How a passion for ministry almost cost C. Michael Patton his marriage

How a passion for ministry almost cost C. Michael Patton his marriage

Today I read a blog post that really touched my heart because it showed the importance of mutual decision-making instead of unilateral decisions by the husband (the male trump card).  I have asked and received permission from Michael Patton to post this on my blog.  I think that this story puts a human face to the issues of a one-flesh union that we have talked much about on this blog.  This testimony by Michael Patton and his willingness to listen to the wisdom of a godly woman really raised my respect for Michael.  I think that you will be touched by his story as well.  This is a fine example of how real complementary marriage works rather than a hierarchy model.


It was 2000. Or was it 1999? Not sure. My wife and I had been married for three years. Katelynn was two; Kylee was on the way. We lived in a little one bedroom apartment about ten minutes from campus. I was living my dream as I started the four year ThM program at Dallas Seminary (DTS). Kristie was ready to get in and get out, tolerating the time spent away from home in Oklahoma.

It was early on in Dr. Mark Young’s missions class that the epiphany came to me. It was from the Lord, I was sure. My passion for theology, truth, and changing the world was rising every day. Dreams were big, but they were about to get a lot bigger. Mark had been talking about the importance of missions (of course…it was a missions class). Contextualization, culture, redemptive analogies, and the like were all being discussed every day. Our passions were on the rise as Mark told his stories about his time in Poland. He could hardly hold back the tears and neither could we.

The next week he brought up a map. He showed us the break down of the world in relation to the Great Commission. “You are here.” You know how maps are. We were in Dallas. He showed us from there where all DTS grads were serving. I think that they were marked with a pin. There was a high concentration of pins around the Dallas area showing that many DTS grads stayed close. There was also a high concentration of grads in all fifty states. They were everywhere. Oklahoma, California, Nebraska, Washington, New York, Illinois, New Mexico, and every place else in the United States. When we looked beyond the United States, there was no famine for the need of pins. There were only a few, comparatively speaking, in other countries. Mark began to explain how 95% of the graduates from DTS stayed in the United States, while only 5% served abroad. However, as he explained, 95% of the need was in other countries that did not have the Gospel, theological training, or churches. It was alarming and Mark’s passion for missions made the alarm that much louder.

Well, I heard the call that day loud and clear. I knew what I was called to do. I was not sure before, but the Lord’s voice was coming through like a megaphone. I was supposed to go overseas. I was supposed to be a missionary!

When I got home, Kristie attempted to probe for the passion and the source of my excitement. I held back some naively thinking it was going to be a surprise. I wanted to walk her through all I had learned and let the excitement build in her as it had in me. I told her everything we had been learning doing my best to work without the pins. I explained to her how much of a famine for the Gospel existed in other parts of the world. Then, when the time was just right, I gave her the “good” news: “We are going to be missionaries!!!”

Let’s just say that the rehearsal in my mind did not mirror the actual events. I thought that Kristie would be excited. I thought that her heart would break for those less fortunate people. I thought that she would hear the Lord’s voice as clearly as I did. But such was not the case. She began to cry . . . and these were not the type of tears I wanted.

I struggled with this quite a bit. We discussed, argued, and strong armed each other for some time. It became a very difficult spiritual battle for me. Kristie made it clear that she was not going to go to another country. Her thoughts were on the children and the well being of the family. Her thoughts were on the community that she knew and loved. She would either stay in Dallas or go back to Oklahoma City. Those were the only two options. It was the very antinomy of our lessons on missions. To me, she was quenching the great commission. She was quenching God himself!

Thus began quite a struggle. Was I a follower of the Lord or follower of my wife? That was the question as I began to see it. In fact, I began to think that if Kristie would not go with me, I would go alone. After all, which is the greater good: staying married or saving souls? Or better, which is the greater evil: divorce or not following God’s call?

Then one day in class Mark had his wife Priscilla come and give her testimony of her life out on the mission field. I admired her so much. She was the perfect wife. She understood the priority of the call of the Lord. It broke my heart that my wife was not like her.

That night I decided to resort to some drastic measures. I decided to have an intervention. This was not a drug or alcohol intervention, but a spiritual one and my wife was the subject. This has to work, I thought to myself. I began to discuss these things with my wife once again and, as usual, things were not going to well. It was then that I pulled out my ace in the hole—the trump card. I called Mark Young at home. “Mark, this is Michael Patton from your missions class” I said. “Hello Michael, what can I do for you?” I then proceeded to explain how effective his course had been on me. I told him that I had been called into missions, but there was a hang-up that I thought he could help with. I told him the situation with Kristie and asked if he could talk to her.(Oh yeah…this was going to be good.)

