Is Marriage Important to the Church?

Brad says…

We talk a lot about the importance of marriage, how it should be the second priority in your life only right behind God. I believe that marriage is the hub. The central support for the family. If the marriage isn’t working the family will suffer. But that is only the first ring off the hub. If the marriage isn’t working the community, the workplace, the local church, yes even the government does not work effectively. They are spinning their wheels with a broken hub.

I know that many of you are out there are nodding your head. I don’t think that first paragraph is anything radical, or a sentiment that hasn’t been shared a thousand times before. But that got me thinking. What is the church, the local church doing to support marriages?

This question led me on an interesting search lately. I went through the list of the Top Churches to Watch in America looking to see what they were doing to support the marriages in their congregations. This list included churches we have all heard about, Willow Creek, Saddleback, Mars Hill and more. My search was not scientific, I simply looked on their website for two things

1- Do they have “marriage” listed as an area of ministry on their website. If they do what events activities and resources do they promote?

2- Do they have a staff person with the title of “marriage pastor” or “married life pastor”. The thought being in these larger churches with multiple staff members, if marriage was a true priority surely they would have a pastor dedicated to the area.

What did I find?

Of the more than 30 church websites I visited less than one-quarter even had a marriage ministry listed, and that includes the church that had “check out marriage ministry opportunities listed below” followed nothing listed under the heading . The typical list of ministries I found went like this:

  • Children’s Ministry
  • Youth Ministry
  • Women’s Ministry
  • Men’s Ministry
  • Worship Ministry
  • Followed by a random assortment of other ministries (missions, singles, counseling…)
Of the churches that did list marriage or couples as an area of ministry the most common resource promoted was premarital groups. (not exactly what I had in mind, important, but…) This was followed by marriage small groups. A few churches had planned retreats or conferences that were focused on marriage. Only two churches, appeared to have a very active marriage enrichment ministries, including some awesome date night ideas and other resources.

Leadership

Of the churches I visited I only found one who had a staff member with marriage in their title (Marriage and Counseling pastor). A few had family pastors, all of them had several youth and student pastors. Please don’t get me wrong these ministries and staff are essential, I only wonder where are the marriage pastors? If marriage is important to the church why don’t the largest of churches find it important to dedicated a pastor’s time to seeing marriages grow?

What’s missing?

We all know that marriage is important, no pastor would say differently, so why don’t more churches have thriving active marriage ministries? I wish I had an answer to this question, but I only have a few guesses.

1. When there is a segment of the church who’s needs stand out, we reach out to them. This is the reason for the single’s ministries, divorce ministries, and even the youth ministries. Now, don’t get me wrong, these are excellent and important! I think that when a majority of the congregation falls into a category it is seen as the lead pastor’s job to meet that need. Most church attendees are married, so by default the whole of church is a ministry to married couples, isn’t that enough? I would challenge, no!

What should marriage ministry look like?

Traditionally, marriage ministry has meant an annual marriage enrichment retreat, and a marriage workshop or special Sunday School class once in a while. Often churches bring in outside speakers to help run these events. When you get right down to it I think most churches wonder, “what would a marriage pastor do?”

This great question is the subject of my next post, “The Marriage Pastor

  • Do you know a church who has a thriving marriage ministry?
  • What do you think a marriage pastor’s job description should include?

Let us know in the comments and let’s see if we can help some of these influential churches focus their energies on the hub, on growing, supporting, and encouraging marriages!

20 Responses to Is Marriage Important to the Church?
  1. Clint Alecia Starks
    July 9, 2011 | 2:03 pm

    My husband and I have been saying this for some time! Thanks for bringing light to it! We believe, similar to what you stated, that as a culture, including our churches, we tend to be more reactive than proactive. Hence the divorce ministries, etc. Which, we agree, are valid, necessary and honorable. But lets start being proactive! Every church should have a marriage ministry. Not just the big churches that can afford multiple staff. We're kind of biased, but we think marriage ministry needs to involve some of the key principles that our marriage website has utilized. Marriages falter because of the lies we believe, whether through experience, feelings, or what culture tells us. We need ministries that can combat those lies with truth that is backed up by God's word and then teaches couples how to incorporate those truths into their daily lives and relationships! Marriage ministries need to be available for intercessory prayer, for counseling, date night ideas, group activities available through the church, specific small groups geared towards marriage and couples…to name a few. 

    Can't wait to read your additional ideas on the next blog! 

