Q&A: Mate or Mission?

Mate or Mission?

Question

Which comes first, mate or mission? If, for example, a young woman feels "called" to be on the international mission field vocationally but then meets a young man who does not feel the same "calling," is it sinful for the young woman to marry and follow this man instead of remaining single and continuing to serve overseas? Is the call to family as high or higher as the call to ministry?

Answer

There is no universal easy answer to this question. God's plans for each of us are different. Marriage is a high calling, and so is ministry. At times, it is worth sacrificing one for the other.

For instance, Paul remained single, and it appears to me that he made this sacrifice in order to further this ministry; he spoke of a wife as a "right" to which he was entitled, and he said this in the context of sacrifices he made for the ministry (1 Cor. 9:5). On the other hand, the same verse tells us that Peter and others determined that marriage was more preferable.

Generally speaking, marriage is God's plan for his people (Gen. 2:18; Prov. 18:22). In fact, insofar as the creation mandate requires us to populate the earth with faithful images of God (Gen. 1:27-28), most Christians should marry and have children. This was the reason that Eve was created as Adam's "helper" (Gen. 2:18) — Adam could not populate the world without a wife (cf. 1 Cor. 11:11-12). And insofar as children are a covenant blessing, and insofar as we are supposed to seek God's blessings, marriage is essential to the ideal Christian life. It is an exception to the rule when a Christian is called to sacrifice these blessings for the sake of a specific ministry.

But such exceptions do exist. If you feel that God really wants you on the mission field, and that he is calling you to forsake some of the greatest blessings in life for the sake of that mission, then you ought to be on the mission field. Hardship and suffering for the sake of the church are highly admirable (e.g., Eph. 3:13; Col. 1:24; 1 John 3:16).

In any event, whether or not you marry, you should not go into missions if you aren't sure about it. Carefully evaluate the calling you say you feel to the mission field. Is this compulsion clearly from the Holy Spirit? Are you qualified to serve in this capacity? Are the blessings to others that you would bring on the mission field greater than the blessings to others that you would bring as a wife and mother? Which will most help to grow the kingdom of God? Have you actually received a "call" to the mission field, that is, has anyone asked you to go the mission field to a specific place to do a specific work? Or are you simply burdened with a heart for missions, not knowing whether or not anyone actually needs you in particular? Have others confirmed your gifts as being appropriate to missions work? All of this is to ask: Are you truly, biblically being called to the mission field? Many people go into missions and other forms of ministry when in fact their answers to the kinds of questions I have asked would indicate that they should stay home. But if the answers point to you going into missions, you can consider missions as a viable choice.

And whether or not you go into missions, you shouldn't marry unless you are ready for it and have found the right person. Are you ready for marriage? Are you sure this person is the one you should marry? Are you personally compatible? Is he a godly man? Are you a godly woman? Do you have similar commitments with regard to your faith and your values in life (e.g., the way you measure success, the goals you want to accomplish)?

Considering both marriage and missions, if you are struggling between the two, it may be the case that you aren't really ready for either. If you were ready for missions, you might not be considering marriage to a person who would hinder that. And if you were ready for marriage, you might not be looking at missions as an excuse not to marry. These are both big decisions that you should not enter lightly.

Finally, just as general advice, when searching out God's will for your life, get lots of counsel from wise people who know you well. They will be able to give you honest feedback regarding your gifts, talents, tendencies, etc. Also, read the Bible and pray a lot. The more familiar you are with God's will in Scripture, and the more you relate to and submit to him in prayer, the more likely you are to be able to discern God's will in the various circumstances of your life.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.