A Most Important Lesson

While perusing a seminary catalog recently I couldn’t help but feel that something was missing from the course requirements.

  • 9 hours of introductory courses – check
  • 12 hours of courses in Christian Scriptures – check
  • 15 grueling house of Hebrew and Greek – check
  • 15 hours of advanced courses in theology – check
  • 24 hours of world missions, preaching and pastoral care – check
  • 18 hours of courses in a concentrated area and electives – check

Grand Total: 93 hours of courses designed to prepare students to pursue God’s call on their lives to serve Him in Christian ministry.

Clearly this particular seminary produces men and women grounded in sound theology and doctrine, fully prepared (can you really be fully prepared?) to serve local churches or para ministries.

However, the course that best prepared me for a life in ministry was an undergrad course in Old Testament. One day Dr. Christian (seriously, that was his name) lectured on the topic of biblical marriage. I can still hear one statement as if I heard his lecture just yesterday.

Marriage must not be based on love. Marriage must be based on commitment.

Not only is this the most memorable statement out of the entire Old Testament course, it is the one statement out of my entire academic career that has had the greatest impact on my life.

When I met and fell in love with the youth pastor who would become my husband, I told him about Dr. Christian’s statement. We agreed that commitment would be the foundation of our marriage: commitment to the Lord and commitment to each other.

Why base your marriage on commitment? Because life, especially life in the ministry, is downright hard. At times, it seems unbearable. See if some of the following sound familiar:

  • Your deacons feel it is their calling to micromanage your ministry.
  • A cadre of women share gossip under the guise of sharing prayer requests.
  • Your children often have school events on the same nights as church meetings.
  • Finances are strained, at home and at church.
  • First Mega Church has opened a second campus a half mile from your church (you overheard one of their staff saying that “no one is reaching that part of town”).
  • The church you’re serving is in the middle of nowhere and you’ve been there so long you’re sure even God would have to use a GPS to find you.
  • Several church members believe that criticism is a spiritual gift.
  • Your church is divided over the issue of music and there seems to be no good solution. Whatever happens, you’re going to lose members over the issue.
  • Your schedule is so hectic that you survive on adrenaline and caffeine.
  • You’re out doing church business more nights than you’re home helping your wife get the kids to bed.

Depending on how many of these situations you can identify with, you may be stressed to the max, emotionally drained and wondering how you’re ever going to survive.

How can you and your spouse survive? How can your marriage endure the attacks that have become part of life in the ministry?

While there are no pat answers and no guarantees, I believe the most important thing you can do is to assure each other of your commitment to your marriage. You may not feel love. You may not feel excitement. You may be well beyond feeling anything other than exhaustion and pain. That’s where commitment comes in.

Commitment to each other. Commitment to the Lord.

When my husband and I were forced to resign our church, I honestly wondered how we would survive the crushing grief that seemed to last for an eternity. Throughout those long months of uncertainty that stretched into more than a year, we’d often look at each other and say “I’ve got you. You’ve got me. That’s all we know for sure.” All of the courses in systematic theology and hermeneutics were meaningless in the midst of our grief, but the certainty that we were both committed to our marriage kept us going.

So maybe, just maybe, seminaries need to require couples to take a nitty-gritty course on marriage before earning that degree. No, there are no guarantees. But Dr. Christian was right. Marriage must be based on commitment. And the sooner a couple makes that commitment, and the more often they affirm their commitment to each other and the Lord, the stronger their marriage will be.

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