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What do spouses do when their callings don’t line up?

DURHAM, N.C. (BP) — Several years ago I was speaking with a student from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary who was in a degree program where the student completes half of it on campus and the other half on the mission field. He said, “I have completed my on-campus hours and am ready to study overseas. But, I have a problem: my wife isn’t willing to go.”

Discerning the Lord’s call is an important step for everyone seeking to walk with God. Questions about how to sort out this crisis of calling abound. More specifically for this conversation are the questions about how spouses discern a call together and what they do when they don’t seem to share the same calling.

Since all Christians are commanded to make disciples of all nations, the questions believers must ask are “To whom are we sent?” and “Where?” Not everyone will be called to pack their suitcases, sell all their possessions, and move across the ocean to reach the nations. But some will. When this happens, the cost must be considered for the benefit of the nations and for the sake of healthy marriages and families because healthy families are testimonies to the reality of the Gospel in a broken world.

If a marriage fails, the couple will be forced to leave the field, potentially leaving no witness behind.

Ephesians 5 and 1 Peter 3 teach that husbands and wives submit to each other and pursue God’s plan for their lives. One spouse should not base his or her call solely on the experience or discernment of the other.

Each must seek to discern God’s call. However, the Bible also depicts a husband and wife joined as one flesh. Although this union does not eliminate the individual responsibilities of each spouse to obey, when it comes to God’s call to missions there is no biblical basis for thinking that God will only speak to one spouse and neglect the other.

How to discern God’s call to the nations

God uses several tools to awaken hearts to this specific call. Couples should work through these individually and then together.


God reveals Himself through His Word. Christians should study and meditate on His Word. The more believers know Him, the more they can discern His voice. Explore Scripture passages that address God’s plan for the nations. Couples can discuss what God seems to be teaching each of them.


Spend significant time in prayer. Learn to be still and listen for God’s voice. In order to know His will, Christians must prioritize this discipline.

Pray intentionally for the nations together. Daily prayer requests for specific areas of the world can be found at imb.org/pray.

The counsel of mature believers

God places Christians in a community of other believers. These men and women know each one’s spiritual gifts, talents, training and ministry experience. Couples should seek counsel from them, and look to the body of Christ to affirm their call. They should find a mature couple or two, talk with them about how they feel the Lord is leading, and ask for advice and prayer support.

A willingness to obey

Believers cannot put conditions on their obedience to anything God asks them to do (Luke 14:26–27, 33). They should be honest with each other about their hesitation and reservations. They should identify and confess any fears or idols that may be hindering them from hearing from the Lord or obeying Him. Believers should pray for and support each other as they do.

Keep a journal

The couple should record all that God is teaching each of them through time spent in His Word, in prayer, and through circumstances and opportunities around them. They should discuss what they’ve been journaling. They should ask each other to help identify next steps as they respond to all the Lord is revealing.

Missionary biographies

They each should read books, blogs, etc. Listen to missionaries speak about their lives and ministries. Invite a missionary to coffee and ask them questions. In the journal, record insights and challenges from other missionaries that stand out and why. The couple should share those with each other.

Go on a short-term mission trip

If the couple has yet to travel overseas, this could be a significant step. They should make an effort to go on a short-term trip together. As they minister together, they should consider how this experience may be exposing God’s giftings and desires for them. They should record everything from preparing for the trip to debriefing the trip once they return. Discuss insights, challenges and highlights.

Work locally with internationals or refugees

Nothing magical happens when one gets on a plane and goes. If one is not sharing the Gospel here, they won’t overseas either. They should find out how their local church is ministering to internationals, and explore ways that their family can be involved. If a couple’s church does not have ongoing opportunities to do so, they should research other ministries or talk to their local Baptist association or state convention to find specific ways they can help meet the needs of internationals or refugees in their community.

The rest of the story

As for the student I mentioned above, I encouraged his wife to seek the Lord, to pray to know God’s direction. I challenged the husband to wait for the Lord to do only what he could do in his wife’s heart. For this particular couple, a disconnect in their callings meant delaying one semester so they could walk through discerning their call together before going overseas. Eventually, their callings lined up.

This outcome is not guaranteed, unfortunately. However, it is important to remember that the model for how husbands and wives relate to each other is illustrated by Christ and the church. Following this example requires love, service, respect, honor and submission. As Christians consider their callings to missions, it would be unwise for them to make demands or manufacture a calling that is not of the Lord.

Those who believe they are called should remember that the same God who called them is powerful enough to call their spouse as well.

For more information, go to imb.org.

    About the Author

  • Lesley Hildreth

    Lesley Hildreth is the director of women’s discipleship for The Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina. Lesley and her family served for eight years with the IMB in western Europe and Central Asia.

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