This week I have the privilege of speaking at the National Marriage Ministry Conference hosted by Watermark Community Church in Dallas, TX. In one of my sessions, I'm sharing 20 lessons we've learned after starting an official marriage ministry at Highpoint Church. I hope these encourage leaders across the country as well as our leaders at Highpoint. Enjoy!
1. Start with your strength.
For us it was pre-marriage. I had already developed curriculum and it was an easy place to start. In this, resist simply diving in to the area of greatest chaos. You have to be able to sustain it. It's challenging at best to start a ministry in area of weakness in the leader.
2. Culture. Culture. Culture.
Your marriage ministry will not be able to outrun your church's culture. Your marriage ministry will carry with it the cultural norms of your church. This has to impact what you do and how you approach things. If your church culture is not friendly to people who have recently been divorced, then don't start Divorce Care. Especially regarding the difficult marriage issues, people often come extremely vulnerable and wounded. The moment they have a shred of hope to get healthy or reconcile with their spouse, they can be completely discouraged when they are met with criticism and judgment.
3. Play offense when you can.
Crisis marriage ministry (re|engage, couples counseling, Divorce Care, etc) will leach every possible resource you have. There is no end to the couples who need help. If you want a well rounded marriage ministry, I advise starting with pre-marriage if you can, simply because you will never feel like you have the time, energy or resources to launch into other areas.
4. Some couples don’t play ball.
Accept the fact that as you attempt to offer ongoing marriage enrichment to couples, some take it, some don't. Some listen to your teaching or counsel, some don’t.
5. Small groups are hard.
The flexible will survive the seasons of married life. Create options for different seasons.
6. Leverage what you have.
If you don’t have to start new programming, don’t. Convert existing programming into something that more represents your vision.
7. Learn to speak male/groom/husband.
Connecting with men is vital to a thriving marriage ministry. Men like cheese on their burger, not at church. It sounds bad to say it, but the male representing marriage ministry needs to appeal to the men in your church/community.
8. Your marriage matters.
Remember this is discipleship, you are ultimately replicating your marriage in others.You will have to face more of your own weaknesses and struggles than you ever thought. Don’t be arrogant or foolish, we all struggle and have weaknesses.Model healthy honesty and growth for your church.This also applies to those who serve in marriage ministry.
9. Vulnerability is currency in marriage ministry.
There is no perfect marriage. No one believes the perfect marriage anyway. Whoever serves in marriage ministry must be vulnerable.Share the scars not the open wounds.
10. Challenge your terms and assumptions.
We often use words that make sense to us, but our people just don't get it.
- Spiritual leadership
- Head of the household
- Biblical marriage
- Covenant marriage
- Most couples are waiting to have sex for marriage, or live in guilt and conviction. FALSE
- They’re Christians, they won’t get divorced. FALSE
- They told the truth in the counseling session. FALSE
- As long as we teach them the Bible their marriage will grow. FALSE
11. People don't read.
I read tons of marriage books, most people don't. I often recommend books, but for couples, it is often better to recommend chapters, buy them the book and literally photocopy the chapter(s) you are recommending and give it to them. Who knows they might get pulled in and read the whole thing, but the recommendation was a bite sized move to get them started.
12. Never give up not giving up.
You are ALWAYS an ambassador of hope.Be the voice of hope on their other shoulder.Tell and retell stories of God transforming marriages. Craft a narrative of hope in your marriage ministry. Celebrate with them.
13. Say it.
Our ministries must be the place where couples hear what no one else will tell them. Don’t fear tell a couple what they need to hear. Say it with love, but say it! We are the place people are counting on to say what a couple needs to hear.
14. Leverage community.
Never underestimate or underutilize community. If you can build marriage ministry around groups of couples with decent leaders you are WAY ahead of the previous model of heroic pastoral effort from a staff member or key volunteer.No individual can single handedly carry the weight of marriage ministry. Couples need a community to connect with and grow in.
15. Invest in staff marriages.
Marriage problems are likely already costing your church significantly in the emotional and financial realmNever assume. Aim for your staff to have the best marriages in your church. Incentivize marriage investment.
16. Get your pastor and staff on board.
Provide him with the language you want him to use. The Highpoint Church model of START, STRENGTHEN, SAVE was to make it easy for our staff to memorize.If you pastor or other staff members exemplify certain marriage strengths - highlight those qualities, give them skin in the game.
17. Be a coach, not a therapist.
Your goal is not to create individual dependency on you, it is to build couples who thrive without you. The "professional" counseling options in your respective city need to be vetted by you. Just because they are a licensed, professional counselor who takes insurance does not make them a good voice for the couples in your church. Coaching comes with a built in concept of being responsible to, not responsible for a couple’s marriage.
18. Get smart on hot marriage issues.
- Sex, porn, lust, etc.
- In-law issues
- Social media related issues
- Opposite sex "friendships"
- Parenting issues
- Empty nest syndrome
19. Balance programs and media.
Programs typically help couples find a place in a church, that's a good thing. Yet the challenge to a programs only approach is the limitations of time a couple will give you. Media can be a powerful way to help married couples and not require additional programming. There are lots of great options already out there. Remember, your community will likely respond best to your voice and your endorsement.
20. They are hungry.
The married people in your church and community want help on their marriages and what to connect with other couples like them. You build it they will come.
I'd love to hear from you. What lessons have you learned in your experience as a staff member or volunteer? Which of the lessons above particularly connected with you?