© Stephen Hunton
Have you ever stopped to think and seriously consider that the local church—your church—is the frontline of offense in the battle for marriage and ultimately the family?
It’s a daunting thought. God instituted marriage as one of the foundational principals of mankind, and since the moment of its inception, this sacred bond has been under attack. How is a pastor, whose time and capacity are already spread paper thin, supposed to wage a war for these covenant relationships and maintain a revolution of this magnitude and importancewhen the world is working to make them ever more dispensable?
At our church, Trinity Fellowship in Amarillo, Texas, we’ve developed a three-pronged approach for making marriage a front-burner issue and meeting people where they are, whether they’re just beginning their marriage, have been married for a while and are still working hard at it, or are struggling in their relationship. We’ve taken our marriage ministry and released it to our volunteers to execute, lessening the need for staff while simultaneously training people to come alongside each other to minister as everyday disciples.
Essentially, we focus on marriage in three areas: pre-marriage counseling, marriage enrichment/building and crisis care. Here’s a brief summary of what we do and why we do it.
At our church, we only marry couples who have completed an extensive pre-marriage process.
“We find that couples who work through key issues, such as finances, children, sex, husband/wife needs and in-laws prior to marriage are much more likely to be successful, especially in the first few years,” says Matt Spears, our executive pastor. The process provides couples with communication tools that become invaluable later in their relationship. While the specific process varies, from regular classes taught by trained volunteers to individual counseling by the marrying pastor, we unapologetically and rigidly follow this policy.
Marriage-Focused Small Groups
Marriage training is an essential part of any successful church strategy. At our church, we preach an annual message series covering many marriage topics, from communication to parenting to sex. But while preaching regularly on the subject is critical, it’s only one facet of equipping. We also strongly encourage couples to be involved in a small group—what our marriage and family pastor, Joab Purdue, calls “the heart of our marriage enrichment strategy.” In these specially tailored groups, people can get the hands-on mentoring they need as they live in community with each other.
Our small groups meet for 13 weeks, taking couples on a journey of personal discovery and giving them practical tools for their marriages. Using resources such as the Marriage on the Rock curriculum kit and Five Days to a New Marriage, groups can take couples to a whole new level of understanding each other and learning to effectively communicate. We’ve seen hundreds of marriages—from those in crisis to couples happily married for decades—take their relationships to a new level in just a few weeks.
“Every successful marriage needs communication skills to overcome selfishness and embrace God’s grace,” Spears says. “The key is finding mature leaders who have worked through these issues and empowering them to help others.”
Couples in Crisis
While groups offer the necessary tools to help couples enrich and advance their marriages, some relationships require more direct intervention.
We approach counseling on several levels. The vast majority of it is handled by our volunteer counselors. These incredible individuals go through our training process and then open up their schedule a few hours each week to counsel couples.
“Most people are surprised to find that their issues are not unique,” explains Gail Stennis, our pastor of care and counseling. By identifying mature leaders and holding two to three training classes each year, Stennis maintains a solid volunteer counselor base. For the more difficult cases, she refers the couples either to a staff pastor or a local Christian counseling service.
Along with regular counseling, we also recommend that couples in crisis attend a marriage intensive such as The Hideaway Experience or The Refuge at River Falls.
“Whether it’s couples who have decided to divorce or 40-year veterans, we’ve witnessed miracles take place at these events,” Spears says. “They have had a radical impact on marriages!”
The intimate setting combined with professional counselors who follow proven processes yields tremendous result—even for the most seemingly hopeless cases.
We also recognize and understand that while marriage retreats and counseling are exceptional and effective resources, sometimes people need to be healed. A critically wounded soldier doesn’t have much fight left in him/her. He isn’t able to engage in battle. So we offer opportunities for healing, such as THE SUMMIT weekend, a retreat at which we help people address their past and identify areas of bondage that are keeping them from finding freedom, and as a result stifling their relationships. We design THE SUMMIT to help people experience God through inner healing and deliverance.
We also offer what we call “Sensitive Needs” groups, targeting specific issues affecting individuals and marriages, such as Healing for Adult Women of Childhood Sexual Abuse; Boundaries; Freedom from Alcoholism; Victory over Anger; Leaving the Gay Lifestyle; Freedom from Sexual Addiction (for both men and women); Coping with Husband’s Sexual Addiction and more.
If you go to our website, the home page clearly states that Trinity Fellowship has “one mission in mind: to help you Experience God, Find Community, and Fulfill Your Purpose.” We were created on purpose, for a purpose, by a God who loves us and wants great things for us. When we’re doing what He created us to do, we find complete and total fullness of joy. But for some, that purpose and the joy that comes with it seems far away and out of reach. We believe that offering these kinds of resources will help us fulfill that mission as we minister to those in our church and local community.
As church leaders or really anyone in this culture, we don’t need to read statistics to know the battle for marriage is raging. We all know we’re facing a divorce epidemic and the breakdown of the family. But I do believe that the church is God’s Plan A (there is no Plan B) for redeeming the world and marriages. It starts with us as leaders saying marriage is important and we’re going to fight for it. Then we have to drill down to the “how’s” and figure out how we’re going to focus our efforts on developing processes, attracting and training volunteers and leveraging existing resources to get us one step closer to winning the fight.
Marriage is the bedrock of our society, and the local church offers the key to its survival.
Written by Jimmy Witcher
Jimmy Witcher serves as senior executive pastor of Trinity Fellowship Church in Amarillo, Texas, where he oversees the church’s volunteer-led, robust and thriving marriage ministry.