  2. InsanitynTechnicolor
    July 9, 2011 | 3:21 pm

    I totally agree!  God has placed marriages on my heart for some time.  The world is seeing all the Christian marriages failing and it proves we are no better… (we aren't… as Matt Pitt says "we arent perfect just forgiven") but what if the church provided a support structure for marriages?  I love the idea of the date nights!  Thats what I want to do in our church.  Some marriages struggle because there is only seriousness and they have a hard time finding time to get away… even the planning is just something else to add to the "to do list".  But when a church offers an opportunity, its almost like there is a "reason" to do it and "permission" to just be a couple and get away from the stresses of work and raising a family.  We did an "Amazing Race" sort of thing for Valentines Day.  I was thrilled with the response.  Everyone had such a good time.  We need more of that in our churches.  Not only does it strengthen the individual marriages, but it builds bonds and unity in the body of the church…and every church needs that!

  3. Tonya C.
    July 9, 2011 | 5:46 pm

    I swear this has been on MY mind a lot lately. We are currently searching for a new church home, and this is actually at the top of my list of must-haves. We are in the Atlanta metro area, home to many congregations and even megachurches, yet finding one with a marriage ministry within a 20-mile radius is such a challenge. You have churches with divorce ministries and support all over, but nothing focused on marriage? Wow, just wow. I subscribed to the blog, and articles like this are exactly the reason I did. Thank you for this.

  4. Brad & Kate Aldrich
    July 9, 2011 | 6:34 pm

    Tonya, thanks for writing and subscribing!!! I'm curious, in your church search what is it you are looking for from a marriage ministry? Any ideas you could share on what they would do to attract you and your family?
    Thanks again,
    Brad

  5. Tonya C.
    July 9, 2011 | 7:05 pm

    Consistent emphasis on the marriage ministry and its importance to the church. A prominent place on the website, a dedicated assistant pastor or layperson, and activities every month of some kind (date night, retreat, marriage seminar, etc). I find that many churches seem to afraid of emphasizing it as they fear alienating the divorced and single (or at least that is how it comes off).

  6. Scott Means
    July 9, 2011 | 7:13 pm

    Yes! Yes! Yes!

    I think the lack of marriage ministries and the support for healthy marriages in general is one of the biggest failings of the modern church.  Most churches, it seems to me, would rather deal with the aftermath of brokenness than do things to prevent the breakage in the first place. 

    What would a marriage pastor do?  Teach Sunday School classes, lead small groups, preach sermons and keep marriage at the forefront of the church's mind.  Counsel, inspire and watch over marriages in the church.  Not every church is large enough to have a full time ministry to this effect, but having it as a recognized ministry would at least put it on par with funding and prestige with things as ladies, singles and youth ministries. 

    Looking forward to you next post on this very important topic!  Thanks for being a voice on this!

  7. Fred
    July 9, 2011 | 9:57 pm

    I have seen this for many years. I wonder why some churches are lacking in this way since they have outreach to many other things like a "basketball, baseball, knitting, and quilt ministries." The body of Christ is hurting and while it's important to minister in mant ways, there would be less of  "divorce ministry" needed if there was a marriage ministry.

  8. Clint Alecia Starks
    July 10, 2011 | 3:08 am

    Amen!

  9. Paul Byerly
    July 10, 2011 | 8:39 pm

    We know a couple who has ministered to a lot of pastors and their wives, and we have done some of this ourselves. The sad reality is many pastors do not have marraiges that anyone should want to emulate. There are great exceptions to that, but I fear they are the minority. This is a combination of pastors not being taught a proper balance of their marraige and their ministry, church members not caring at all about the pastor's marraige, and the nature of the job. Until the body deals with this, I fear real changes will be difficult to come by. We must all start to value and pray for the marriage of the pastor!

    I am blessed to belong to a church that does value marraige. There is no specific marraige ministry or minster (we are small and have only one pastor) but two couples who do marraige ministry have done marriage classes for the church in the past, and will do so again in the future.

  10. sdnelson
    July 10, 2011 | 9:06 pm

    I am more convinced than ever that Christians should not divorce, we obviously do so in numbers matching "the world".  Aren't we supposed to be different?  I totally agree that marriage ministries should outnumber divorce care ministries.
    I know my wife divorcing me was not God's Will, however my spiritual failings were not God's Will either.  I failed to grow into the man of God that I am charged to be.  We lead whether we lead down the road to destruction or victory.
    I have been made aware of the moral failings on my and my wife's part through this entire relationship.  We both had previous marriages and both were plagued by adultery.  I see now that God has placed us both in a position to break out of this cycle.  I cannot answer for my wife but I view my vow to God in marriage as still in effect and I purpose with His help not to break that vow by entering into an adulterous relationship.
    I am actually attending "Divorce Care" group meetings and it is helpful.  It is heartbreaking to hear the stories told and to know that these stories are multiplied by the thousands.  The course directs healing through Jesus and is Bible based.  They have a teaching on "before you divorce", I am not acquainted with what is covered in it.

