A successful marriage ministry program needs more than a ‘one size fits all’ approach
Ministering to marriages in the local church for me has been both exhilarating and exasperating. It is exhilarating in that the need is obvious and great in today’s society. It is exasperating because it often feels like swimming upstream, and casualties continue regardless of how many good things are made available to people.
My attitude is let’s keep swimming. Having the right philosophy and elements can make the difference in a successful marriage ministry program.
First, there are two ends of the spectrum when approaching marriage ministry: preventive vs. crisis-oriented. The preventive side attempts to equip individuals and couples with good information, skills and resources that can keep a marriage from ever getting to a crisis stage.
The crisis-oriented side aims to provide good information, support and resources after things in the marriage have deteriorated to a significant degree and some repairs are needed. It is helpful to have elements that can help accomplish the aims of both ends of this spectrum.
Second, people need to learn both a biblical philosophy of marriage as well as practical skills that can help their marriage thrive. Unfortunately, our marriage ministry philosophy is often shaped more by the culture and media than by biblical truth.
Somehow we need to communicate that marriage is God’s invention, so it is a great thing (Gen. 2:18-24).
Christian marriages are meant to reflect what God’s relationship with us is like: unconditional love (1 Cor. 13:4-7); faithfulness (Heb. 13:8)—emotionally, sexually, financially, parentally; forgiveness (Col. 3:13); and service
Christian marriage has several purposes: provide a companion to go through life with (Gen. 2:18, Ecc. 4:8-12); learn and grow in spiritual, emotional and physical intimacy (Gen. 2:24); expose sin and selfishness in our lives and transform us so that Christ in us becomes more visible to others (Rom. 8:28-29); point us to a deeper dependence on Christ; marriage is our ultimate “need-meeter” and fulfillment (John 6:35); and be the spouse that He wants me to be (John 15:5, Phil. 4:13).
The third element in a successful marriage ministry program is that people need to have different types of opportunities to participate. It’s important to not operate with the “one size fits all” mentality so your church can help meet the different needs, schedules and personalities that people have. For our church, it has been helpful to offer varying classes, which require different levels of time and commitment.
If possible, your church should offer a diverse number of classes, including one for people who are either separated or divorced and another with a pre-marital focus, which would deal with issues such as dating versus courtship, sexual boundaries and finances.
Another class to offer would be for individuals considering marriage, engaged couples and spouses in their early years of marriage, which should cover topics such as spiritual beliefs/foundations of marriage, finances, communication, conflict resolution, and understanding personality and the “five love languages.”
Besides being helpful for marriages, these classes provide a chance for people on the “fringes” of your large church to meet, connect and form relationships with others. When classes near the end, invite participants to form or join a small group with people they met in the classes.
As a pastor, I greatly encourage you to keep swimming upstream and help marriages be all that God desires them to be.
Married to his wife, Nancy, for 25 years, Rick Feria has served as the family life pastor at Eastern Hills Community Church in Aurora, Colo., since 2005.