By Johnnie Godwin
Contributing Columnist, B&R
Phyllis and I shared the same splendid doctor for 25 years until last year. Our doctor retired, so we decided to ease over to another doctor in the same practice. But he didn’t know Johnnie or Phyllis. So I gave him one of my “retirement” books I had dedicated “To Phyllis — My Better Two-thirds.”
At Phyllis’ next solo visit, she said the doctor had asked about my book’s dedication page: “What is this better two-thirds business?” She told him that husbands often introduced their mate to someone by saying, “This is my better half.” Then, with her natural sense of humor, she added, “I’m better than that! So Johnnie introduces me as his better two-thirds.” Well, there is a story behind “better two-thirds” and what has evolved over 64 years of marriage.
At our church’s Family Ministry Center, I met and played racquetball with a new doctor friend who had just moved to town. At a water-break between games, I introduced Phyllis to our church’s new member: Lynn McFarland.
When we parted, he said, “Johnnie, I think I just met your better half.” I said, “Oh, no, Lynn; you just met my better two-thirds.” And that title has stuck! In my column in the July 22 issue of the B&R about pastors, their wives, and the pulpit, you’ll understand that I was serious from an early age about the qualities required for the role of pastor’s wife, namely, God’s calling.
Marriage and ministry biblically. When I had surrendered to preach at age 15, I quickly learned that a call to preach was a call to prepare. Basically, that meant four years of college and three or more years of seminary.
At a seminary chapel some years later, I heard Billy Graham tell us young ministers, “If you tell the Lord you don’t have time to prepare a sermon and ask Him to fill you, He will: with hot air!” I dated fine Christian girls, but I was serious about waiting until after college and seminary to get married.
From age 16, I recorded in my daily diary the qualities that would be required for a pastor’s wife. In the Bible, pastors, elders, and bishops can be used interchangeably to refer to the same role. Peter was the prince of apostles. He was married and had a mother-in-law. But Jesus was not married, nor had Paul married, as far as we know.
So the Bible doesn’t require marriage or singleness for one to become a pastor or minister. But God designed marriage and the Christian family. And the Bible identifies qualities both for the husband and the wife within the roles of marriage and ministry.
Let me be brief and simply say you can read in the Bible God’s design for Christian homes, the qualifications for pastors and deacons and their homes. You can see the model of Aquila and Priscilla. God’s model for marriage and the roles for husbands and wives are clearly taught throughout the Bible. Perhaps I Corinthians 13 and Ephesians 6 blend best to show the characteristics a pastor should have. Ephesians 5:22-6:4 and Titus 2:1-5 especially speak about the qualities required for marriage and ministry.
On a personal level, I’ve just read many pages from a diary from age 16 to marriage at 19. My theology and ethics were right and biblical from my teenage years. However, my timetable was off.
As I wrote earlier, I was barely 19; and Phyllis was 17 when we married. Humanly, I do not recommend the early ages at which we were married. On the other hand, in God’s providence, our early marriage, early parenthood and steady schooling to prepare for our calling all worked together.
Interlude. In the amazing maze of God’s grace, I’ve shared my earliest understandings of calling to become a pastor and then to work toward foreign mission appointment. We answered both of those callings until God led us to pause, be amazed, and make some turns in the maze of God’s calling.
If I should write another chapter or so about our joint calling of husband and wives in God’s plan, I would say that I haven’t even gotten back to the return and enrichment of God’s missionary calling to us. Jointly, and in a career beyond what we ever dreamed, Phyllis and I and another co-author wrote The Student Bible Dictionary, which has sold almost one million copies (Barbour Pub. Inc.).
Conclusion including better two-thirds. Besides a primary career of Christian writing and publishing, God then led Phyllis and me to expand what had been a limited calling in foreign missions to a much broader calling.
The broader calling included and enabled us to do mission work in a variety of ways and also led us to serve in South America for a time, in Europe for a broader time and then in Asia. Our great imagination and vision was never as rich as what God has opened in our lives so far. And we’re still on the journey and trying to keep on answering yes to every single calling of God.
Within the missionary context, Phyllis was led to spend more than 30 years in serving some in one nursing home on missionary Thursdays and more than 30 years in teaching conversational English as a Second Language. She did that within the context of our joint ministry but also above and beyond what I myself was able to do.
So from my perspective, I still honestly refer to Phyllis as my better two-thirds! And I thank God for answering my prayers for her as a gift and then years later giving her back to me as a gift a second time when she faced the jaws of death but got God-lifted from the danger by His grace and power. So I especially give thanks for this pastor-type’s better two-thirds!
— Copyright 2020 by Johnnie C Godwin. Write him at email@example.com.