Spending time with God is the most significant contributor to the intimacy we share in our marriage.
1. Time with God Gives Me a Wider Perspective
When I don’t see the forest, the trees definitely get in the way. What are some of the trees you ask? I’ve been guilty of coveting my neighbors house for one. I remember a time when moving to a bigger house was all I thought about.
Sadly, the house I was living in was the answer to the previous obsession I had to get out of renting! When I dont take time to talk to the Lord, my perceived have-nots really bother me. This attitude, no matter how I try to disguise it, eventually gets around to my husband’s attention.
When I allow God, to speak to me, I have greater love for my husband, John, less anxiety about our future and I’m easier to live with!
2. When I Make Space For God, I’m Less Needy On My Husband
It’s not hard for me to find legitimate reasons to complain, feel afraid, be insecure, hopeless etc. My needy mode is unattractive and makes me unfairly demanding to John. He isnt perfect, but he is wonderful!
In contrast, when I cry out to God during hard times of worry and or depression, its less threatening for me to take them to John. I can be more transparent and honest with him because I’ve prayed first and understand that he isnt my only source for solution. It also brings our worlds together.
I tell John and remind myself, he is the most perfect imperfect man I know! I give him room to be fallible and affirm to him that I love him anyway.
3. Time With The Lord Gives Us Better Conversations
It’s so rewarding when we use the times together to discuss things we’ve been learning from the Lord. Our quiet time styles are very different, but the results are usually stimulating and provide energetic dialogue.
We end up talking about things that matter to us, often expanding our viewpoints beyond the current circumstances. It makes praying together easy and very natural. Most of the time we feel so drawn to each other that all we want to do is connect!
Debbie Woodall met her husband, John Woodall, at Bible college. They married in 1975 and now have four married children and 12 grand children. Debbie works as a freelance artist and enjoys encouraging couples in their marriages and individual walks with God.
Yep. We go to counseling—marriage counseling.
I spent 10 years in the dating world searching for and imagining my perfect husband. My husband spent three years married to someone else before he married me. We are both pushing nearly a decade in occupational ministry, are new parents with baby two on the way, and are navigating life’s changing seasons almost daily.
Needless to say, we each bring our own history, weak spots, and relational dynamics to our marriage.
I used to be surprised by people’s reaction when I told them my husband and I go to counseling. We’ve been leaders in our church and community for many years. Perhaps “counseling” doesn’t fit people’s mold for us.
“Really? Why? What’s wrong?” they’d say, with concerned intonations.
The truth is, nothing. Nothing is wrong.
We Don’t Go To Counseling Because We Have A Weak Marriage
We go to counseling to build a strong marriage.
So there we are in a counseling session. We sit awkwardly holding hands on faded floral couches with our McDonald’s drive-through coffees. The vertical blinds in the room are tilted just enough to let the daylight in, but not enough to expose our identity. Like counseling is something to be secret or shameful.
Counseling should not be shameful. It should be celebrated and cheered for.
When someone is engaged in counseling, it means they’re engaged in their life. It means they want to make progress toward wise, meaningful life-decisions and health.
Why are we embarrassed to need counsel or coaching? Are we ashamed to be seeking support? Ashamed that we want healthier relationships?
What does that look like? We sit down and talk with someone much wiser than us when it comes to marriage relationships about how to have a strong, healthy relationship.
Through Counseling We Get To:
- understand how our past impacts our present
- learn the other’s needs in ways we don’t normally have tools to talk about
- get an outside perspective to help us see beyond ourselves
- dream about our future and what we hope our marriage and family will look like years down the road
- explore what emotional intelligence looks like in our relationship—it’s worth more than money, let me assure you
Do you know what the best part of counseling has been? Someone leading us through how to have those important, meaningful conversations on our own, day-to-day.
What we have learned in counseling hasn’t stayed there. It’s given us tangible tools to build a strong marriage.
Counseling is Not One-Size Fits All
I’ll be the first to admit not all counsellors are the same. They’re not one-size-fits-all. Each one brings a unique approach, education, and skill set to the table. There are even life coaches that support you in achieving future goals and ambitions.
One counsellor might not be very helpful… but that doesn’t mean allcounsellors are not helpful. The next one could lead to a major breakthrough.
I have also been to a counsellor when everything was not ok. And there’s no shame in that either.
Because there are just times when we need more help and guidance than coffee with a good friend can offer.
We All Need Counseling
Frankly, life’s too short to live in pain when help is out there. And good counseling still costs less than stress-leave, sick-leave, or divorce.
In North America, why does it seem more acceptable to pay for physical health with a gym membership but not for mental and emotional health with a counseling session? Either way, the responsibility is still on you and I.
