Marriages are in trouble these days. Divorce rates remain high. Affairs and immorality abound. Many couples have unsatisfying relationships because of seemingly constant conflict, a failure to communicate effectively, and a lack of intimacy. Unfortunately, Christian couples are not immune to these challenges.
But that’s where the church comes in. I believe that we have an important responsibility to provide Biblical help for couples in our churches and communities. Consider these basic suggestions for church leaders who want to strengthen the marriages in their congregations.
Preach and teach fearlessly.
It is time to lay aside our fears of misunderstanding and potential offense. We need to boldly (and lovingly) communicate the Bible’s clear teaching on lifelong marriage commitment, the roles of men and women, the importance of marital companionship, and moral and emotional fidelity.
Make premarital counseling a priority.
Effective premarital counseling must involve more than merely handing couples a few good books and talking through ceremony details. A series of individual or group sessions are needed with every couple to discuss the Biblical teaching on roles and responsibilities, finances, sex, in-law relationships, communication and conflict resolution, and more. And consider scheduling a post-wedding session or two to see how the principles are being applied.
Write a wedding policy.
Establish guidelines for who will be married by church leaders and under what circumstances. Include the premarital counseling philosophy and requirements, along with the more specific practices of the church regarding weddings. And one more thing: such a policy needs to be clearly communicated and followed. Have the courage to say no to weddings for couples who are not willing to follow the church’s guidelines. Resist pressure from family and friends to bend Biblical standards and commonsense guidelines.
Establish a marriage-mentoring ministry.
I’m encouraged to learn that more churches are pursuing support for newly married couples. Enlist the help of mature, godly couples who are willing to spend time with newlyweds. Find mentor couples who can answer questions, interact about conflicts, offer counsel in decision-making, and generally provide friendship and encouragement. (For suggestions, see The Marriage Mentor Manual by Les Parrott III and Leslie Parrott.)
Schedule seminars or retreats.
When they are well planned and promoted, these events can provide married couples with real help in strengthening their relationships. In such settings younger couples are often able to interact with older couples and benefit from the more informal “sharpening” of their marriages. Smaller churches may want to do a combined event with other nearby churches, or take advantage of regional or national marriage seminars and retreats.
Model the right kind of marriage.
As church leaders, let’s be sure we are doing what we can to keep our own marriages strong and healthy. Our example in this area can go a long way in encouraging others.
Offer “marriage-saving” programs.
You have them in your church—marriages that need help, that is! Unfortunately, as church leaders, we often don’t hear of the problems a couple is struggling with until it is too late. But when we have ongoing ministries in place that provide marriage support, some of these troubled marriages can be rescued. For example, in one of my churches we had a Marriage on the Mend small group that was led by a godly couple who had experienced marital struggles themselves in the past. I know God used it to help many couples who would otherwise have split up.
Jim Vogel (DMin, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is associate national representative of the GARBC.