I never wanted to be a pastor, but God has a way of working beyond my wants. Upon joining a church staff, I quickly realized that people hold church leaders on a pedestal. This may not be fair, but it’s the reality. In addition to that, church staff often function as wannabe superheroes solving the world’s problems.
This leads to church staffers leading from a place of self-reliance and doing ministry on their own. After all, church leaders step into dark places to bring the light of Jesus. Church staff get paid to tend to the needs of a church. And church staff have the flexibility to respond quickly to people’s needs.
When it comes to building a team, we often don’t want to burden someone else with the weighty duties associated with building a ministry. We think we can do it all ourselves.
4 Ways to Build Ministry Beyond You
I haven’t perfected building a team, nor have I seen ministry thrive beyond myself. But I’ve recently encountered a change that made all of this real for me.
Last year, I transitioned from my previous church to a new church and a new ministry. And I didn’t want to leave my existing ministry high and dry. I wanted to ensure I transitioned well. I wanted to do my best to equip them to continue succeeding even after I left.
And having a team in place is the only way that can happen with any degree of success.
Now that I’m back at square one with my new church, I’ve had a chance to evaluate what enabled success in my previous role. And I’m learning how to apply that success to building a new ministry.
Whether you’re brand new to your role or rethinking how to approach an existing task, these 4 R’s can be a big help in establishing a ministry beyond yourself.
1. Remove the Plank
It’s easy to be critical of something that discredits or disqualifies someone from participating in leadership of a team I’m on. And there’s certainly a time and place for that discernment. However, I too often discredit someone who’s exactly where I’ve been, or has a different weakness than mine.
When I remove the plank from my eye, I’m able to see clearly that differing strengths and weaknesses help strengthen a team. So before fully discrediting someone’s lack of experience or passion, ensure you’re doing so with a clear vision. If you’re being over critical, your team will never feel empowered and encouraged.
2. Recognize Success
After a couple years of being on staff as a youth pastor, I felt a strong conviction about starting a marriage ministry. The only hiccup I encountered through the process of launching Married People was the fact that I’d been married less than 30 months—the fact that I was still counting in months shows how new my marriage still was.
The blessing of still being a newlywed was the need to rely heavily on people who have experienced several phases of marriage. This meant I needed to learn what success in marriage looked like. Experience in marriage is helpful, but it’s not the only measure of a good marriage.
I knew I wasn’t a marriage expert. That allowed me to look for other marriage experts in areas where I was longing for growth. Recognizing success allowed me to be more attentive to the traits others had which would enhance my marriage and our team.
3. Rally the Troops
I knew that launching Married People would have a greater impact and credibility if I wasn’t the only one leading the charge. I needed to learn that my team couldn’t simply look and act like me either.
So I established a team of people who had been married for different lengths of time—from over 30 years to less than 10 years. Once met together, I quickly realized that I was no longer the superhero. I was no longer the savior to the problem.
Creating a team enabled our ministry to start with more fervor and organization than I could do on my own. You’d think this is common sense, but I didn’t want to inconvenience anyone by asking them to serve. I didn’t want other people to feel like they had to do “my job.”
However, you’d be surprised how many people are eager to serve if you’d only ask.
4. Remind the Purpose
Marriage ministry can quickly turn into casual event planning or responsive marriage counseling. Success in marriage ministry is much more than cool events or being a wise counsel.
The CORE 4 of Married People give us a premise for our ministry and a tremendous reminder of “the why” behind each event, each small group, each date night, and each planning meeting.
Your individual purpose and our collective purpose in any ministry is to bring glory to God. With any marriage effort, that best happens when we:
- Have serious fun
- Respect and love
- Love God first
- Practice your promise
Be sure to keep ministry vision as your focus. Remind your volunteers why you do what you do. This will help to ensure everyone in the ministry is aligned and motivated.
It’s Not All Up To You
Marriage isn’t about you. Ministry isn’t about you.
All of our efforts are made in vain if we don’t allow God to use whomever he calls however he wishes to work in big ways. So don’t do it alone! Build a marriage ministry that extends beyond yourself so that it can have a greater impact and survive when you eventually leave it.