However, the phone never met my wife’s ears that night. Mark immediately put me on hold. After a minute or two a woman’s voice came on the phone. It was Priscilla. Oh, good strategy, I thought to myself. Let’s let the wives discuss this together. However, Priscilla did not want to talk to Kristie. She wanted to talk to me. And it was not in a nice voice. She proceeded to . . . ahem . . . terrify me tell me how it really was and what I was going to do. For the next five minutes I listened to this wonderful woman as I shrank to the size of a peanut. She did not hold back either.

What was her message? In essence it was this: “Michael, God is not going to call you into something that he does not also call your wife into.” You can add about a hundred exclamation points after that and you will catch my drift. I would not even be surprised if there was not a curse word thrown in here or there. I can’t remember. “If God sovereignly calls you into something, do you think he is going to forget about your wife?” she continued. “If she is against it, it is not his will. Period!”

Well, so much for that idea.

That conversation changed me. It changed my marriage. I will never forget it and never be able to express how much of an effect Priscilla’s boldness had on me that night. She helped to re-prioritize this passionate and selfish maverick. She helped me to know that my first priority in ministry is to my wife and family. In a very real sense, Priscilla saved my marriage from my passion for ministry.

Paul tells Timothy, “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever” (1Tim. 5:8). I lost sight of that. I was very immature. My idea that the greatest good was spreading the Gospel and the only way to do that was to go where I felt I was being called. I was almost ready to lose my testimony in order to testify for Christ.

Since then I have seen this situation more times than I can count. It is usually always the same: a zealous husband who has become embittered against his wife because she will not follow him in his zealousness. One good friend just got a divorce because his wife did not want to become a missionary. He thought it was the Lord’s will and he believed her unwillingness was keeping him from a “greater good.” Now, after the divorce, his immaturity has disqualified him from taking that step even by himself. Another friend is becoming embittered toward his wife because her focus is elsewhere. Their marriage is suffering. I could tell many more stories, but I don’t want to betray anyone’s confidence.

Friends (and especially young zealous husbands or soon to be husbands), don’t make the mistake of having your passion for ministry end your marriage. Your first ministry isyour marriage. If you don’t get that, you are not qualified for ministry. In the spirit of Priscilla: Do you not think that God is powerful enough to call you both into ministry or do you think he only has enough power to call one of you? If so, then he is not a God worth your time anyway. In short, if God does not call your wife, he is not calling you. Period.

Thanks Priscilla.


14 thoughts on “How a passion for ministry almost cost C. Michael Patton his marriage

  1. This does give us pause as to what influences a passion for something, even something good. What constitutes a call for God, is the secondary question.

    Not all instances of spousal disagreement necessarily should squelch a passion or calling IMO. However, in the instance of missionary work, which IMO is not a type of spiritual gift but merely one exercise of a spiritual gift, I think a spouse would absolutely need to be in agreement. There are many things we can be called to that we can do without jeopardizing the welfare of our families.

  2. TL,
    I agree. We can use our gifts without having to have the other spouse’s agreement. But when it comes to uprooting the family or going into full time ministry when one is against the move, it is far better, in my opinion, to wait on the Lord to work out the call through agreement.

    In my own ministry I knew that I could not be in full time ministry without my husband’s full participation and agreement. In about the year 2000 or 2001 he was content to just have a retirement of doing what we like to do and I had agreed to let him choose the direction. What it did was sap all of my strength and my unhappiness was evident to him even though I submitted to his will. It was then the Lord got his attention and started talking to him and that has completely changed his life and his desires. He now not only supports me but he has a real call of God to use his own gifts in ministry.

    The issue for me is whether a husband can hold the trump card as if he alone has the ability to know the Lord’s will. I do not believe this is biblical, but I do believe that going into ministry without waiting for your partner’s acceptance can really cause a lot of trouble.

    Michael’s ministry has apparently been able to flourish right where he is and there may come a time when they can both agree as the Lord works on Kristie’s heart.

  3. Your first ministry isyour marriage. If you don’t get that, you are not qualified for ministry.


  4. “In fact, I began to think that if Kristie would not go with me, I would go alone. After all, which is the greater good: staying married or saving souls? Or better, which is the greater evil: divorce or not following God’s call?”

