When Emma and I got together, 12 years ago, we were given the following piece of advice: “Make sure you marry a doubler”.
This was repeated on our wedding day. “You’re marrying well there Glen,” said one Very Sound Evangelical. “Emma’s a doubler.”
He was referring to a calculation that there are (apparently) ministry doublers and ministry halvers. This means that the question to be asked about every prospective bride is, “Is she a doubler?”
Romantic, eh? You can certainly imagine asking this question of a prospective PA or “ministry assistant”. But if that’s why you want to marry then, seriously, that’s the proof right there: it’s not meant to be. And it’s because you’re the problem! When God holds out the opportunity of “being fruitful and multiplying”, He doesn’t have a ten year business plan in mind. What God has in mind is a multiplication in which you die to yourself (and your own plans) and commit to each other for their sakes. But – funnily enough – if you’re in it for what you can get out of it, not a lot of multiplication is going to happen!
I’m not just trying to make a cheap gag here. The Lord has designed marriage to be a multiplying union. But in His economy it turns out to be fruitful as and when you are brought to commit to each other in deep oneness. You’re meant to pursue the other person for their sake. Out of that commitment, fruitfulness comes. I mean this physically but also in every other way. The way to ministry multiplication can only be through marriage multiplication and that can only happen when you actually die to the individual goals you once held.
Adam and Eve were “suitable” for each other (Gen 2:20). That’s one way of translating it. Perhaps a closer translation would be “opposite to each other”. Adam and Eve are “opposite numbers” – they are complementary because they are very different. These differences are good and God-given, but they don’t make for a smooth sense of “compatibility”. For Adam and Eve to become one, it will take a whole lot of compromise and self-sacrifice. This is why the “ministry doubler” myth is so dangerous. Going into marriage, single Glen did not need to double, he needed to die. Yet time and again I hear about keen young gospel soldiers getting married and before long they are pressing on in service “for the Lord” while growing ever more distant from each other.
It all sounds so reminiscent of John Wesley’s disastrous marriage. Just after John married Molly he wrote to her from the road to inform her of his views on marriage and ministry: “I cannot understand how a Methodist preacher can answer it to God to preach one sermon or travel one day less, in a married than in a single state.” He refused to be diminished in any way. His wife had to serve his single agenda or else be cast aside. Their tragic marriage should be a cautionary tale for every young gospel soldier (Read more here).
If you’re considering marriage, you should certainly seek the Lord’s wisdom about who to marry. Wesley should not have married Molly. If two people have massively different expectations of what Christian service will entail then that’s a real warning sign. But even before those questions, we need to consider the nature of marriage itself. It is not a ministry multiplication venture. It is a covenant union, joined by God, defined by sacrifice, reflecting Christ to the world. And out of this union comes a multiplication of spiritual and, hopefully, physical children. Under God it will be fruitful but this fruitfulness will come in unexpected ways.
When Emma and I married, everyone (including us) imagined we would carry on as before – ministry dynamos (on the outside at least). And we did, to begin with. Then came the crash – a death if you like. Five years in a real wilderness of depression, anxiety and eating disorders. No doubling here. Not even halving. Productivity: zero. But –
Out of this wilderness has come a new way of relating – not propping up the old strategies, dying to them. Serving the other for their sake. And through it all, God has birthed ministries for us we could never have predicted; and probably wouldn’t have chosen.
Marriage is not for the multiplication of your individual goals. It is the death of such goals. But out of the death comes new life in an other-centred union. And, yes, fruitfulness is the result. But it will be His fruitfulness in His way.