The Ministry of Marriage Preparation

April 2nd, 2013

The phone rings. You hear the excitement in Peggy’s voice as she announces her engagement to Phil and asks you to perform their wedding ceremony. You check your calendar and make an appointment to meet with them, smiling as you recall the pleasure of watching their romance bloom and grow during their years of participation in youth fellowship activities.

Or perhaps the call is from an older couple. You may already know the bride-to-be, but not the groom, or vice versa. Or both may be strangers, distantly related to someone in your congregation or primarily interested in your beautiful sanctuary as a setting for their wedding. Perhaps this is a second marriage for one or both. In any case, the invitation to officiate at a wedding arouses anticipation and concern.

What Marriage Can Be

Marriage can serve as a channel for God’s love and a means for realizing God’s will for life here on earth. When two persons nurture each other’s growth in an intimate, vital relationship, they reap benefits in the areas of health, wealth, sexual satisfaction, and personal happiness. 1 When couples affirm and support each other, sharing a forgiving and sacrificial love, everyone benefits—their children and extended families, their communities, and the world.

Growing up in the context of a satisfying marriage, children learn how to communicate effectively and how to make decisions and solve problems cooperatively. Watching their parents enjoy the pleasures and rewards of marriage, even while coping with its inevitable tensions, children develop realistic expectations for their own marriages and family life. Unfortunately, as marital failure and divorce increase in our society, more and more children lack a positive experience of marriage during their formative years.

The Breakdown of Our Marriage Culture

A 1999 National Marriage Project Report pointed out that “Americans have become less likely to marry. When they do marry their marriages are less happy. And married couples face a high likelihood of divorce. . . . Unmarried cohabitation and unwed births have grown enormously, and so has the percentage of children who grow up in fragile families.” 2 Among the disastrous effects on children of this breakdown of family life are low self-esteem, psychological distress, poor social integration, problems with interpersonal relationships, educational failure, and lower socioeconomic levels. 3 Contrary to popular belief, divorce is not an event that persons get over in time; it is an ongoing reality with continuing negative consequences for those involved. 4

You personally know couples who merely coexist or who lead separate, parallel lives. You also know couples who frequently display anger and hostility toward each other. Perhaps you have counseled with some of them or encouraged them to participate in a marriage-healing ministry. You most likely have dealt with children of divorce and know their ongoing struggles to move beyond the pain of their family’s breakdown. Effective marriage preparation can help an engaged couple develop a realistic and covenantal understanding of marriage while learning concepts and skills that can make the difference between a fulfilling relationship and an unhappy one. This responsibility weighs heavily upon you, and you want to bring to your marriage preparation ministry the best possible resources. You do not want your church to be like those Michael McManus calls “blessing machines” because, while they help couples prepare for elaborate weddings, they do little to assist them in building lasting marriages.

How Churches Can Help

Recent studies indicate that the keys to a happy marriage are a deep friendship between husband and wife and effective skills for communication and conflict management. 6 This is good news, because friendship can be nurtured and skills can be learned! By accessing current research-based information and by offering programs based on knowledge about what works, you can help engaged couples understand the challenges that lie ahead and learn how to achieve the kind of relationship they desire.

In addition to premarital counseling, you might offer a mentor couples program and/or organize group sessions for engaged and newlywed couples. You can use a premarital inventory, such as that in the Growing Love in Christian Marriage Couple's Manual, to assess and build on the strengths couples bring to their marriage. Such instruments also surface areas of potential conflict, helping couples make informed decisions about their compatibility and begin to work through their differences. You will want to provide opportunities for couples to continue marital growth after the wedding and shape the life of your congregation so that it nurtures and supports all marriages and families.

As you work to strengthen marriages and families, we think you will find a stronger sense of community emerging in your congregation. The same communication and conflict-management skills essential to healthy marriages improve other relationships as well. The healing of family relationships, moreover, can free persons from energy-draining dynamics and empower them for ministry in the world.

1. Linda J. Waite, “Does Marriage Matter?” Demography , Vol. 32, No. 4, (November 1995), pp. 483-507.
2. David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, The Slate of Our Unions: The Social Health of Marriage in America , 1999 (New Brunswick, NJ: The National Marriage Project. Rutgers University, June 1999), p. 3.
3. Paul R. Amato and Alan Booth, A Generation at Risk: Growing Up In an Era of Family Upheaval (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), pp. 219-21.
Michael J. McManus, Marriage Savers®: Helping Your Friends and Family Avoid Divorce (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995), pp. 29-48.
4. Judith S. Wallerstein and Sandra Blakeslee, Second Chances: Men, Women, and Children a Decade After Divorce (New York: Ticknor and Fields, 1989), p. xii.
5. McManus, op. cit., pp. 20, 24.
6. David Arp and Claudia Arp, The Second Half of Marriage (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), p. 36. John Gottman, with Nan Silver, Why Marriages Succeed or Fail (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994), p. 28.
7. David Olsen, quoted by Michael J. McManus in Marriage Savers® , p. 113

excerpted from Growing Love in Christian Marriage Pastor's Manual/Third Edition by Jane P. and S. Clifton Ives Copyright ©2013 Abingdon Press. Used with permission.

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