At church, you numbskull!

Numbskull, n

“Thick-headed, dumb, oblivious to the obvious”

Many of you know, but some of you don’t. I spent the early years of my ministry (wait . . . these are still the early years!) doing many things. As a pastor at Stonebriar Community Church, I spent time in various departments: small groups, missions, evangelism, and singles. In fact, the primary role I settled into for many years was in the singles dept. While I don’t necessarily miss being a singles pastor, I miss all my singles tremendously (many of which are now married). I performed over thirty weddings in the a five year period. I saw a lot of “hook-ups.” I oversaw a lot of hook-ups!

While my philosophy of singles ministry was limited, it was very focused. I did not want our ministry to be a “meat-market.”

Meat-market, n

“A gathering with the primary purpose of hooking-up”

Therefore, when I taught, I taught too singles, but I intensionally did not speak about singles issues. (FYI: Single’s ministries can quickly become a self-help group—then it belongs in the counseling dept). This created an environment where there would be a timidity necessitated for those who only came for one thing—looking for a spouse. If people were to meet and “hook-up”, it would be “along the way” of their discipleship. We focused on their relationship with God, which is the most important aspect of preparation for “hooking-up”.

I am incredibly encouraged by the outcome the relationships that had their genesis in that ministry. All the marriages that I was a part of are still strong and moving in a very positive direction. In fact, if I did not have this as an anecdote for my thoughts, I might be very discouraged about the prospects for any marriage now days. Why? Because, outside of this environment, I have seen so many marriages that did not last.

Most of the time it seems that people are just not prepared to get married. They don’t take it seriously. They simply don’t want to be alone and they will search for solutions in the most unhealthy of places. Specifically, they look in where I would consider the worst of all places: the bars.

You may or may not be familiar with this phenomenon, but it effects more people than you think. It effects more Christians than you think. The bar, nightlife, drinking situations, and the like represent the default place to find that someone special. It is either churches that tailor to the meat-market ministries (usually because it brings in the beloved numbers) or the bars. Those of the defaults. I don’t really know which of the two are worse, because they are not that much different.

The pastor in me says this: Singles: Don’t look at either place. Neither are good. Both are filled with desperation. Both are filled with those who are misrepresenting themselves in order to accomplish their goal. For the most part, both are filled with selfish people who are wearing a mask. Both are filled with immaturity. Neither represent the “best-of” when searching for true character and someone who is truly following the Lord.

Wait…put on the brakes. Put it in reverse and go back to the fork in the road and come again Michael.

It was Sunday night at my favorite sports bar, the “Dug-Out.” It was five dollars all you could drink. I was 21. Perfect age for spouse hunting. That is where I met Kristie, my wife. Was I following the Lord? I was trying. I was praying. I was reading my Bible. But…I was at the bar. I wanted a Christian girl, but the local church meat market Tuesday nights was not providing the necessary environment nor the prospects. Let’s see how the meat was at the Dug-out. It was good that night. Kristie was there!

Kristie has so much shame about the way we met. She does not like to talk about it without a thousand qualifications in her defense. Why? Because it is embarrassing to her. She would love to say that we met in church or even at work. She would love to say that a friend introduced us. Anything but in a bar! Alas, this is our story. We met in a bar. In fact, the first words I said to her as she walked by my table and as I grabbed her shirt were, “Hey, before I get drunk, I want to tell you that I love you.” Oh yeah. What a line.

The problem with the way we met was that it evidences much immaturity. It represents all of that which, as a pastor, I don’t recommend. It is trouble waiting to happen. Lack of character, lack of godliness, lack of commitment to goodness, and a million other (bad) things.

Kristie and I can often be insecure in the way we met and where we me and this can translate into insecurity in our marriage.

But here is the issue: How much character does one have to have to make a decision to marry? I don’t know. Do they have to be perfect? Surely not. Do they have to be above being able to deceive or be deceived? Can’t be. How sanctified does one have to be before they can make the most important decision that they can make outside of trusting Christ? Where does grace come in?

