I recently read in the book God Understand Divorce by Barry D. Ham PhD. that only a third of the churches he interviewed who had active Divorce Recovery programs responded in the positive that they “specifically try to get involved encouraging and assisting in restoration attempts”. In other words they offer assistance post-mortem but they don’t proactively get involved trying to save a marriage from divorce. Am I the only one who finds this disturbing? My wife and I separated six months ago and I have not had a single unsolicited phone call, email, Facebook message from a member of my pastoral staff to ask how I am doing.At the end of his post, he posted a poll asking readers how their church leaders reached out to them during their divorces. Although there are only three votes at the time I'm typing this, every single one of them expressed a lack of involvement and/or support by the church leadership. No, Lee, you are not the only one who finds this disturbing.
I firmly believe that churches have got to make preserving marriages a high priority.
I'm thankful to be involved in a body of Christ that does value marriage, that acknowledges that there are many struggling marriages within their walls, that is actively engaged in saving them, and that is committed to continually improving the ways in which they reach out to those struggling marriages. Here are a few things about how a church can help save marriages that I've learned from my church:
1) Foster a "Titus 2" culture.
But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. (Titus 2:1-6)In other words, there should be a culture of mentorship within the church. Those who have spent many years growing in godliness can turn around and pass down their wisdom. There should be connections between the older women and younger women and between the older men and younger men. Older men and women should recognize their responsibility to guide the younger men and women to grow in godliness; the younger men and women should muster up the courage to reach out to the older men and women in honestly asking for wisdom. Although many churches offer counseling programs, clearly the counseling pastor and counseling team (which is generally small) cannot single-handedly take on all the marital problems within the church, especially if that church is a fairly large one. Mentoring is vastly more effective within the context of relationship anyway.
Dave and I have personally experienced the benefits of informal mentoring and in fact, believe that God worked through the older man and woman who helped us to save our marriage. The man that came alongside Dave would show up at a moment's notice if Dave had not controlled his alcohol consumption to hold him accountable; that man later became the one under whom my husband and I apprenticed to become small group leaders. At the same time, I asked an older woman to help me in responding to Dave in a godly way, changing the ways I reacted in anger in various situations, and just generally growing as a godly wife. That woman gave me the best parenting advice I've ever gotten and was the inspiration for me now leading a woman's small group Bible study.
2) Build a biblical counseling program.
I believe that the first place a struggling couple should be able to find help is within their church, rather than applying for professional counseling. Many churches have a marriage and family life pastor or a counseling pastor on staff. As already stated, clearly the pastor cannot manage all the marital struggles on his own. If a church is small, it is even more important to train the members to give godly advice and counsel to each other. It is essential that a church build a counseling team to whom some couples can be outsourced. Our church has chosen to pursue building a counseling program following the beliefs and practices of the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors. Many times a counseling team like this is beneficial simply because the struggling couples (or individual spouses, if both do not attend counseling) will find themselves placed with another couple who has grown through the same difficulties. What better way to provide hope!
3) Provide accountability via the Matthew 18/1 Corinthians 6 process
Many spouses in struggling marriages feel that their only option for help and guidance and accountability is through the legal system. That may be necessary (for example, in the case of physical abuse), but I believe that churches should take a firm stances of authority in holding spouses accountable to their call to be godly husbands and wives.
If your brother wins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-17)The church that I am a part of would follow up this process with 1 Corinthians 6.
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father's wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you...I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people - not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since them you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler - not even to eat with such a one.This process should be available to every church member, but sadly, many churches do not take this responsibility very seriously. Church discipline, when properly applied, can be an extremely effective means of bringing a spouse behaving in a destructive manner to a recognition of their sins and ultimate repentance. Although it sounds harsh to some, I've seen this process bring wayward men back to their homes and back to a relationship with the Lord that completely changed their lives.
Obviously, there are many other ways in which churches can help save marriages. These are just a few of the ways that I've personally seen in action.
How does your church intervene to help save marriages? How does it encourage building a godly marriage? Share your experiences in the comments. Maybe we'll all see an idea or two that will inspire us to implement it within our own church.
Sharing with: Time Warp Wife, Far Above Rubies, Finding Heaven, Growing Home, Wifey Wednesday, Women Living Well, We Are THAT Family, NOBH, Encourage One Another, Joy In This Journey, A Wise Woman Builds Her Home