  11. Stu Gray
    July 11, 2011 | 3:34 pm

    Awesome thoughts Brad! Thanks for sharing. our church is a church plant so can only support one fulltime pastor. We have recently started life groups/small groups/whatever you call them… and have several couples in our church who have a heart for marriage. It will be interesting to see what God does.

    Thinking about this – a marriage pastor could be one who meets with couples to encourage and help in times of stress, could help with the fundamentals of life in marriage – Money – Sex – Kids – Communication – and others…teaching on these subjects and helping couples navigate the waters.

  12. Brad & Kate Aldrich
    July 12, 2011 | 2:54 am

    Thank You Paul! Many people have been tweeting that they think marriage ministry is not done in church because pastor's struggle in their marriage! It is a good reminder that we need to be active in praying for their marriage!!!!!

  13. David
    July 12, 2011 | 5:01 am

    I so agree with you. As we did the research in our immunity to launch sour marriage initiative we looked at the church websites and found the same thing. I pray that the church opens it's eye and hearts to working to build healthy marriages.

  14. Marriage Melody
    July 12, 2011 | 6:34 am

    My husband & I are the head of the head our church in Mesquite, Texas. We focus on keeping God at the center of marriage. We meet monthly, have monthly challenges, annual retreats & we do not water down scriptured to save face. Our motto is, "no spouse left behind". We just started an "ABC " series, which are God lead, which puts us in the position to be transparent, while giving God the glory. Our first issue is called "Avert God's union". We are Marriage Melody Ministry & as always One Flesh Marriage has done it again. Love it!

  15. BigA
    July 18, 2011 | 6:27 pm

    Brad, Thanks for this.  My wife and I have been struggling, not in our marriage (thought there are some rough spots) but with our church's response to it.  Like your post and many have commented, churches take a reactive stance.  Our church has just hired their fifth pastor and have had up to at least seven but none were marriage or even family pastors in role.  Yes, there are a large adult population ("Adult ministries pastor") and large child and student population ("Children and Youth Pastor") but no one focused on the inter-relationships.

    Anyway, this past week I heard of three families in our church body broken up by divorce or separation and the church discussed their reaction to the problems and how they tried to fix it but nothing on what needs to be done to build better marriages let alone, prevent bad marriages (not the best wording for what I want to say but can't think of better words at the moment).

    Churches tend to categorize or make groups for individual positions (adults, men, women, teens, college and career, elementary school, pre-school, nursery, etc) often related to age rather than relationships.  Though churches with a strong biblical foundation tend to emphasizes the "God-Man" relationship in the above listed groups.  Rarely is there focus on "Husband-Wife" relationship or "Parent-Child" relationship which are to be reflections of our relationship with God.

    If the church would rather facilitate focus on these three relationships, I think that the church will be stronger as a body and a lot more fun.

  16. Tony
    July 20, 2011 | 7:44 pm

    I agree, it's a critical area where many churches are simply failing.

    When my ex-wife had her affair and walked out, no one from the church confronted her (in love or otherwise.)  They didn't even seem to care.  Perhaps they were too focused on same sex marriage bans to take the time to actually save a marriage in the church.

    Since the number of divorces in the church may (I know, some question about this) be about the same as outside, and that's roughly 50%, while same sex marriage impacts only about 1% of the population, I'd expect to see 50X the resources spent on marriage ministry and fighting the scourge known as no fault divorce as we've seen expended on same sex marriage the past decade.

     But instead you have churches like my former church.  No contact with the sinning spouse.  I requested the process spelled out in Matthew 18 to reach a sinning member.  There was no checking my evidence, I was simply told they don't do that.

    Oh, and when I went to my pastor when I first knew about the affair, seeking to enlist the help of the church, I was asked what I did to force her to have an affair.

    Really?

    Years after I left that church, I got a letter from the Sunday School teacher of the couples class asking why he's not seen me in the class.  I told him my story, how I got zero help from the church and a lot of blame for my ex-wife's behavior.  How I volunteered for ministries, but would never get called, or that when I asked what Sunday School class would best fit my newly divorced circumstance, no class was recommended, I simply came to the conclustion that the church really didn't want me, so I was now worshiping and fellowshipping elsewhere.

