As a married Christian woman, I’ve read and thought a lot about marriage and what it should look like. (Okay, I also read and thought a lot about it before I was even dating anyone.) Now that I have life experience to compare to the theories, I find some visions of Christian marriage to be wanting. One view that particularly bothers me is presented by Francis Chan in this interview with The Gospel Coalition regarding his and his wife’s book You and Me: Marriage in the Light of Eternity, in which the Chans “set out to reframe the entire way we think about marriages, relationships, and parenting.” The part that is most troubling to me is this:
What conversations are essential to have prior to engagement and/or marriage?
Every couple needs to have a gospel conversation. We must ask: Are we both surrendered to the lordship of Jesus Christ? Have we both decided to follow him? Many people call themselves “Christian,” but that can mean virtually anything nowadays. Are we both willing to sacrifice anything? Will we make our life choices based on what will most benefit God’s kingdom? Will we center our lives around making disciples?
Before I asked Lisa to marry me, we had a long discussion about serving the Lord with our lives. I had to know she would encourage rather than restrain me from serving him. As much as I loved her, I was willing to break up with her if she was going to keep me from accomplishing what I was created to do. I’d seen too many of my friends in misery because they married someone who hindered their ministry (emphasis mine).
I get what he’s trying to say here. You shouldn’t marry someone who isn’t committed to following and serving Jesus. True. But if you married a Christian, and then are trying to make a life together, this kind of statement can be dangerous, because it makes it sound like it’s wrong for family needs to come before “ministry.” If it is, then Francis Chan would break up with me, because guess what? I hindered my husband’s ministry.
It was about 7 months into our marriage, and I was really, really struggling with anxiety and depression. One of the times when I felt most anxious was sitting by myself in church while Dave led the worship team. I hated having to walk into church by myself as a still-relatively new member and make small talk with people without him. Not to mention that leading worship meant Dave needed to practice and organize songs during the week, taking time away from us. I really wanted him to just be able to come to church with me; I wished he could give up band for a while.
But I didn’t feel like I could ask him to do that. For one thing, Dave loves to lead worship and use his musical gifts. I felt like asking him to not serve in that way would be like cutting off his right arm. But mostly, I was afraid of being seen as “the bad wife” who kept her husband from serving, especially since everyone in our church loves having Dave lead. In other words, I feared getting a bad rap for keeping him from his ministry. I felt like as a wife I was supposed to help Dave be even better at his ministry, not keep him from doing it all! I thought that Dave should have been able to do everything he did as a single guy, plus probably even more, now that he had his helpmate around.**
We talked to our pastor about it, and I was so, so grateful for his response. He not only understood but encouraged Dave to temporarily step down from band. He wasn’t at all phased by the idea that a wife’s needs should affect what a husband does. Of course your responsibilities change when you get married, he said. You can’t live the same way that you did as a single man because now you have a wife! And as he also pointed out, God can take care of the church and provide for others to lead: “Even if it’s just me banging two sticks together, our church can still worship.” Dave wasn’t the only one who could serve in that way.
I was so grateful for the response of the band when Dave told them the news, too. Of course, they were a little sad, but more so, they were so glad that Dave was doing what he needed to do to help and serve me.
And I’m most grateful for Dave. He could have wallowed “in misery” because I “hindered [his] ministry,” but he didn’t. He told me that no activity was more important than caring for me. He was there for me, and it meant the world to me.
I hope Francis Chan wouldn’t look at my situation and chastise me for keeping my husband away from serving God and growing disciples. I imagine that this sort of thing isn’t what he meant. But do you see how easy it could be for someone to look at these words and use them that way? Or for someone who is struggling and wishes their spouse had more time for them to feel guilty for asking them to step back?
And if you want to talk about making disciples, what’s a better example of the gospel: Neglecting your family’s needs in order to serve the church (and perhaps making them feel guilty for not being as gospel-minded as you), or sacrificially giving up something you love to serve your family? Hint: Neglecting your family usually isn’t a winner for your witness. Being able to tell others about how incredibly loved and cherished you felt by your spouse as they showed you the love of Christ goes over a lot better.
In the end, the real problem with this idea of not letting marriage keeping you from ministry is that it assumes that marriage itself isn’t a ministry. But I would argue that if you’re married, loving your spouse is not only a ministry, but your primary one. Come back next week to learn why.
**One of the things we learned that first year was that we both subconsciously went into our marriage thinking it would be “Dave’s former life, plus Mary” instead of “Dave and Mary’s new life, to be determined by both of them.” It was understandable given that I moved to where Dave was and had been established for a few years, and given my faulty understanding of what submission meant, but it was definitely a mistake that I’m glad we figured out. More on this in another post.