With divorce rates soaring among Christians and Christian leaders, and family problems overflowing in many ministry families, what are we to do?
My own marriage at one time hung together only by the fearful thread of believing God's words through the prophet Malachi, " 'I hate divorce' " (Mal. 2:16, NIV). My wife, Judi, and I decided that the last person in the universe we wanted to displease was the One who had created us and made us one.
Most approaches have been reactive and therapeutic. We address the issues after they arise, believing that immorality, conflict, divorce and problems in relating with children cannot happen to us--until they do.
We are determined to build strong churches and ministries, but we lack the resolve, persistence and commitment to build strong families. Could it be that we are performance-driven? We believe in the priority of family, but we don't act upon that belief. Instead, we drive ourselves to fulfill ministry goals and expectations.
IT'S TIME TO REPENT
As pastoral leaders, I invite you to join me in corporate repentance for what we have failed to do:
1. Set godly examples of covenant marriage. The divorce rate among church leaders continues to climb, and rarely does a month pass without us learning of high-profile ministry divorces that are justified by the lie, "God told me to divorce my spouse and save my ministry."
2. Equip families. Too often we have relied on solitary messages infrequently preached on family, and "feel good" retreats for couples who desperately need training in relationships, life skills and spiritual disciplines. We have spent more time reacting to marriage problems with counseling (I am a counselor!) instead of proactively equipping the saints to build solid foundations for biblical marriage and parenting (see Deut. 6 and Eph. 5-6).
3. Place families before ministry. As Judi and I lead equipping events around the world, we meet hurting couples in ministry who have believed the lie that immersing themselves in ministry will inoculate their families from problems.
Overworked, lacking adequate finances and under spiritual attack from the enemy, couples in ministry fail to rest, refresh, spend enough quality time together, and communicate effectively with one another and the Father (see Heb. 3-4).
4. Be accountable concerning our families and personal lives. We have stressed performance on church staffs above presence and healthy families (see 1 Tim. 3:1-13). We have substituted banal prayer requests for staying in weekly accountability to one another, asking tough questions and requiring real, transparent and truthful answers to questions such as: "How is your marriage?" "Are you honoring God with your finances?" "Are you getting adequate rest?" "Are you cultivating a deeper relationship with God?" and "Are you spending quality time with your children?"
WORTH FIGHTING FOR
God wants us to fight for our families.
"'Don't be afraid of the enemy! Remember the Lord, who is great and glorious, and fight for your friends, your families, and your homes!'" (Neh. 4:14, NLT).
We need to fight in prayer. We need to fight against the enemy not against one another. Look at your spouse and children and say, "You are not the enemy!" We need to fight against mistrust with faith in one another and the Lord, and against division with agreement and unity in our families.
We need to implement more Christian education and participatory discipleship in our churches, focusing on family, marriage and parenting.
It's time for us to make family and marriage ministry a priority. The first attack by the enemy continues with increasing success and tragedy. What will you do personally to reverse the curse of divorce and broken families? Our seed cry out for a new move of God in our lives ... will you hear it?
Larry Keefauver, D.Min., is on the pastoral leadership team for The Gathering Place Worship Center in Lake Mary, Florida.