A friend of the ministry writes in: “Pastor John, I am a 24 year old follower of Christ who serves as the student pastor of a small Southern Baptist church. I’m also a full-time student in seminary. My girlfriend and I have been dating for a long time and we both want to move forward to marriage. We have prayed about it and both our churches are very supportive of our relationship and future marriage. The problem is that we don’t make enough money. She makes enough to contribute to our relationship financially, but I do not. I’ve asked my church to reevaluate my salary, but they cannot afford to raise it. I work 40+ hours a week in ministry and put forth 30+ hours a week into classes. If I take on a second job, I’ll be neglecting my girlfriend, my ministry, and my education. What do I do?”
First of all, let me commend our friend for being the one to write with his question instead of assuming that his girlfriend should take the initiative to do that. I think that is a good sign that he is ready to step up and do what needs to be done. I hope so. I am not a believer in long engagements. It seems to me that there is something especially in our culture that is unnatural and unwise when a couple knows that they are heading for marriage — and others have confirmed that wisdom — to keep putting it off for various practical reasons. It seems to me that, in general, if two single people can make a living and get along on their own, then they can probably make a living and get along together.
“Noel and I decided that we would rather starve together than be comfortable alone.”
When Noel and I believed it was time to be married, after two years of knowing that it was time to be married — and the reason we hadn’t moved sooner is because her dad wanted her to finish school, so I submitted. We finally moved forward without having all the practical questions answered in the same way that a single person might launch out in life without having all the questions answered about how ends are going to meet. We just decided that we would rather starve together if necessary than be comfortable alone, so to speak.
If I were answering this question face-to-face with our friend, I would be filled with questions at this point. I would be digging into him and his fiancé to find out about their motivations, their personalities, their discipline, their capacities for change and sacrifice and what the practical options are. But here I am, sitting at my desk and don’t know them. So, I am going to have to go with generalities. I think there are about six options in front of you:
1) You could continue to wait until your schooling is done and you have a better paying job, and then move forward. I discourage that option. Assuming that everybody has given the green light for your marriage, putting it off doesn’t seem wise to me.
2) Your fiancé could try to get a new, better-paying job so that she could support you during the remaining years in school while you are married. That is the way Noel and I did it. She worked as a secretary in two different ways during my schooling years and was a homemaker for 40-plus years afterwards. That was the deal that she was so gracious to help in that way.
3) You could resign your position at the church and look for a better paying job. I don’t know the degree of your commitment to that church or what the expectations are, but that is one option.
4) This is the option I would encourage you to think hardest about. Can you really not lower your expenses as a married couple so that you can actually live on the combined salaries? Really? Come on. Do you have expectations of how you must live that make this seem impossible when it really is not? Are those expectations necessary? Your food is not going to cost any more than when you live together, depending on where you live now. You might be able to find a rental situation that is just as cheap as what you both are doing now, and so on. My guess is you have thought a lot about this, but I don’t know. And I wonder if you are willing to make the sacrifices so that you could be together.
5) As part of that fourth option, you might negotiate with your church that, if they can’t give you a raise, perhaps they could give you access to a living situation, like a bedroom in somebody’s house or a basement or some attached apartment or something, that the church would pick up or that would just be offered free by a member in the church who believes in you for a couple of years. And so, you get your living situation free as part of the deal for working at the church.
6) The last thing I would say is: Try to discern if God’s leading and calling is on you to move forward now with marriage. Is it God’s time? I know that is subjective and difficult to tell. But is it God’s time? And if you sense that it is, as Noel and I did, then expect God to do wonderful things to make life together possible. And as part of that, pray together. Pray earnestly together that the Lord would open the door for this good thing in your life called marriage.