By Joshua Straub, R.G and Karen Yallaly
Leading a church is not for the faint of heart.
If you serve in church leadership at any capacity, you realize that everyone who comes to your church does so with a story. Unfortunately, many come because part of their story (or their marriage) is—in someway or another—broken.
And for you and your church leadership—especially if your church has a small budget and is low staffed—there is little bandwidth to really understand the depths of every marriage in your church. Getting beneath the surface takes time and trust.
I believe this is why many pastors and church leaders struggle over what to do with couples in crisis. There are so many other logistics in the church to tend to. Besides, we need to be carrying out the Great Commission and reaching the lost, right? Who has time to do pastoral marriage counseling?
What if, instead of seeing marriage crises as a burden, we saw them as an opportunity to reach some of those who come in their pain and might not even know Jesus?
What we have found is that when we begin to help couples in crisis, we are part of a journey that not only helps restore their marriage but, in many cases, also turns the individuals away from sin and into a life-giving relationship with Jesus Christ.
But how do we do this, especially when we’re already overtaxed as a church?
1. Serve them well.
God brought this couple to you for such a time as this. What a privilege. This is what being the Church is all about. When people come to us in pain, our responsibility is to serve them. What that means for a couple in crisis requires a few next steps:
- Listen intently. Show compassion and let them know they are not alone.
- Set ground rules. Let them know you will maintain strict confidence and give them the best care possible.
- Guide them to make no major decisions. No relational crisis happens overnight. Every relationship problem, even if it was an affair, is connected to a larger, deeper story that cannot be solved overnight. Help the couple, therefore, to not make any major decisions, especially if one or both are in shock. Advise them not to divorce, put their house up for sale, or quit a job. They likely need a few days or weeks to process and think appropriately.
- Get rid of divorce as an immediate option. No relationship with Jesus is without hope. Except in cases of inter-partner violence (IPV) or abuse, ask the couple to remove the word divorce from their vocabulary in the very beginning. I know the Bible allows for divorce for an affair, but I have seen so many couples overcome an affair and see unbelievable fruit both in their individual lives and as a couple. Many I know today minister to couples in this same situation. Encourage them to slow down and give God a chance to work in their lives.
- If there is an affair, the third party needs to be cut off. The marriage cannot be helped as long as the third party is still a part of the situation. Have the person cut off that relationship immediately and set up accountability for that person to maintain freedom from the other relationship. Make sure that all communication is cut o from the third party, including social media, texting, email, etc.
- Deal with addiction right away. If there is an addiction involved, refer them to a professional first. The addiction most often needs to be addressed before the marriage can be helped.
- Lead them to be emotionally safe. Hosea literally buys his wife, Gomer, back at an auction after she commits adultery numerous times. In Hosea, 3:3, Hosea tells Gomer, “You are to live with me many days. You must not be promiscuous or belong to any man, and I will act the same way toward you” (CSB). Essentially, what commentators believe Hosea is saying to her here is this (my words):
“I paid a social price for you because people can’t believe I’m taking you back. I paid an emotional price for you because you rejected me over and over again. And I paid a financial price for you to buy you back. Now that you are mine, we will take some time before we become intimate again. We need to rebuild trust.”
To reignite intimacy again in the marriage in the long term, trust needs to be rebuilt in the short term.
- Apply the Golden Rule of relationships. Blame gets us nowhere in relationships. Help each spouse learn to apply the Golden Rule of Relationships, “In order to be understood, we must rst understand.” In other words, if you want your spouse to understand where you’re coming from, you need to rst empathize with and understand where he/she is coming from.
- Prayer is the crux of it all! Ask godly friends to encourage them in their marriage and pray for them daily. Without prayer covering, the enemy will continue to do all he can to thwart any progress.
2. Consider beginning a marriage ministry.
Churches, large or small, should consider starting a marriage ministry as it provides serving opportunities and takes counseling load off the pastor.
- Train marriage mentors in your church. There are likely countless stories of men and women who walked a similar road to those coming to you for help. Begin by establishing a marriage-mentoring ministry in your church.
- Connect couples in crisis to a godly mentor couple. Especially if you don’t have a marriage ministry, getting couples connected with a mentor couple you trust can be a huge help for you as a church leader. Keep in mind, however, that good Christians can give bad advice. Make sure these people are well-trained and champion healthy marriages.
3. Partner with professional Christian counselors in your area.
One of the best ways to manage your own bandwidth is to meet with and get to know Christian counselors in your local area who you trust and can partner with. However, get to know them. Invest in this ministry partnership together.
Then, to take it a step further, help other couples by setting up a fund where you can provide a scholarship for part of the cost for those who can’t afford it.