Showing up at the gym without exercising doesn’t make us any healthier than buying an apple and watching it rot. And it’s the same with counseling, we have to show up and engage.
At the end of the day, I think we all need counseling. Because we’re all human. We’ve all been hurt or broken or confused by someone or something. And there is hope. I just wish it was more socially acceptable.
So, let’s let go of the shame of counseling and celebrate the pursuit of healthy, meaningful relationships and lives.
What about you? What do you think about counseling?
There is a temptation to lump religious people into the same category as non-religious people when it comes to predicting the success rate of marriage. Many have promoted the idea that the divorce rate among the two groups is nearly the same.
Speculation that non-religious couples are more likely to cohabitate rather than get married has caused some to skew the numbers toward a higher rate of divorce among people of faith, even though that can’t be verified.
Ed Stetzer points out a fact that is likely overlooked in the research. Among active people of faith, the divorce rate goes way down. Only if you look at non-practicing believers is there greater similarity in the figures.
Turns out, it’s not just about casually aligning yourself with a group of faith. You’ve actually got to practice what you preach for there to be any impact to your relationship. Novel idea, huh?
Active Faith Impacts Marriage
Imagine if you coupled an active faith with an intentional focus on keeping marriages in your church strong. If the numbers go up when people take their faith seriously, imagine how they would skyrocket if they actually turned specific attention to improving their marriage.
That’s why a marriage ministry at your church is important. You may feel overwhelmed at the prospect of adding one more thing to the list of activities sponsored by your congregation. However, it doesn’t have to be highly involved or expensive. It just has to be intentional.
If you’re still on the fence, consider these four points.
Not different problems, a different solution.
The people in your congregation don’t have any less exposure to marital troubles than people outside the walls of your church. They are still susceptible to miscommunication, conflict, sexual temptation, physical challenges, and other stumbling blocks.
The difference is how we respond to those obstacles, and the grace upon which we rely to get through them. Understanding how those two gifts should work within marriage is vitally important. A good marriage ministry teaches couples how to respond to problems and to accept the grace that God offers.
You’ve got a great cloud of witnesses.
There is nothing worse than going through one of life’s storms and feeling like you’re alone. When there is a group in your church working to preserve, protect, and help marriages, struggling couples have a safe place to turn. And, they feel less isolated in their struggles as they walk alongside other couples.
Go beyond information to transformation.
A good marriage ministry doesn’t just serve as a conduit for transferring facts, figures, and inspirational sayings. Only one that promotes and facilitates behavior change will have a true impact on your church family. That’s really the whole point of why we came to know the Lord in the first place, isn’t it? It wasn’t just about knowing who He was, it was about letting Him make a difference in our lives. The result of any effort in your church, including marriage ministry, should be positive change that moves people toward Christ.
Repetition anchors change.
After serving thousands of couples with an 85 percent success rate, we’re sold on one of the ingredients of our “special sauce.” Our offerings are designed to facilitate a community of people dedicated to working on their marriage for the long haul.
Week after week, couples develop the habit of paying regular attention to their marriage. They share their highs and lows and discover steps they can take to produce transformation in their relationship.
In our opinion, the question isn’t whether you have the time, money, or energy to implement a marriage ministry in your church. The real issue is whether you can afford not to. Couples who are active in their faith and consistently attentive to their marriage relationship are on the road to success.
Reposted with permission. Read the original post here.
Marriage Dynamics Institute is a non-profit Christian ministry committed to providing marriage workshops and courses that build safe environments, promote self education, and produce extraordinary results.
I thought I’d write a different kind of post. I’d like to sketch out what I think a church with a strong marriage ministry would look like, and then I’d invite you to share your thoughts, in the hope that this could be a resource page or a springboard for discussion for churches that want to be more intentional about supporting the marriages.
A Strong Marriage Ministry Leverages Marriage Mentors
Pastors should not be the main focus of a marriage ministry. A pastor may not be gifted at counseling, which is OK. After all, Pastors were hired to primarily lead and preach. There are limited pastors at each church. They can’t do all the work.
A strong marriage ministry involves couples from the congregation. If a church is going to support marriages, it needs to find a way to forge relationships where couples can talk about important issues. I believe is the best vehicle for this is mentorship.
- A mentor couple should be a couple whose marriage is strong and has been married at least ten years.
- Marriage mentors are often better equipped for pre-marital counseling than pastors, who may not have the time. It’s often better to talk to a couple than just a pastor.
- Mentors should be trained on how to ask questions that encourage discussion. Most breakthroughs come because the couple is able to talk through issues.
- Mentors are not counsellors. The role of a mentor is not to help couples solve problems but instead to raise important issues for discussion and to guide conversations and prayers. If counseling is necessary, the couple should then be referred elsewhere.
- Mentors do not need to have all the answers; they need to be equipped to ask the right questions.