Kristie and I are married. We are going to stay married. We fight for this marriage. But the battle does not come as a result of the way we met or where we met. Nor does it have to do with our maturity level when we got married. It does not have to do with any compatibility test we took or failed to take before we tied the knot. It has to do with the institution of marriage and the nature of such a relationship. It has to do with the fact that we are both selfish sinners. Marriage is hard. Very hard. And, yes, harder for some than for others.

While I would always encourage people to be as wise as they can when choosing a spouse, I don’t think anyone will ever be perfect. From a human perspective we can second-guess so many decisions, basing it and making a strong case (from our point of view) that the decisions were “wrong.” But when it comes the marriage, I think we need to be very careful. The whole idea of finding a “soul-mate” needs to be in the Christian garbage can.

The problem is when we set our hopes on this “soul-mate” perfect marriage “made in heaven” we automatically place the burden of the possibility of wrong choices on the shoulders of our marriage. “Maybe I was not supposed to marry Bill.” “Maybe it was not God’s will for me to marry Sarah.” “Maybe Michael and I made a mistake.” “Maybe Kristie and I were too immature to get married.” “Maybe we met at the wrong place and God is punishing us.” These are all the thoughts that, once seriously entertained, introduce a destructive virus that can itself be the charge for the end of your marriage. These thoughts are worse and more immature than anything you could have done wrong in the past.

God’s grace is very big. He does not say, “I will give grace to you so long as you make wise decisions.” Neither does he say, “My grace is available only to those who love me and do what I say.” God does not require perfection from sinners before he will bless a decision we make. Grace does not say “so long as . . .” about anything! If grace requires something from us, then it is not really grace. Grace is a free gift that has nothing whatsoever to do with the character of the receiver and everything to do with the character of the giver.

From a human perspective, I was at the worst place looking for a spouse, but this does not in any way suggest that this was not God’s will or that God could not bless it. God is sovereign. Did you know he is in control? Did you know that he only has sinners to work with as his plan comes into being? If God wanted us to wait until we were spiritually prepared to make all of life’s “big” decisions, no one would ever do anything because no one is ever truly spiritually prepared. Enter grace.

I write this for two reasons:

1. To continue to encourage singles to be wise. Hypocritically I say to you: don’t look in the bars or the meat-markets. I know how hard it is. I know how lonely it is. But those places are not the places to look.

Also, don’t set your expectations up too high. Meeting at the right place, taking compatibility tests, and doing everything the “right way” does not guarantee a relatively troubleless marriage. No matter how careful you are, both you and the one you marry are sinful and selfish. Get ready for it.

2. To encourage those who entertain the possibility that they did it wrong to give themselves and their marriage some grace. God is in control. I don’t believe you can marry the “wrong person.” While I understand it when people get divorces for many reasons, please understand that there is no way to make a perfect decision. We just trust the Lord and find him in the decisions that we have made. He is really a pretty big God and is not pulling his hair out over what we perceive to be wrong decisions. We are sinners. His grace works through and within our sinful decisions. If not, then he does not work at all.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    17 replies to "Where Should You Search for a Spouse? or “I Am Ashamed About Where Kristie and I Met”"

    • scottidog

      Michael, I’m confused. You say to find your future spouse at church, but don’t look there.

      I mean, I guess I get it, that your motives are important. But what’s wrong with part of your motive for being there to find a potential mate? God Himself said “It is not good for the man to be alone.”

      I’m single, and have been my whole life. I’m almost 46. I hold out hope that “he” is out there somewhere. And I have no intention of meeting “him” in a bar. But what are the other options? Church, maybe. But most of the men I meet there are married.

      Work? Also married.

      I guess if I knew the right answer, I wouldn’t still be single.

    • Ed Kratz

      Scottidog, you know how the saying goes, “hindsight is 20/20”. It shouldn’t be all that confusing that we are all fallen creatures that happen upon blessings in the most unlikely or undesirable of places.

