We need to tend to the health of the church
as well as looking to its growth.
Often when people talk about their marriage they talk of the number of years of marital bliss. However, even in the church, marriage is not always blissful, it can always be gracious where there is Christ at the centre and we allow Him to lead, trusting in Him and not try to take control ourselves. This would mean that during the times when bliss is absent God’s grace is sufficient to see the couple though the season.
It is sad to see couples struggling in their own strength and who have probably failed to see, along the way, that the covenant marriage needs constant investment by both husband and wife. Love should dominate through a marriage and forgiveness not only quickly and fully given but also it needs to be received. The un-Godly traits of selfishness, pride and idolatry need to be dealt with. Good communication – that is listening without interrupting and gaining true understanding is also a major key in a marriage/family relationship.
Within the church we need to ensure that we create and maintain the right environment, a safe environment for marriages not only to thrive but to flourish. Just like plants and other living organisms, marriages need to be looked after, receiving the right nourishment to not only survive but to grow and remain spiritually healthy. It has been said by many times that healthy marriages create healthy families and these healthy marriages help to create more healthy marriages, unfortunately the converse is also true. Divorce can cause division amongst members of the church if sides are taken. The marriage ministry of the church is important to equip couples, so their marriages are pleasing to God and glorifying Him. We need to tend to the health of the church as well as looking to its growth.
We live in a world, where we are aliens. The world can and does affect the health of the church, particularly the marriages and families. Our ministry always needs to follow God’s view rather than the worlds and we can clearly see God’s view, His heart on marriage through scripture. God created man and woman then brought them together in marriage ahead of creating government and the church.
Whether you are starting out with a marriage ministry, re-vamping or building an existing ministry it can be a challenging but highly rewarding journey as one sees growth in marriages and families with Christ at the centre. These marriages/families having the potential as centres for evangelism. Some key steps in the process should be:
- As always, the starting point is prayer asking the Lord for His vision on the ‘shape’ of the ministry and also asking the Lord to reveal to you lay couples who have a heart for marriage who could either lead the ministry or be co-leaders. As you begin to have the vision revealed to you involve others in leadership in praying. It is worthwhile to start to write out a clear short vision statement. (Hab 2:2)
- It is worthy to have that any that are involved in the leadership of the ministry receive training through Prepare Enrich (https://www.prepare-enrich.com/australia/) or Foccus (https://www.foccusinc.com/ ). Both originate in the USA, Foccus, which is through the Catholic Church, has a great range of material that can be used through any part of the Christian Church
- As you gather couples with a heart for marriage, seek their views on what they believe are the needs of marriages within the church.
- Develop the plan, the goal which would probably start off with one of the following key areas:
- “Preparing for marriage” this should not only be focused on engaged couples within the church or community but include young singles, single parents. Then it may be appropriate to reach out to those who have lost their spouse or those who were previously married. All need to learn or be reminded of God’s design and purpose of marriage. Some may have a special need e.g. preparation for blended family living.
- “Newlyweds’ marriages” – the nurturing of Christ centred marriages in the early years of marriage (generally 5 years or less). Again there maybe the special need of newly blended families.
- “Investing in all marriages” Where couples are intentionally led to invest in their own marriage – probably the biggest and most needed is “Time Together” – a starting point here maybe Dr Gary Chapman’s “5 Love Languages”. Be aware of special needs eg – where a spouse is in the military, the police force, is a FiFo worker and indeed in ministry!
- Finally “Marriage Restoration”. It is likely that as your ministry develops that there are more marriages that are in a fragile state than you first imagined, and it is here that working with them individually pointing them to Christ helps restoration. There are occasions when the help of trained counsellors is needed and a good first call could be the “Christian Counsellors Association of Australia” (https://ccaa.net.au/ ). In fact, the writer found it worthwhile to meet with local counsellors to let them know what the church was doing and to check that they were not on the “course” of the world in their advice.
Looking at the demography of the church will help you see where the starting point should be – for the greater majority of churches this is likely to be “Investing in all marriages”. An easy starting point here is to start a new series of messages which could be individually delivered say at the beginning of every month with the start being on the Sunday 11th September the start of Marriage Week.
Beyond this, depending on the make-up of the church and the number of couples with a heart for marriage you might consider implementing a small or large group to run for a specified period, releasing couples to be marriage mentors is often rewarding for them as well as those they meet with. A good starting point for these couples is the work of Drs Les & Leslie Parrott (see https://store.lesandleslie.com/search?x=0&y=0&q=mentor . They also have online mentor training available. An alternative is the writings of Harry Benson – Mentoring Marriages (available on special order through Koorong)
Include the work of the marriage ministry in the prayers of the church and of course always maintain confidentiality. In the planning ensure that there are the resources and there is sustainability – you do not want to contend with burn out as well.
- Schedule the events, have them marked in on the church calendar and throughout the year you may be able to build in fun “Date Meetings” – maybe a breakfast, lunch, dinner or a coffee and dessert evening with entertainment. Maybe hosting an event such as “A Day Together” run by the Power to Change ministry (Campus Crusade) see https://powertochange.org.au/families/marriage-conferences/ . This type of event could be co-hosted with a like-minded church.
- All the way through ensure that delivery is
- In bite size pieces
- Not critical or over complicated
- The language used is understood by all
- Is male friendly!
- Get the word out as soon as possible through all forms the Church News takes.
- Throughout show that Christ centred marriage is important to the church through the early presence of leadership.
- Keep a lookout for new/additional leaders
- It is always good to get feedback, have a feedback card available or use something like SurveyMonkey as you go along to guide development remembering that criticism may come but always putting the feedback before Jesus for the wisdom to make the right changes if any!
- Prioritise your own marriage, if married, and ensure that the ministry leaders also do so!