- The church should set up a system where it’s easy to get a mentor couple if you need one.
Choose Marriage Mentors Based on Relationships, Not Past
We have a tendency to promote leadership that looks one way—Christians their whole life; always chose well; never rebelled; still married to their first spouse.
However, the strongest marriages are not necessarily those that fit the “ideal” Christian mold. If congregation members are to relate to marriage mentors, then there should be some diversity in faith journeys among the mentors. While all should have solid marriages now, it’s OK if some people were not born in the church, and became Christians after a difficult faith journey.
It’s even best if some marriage mentors are blended families. Let’s have the marriage mentors resemble the congregation, rather than assuming that those who “look” the most Christian automatically have the strongest marriages.
A Strong Marriage Ministry Flows From an Authenticity Culture
The culture of a church is passed on, top down. At the church my daughters attend, the senior pastor is very open about some of the mental health battles his family has faced, so the church family can pray for them.
At the last song of the service, those who need extra prayer are always encouraged to come up to the front, without judgment. It’s never seen as a sign of weakness. People will not open up to marriage mentors unless the church does not punish those who admit failings. If churches want to rescue marriages, then people need a safe place to admit when they have problems. If they don’t have that, no one says anything until the marriage implodes.
The more we deal with the messiness of life, the more people can admit problems when things do get messy. If no one can dare admit an issue without appearing strange, then no amount of marriage programs will accomplish much.
Leaders Must Have Strong Marriages Themselves
It’s a biblical principle that one shouldn’t serve on church leadership unless one has strong family relationships at home. If the church wants to send a message that marriage is important, then, it must choose leaders that have good marriages. Even if those couples do not directly take part in marriage mentorship, the leadership of the church must still model good marriages.
- Leader couples should always speak well of each other
- The couples should have no whisperings of impropriety
- The couple should support one another in their giftings, rather than the wife seen as simply an appendage or servant of her husband.
- There must be a “team” feel to every ministry couple.
The latter point is especially important. In churches where women are seen more as servants of their husbands, the divorce rate is far higher than in churches where marriage is seen as more teamwork. Researchers have concluded that this is because women don’t feel entitled to speak up about marriage problems when they first occur, because they believe that to identify issues would be seen as unsubmissive. After years of dysfunctional behaviour, the wives often throw in the towel.
If leaders demonstrate grace and care for one another in a team framework, then church members are more likely to feel free to raise issues when they crop up, rather than letting them fester.
A Church That Supports Marriage Does Not Overburden Those Who are Married
Frankly, those who are involved in church as leaders are often burned out with no time for their families. If the leaders don’t have strong marriages, then they can’t support other people’s marriages. Too many ministries in churches require too much of people in their 30s and 40s.
A church that values marriage will:
- Ensure that no one is expected to be at church activities more than one night a week
- Examine their ministries to make sure that they aren’t “make work” or “make busy” events. Choose only events that feed the community and that reach those outside the church. Lower the scope and expectations of some of those events
- Encourage those in their 50s and 60s to do more of the child care, Sunday school, and nursery ministry to give parents a break
- Host more adult mixer activities, like board game nights or movie nights, rather than always dividing by gender so that couples can do more things together
A Strong Marriage Ministry Supports Couples
Sometimes churches shy away from offering couples’ events because we don’t want single people to feel left out. Yet marriage is the bedrock of families and the community. It is not taking away from single people to sometimes offer something for couples.
A Strong Marriage Ministry Addresses the Tough Topics
What is it that tends to rip apart marriages? Money and sex. Yet few churches address either very well from the pulpit.
Before we blame pastors for this, let me say that I don’t think much of this should be addressed from the pulpit. There are children and teens in church; single people; divorced people.
While sex can be addressed in general ways, you can’t get nitty gritty on a Sunday morning. There is a time and place, and that is neither the time, nor the place, for anything that explicit.
With the money issue, too, what people really need is practical help on managing debt and using credit cards. Those sorts of things aren’t handled well from the pulpit, either. You need a workshop. What I would suggest is that the church go out of its way to make resources available on tough topics, remembering that if the church doesn’t address them, the world will fill the void.
- Encourage Bible study groups to do a study on a tough topic
- Encourage membership to sites like Covenant Eyes, which allows accountability and filtering for computers, phones and tablets to help prevent porn addictions
- Download Covenant Eyes’ book Fight Porn in Your Church, and have all leaders read it
- Share through social media, Pinterest boards, men’s and women’s Facebook pages, or newsletter lists great articles about sex, marriage, money, and other issues
- Host financial planning seminars and good financial management seminars. Have debt counsellors available for couples who need help
A Strong Marriage Ministry Is Focused on Wholeness, Not Marriage
Finally, a strong marriage ministry is focused on God’s heart for us—that we all be transformed into the likeness of His Son. A strong marriage ministry is not focused on making sure that all marriages stay intact.