    The response was not, sorry we dropped the ball. It was, "I'm sorry you feel that way."

    I wonder what may have been had the church been both prepared and willing to step up for a family in the church instead of being focused on so many other things, such as the petitions and actions against same-sex-marriage.

    Not that I'm for same-sex-marriage.  I'm not.  But until we get our house in order and really minister to couples, both in crisis and not, we have no business poking out heads into what we think others may be doing wrong.

  17. Fred
    July 24, 2011 | 8:02 pm

    I have to agree with with Tony, and I am in a Methodist church in the UK.  In a circuit with 38 churches, they did not think that they had the demand for a single day "Day to Treasure" marriage seminar in 2011 and are trying to manage the decline of individual congregations in an orderly manner.  With 38 churches in a circuit, surely at least one full time worker,
    whether clergy or lay, could have responsibility for a marriage
    ministry.  Neither did the cross-denominational "Town for Jesus" organisation think there was the demand for such a seminar. 

    The church we attend has decided that it is going to be a family friendly church, but the leadereship team were unable to answer where the marriage relationship and care for that relationship fitted into their family friendly model.

    With appallingly bad communication our major problem, although there were other hurts in the mix too, my wife and I nearly split up last year and it was the minister (pastor) in our church and a minister in another church who recommended a Christian marriage and relationship counsellor to us.  There is no formal structure for pastoral care in any of the churches in the circuit. 

    Our town has had two incidents where clergy have been caught "playing away" and in one case the clegyman was simply removed by his denomination with the church to which he was attached not even informed of the reasons for his removal, in the other it made the local papers.  while this is no worse than known lay Christians involved in any other sin on one level, on another level it suggests that we have the blind leading the partially sighted.

    I keep wondering whether I should simply tell the church that I have started a bible study for married couples using "Together: Investing in Your Marriage" as the first 18 weeks (9 sessions, with one week in a group and the alternate week as a couple discussing the same areas in detail for your own marriage" and see what response I get.

  18. The Marriage Pastor | One Flesh Marriage
    August 19, 2011 | 3:34 pm

    [...] my last post, “Is Marriage Important to the Church?” I talked about how many churches don’t seem to know what to do with marriage ministry. [...]

  19. Trudy Alferez
    November 28, 2011 | 3:05 am

    I really like reading and I think this website got some truly useful stuff on it! .

  20. Jotta
    February 6, 2014 | 3:45 am

    Very useful and level headed posts here. I notice they are all 2011 though. I wish the conversation kept going! I have been on this topic for ages. I feel so sad that we rush in with divorce ministries when we have none a serious focus on marriage. Premarital counselling is great…a most worthy investment of time and/or money. It got us started on a great pedestal but three years into our marriage, while I held firm onto the lessons learnt, my husband slowly, one by one started ignoring them – which led to a lot of strife for me. Spiritually he started replacing God with himself and endless theories of ‘what ifs’. As you can guess intimacy suffered severely and it wasn’t long before I knew that the only reason I stayed married was to give a home to my kids and I no longer felt any attraction/admiration for my husband. He attacked every effort I made to be a stable spiritual family. This HURT like nothing I can describe. Here is a church going man ripping his family apart while the church waits in the wings with a divorce ministry. Hardly any sermons touch on healthy thriving marriages. I go to church and raise my hands singing ‘waiting here for you’, yet the sermons that follow are irrelevant to the most important aspect of my life. For most part I still go to church just to lay a spiritual foundation for my kids. For me honestly, where it matters, the church has failed miserably.
    I have also attended marriage enrichment ministries which run like clubs for marriages that are not threatened because they lack any focus of strategy for straggling marriages. Lots of their discussions are useless clitches that anger a struggling person than enrich them. It’s almost that you should go sort your marriage first before you can attend so in that was they are really not effective.
    It would be great for churches to insist on or perhaps strongly encourage couples at three year iuntervals to attend counselling. Men particularly have miserably failed as leaders in their families and leave a vacuum. some women successfully fill the vacuum if the men are secure enough. In most cases the man will fight his wife if she tries to fill this vacuum, which eventually leads the marriage to breaking down. I am sure women have enough failings of their own but its amazing how christian men have failed to lead their families in a godly way.
    The church needs to have one in every three sermons focused on marriage or have a dedicated marriage ministry where believers can go and seek help and expect some solid intervention and support. We cant afford to live in cocoons while we raise our kids in hostile or broken environments. This is the very environment where choices for gay preference thrive. The christian marriage has broken many hearts and people try to chase other thrills weather holy or not.

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