Josh Fortney is the Teaching and Next Steps Pastor at Springcreek Church in Garland, Texas.
Many of us are familiar with Mark 10:9, an oft-quoted verse at wedding ceremonies or in relationship-themed sermons that reads, “What God has joined together, let no one separate.”
Whatever one’s personal experiences with marriage, Christians can agree it’s a relationship that must be deeply understood and intentionally stewarded in our ministries and in our personal lives, especially in light of this charge found in Mark 10:9.
At Barna Group, we’re constantly keeping an eye on marriage trends and behaviors within the Church. Today, we want to share with you three findings (and some good news) uncovered within the past year, bringing valuable insight to how we talk about marriage—and, we hope, helping us grow in wisdom and understanding as we discuss this covenant.
1. Divorce rates among churchgoing Christians are lower than those of non-Christians
Over the past four years, Barna has conducted 14,000+ interviews with the intention of tracking the ever-changing religious practices and beliefs of Americans.
We classify our respondents based on their religious affiliations and have created a sub-set of self-identified Christians called “practicing Christians.” To qualify as a practicing Christian, a Christian must say their religious faith is very important in their life and they must have attended a church service within the past month.
Today, about one in four Americans (27%) is a practicing Christian. We find divorce rates are lower among this group when compared to the general population and other faith segments, including non-practicing Christians.
Currently, 23% of all U.S. adults say they have been divorced. Note, however, that this sample includes those who have never been married. In the charts below—built from FaithView, Barna’s interactive, online database—we have removed adults who have never been married, revealing that 41% of marriages in the U.S. have ended in divorce.
As you can see, this proportion varies across faith groups, with non-Christians on par with the average, and Christians diverging significantly depending on their practice.
When taking a deeper look generationally, we see that Baby Boomers have the highest divorce rates with about half of previously/currently married Boomers having been divorced. This percentage may be higher simply because Boomers have had more time to go through relationship cycles than the younger generations.
2. Less than half of unmarried 18-35-year-olds want to get married in the next 10 years
In Barna’s recently published study, The Connected Generation, we take a deep dive into the hearts and minds of 18—35-year-olds in 25 countries.
In analyzing data for this study, we learned that 31% of American young adults say they have already gotten married, while 43% of those who have not reached this relationship milestone say they want to get married in the next 10 years. Looking at the near future, becoming a homeowner is seen as a more urgent or desirable goal than getting married.
Christian young adults are no more or less likely to want to be married in the next 10 years (43% of non-married Christians; 40% of non-married members of other faiths; 44% of non-married young adults who are atheist, agnostic or not religious).
How can spiritual leaders best serve this generation? Understanding what they want for their lives is part of that effort. And we cannot assume that the majority of single young adults today is actively and presently pursuing marriage—at least not more so than other concerns or priorities like career or financial security.
3. Married Christians are significantly more likely than others to understand and embrace forgiveness
The complex institution of marriage often requires couples to mediate tension—after all, this sacred covenant asks individuals to forsake all others and cling to the partner they’ve chosen. Naturally, this includes giving and receiving forgiveness.
Barna’s recently released study, The Mercy Journey, indicates that married practicing Christians are following through in this area and carry a deep awareness of the radical concept of forgiveness.
- Nearly three-quarters of married practicing Christians say forgiveness is about repairing relationships. Those who have never married are 10 percentage points less likely to agree with this statement, suggesting married couples more often anticipate the hard work of moving on after an offense.
- When asked “Is there someone you can’t forgive?” single practicing Christians are more likely than married peers to say yes (33% vs. 24%).
- Married practicing Christians are also significantly more likely to say that forgiveness is easy to give away. Forty-two percent say it’s one of the top two easiest things for them to give away out of a list of the following items: time, money, forgiveness, my pride, my schedule, being comfortable, safety, emotional investment. Thirty-five percent of never-married singles answer similarly.
As we look to the future as the Church, may we continue to invest time and effort in understanding and intentionally stewarding the present-day realities of the marriage unit.