      I hear you on the prospect finder. I am 46 as well and want more than anything to finally have that special godly someone (I am widow but it was a horrid situation). At our age the options are significantly limited. I’m in my 2nd year of seminary and it has seemed like a fertile breeding ground for mating. But the folks are all younger. The ones our age are married. Nonetheless, I remain hopeful because I do believe that God is sovereign, as the post highlights, and can bring about the right situation in his timing. Nothing is too hard for the Lord.

    • Ed Kratz

      Michael, again how eerie that you should write about this now. Not only have I been in the throws of conflict regarding my poor choices but I have also been contemplating this topic of how one goes about finding a godly spouse. In fact, I started to put up a discussion post on Theologica the other day about this question but hesitated. But it was centered around this issue here:

      In my early Christian days (early to mid-80s), I was part of an outreach campus ministry and was a little extreme and bordered on some cult-like tendencies. The pastor advocated for singles not to date, that God would reveal your spouse to you and the best thing to do is to carry on with your life and ministry. Of course, you know my story that I went AWOL after a few years and remained in rebellion for 13 years. I have recently been reconnecting with my friends from that time, some of whom followed that formula of hearing from God regarding their spouse and have had lasting marriages.

      What is your opinion on that? How active should Christians be in looking for a mate? For instance there are Christian dating sites (even though my warning still stands to proceed with caution). I don’t know about hearing the voice from heaven since I do believe there is a natural process that should occur. The extreme to that can be active dating, which I’m not sure is all that beneficial either. But I think there is something to be said for just living your life and let God take care of the details in his timing. And a big plus for mentioning maturity and readiness.

      So hanks for the post. Now I have the incentive to start the discussion without coming off as a desperate or bitter single person (I’m not but sometimes just asking the question can make it seem that way).

    • Darrin

      // No matter how careful you are, both you and the one you marry are sinful and selfish. Get ready for it.//

      Why marry?

    • Ms. Jack Meyers

      I met my husband while attending Brigham Young University. He lived in the apartment building next to mine and we had said hello a few times, but we really began to get to know one another when he started coming to the evangelical Christian Bible study, of which I was the president. He said he wanted to learn more about evangelical Christianity. In actuality he was looking for an excuse to get closer to me.

      Now, he gets to spend the rest of his life learning about both.

    • Ed Kratz


      I did not say don’t look in church. I think that there is certianly an natural inclination to find the type of relationship (sexual and otherwise) that we should not ever deny as singles unless we feel called to do so. (However, part of the calling is the ability to repress this desire).

      What I meant about singles groups in church is that their purpose should not be to facillitate this process and once they do become such the type of people who show up are no better than in a bar.

      Therefore, as I used to encourage my singles, “Your purpose for being here if first and formost to find God, not a mate. If you happen to find a mate ‘along the way’ great. But if your purpose for being here is only to find a mate, you can leave. You won’t fit in.”

    • David McGrew

      Kathy and I met at a sports bar as well. We’re not ashamed… we actually laugh about it because it’s nothing like who we are now (and we’ve been married 25 years). It was all part of our spiritual growth. Back then it was a social norm. Now, our social norm is changing lives for the Lord.

    • Jon

      But I’m looking for a Presbyterian girl, not a Baptist, so the bar’s a good place to look! 😉

    • Bob Pratico

      I met Debbie playing pool at at Georgia Tech in 1974. I wasn’t a Christian, but she was – in fact, she was with Campus Crusade at the time. Thank God she was having fun at such a “secular” activity …. and was even willing to go out with an unbeliever. She led me to the Lord within two months and we married 10 months later.

      And we’ve been married 35 wonderful years. 🙂

    • Jess P

      “Hey, before I get drunk, I want to tell you that I love you.”

    • Bill Triplet

      I’ve always been totally opposed to “singles ministry”. It seems to attract a certain personality type. The “singles ministry” where I go to church attracts social misfits and closet homosexuals. Any normal
      human being wouldn’t be caught dead at a “singles ministry event”.
      Live your life and let it happen normally. You need to find your own path to matrimony and not through a “Christianized” form of it.
      Michael you are much better off having found your spouse through
      a normal event and a normal place.

