While attending a large conference recently I had an opportunity to be on a panel to discuss marriage ministry in the church. It was a wonderful experience listening to folks from churches around the world discuss the possibilities when it comes to nurturing marriages in their community. It’s awesome to know that we all understand the importance of providing couples with tools needed to have a successful and healthy marriage. I’m still uplifted by the enthusiasm and energy from the room that day.
One of our conversations still lingers with me, however. Several leaders commented on a typical side effect of starting a ministry such as this – couples participate in the ministry only to realize how deep their problems really are. I’ve seen this first hand with the number of wives who have asked to meet with me after one of our marriage studies or events because they have realized the true depth of their marital issues. I gladly meet with them, but I go one step further – I refer them to a professional.
A danger we run into as a church is when we try to be something we are not. The church certainly has something to say when it comes to marriage and can be a nurturing environment and support system for couples. However, we are not equipped to help a couple heal deep wounds (unless you have pastoral counselors on staff who are trained – my church does not). Ideally, a marriage ministry is there to support marriages, help prevent future issues, and provide tools for better communication and understanding in the relationship. What marriage ministry should not take the place of is professional counseling.
I speak from personal experience as my own marriage was broken to a point where meeting here and there with the pastor was not going to heal our relationship. We needed ongoing therapy – and, for my husband’s part, we needed someone who was not part of my church to help us. The best thing we did for our marriage was to find a really good professional counselor. We saw our counselor for three years and to this day we credit that choice for saving our marriage.
If you are struggling in your marriage, I encourage you to consider counseling. If you have a church that provides a marriage ministry, or has a clergy person on staff who is a counselor, that would be a great place to start. But, remember that no marriage is perfect after one Bible study on marriage or a dinner at the church for couples. Healing takes time, and ideally time with a professional who can guide you in the right direction. Just like the wound you are trying to heal didn’t show up overnight, your marriage won’t be healed overnight. Be patient and stick with counseling.
If you are one of the leaders of your marriage ministry, please tread lightly when it comes to helping couples navigate their stormy waters. It is a huge responsibility to care for such a special relationship in the lives of your parishioners. I’d recommend you have a list of trusted Christian professional counselors in your area and be ready to give that list to any person who comes to you wanting to discuss their marital problems. We actually hand out a card with this information at all of our events to all of our couples so they have it on hand just in case.
Again . . . refer, refer, refer!