© Barna Group, 2019
Barna research is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.
When most pastors talk about their marriage, they start by telling you how many years of “marital bliss” they’re celebrating. The truth is marriage is not always blissful, but with Christ at the center it’s always gracious if we allow Him to lead us. Meaning that during the seasons when bliss is absent, God’s grace is sufficient.
Some Marriage Advice
Every marriage has different seasons—good seasons, bad seasons, and testing seasons. If you stick with your commitment, your relationship will grow tremendously and you will pass the test. Unfortunately, some couples fail to realize that the covenant of marriage requires constant attention and a teachable heart.
The root of most marriage problems is selfishness. Love must be the dominant force and forgiveness must be quick. Communication is also key. Listening without talking is true listening and walking away with understanding is true communication.
How do I know all of this about marriage? How do I have the authority to give this advice?
First, this advice comes from my own marriage experience. My second source is listening to my pastor and attending marriage events over the years.
Why Your Marriage Ministry Matters
As a pastor, creating safe spaces for marriages to thrive is vitally important. Most marriages fail because there wasn’t a safe space for them. Like any living thing, marriages need to receive healthy nourishment to grow and be sustained.
As church leaders, you want families and married couples to participate in your ministry. But you need to put the right tools and programming in place for them. Otherwise, people won’t stay at your church. Or perhaps even worse, they will stay, but will remain spiritually unhealthy as a result.
Your members come to your church to get spiritual nourishment and encouragement. But they go home and still face challenges. They’re showing up, but are they getting what they need. Church leaders focus on growth, but what about church health?
Healthy marriages create healthy families, which produces more healthy marriages. Unhealthy marriages create unhealthy families, which produces more unhealthy marriages. We can decide whether this cycle is a positive or a negative one.
That’s why your marriage ministry matters.
The Landscape of Marriage
The culture and landscape of marriage is changing drastically. Culture is constantly redefining what marriage and relationships look like. And these changes make an impact on our church because they impact the people within your church.
Ephesians 5:22-33 gives powerful insights concerning the heart of God concerning marriage. These verses can also serve as the inspiration for our marriage ministries’ foundation principles. Your ministry can choose to follow culture’s view of marriage or God’s.
As pastors, your voice and example has the power to communicate the heart of God concerning marriage. When it comes to the trajectory of marriages, your voice matters.
How Marriage Ministry Saved My Marriage
Years ago, my wife, Shemika, and I were having some major challenges in our marriage. At that point, we’d been married about five years, but were on the brink of divorce. We couldn’t figure out how to make it work and how to get on the same page with one another.
I remember saying to myself that we needed some help. If that didn’t work, I was out of there. Shemika says she was at the same point. We decided to contact the marriage ministry at our church to set up some counseling.
This decision saved our marriage.
The wisdom we received in counseling changed the course of our marriage. The leaders in the marriage ministry gave us a second chance. It helped us understand each other’s role. Over a decade later, that advice is still carrying us today.
Now, we’ve been married 18 years and had three children together. That would not have been possible without our church’s priority for marriages. There’s still room for improvement in our marriage, but we’re in a much healthier place.
Shemika and I now travel together and speak at marriage ministries. We also have a premarital counseling program we conduct monthly with several couples a month.
6 Reasons Why Marriage Ministry is a Priority
- It provides wisdom and stability for the family
- It creates safe spaces for marriages to be vulnerable
- It defines the culture of marriage in the context of God’s heart
- It aides in creating a spiritually and emotionally healthy church
- It saves most marriages from divorce
- It helps grow the influence and impact of your ministry in the community
Make the investment and build a healthy marriage program in your church. Because there’s too much at stake if you don’t.
Minister Mike Owens is the founder of Ground Breakers Inc., a youth leadership development organization and outreach ministry to the city of Atlanta. He’s also the Senior Pastor and founder of EVOLVE ATL Church.
Marriage sermon series, events, and retreats and can be important and impactful on many levels. But after these larger environments, many married couples leave asking “Now what?” And often, we don’t plan for or don’t have an answer to that question.