    This so aptly shows what a disconnect we can have sometimes with the reality of a situation – especially, if we think we have more Spiritual insight than “others.” OM, what a little power trip can do!

    “In the spirit of Priscilla: Do you not think that God is powerful enough to call you both into ministry or do you think he only has enough power to call one of you? If so, then he is not a God worth your time anyway.”

    Yes, what kind of teeny-tiny God would need to break up marriages and families to save others??
    I’d like to meet Priscilla!

  5. Did anyone read any of the responses this man got to his story?

    Some of them? All I can say is just WOW! I loved his response!

    You have to earn the right to practice your complementarian theology!

  6. He got a lot of responses, some good some bad. But the page was down for a couple days, during which most of the responses were removed.

  7. This is a tough situation. I’m glad things are working out for the Patton family. I personally don’t believe that a genuine call of God is always going to be accompanied with an approving spouse. I can’t remember the name of the missionary that went to India in the early 1900’s, but his wife didn’t approve because she liked the comforts and social life here, and made his life extremely difficult. God did bless the work in India, but his wife remained resentful and vindictive until she became deranged. I believe there is a lot to consider, and that decision should not be made lightly, but I don’t believe that the emotions of a spouse is a sure sign of God’s call. I’ve seen this with men as well towards their faithful and Godfearing wives. They become increasingly jealous and unreasonable, and the women are then usually told “the call” most not be from God.

  8. I think there are different levels of calling and different levels of agreement needed. If God calls one person to teach a group and the other spouse disapproves this call may not need the spouse to agree. However if one is going to leave the country and go into missions and the spouse doesn’t approve, I believe that it would be a matter of prayer and waiting. The Scripture says that a husband has authority over his wife’s body and she also has authority over his body and they are not to hold back unless by mutual agreement. How could one person think they could go into ministry and leave their wife behind without her express consent? I think that often people can be quick to go for an easy solution (the husband’s authority) without making it an opportunity for the Lord to work out a solution.

    I do believe that a woman can be “called” by God without her husband’s permission but it can be a challenge to know how to answer in the best way without appearing to dishonor him.

  9. Jesus, however does speak of the division that can happen even amongst our loved ones because of Him, and the excuses we make for not following Him. This is again, a very difficult decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly either way. It’s too easy to be driven by personal ambition and emotional manipulation, and neither one of those are a proper response to God. I think, if we’re not careful, we can give the devil too much room to hinder a woman or man of God from serving (locally or abroad) when a disapproving or approving spouse is used as the bottom line indicator of a genuine call. It is very possible that God can call a man overseas and the wife resist for fleshly reasons so I don’t see the passages mentioned above about having authority over the spouse’s body as a legitimate answer in the scenario I’ve given.

  10. rejoice,

    It is very possible that God can call a man overseas and the wife resist for fleshly reasons so I don’t see the passages mentioned above about having authority over the spouse’s body as a legitimate answer in the scenario I’ve given.

    I just think that if God is going to call a man and the wife is resisting for fleshly reasons, then the man needs to find out how to keep his one-flesh union intact while serving God. If God is faithful in calling, then He is also faithful in finding a way to answer if the spouse is a believer. If the spouse is not a believer then that may very well be different.

    I just think that more time may need to be given for prayer and working out the problems. There are no easy answers for sure.

  11. I resisted the urge to ask what to do if the roles were reversed, if it was the wife itching to go to Afghanistan and the husband refused. But of course, that would mean that she was mistaken in her understanding.

    Tamara (on the blog’s comments) said it so well,

    “This was a great blog post, but wow, some of these comments are really, really painful to read. God had already made the dog before He created Eve… and God is the one who said it wasn’t a suitable mate for him… so lets not think of wives as ‘companions’ that God calls to go where and do what they are told. Submission is not about ‘obedience’… it is about selflessness. So is ‘laying down your life’, by the way, which is how Christ loved the church. Absolutely, we have got it really messed up on both sides, and we are very defensive and self-protecting. We are disobedient, that is true. But God deals with us when we are, doesn’t He? Doesn’t He love us enough to correct us, to encourage us, to affirm His will to us? If you are a person too headstrong to hear the voice of God or to receive His correction, then maybe you have no business being on the missionfield anyway. Unless you’re Jonah.

