Marriage ministry before the ‘crisis’ stage

By Scott Stemple

February 6, 2014

I received the following message from a pastor friend of mine recently: “I was at a home yesterday afternoon where the husband told his wife it was over, 16 years, three kids. Ugh.”

Often pastors and other church members are shocked to hear of another church-going family calling it quits. How does this happen and why are people in the church not more aware of what is going on?

Of course there are many factors at work. We live in a fallen world. We have an enemy who is trying to destroy families. We also have our own sinfulness and our spouse’s that will constantly lead us astray if we don’t daily seek God’s guidance and power for our lives.

But I believe our churches are also somewhat to blame for these failures. Often when couples are struggling they don’t know where to turn for help. Only the bravest (and wisest) church members will actively seek help when they begin to experience difficulties in their marriage.

Most will tell themselves “we can get through this on our own. It’s not that big of a deal”. But it often becomes a bigger deal the longer they try to work through it on their own.

In my 13 years involved in marriage and family ministry I have noticed many positive things about the churches I have worked with. But the biggest deficiency I have seen in many churches is that they don’t have a comprehensive plan to help families navigate the difficulties they will face through the different stages of their marriage.

Most churches have a plan for pre-marital counseling and they are ready to jump in and help when a marriage hits the “crisis” stage. But often it is already too late at that point.

What churches need is a plan to help couples as they go through the different stages of their marriages. And that must start with having a few “mentor” couples who are ready to share their experience and what God has taught them through years of marriage. You don’t have to be a trained psychologist to share with another couple what God has taught you.

Small groups made up of couples (either in the home or church Sunday school setting) are the perfect place to begin helping other couples. But many people are hesitant to start a group like this because they still have “issues” in their own marriage. Well, no one is qualified to do marriage ministry if perfection is the standard because there are no perfect marriages!

In fact, the one thing that makes marriage ministry so effective in small groups is that couples get to hear that they are not the only ones dealing with “issues”. I have heard many couples share how encouraging it was to hear that they are not alone. Because the leaders opened up about past and present issues they were facing it allowed everyone else to open up and receive wise counsel from others who have been there.

If you are not aware of an on-going plan to help families in your church let me encourage you to talk with your pastor and ask him if you could start a small group for married couples. Most pastors I know would be thrilled to have someone come to them with this request. There are many great materials for this type of ministry. Familylife.com would be one of many places you could look.

My wife and I have been doing marriage ministry for 13 years now. We do not have the perfect marriage, but we have had the privilege of sharing both our failures and victories with hundreds of couples and seeing how God uses that in their lives.

Scott Stemple lives in Xenia and serves as a ministry consultant for the Great Lakes region with FamilyLife Ministries. Contact Scott at sstemple@familylife.com.