WATCH DRURY WRITE A BOOK. – THIS IS A TEMPORARY POST Writer’s first draft of a book to be published by The Wesleyan Publishing House. as an introduction to the ministry. This web-posted copy is an early draft of the manuscript and not intended to be used as a final document. While the editors will catch minor errors if you see something significantly wrong or missing drop Keith Drury a note at firstname.lastname@example.org © 2003 Keith Drury
Dating and Marriage
How should my call to the ministry affect dating marriage? Does it limit who I can “get serious with?” Can I date or marry anyone I’m attracted to and work out career details later? Can I be single in ministry just as easily as be married? What if I marry a person who is open to my calling then they change their mind after we’re married? What happens when both of us are called, one to African missions and the other to inner city ministry? Which should we do? Does my marriage trump a ministry call or does a call to the ministry trump my marriage choices?
If you plan to be a married minister, this chapter is very important to you. Why? Go ask an old minister for their wisdom on ministerial marriage. Get their advice. What will they say? They will all agree. They’ll say something like this: “Your marriage will influence your ministry—it will either double your effectiveness… or cut it in half.” Thus, in hope of doubling your effectiveness, this chapter will give some help in recognizing whom to marry and date. It won’t be as helpful as talking to older pastors, but reading this chapter will get you thinking about the subject until you interview an older minister.
A call to the ministry stipulates the sort of life you will live. While there is great variety in the way called people spend their lives, and there are always exceptions, if you are called to lifetime ministry you will most likely share a common lifestyle with others who have taken this path before. Here are several descriptions of a minister’s lifestyle which are relevant to marriage.
Ministers move around.
While some ministers get to stay in one city for a decade or longer, most ministers move 8-10 times (sometimes more) during their life’s ministry. A minister shares this characteristic with those in a military career—both move from time to time as they are “stationed” for the sake of their service, not their personal preference. Ministers move. It is a rare minister who spends a whole life’s ministry in one town or church. Some people can’t live such a migratory lifestyle. They want to get married and “settle down” for the rest of their life, perhaps even in their home state or near their parents and relatives. Or, sometimes a person your are considering has a “non-portable career” – that is, they couldn’t move very easily—say, they plan to own a local business. While it is possible to run a local business and be married to a minister, the spouse in this case should know that living in that town is most likely temporary. In a sense, “all ministers are itinerant.” They move around. Usually people who want to stay in one town for all their lives do not marry a minister. And ministers don’t marry them.
Ministers are public figures.
families are in the public eye. A minister’s
family life is not a totally private matter.
A minister shares this characteristic with those in a political career,
Ministers work long hours.
A minister has a wonderfully fulfilling life, but it is not done in a 40-hour work week. Most ministers work about 50-55 hours a week (some more) and they are "on call” most of the rest of the time. A minister shares this characteristic with other professionals including physicians and business executives. A minister’s work is never done. There is no time clock for a minister. In one sense, a minister never completely "punches out." Most ministers are on call 24-7. If a daughter of someone in your church has a serious auto accident and is rushed to the hospital, they'll call you, and you will immediately go to the hospital. If a key member of your church passes away while you are on vacation, guess what? You’ll probably be cutting your vacation short to perform the funeral. In a larger church, the ministerial staff might do “rotations” passing around a beeper and taking turns doing these emergency calls but even then there are some things you’ll just have to do. Either way, a minister (like a doctor) is “on call” much of the time along with his or her regular 50-hour work week. Your potential spouse might not be able to handle this idea.
A potential spouse might imagine marriage together with every evening off to go on picnics or watch TV together. Most ministers do usually have two evenings a week with their family, but they spend the other four or five evenings a week in church work. After all, that’s when the laity are “off work” and available for meetings, counseling, church services, youth meetings, and other activities. A husband or wife of a minister has to share their spouse during the evenings. This does not mean that ministers are automatically poor mothers or fathers, it just means they have to work harder at protecting the family nights they schedule to be great occasions. A person who expects their spouse to work only a forty-hour week and be home every evening usually does not marry a minister. And ministers don’t usually marry them either.
Ministers sometimes live in a parsonage.
Since ministers move from time to time, some churches give the minister a church-owned house—a “parsonage” or “manse” to live in so they don’t have to keep buying and selling houses in each city they live in. This is similar to military personnel who often live in "base housing." Churches often build large parsonages, since they can't foresee how many kids their future pastors might have. Thus, a pastor in a parsonage might live in a larger house than they would if they received a “housing allowance” and bought their own house. However, other churches have a ‘leftover house” from many years ago they call their parsonage and the minister will have to live in a house far under the standards of many of their member’s homes. The trend in housing for ministers is to give them a housing allowance and let them rent or purchase their own house. However, the majority of churches, particularly average churches still provide a parsonage. Some potential spouses insist on having their own homes. They say, “I could never live in a house we didn’t own ourselves.” Or they have high standards on the exact kind of house they intend to live in. The lifestyle of a minister would be hard for such people. Usually they don’t marry someone going into ministry.
So who marries ministers?
Besides the few lifestyle issues above, most of the lifestyle of a minister is so positive for marriage and child-rearing that there are still plenty of “candidates” left to marry. Who do ministers marry? They marry a person who loves them and loves other people. They marry someone who likes being with people. They marry a person who likes to help people. They often marry a person who loves the church and the ministry and sometimes they marry another minister so that they can both minister together at the same church. Most of all, ministers marry someone adaptable and flexible—someone who can “roll with the punches” and adjust to new situations. Rigid inflexible people seldom marry ministers. And, ministers seldom marry them.
