how to be happy as a single person? Talk to her peers. How do her peers see her? This information can help you determine whether she is shielding you from aspects of her personality that you would discover only after you are married.
Many future pastors fail to give basic questions such as these the consideration they deserve. After all, if a woman has not learned to be happy when she is single, she is not likely to discover happiness in marriage.
Often, people who are saved bring troubled personal histories into the Kingdom with them. Once you are physically attracted to a woman, however, it is easy to overlook her history and assume your love for her can more than compensate for whatever is in her past. It may seem flattering to be the only person in the world who can provide the missing pieces to another person’s puzzle of happiness, even though that person may never have been happy in her entire life.
If you assume the challenge of making your future spouse happy, how likely are you to succeed? Not very likely. After all, marriage itself never makes anyone happy.
Jesus can heal a troubled past and help people achieve personal happiness in spite of what they have been through. But, if the woman you find appealing has this kind of history, be sure she has dealt with her past, risen above it, and found personal happiness in Christ before you seriously consider marrying her. After all, if she has not learned to assume responsibility for her own happiness during the first 20 to 30 years of life, how likely is it that marrying you will make a lasting difference?
How can you know if the girl you are dating has won her battle for personal happiness? Observe her moods and listen to her conversation. Why would you want to marry someone who will bring unpredictable moods, hostility, resentment, and depression into your life? The burden of making such a person happy is too heavy for you to carry until death relieves you of it. The ministry will not allow you to make this kind of an investment in your spouse.
Remember, in matters of love, your eyes can deceive you. Inside a gorgeous woman or a handsome man you may find a miserable person. Do not fall in love with what you see. Time will change that. Let your love be guided by what you hear. Jesus assured us that a person talks about what he has stored in his heart (Matthew 12:34). Be more impressed with what you hear than with what you see. You need to like what you see, but save your love for what you hear. What you see will change, but what you hear will only intensify over the years.
Marriage seldom changes anyone. It only intensifies the state in which it finds you. If you are a mature, happy person most of the time, and, you marry someone who is mature and happy much if not most of the time, the two of you are likely to make each other happier than either of you would have been alone. However, if you are an immature, unhappy person most of the time, and you marry someone like yourself, the two of you are likely to make each other much more miserable than either of you would have been alone.
Remember, God did not call you to make your spouse happy. Only He can do that. God, however, does expect you to bring the happiness He has helped you find in life into the life of your spouse. You can make your spouse happier. You just cannot make your spouse happy.
So, be sure you are seeing the person you are considering as a mate the way she is, not how you hope she will be after you marry her. Be sure she passes this simple happiness test before you go any further in your relationship.
Once you know the person you are interested in has learned to be happy, then you will want to assess other aspects of her personality. How is the chemistry between you? Are you comfortable with each other? Do you enjoy being together? Do you have similar interests?
Early in the relationship, test the ability of the girl you are dating to keep confidences. You want to marry someone you can trust with private information about yourself that you do not want others — even members of your families — to know. Confide in her something about yourself and ask her to keep it confidential. Then listen to conversations among your friends. If, from what you hear, it becomes obvious that your confidences have been broken, seriously consider whether you can feel safe with her once you have married her.
Also, does she share personal matters about herself with you? If she cannot trust you with some of the secrets of her life before you are married, do you want to consider her as a potential mate? In healthy marriages, spouses are each other’s confidant.
Once a couple knows they can trust each other, they will begin to develop a dependency on each other. They will call each other more frequently and spend more of their free moments together.
The next turn in this cycle of love is important. Is the girl you are considering as a possible mate a giver or a taker? How can you tell? Do something unselfish for her and see if she reciprocates. If you are doing most or all of the giving in the relationship, you need to realize this as soon as possible. Marriage is not going to change this equation. The person is showing you she is a taker.
Sometimes, a giver enjoys giving so much he does not notice that the other person is not reciprocating. Some givers mistakenly assume that if they giveenough, they can make a giver out of a taker. However, a giver can never give enough to make a giver out of taker.
You need to see these personality traits for what they are. They are life patterns. A giver has spent his whole life learning how to be a giver. Unfortunately, a taker has spent his life learning how to be a taker and making other people feel guilty for not giving more to him.
Two givers deserve each other. So, do two takers, but they seldom find each other. Be sure you find a giver. When two givers find each other, they enrich each other’s lives.
In the best of all possible worlds, the person you choose for a mate will feel as called into the ministry as you do. When this is the case, both of you will find significance as you share the burdens and blessings of this calling.
At EMERGE, however, counselors often find that the minister’s wife does not feel called into the ministry. This aggravates whatever tension already exists in the marriage. She feels too obligated to the ministry of her husband to pursue her own vocational identity, but finds little significance in being the wife of a minister.
Wives in these situations often wonder, Was I called to be a minister’s wife, or did I simply choose to be married to a man who was a minister or became one? When a wife does not feel called to the ministry, her lack of significance in being the wife of a minister leaves her feeling like an appendage of her husband’s life. This poses a real, existential crisis for both the minister and his wife. He cannot find significance outside the ministry, and she does not feel significant in the ministry. In most cases, this dilemma can be avoided by the man being sure that the woman he hopes to marry can find significance in the ministry — either as his wife or through her own ministry.
Husbands of women in the ministry do not seem to struggle with this same frustration. The public expects men to have a vocation of their own, and men find fulfillment in their vocation. So, being married to a minister becomes an avocation for them. Within his work schedule he is usually more than happy to assist his wife in her calling.
The ministry is a demanding life for someone who does not feel called to it. During the course of his career, a minister will relocate several times. When a minister’s wife has a different vocational calling, her career may suffer because she is required to move wherever her husband’s ministry calls them; or she may need to turn down a much deserved promotion because it would require the family to move away from the church served by her husband. Adjusting to this kind of situation requires a person to be flexible, comfortable with change, and able to adapt to a new community with ease. Keep these things in mind during your search for a mate.
Remember, marriage does not just join two people together; it joins two families. You may think you are only marrying your spouse. In most cases, however, after marriage you will discover that your spouse wants you to fit in with her family.
As you can see, this is one of the reasons finding your spouse at a Bible college or Christian college can be so risky. You do not know anything about each other’s family history. When you grow up in the same town and go to the same church, you have a much better opportunity to determine whether you will fit in her family. Before you get too committed to a relationship, get to know her family and insist that she become acquainted with your family.
If you discover that you do not fit in her family or she does not fit in yours, you may want to reconsider your mate choice. This is another reason why it is important to keep the physical dimension of your relationship well under control as you explore the possibility of a future together.
In your life, you have already made some wise decisions. The wisest choice of all was your decision to follow Christ when God’s grace extended that opportunity to you through the gospel. Then, when God called you into the ministry, you said, “Yes.” Next to these, probably the most important decision of your life will be your mate choice. In choosing a spouse, you are choosing your friend for life, your partner in ministry, and the other gene pool from which your children will be drawn. I hope some of the guidelines presented in this article will prove practical and useful in finding your mate for ministry.