That may seem like a loaded statement. But where I see churches err most often is that they are so scared that a marriage will fall apart that they fail to call people to wholeness.
Churches must be able to identify toxic things that will destroy a marriage—porn use, addictions, emotional, verbal, physical, or sexual abuse. When these issues pop up, the emphasis must be on healing these issues, not healing the marriage. True relational healing can only happen once the underlying toxic things have been properly dealt with. But we’re often too scared to deal with toxic issues because they’re so huge and they threaten the marriage. Instead we try to paper over them.
Churches must be better at supporting those in difficult marriages and calling sinners to repentance. Not every marriage problem is a communication problem. Yet we often treat them as such—telling people to learn each other’s love language or to learn to talk more. Some problems are caused by a huge sin, and those problems are often one-sided. Not every marriage issue has two parties at blame.
Until churches can start calling a spade a spade and calling people to something more, while supporting the hurting spouse, no marriage ministry will ever be effective because you will be undermining the authenticity of your witness.
How Strong is Your Marriage Ministry?
If you’re talking about this article as a leadership community, here are some questions to ask. Rate each question on a scale of 1-5, which will give your church a score out of 75. This may provide some insight on where your efforts should first focus as you grow a strong marriage ministry.
- Does our church have “marriage mentors”?
- Do the couples that we believe have strong marriages all fit that “ideal Christian” mold? Could we be missing some strong marriages because we have preconceived notions of what a strong marriage will look like?
- Is the weight of marriage ministry resting primarily on our pastor?
- Do those struggling with pornography in our church have an obvious, well-advertised place to get help?
- If a couple needed marriage help, or a person wanted an accountability partner, is there an easy way to access that help?
- Looking at our church leadership, including the board(s), paid staff, and ministry coordinators, how overburdened are they? How are their marriages?
- Is teamwork a hallmark of the marriages among our church leadership?
- Do leaders in our church regularly speak well of their spouses and encourage their spouses’ spiritual giftings?
- Looking at those aged 25-45 in our church, how much of the practical, hands on responsibility for ministries falls on their shoulders? How much falls on those aged 45-65? Is this a healthy balance?
- Do we have a culture where people can safely admit that they are struggling without judgment?
- Does our church handle sex in a healthy way? Do our small groups, couples’ ministries, or single-sex study groups feel comfortable talking about it?
- If couples are having major debt issues, do they know where to go for help?
- Have we had low-cost, affordable marriage events (either couple events or single-sex teaching events) at our church in the last year?
- Do we have a network of trained Christian counsellors to whom we can refer couples in trouble?
- Do we regularly refer couples who are dealing with toxic issues, rather than trying to deal with issues of that magnitude when we may not be trained for it?
What works at your church with marriage ministry? What doesn’t? Let’s help each other!
For a downloadable guide of these criteria, along with an assessment tool to see how your church ranks on marriage ministry, head over to Sheila’s original post.
Sheila Wray Gregoire has been married for 25 years and happily married for 20! She loves traveling around North America with her hubby in their RV, giving her signature “Girl Talk” about sex and marriage. She’s written eight books about sex and marriage.
When I first got hired at my church to help married couples, I was a little overwhelmed. There are a lot smarter people than me, a lot more skilled individuals who could be occupying my office right now. The thing is, God brought me here. That means I’m responsible to do the best I can with the resources I have.
Here are the things I’ve learned that have helped me grow in my role:
1. Help Parents Become Their Kids’ Heroes
Whether it’s sending Parent Cues by email or having a hardcopy of GodTime Cards to hand out to parents as they leave on Sunday morning, I’ve bought into the idea that kids are going to spend the rest of their lives with their parents. Parents mostly want to do a good job with their kids.
They don’t need to hear “just trust God more,” they need to hear: “If you’ll take 5-10 minutes to talk through these questions with your kids, it’ll help you really connect with them.” If I’m not specific, I’m wasting my time.
2. Help Husbands & Wives Learn Communication Skills
It seems like everybody texts but nobody talks anymore. I need to give husbands and wives specific instructions on how to carry on conversations.
If physical proximity and emotional openness are the keys to intimacy, I may need to physically show them how to face each other, make good eye contact, hold hands, express themselves and ask for what they want with the right tone of voice.
3. Connect with Others Working with Married Couples
I’m not always going to have the best answers, so why not reach out to other churches, counselors, and non-profits who are focusing on the area of marriage?
Read an article or book. Call somebody. Who knows? I might be able to help them!
What are you learning so far? What’s helping you build stronger marriages?
Kenn Mann is the Next Generation Pastor at First Baptist Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.