So can a person called into the ministry date anyone they want? Sure, but most ministers would warn you against getting serious with someone totally incompatible with a ministry lifestyle. But how would you know this without spending time with them? Spending time together, hanging out, “just being friends” and dating can help you find out what sort of "lifestyle non-negotiables” the other person has. If you discover they are incompatible with a ministry lifestyle you’ll want to let that relationship cool.
again, people change. It always causes
older professors and ministers to chuckle when they hear 20-year-olds ticking
off a long list of non-negotiables they insist upon from their future
spouse. Older folk know you seldom “get
your whole wish list.” What really
happens to most people is they fall in love and with their head swimming they
think they've found “everything they ever wanted.” Love is blind—or least has serious visual impairment.
The person in love tends to find the things they were looking for. Love exaggerates. But 20-year-olds don’t always know what they
are going to be or what they'll value when they will be 30. Sometimes the very opinions they hold so
strongly at 20 evaporate and they take the opposite position five years
later. What does all this mean for
dating and marriage? It means that a
20-year-old who always wanted to live their life in
This is not to say such matters can be dismissed casually. The ministry lifestyle is not very negotiable. It is not easy for a minister to try to be a broker between spouse and church, often feeling like the rope in a tug of war. Every minister feels this way already. If the minister’s spouse isn’t on board with a ministry lifestyle, extraordinary stress comes to the family. So, while people change, these issues are worthy of discussion. If you have a relationship that's getting serious you ought to have some chats about the elements of a “ministry lifestyle.” A man or women who marries a minister marries the ministry too. It's like being the President’s spouse. The spouse of the President gets more than a chance to live in the White House—they marry both a person and the job and become a public figure for the nation. Like the President's spouse, a person interested in marrying a minister needs to put some serious thought into the cost—no person should sit down to build a building without first "counting the cost." If you are getting serious with someone and have not had this chat, start by giving them this chapter to read. It could guide your discussion.
The life of a minister’s family can be extraordinarily meaningful and positive. Minister’s homes produce dozens of times more future ministers than lay homes. It's a great way to spend your life. But if a person cannot accept the lifestyle, then such a relationship should die out—even if you are in love. Once you are married, your spouse could force you to leave the ministry. Before you are married, you still have a choice.
Marriage and Calling
So what happens if you get married, are ordained and one day your spouse announces, “I’m finished. I refuse to be in a ministry situation any more. Either leave the ministry or I’m leaving you!” What will you do then?
While such a situation seldom happens, it has occurred. Many ministers can tell you such a story about some fellow minister they’ve met through the years. It’s a tricky situation. Do you let your call trump your vow in marriage? Or do you leave the ministry to keep the marriage afloat? Which vow takes preeminence?
There are obviously two answers to this situation. If you ever face it, get wise counsel for neither choice is a pleasant one. This book is not written to people in such situations. The reason it is raised here is to remind you that dating and selection of a spouse is a significant decision in your ministry. Your decision now on who to marry could bring this more painful one later—a hard decision you hope to never face. Choose carefully a person with the “gifts and graces” to serve at your side. If you can find a spouse who is also called to the ministry so much the better! But even if you don’t, at least find someone who loves God’s church, loves people, and is not rigid and inflexible. Then ask God to bless your marriage to each other. For marriage is a “means of grace” designed by God to make you both more holy. Then ask God to bless your marriage to the church, so that (even if you have no children of your own) your marriage will “be fruitful and multiply” among the people at the church where you serve.
Singleness in the ministry
Because we have dealt with dating and marriage, you might get the idea that a single person can’t be an effective minister. That is not true. Indeed, if you follow the logic of the Apostle Paul, a single person can be more effective. They are able to give undivided attention to church work. That is not to say that single people should work longer hours in the ministry than married folk (though they usually do). If you’d like to be married but just have not found a match yet, who knows, in time you may find the perfect match. If you are single and never intend to marry, however, so much the better—you can more easily give your full devotion to Christ’s church and His work as your passion of life. A single person is not a half-person. Indeed, if there are any half-people around they are all married…for in marriage, “the two become one.” (However, see the chapter on women in ministry to be alerted to some of the difficulties a single male can face in getting a job.)
Are you hoping to be a married minister? Seek a spouse, but seek wisely. Don’t go overboard with such high standards of perfection that you never find a mate, and don’t sell away your calling for a pot of love-soup with a mate incompatible with the lifestyle of the ministry. your marriage can double or halve your ministry effectiveness—chose wisely.
Follow up study and application
1. Of the descriptions of the "ministry lifestyle" which one do you think may be the hardest for you as a prospective minister, let alone your possible husband or wife?
2. Tell about several characteristics or traditions of your own home life that would be good characteristics for you to emulate in a minister's home.
3. What are the comparative advantages and disadvantages of a "shopping list" of characteristics you want in a spouse? Are such lists a good thing or not? Do you have one—written or unwritten? What is one thing on that list? What is one of your present “non-negotiables”
4. What do you now think of the situation mentioned in this chapter where the spouse refused to any longer stay married to the minister if they wouldn't leave the ministry. What would you do—leave the ministry or let the spouse leave? Why? what Scriptures would guide your decision?
5. Whatever you think of a "shopping list" of characteristics desired in a spouse, use this chapter and your own experience to make a general list of the ten important things that ought to be on such a list for someone entering the ministry?
6. Interview an older minister and spouse who has raised a family in the ministry for their stories and advice on marriage and family matters in the ministry.