When one has a close-up look at the price many pay for the dissolution of a marriage, divorce can be accurately called a modern scourge. My last counseling contact before leaving the pastorate years ago to answer my church’s call to denominational leadership was with a woman who was not a member of the church but had been sent to me by her friends who were.
She reported that her husband had recently shocked her with the unexpected announcement that he didn’t want to be married to her any longer. No reason was given other than that. Divorce proceedings were immediately underway. Since that day, she had lost more than 40 pounds, and even with her doctor’s help she could not seem to stop the loss.
My conviction is that the great number of congregations across the whole spectrum of Christian faith across this land should be the first line of defense against this scourge. In that connection, in my first instalment I spoke in favor of the empowered pulpit to lay the groundwork for the life of the congregation on this issue. Following closely on that I added the Sunday School or the small group ministry to engage young and old alike with biblical truths that support marriage and family life. Here are three additional suggestions.
III. GODLY EXAMPLE and / or TESTIMONIALS. If there is a couple in the church who have been married 50 or more years and who still manifest a gentle love for each other, why not a five-minute interview as a part of a Sunday morning or evening service? This could be done at least twice a year. But such interviews should be rehearsed ahead of time so the couple knows what questions to expect. An unplanned interview may be worse than none at all. For sure, school-aged children should be present because the seeds of successful matrimony are planted early.
IV. WEEKEND RETREATS. Good things happen when young couples are taken away for a well-planned weekend retreat, undergirded with prayer. The same can be said for teenagers or single young professionals. Outdoor activities, some competitive games, good food, laughter, and an effective Bible teacher can be used of God to give fresh insight, prompt repentance where needed, renew hope, and set some who attend on a whole new course.
For small churches this may require a joint effort involving several regional churches. Whether for couples or teenagers or any other group in the church, a well prepared weekend away usually proves worth the effort and can be made to reinforce biblical truths bearing on the crucial but troubled domestic issues of modern life.
V. COUNSELING. The kind of ministries I’ve set forth are sure to bring forward needs that require counseling. It can be assumed that there are troubled couples in every congregation who are looking carefully to see who they might be able to talk to, whether a pastor or staff person or even a respected older lay person. I can’t forget the layperson who said to me, “I’ve watched you for eight years to decide whether I could talk to you.”
There are also couples in every congregation who can be carefully screened and equipped to give elemental help to those in marital difficulty. One pastor reported that when he divided his congregation into small groups the personal requests for his counsel diminished. It seemed that some people began to get the help needed in the intimacy and trust of small groups.
There are perils in concentrating on marriage and family ministry in a particular church. The congregation should have a clear focus but should not become a one-ministry church. For example, singles in the congregation, of whom the number is growing everywhere, must be ministered to in appropriate ways or they may come to feel like “second class citizens.” And those who have had a failed marriage, or are single parents, must not get any sense that they are being pushed to the sidelines for the same reason.
Even so, marriage and family are under such attack at this time in history that local congregations should be aware of the high priority need to serve and support the family.
The point is that the resources of the congregation should be marshalled to counter the divorce scourge and hold up the standard of marriage as a gift from God to be nurtured and, when necessary, healed. When this is done with devotion and in the power of God’s Mighty Spirit, the life of the whole congregation should feel the health-giving effect.
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