- For couples in crisis, event knock down barriers and walls. But if couples don’t have help dealing with the relational rubble, we can create more chaos than connection.
- For couples living like roommates, events give hope of something more. But if couples don’t know how to start the journey of more, that hope quickly fades.
- For couples who are good wanting to be great, events paint of picture extraordinary. But if we don’t give them a roadmap of how to get there, good enough remains just good enough.
- For couples wanting to be involved in your marriage ministry, events inspire them to be a part of your team! But if we don’t have a place for them to help, they can’t.
As we prepare for marriage events and retreats, deciding who and what will follow the event is one of the most important parts of our preparation. So let’s get practical on how to do that.
Preparing For Event Next Steps
While only your team can ultimately determine what is best, here are a couple of questions that may be helpful in the process.
- What’s the one practical thing every married couple could do to immediately apply the content they heard at the event?
- Do we have the right amount of content? Or are we overwhelming couples?
- Is the content or application we’re sharing helpful?
- When is our next marriage event?
- Do we offer a small group or Sunday school class focused on marriage content?
- Can we provide date nights for couples to do on their own?
- Are there digital tools to help couples when they’re not in church?
- Programmatically, how do we plan to communicate these next steps?
- How are we using social media to inform and celebrate marriages at our church?
- Where can couples learn more about our marriage ministry?
Making This Easy For Couples
When I speak at marriage events, I love being able to tell couples that the event isn’t the only thing that church is doing for marriage. Marriage events are so much more effective when they’re part of something larger for marriages.
Practical next steps help to keep from overwhelming couples at an event. They give busy couples a way to apply the information and inspiration they got at the event. And these next steps answer the question most couples will be asking: “Now what?”
Next steps are a huge part of the Married People strategy we provide to churches. It’s important to give different steps for different couples in different contexts. This could be joining a small group, going on a date night, or joining the Married People Membership.
Most couples don’t have a plan, God does. And the church has the responsibility and privilege of hitching the hitched to God’s people and plan for their marriage.
Ted Lowe is a speaker and the director of MarriedPeople, the marriage division at Orange. Ted is the author of two books—one for marriage ministry leaders (Married People: How Your Church Can Build Marriages That Last) and one for married couples (Your Best US: Marriage Is Easier Than You Think). He served for almost 10 years as the director of MarriedLife at North Point Community Church. He lives near Atlanta, Georgia, with his four favorite people: his wife, Nancie, and their three children.
When was the last time you and your spouse went on a date? How often did you go on dates before you got married? Do you view dating as something that is extra or essential in your marriage?
1. It helps us keep them a priority
Next to Jesus, my spouse is my top priority. The Apostle Paul reminds us that husbands are to love their wives just as Jesus loved us. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Ephesians 5:25
Even in the very beginning, we see a relational priority shift that happens when we get married. In Genesis we are told, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” Genesis 2:24
The word “leave” here means to loosen or relinquish. We see one relationship being left to unite with or join another relationship. There is a decision that has to be made when it comes to our priorities and our spouse.
There is not enough time to get it all done. Somebody or something is going to feel left out or neglected. We have to make sure that is never our spouse! It is essential to a healthy marriage that your time together is a priority.
For our marriages to thrive, our schedules must reflect the priority of our relationship.
For those with kids, let me just say that our kids do need us and should be a priority, but the most important thing we could ever do for or give them is a Godly marriage that reflects Jesus.
Ann Landers says, “Neglect the rest of the world if you have to, but never neglect each other.”
Ask yourself, is my spouse a priority? To who or what do you need to say no, so you can say yes to your spouse?
2. It helps us to continue pursuing them
In the Genesis account we also see a pursuing take place within this relationship called marriage. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” Genesis 2:24
The word united here means, to cling or adhere; to catch by pursuit, be joined (together), pursue hard. Why do we often stop pursuing our spouse after we get married?
One reason is there is often a familiarity that creeps in. There is excitement about your relationship when you’re dating or engaged. After we are married, the newness or shininess wears off and, as a result, the dating/courting is over.
