Here are some simple but effective steps you can take to strengthen your church's ministry to marriages without increasing your staff or budget.
**Remember that a married individual is not alone--he or she is part of a couple.
In our effort to accomplish so many things in our churches, we often overlook the fact that a married individual needs to volunteer in light of his or her marriage, not in spite of it.
**Learn the names of the spouses and children of your leadership.
The more we as pastors show an interest in the marriages and families of our leaders, the more they will see their service in light of their families as well.
**Encourage couples to pray together. Invite spouses to pray with you as you pray.
One effective way to do this is to simply instruct a reluctant spouse how to pray, or in some cases, to invite them to pray in repetition after you. This models the importance of marriage and family prayer.
**Examine your divorce policy. Is it clear, and does it ultimately support marriage over divorce?
This is difficult but critical to ascertain, both for the married and divorced alike. People want to know where you stand.
**Offer a divorce recovery and educational track for those who have gone through divorce.
Perhaps your church can join with other churches and use some of the excellent material that is available, such as DivorceCare, for example.
**Develop a complete premarriage, pre-covenant policy.
The church should lay the foundation long before a marriage takes place. By establishing solid, vision-based marriage preparation, you communicate the high value your church places on marriages.
Consider requiring a couple to complete premarital counseling before even putting the date on the calendar. This will mean reeducating the church in some cases, but it is worth it.
**Encourage couples to serve together on various committees or in certain ministries that will help them to grow in their unified vision.
**Before placing a married person in any type of leadership, meet with the spouse as well. You may find that the very nature of serving may put additional stress on the marriage.
**For one month, listen to the "single" messages and the "marriage" messages you are sending out to the congregation. Do you apply all Scripture to the individual only, or do you make application to the oneness found in a marriage?
**Celebrate anniversaries. Announce them and even give out anniversary certificates. Always be open to the opportunity for the renewal of vows.
**Keep your own marriage growing. The growth in your marriage will spur you on to encourage others to do the same.
The following books can provide you, your leaders and the couples in your church with invaluable insight in strengthening marriage bonds.
**Divorce Proofing Your Marriage: 10 lies that lead to divorce, 10 truths that prevent it by Linda S. Mintle, Ph.D. A licensed clinical social worker, Mintle helps couples have a healthy marriage. She confronts the lies that couples believe about marriage (marriage is a contract, or marriage isn't about the mate's family). The truths deal with such topics as resolving conflicts, understanding covenant, repentance and coping with an affair. This book is an excellent resource for couples, marriage ministries and small groups.
**Intimacy: A 100-Day Guide to Lasting Relationships by Douglas Weiss, Ph.D. Executive director of Heart to Heart Counseling Centers in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Weiss explores finding sexual agreement, consistency in marriage, coping with money matters, dealing with the anger enemy and many other marriage topics. There is a 100-day log for couples as well as exercises for sharing feelings.
**Heal Your Past and Change Your Marriage by Paul and Kristina McGuire. Paul hosts a daily radio talk show in Southern California. The book leads with exploring the marriage covenant, followed by how to fight for your marriage in the Spirit. An excellent guide to taking steps to emotional healing follows, with teaching on sex and romance. This is an excellent resource for couples who want to grow spiritually through pain and hurt.
**Better Sex for You by Helen Pensanti, M.D. Host of the popular Trinity Broadcasting Network show Doctor to Doctor, Pensanti uses humor and frankness to help couples understand and discuss sexual issues in their marriage. This book was written to help couples maintain a long, healthy sexual relationship.
**Lord, I Wish My Husband Would Pray With Me by Larry Keefauver, D.Min. Larry and Judi Keefauver conduct marriage and parenting seminars in churches worldwide based on this popular book, which helps couples pray through and tear down walls of such things as unresolved anger, unfulfilled expectations, unhealed hurts, unkept promises and undignified communication. This is an excellent resource for classes and small groups.
**Can Stepfamilies Be Done Right? by Joann and Seth Webster. This stepmother/stepson team writes a very practical guide for blended families. This superb resource explores discipline, the role of a stepparent, dealing with the past and living through the three cycles of a stepfamily. It is a helpful and practical guide for blended families struggling through the many adjustments of living together.
Ted Bichsel is pastor of Smithtown Tabernacle in Long Island, New York.