      Just be normal and attend normal events and it will freaking happen!!!

      Church should totally cancel any and all singles ministries. Singles ministries are unhealthy!!!
      End of discussion!

    • Michael L

      You’re forgetting the big I as a mechanism to find other singles.. and with that I mean the internet.

      It’s a huge “virtual bar” basically and the same caution is definitely advised.

      And yes, I have trouble admitting it, but it’s how my wife and I met and it wasn’t pretty and there’s been consequences and we’re having our 11th anniversary this coming weekend 😉 Just like if we would have met in any meat market of any other sort


    • Jeremiah Lawson

      I was at a large church for a number of years that started a singles’ ministry. The pastor explained that some people had expressed concern that the ministry would become a meatmarket and he joked, “You should hope it’s a meat market if you’re ever going to get married.” His kick-off for the ministry was a lengthy discourse on the evils of modern dating and the viability of courtship and an explanation that he and his wife did nothing of the sort when they met and became involved (use that phrase in the broadest inadvisable sense). He conceded he was a hypocrite for espousing a system of ethics he not only never lived out himself but did the opposite of.

      The ministry eventually foundered, the pastor unceremoniously backpedaled on the efficacy of courtship by saying that dating might actually not be so bad, and a person who observed the ministry from its inception once shared with me that he observed that the problem the ministry had was that it was about checklists and hoops to jump through to get married. There was actually nothing about seeking Christ regardless of getting married or not and it stands, in my estimation, as one of the greatest failures in the ministry of that pastor.

      I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong to have singles’ ministries but it does often come across as though the ministries can exist so that people can tell singles they’re being selfish for being single as though selfishness somehow goes away in marriage.

    • jim

      I met my wife at college. I was a foul mouthed , average looking, nice guy. I took her to worldly events , she took me to church!

      Two years later , I’m saved, I’m married, Our relationship hasn’t always been loving and easy….but it has been lasting( 30 years) and meaningful. Our relationship in the Lord has cemented us and he has blessed us tremendously.

      I don’t think it was all pre-planned by God, I believe our purpose here on earth remains intact whomever I should marry. That is not to say that I don’t thank him for her each day but rather that she was fulfiling our purpose of showing God’s love and our sinful nature and the way of salvation.

    • Trevor Brierly

      My wife and I met at church, but neither one of us had come looking for someone. In fact we had gone to the same church for many years without really knowing eachother. It was within the context of a special class that some of us had set up that we came to know eachother better. We were good friends for a long time before I realised that I was in love with her. I had basically given up actively looking, and she had no intention of getting married again (she was widowed). Our marriage has been good, not problem-free.

      If you go into things thinking “I want to find someone here” it sets up a sort of mindset that sometimes results in making bad decisions. For one thing, you aren’t focusing on the purpose of the “thing”. I would advise anyone who is single and lonely to “give up” looking. Pray to God to help you find someone and make wise decisions. Turn it over to him and then get on with having the best fullest life you can. If you are meant to marry, then the “right” person *will* come along. Fill your life with doing good things, like volunteer work. Only within the context of doing what you are and are meant to be, are you likely to find someone who is good for you.

      One more thing: don’t rush into anything. That exciting feeling of being in love is probably the worst state to make wise decisions in. Get to know someone over a longish period of time, some time for the ardour to cool a bit so you can be a bit more objective. In my opinion, not less than a year. 🙂

    • Lucian

      “I Am Ashamed About Where Kristie and I Met”

      Yes, l know 🙁 : in the church 😉 — how dorky of you! 🙂 [Never disclose this shamefully pathetic detail to anyone: they might think you’re like a geek or somethin’… 😀 — and we wouldn’t want them to think that, now, would we? 😐 ]

    • Mayra

      What’s so wrong with the truth? You shouldn’t be ashamed of the truth. That was God’s plan all along. As a Christian you should have faith in Him and in His will because all things good or bad, He turns it around for good. His love is strong and faithful, even when we aren’t. Get rid of the guilt. God brought you two together for a purpose.

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