Another reason is there’s an inevitable exhaustion that sets in. Life’s responsibilities, our careers, and kids demand a lot of time & energy. It takes energy to relate creatively, to date meaningfully, and to resolve conflict.
Many of us have given so much of ourselves to so many other things that we have nothing left over for our spouse.
Has your marriage lost some of that romance, passion, or fire? In order to get what you once had, you must do what you once did. Do you want your marriage to be better than it ever has? Remember, to get what you never had, you must do what you have never done.
Pursuing our spouse is one of the most Christ-like things we can do. We must remember that the love of Jesus never stops pursuing us! May we follow his example of love and never stop pursuing our spouse.
“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?” Luke 15:4
Ask yourself, am I pursuing my spouse?
Who knew a simple date could accomplish so much?
Nate Galloway has served in ministry for 25 years and has been a student pastor, associate pastor, church planter, and lead pastor. He joined Piedmont Church in Marietta, Ga in 2016 as the Families & Connections Pastor. Nate is a certified SYMBIS (Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts) Facilitator. He is married to his beautiful wife Andrea and they have four boys, Noah, Jonah, Micah, & Ezra.
Perhaps the best part of being a Married People church partner is having access to an Orange Specialist. What’s an Orange Specialist? They’re real-life people who helps you to use the resources that you get as a part of your partnership.
An Orange Specialist (or OS for short) is more than just a customer service representative—they’re part leadership trainer, encourager, coach, community builder, and technical support. An OS is what makes Married People a partnership, and not just a product.
As a Married People church partner, your Orange Specialist is Misty Phillips. And since she does so much work behind the scenes, we thought we’d introduce you to Misty. Let’s get to know her and how she can help your church do marriage ministry better.
What’s your ministry background?
I served in preschool and elementary ministry for over 25 years. In that capacity, I oversaw birth through sixth grade, and led more than 150 volunteers.
What is your favorite part of being an Orange Specialist?
Connecting with leaders to help them WIN as they do strategic ministry to kids and families. And listening to stories of everything that God is doing in local churches of all sizes.
What do you wish churches knew about Married People?
Married People has developed a key strategy for your church to be intentional about supporting marriages. This is a year-long strategy, not just a one-time thing. We help leaders practically engage in creative experiences with major impact.
What is your role as the Married People OS?
You might have questions, or need assistance with your strategy of reaching marriages in your church. As the Married People OS, I’m here to help and answer all of your questions.
If you’d like to walk through all the great content in the Married People strategy, or have any questions before purchasing, please reach out!
Why do you think churches should pour into marriages?
I believe investing in marriages at your church is one of the best choices your team can make. Sometimes, we forget that ministry to families includes investing in marriages. Churches who are intentional about helping pour into marriages are a smart bunch!
Are you married?
Yes! I’m in my fortieth year of learning how to do life with my husband. We’re both still learning in each phase of our lives. Together, we raised four amazing kids and now share in the joy of eight grandchildren.
Together, my husband and I have served in children’s and family ministry. Together, we’ve experienced gains and losses. We’ve been so grateful as a couple to have life experiences around other couples learning what marriage really means.
What are your three must read ministry books?
- Think Orange by Reggie Joiner
- Visioneering by Andy Stanley
- 7 Principles of Effective Ministry by Andy Stanley, Reggie Joiner, and Lane Jones
Do you have any skills that most people don’t know about?
I was a theatre major. And I can play piano by ear.
If you could be anywhere other than here, where would you be?
At a Caribbean beach with family, going paddle boarding.
What did you want to be when you were 10 years old?
Singer songwriter. Or a flight attendant. (Ha! Maybe it was a singing flight attendant.)
How do you want people to remember you?
Family and fun mattered. Serving others was the best. God shined.
What’s goal would you like to accomplish in the next year?
More adventure. Connect leaders together. Grow friends.
How can people get in touch with you?
Married People exists to help your church help marriages. We provide resources, training, and community to church leaders who work with marriages and families.