    Is it really possible that some husbands don’t honestly realize that God also speaks to their wives? How can it be so unfathomable to a husband that God also gives to his wife (the one he loves and cherishes) her own unique spiritual burdens, truth, wisdom, visions, passions and callings, all of which she is called to humbly lay before the Lord with open hands? ALL things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purposes. Sometimes we think God is calling us to something, but what God really wants is to teach us something… to reveal something of Himself and His nature to us, to build character in us, to teach us what it means to love, to purify us of our vanity, our selfish ambition and our sentimental notions of who He is and what He is truly calling us to. If a husband cannot first lay down his life for his beloved wife – the one person he vowed before God to honor, care for and forsake all others for – how can he ever hope to reveal Jesus to a stranger? He hasn’t begun to understand his calling as a man of God, as a husband, as spiritual leader in the home.

    If there is any missionfield today, I think it is the marriage. I pray that God will have compassion on us, and stir the hearts of men and women from the far corners of the earth, to come to us and speak the gospel to us here in North America! God clearly stated that the marriage is God’s clearest picture – the image bearer – of Christ’s relationship with the church. It is not supposed to be about control, power and authority, but about love, sacrifice and mutual submission. Like most other of God’s profound mysteries, we have absolutely ravaged that picture. Some of ya’ll are making Jesus sound like an abusive husband, and I pray that in His mercy He will pour out His lavish love upon you, that they eyes of your heart may be opened to see the mystery of His heart towards you, His bride!”

    I totally agree with her. Another commenter pointed out that statistically, it would more likely be the man who refused to go on missions based on both the % of men in the church and the fact that single female missionaries far exceed single male missionaries.

    Of course spouses can be selfish and materialistic, marriage does not cure one of sinful humanity.

  12. Does a spouse who is carnal or not a Christian have any business leaving the country to serve as a missionary–even as a spouse to the head missionary? Isn’t that wanabe-missionary’s first job to nurture the unsaved spouse and children and bring them to Christ? Perhaps as the carnal spouse grows in faith, he/she will be mature enough to hear the call of God.

    I am not saying Patton’s wife was carnal. She was pregnant and it was her God-given job to protect her children. Apparently Patton failed to understand how vulnerable a woman can feel when she is pregnant, or when she has young children. She has to have a strong sense of God’s calling to take those children into dangerous places.

    Protecting one’s young children is different from “protecting” a grown spouse from serving God in a particular ministry, as complementarian husbands are prone to do.

    What many folks do not consider is what kind of life the missionary spouse is supposed to live–when she does not feel called into foreign missions. If she is not called, she will likely be of little mission-type service. Her main job will be to serve her husband in a place where she has many handicaps that make her work take longer than it would in the US. She may have to learn to cook over a wood stove, for example, which can make cooking take all day if the wood isn’t dry enough. She may have to do laundry by hand, etc. While her husband gets the “glory” of and enjoyment of missionary work, her work is made 10 times more difficult than it need be, leaving her no time to be a missionary at all.

    The result is a marriage where the husband gets to do the enjoyable work, and the wife is stuck with the never-ending maintanence work. Just like the widening gap between the rich and the poor, this would be a widening gap in the enjoyment of labor experienced by husband and wife. This would likely also end up widening the power gap between them, and the wife becomes her husband’s slave. Unless she really enjoys having everything go wrong day after day, a husband pushing her to go where she has not been called of God will end up taking her into depression or some other disease that will end up forcing them to return home.

    If she also feels God is calling her to be a missionary, AND her husband and/or children help with the day-to-day tasks, she also can take the gospel to those who are lost, and have the sense that she is making a difference.

    I would think the same applies if the genders are reversed. What business does a reluctant husband have to be in a foreign mission field? No matter what the gender, God may be calling them to do something meaningful at home.

    A final note: The class teacher was using guilt and manipulation to get students to go to foreign fields. Often if it is God who is calling, He also gives a specific burden, like to go to Africa or Central America, or even to a specific country.

  13. Waneta, I know a woman who with her husband was called to a foreign land– and it was as you say, that everyday living took 5 times the labor that it takes in the US or other first-world nations. But there was this difference– their US money also had considerably more spending power, and there was an abundance of poor citizens who were eager to be hired to help. They ended up with a maid, a cook and a gardener. I think it’s true that if the woman and the man don’t BOTH feel called, there can be a real problem. But when both do feel called, AND when the everyday work isn’t considered to be the wife’s role alone– it can be tremendous!

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