Editors note: A transition in life when people are most open to new
ideasparticularly ideas that will help them build a foundation for lifeis
during a couples engagement. On mission Christians can use that
openness by sharing the only solid Foundation on which to build a life: Christ.
Some laypeople who serve as premarital counselors are doing just that. Do you
know an engaged couple who needs to understand that Gods roadmap for a
successful marriage begins by knowing Him personally? Then take your
opportunity to share Christ while their hearts are at their most receptive.
arriage is an earthly picture of a heavenly truth.
Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:25 that a husband should love his wife as Christ
loves the church and maintain a self-sacrificing love for her. Just being
married is, in essence, a real-life example and witness of how much Christ
Or at least it should be.
Sadly, however, many modern marriages have become anything but symbols of
the agape love that on mission Christians share with others. According
to research from Focus on the Family, for every three couples who begin their
marriages this year, one will end theirs, succumbing to a culture of serving
oneself instead of God. No longer is marriage built on promises, but on
feelings and personal fulfillment, it seems.
Much of the entertainment industry supports this view. With only a few
exceptions, contemporary sitcoms and television dramas, from The
Simpsons to Family Law, portray marriage as predominantly a
game of one-upmanship, filled with bouts of bickering and infidelity.
Coupleswere shownhardly spend any meaningful time together at all.
But it doesnt have to be that way, says Mike McManus, founder of Marriage
Savers. "Jesus came that we might have life and have it abundantly (John
10:10). Certainly He means that for our married lives as well," he told On
Mission. "Sixty-two percent of married people say that their marriages are
either flat or sour. But theres something we can do about that. Our goal at
Marriage Savers is to take successful approaches from weekend retreat settings
and put them to work in local congregations. Were training mentors. Couples
whose marriages were once in trouble help those whose marriages are now in
trouble or whose marriages are just beginning."
A new way of counselingPremarital counseling is
nothing new, but Marriage Savers takes it to a higher level. Now operating in
120 citiesfrom Dallas to Chattanooga to Grand Rapidsthe movements goals
Avoiding a bad marriage before it starts.
Obtaining "marriage insurance" for engaged couples.
Strengthening existing marriages.
Working to save deeply troubled marriages.
Sparking reconciliation of the separated and divorced.
Pushing down divorce rates in metropolitan areas.
But theres more in mind than just saving marriages, according to McManus.
"This is a great way to evangelize quietly," he said. "Its like when
missionaries build schools or hospitals. Theyre earning the right to tell
people why they care about them. By helping people with their immediate needs,
our mentors are able to gently confront couples about their need for
He shared this story: "One self-confirmed atheist went to counseling with
his fiance. He was comfortable with her faith, but certain that he wanted no
part of it for himself. The counselor asked if he enjoyed spending time with
his parents. He did not, complaining that they bickered constantly. The
counselor pressed. Did he enjoy spending time with his fiance and her parents,
all strong Christians? He did. Well, the counselor asked finally, Has it
occurred to you that their faith has anything to do with why you enjoy their
company? The man was dumbfounded, and had to admit that perhaps there was
something about his future in-laws faith that made their company
Thanks to the gentle pressing from his Marriage Savers counselor, he now
shares his wifes faith, not just her living space.
Premarital "boot camp"To save a marriage you must
start at the beginning, at a point before the wedding, says McManus, making
sure that two people in love understand that a lifetime commitment is based on
more than mere feelings. Thats a point he encourages his counselors to
pressfirmlyto ensure that couples dont approach marriage from a state of
ignorance about what they should expect.
"Ignorance is definitely not bliss," says Terry Brenner, associate pastor of
First Baptist, Modesto, California, who oversees "marriage ministries" at the
church. "Ignorance is miserable. Ignorance is the instigator of a miserable
existence down the road."
Marriage Savers counselors dont waste a lot of time in getting that point
Halfway into a counseling session with a couple who wanted to marry, Pastor
Michael Douglass popped the question:
"In your mind is divorce an option?"
John, a thin, quiet man, struggled to answer.
"No, divorce isnt an option, thats true," he said. Then he hedged. "I dont
know. Its tough I would work through most anything."
The pastor shifted his gaze to Johns fiance, Linda. Her answer was
"No," she said. "It is not an option."
That was the answer Douglass wanted.
"In Marriage Savers there is zero tolerance for divorce," he said. "If
theres any doubt in someones mind that divorce is not an option I wont marry
And Douglass isnt the only one. Nearly 100 other pastors from 60 churches in
the Modesto area agree with him. With so many Modesto clergy participating in
the Marriage Savers covenant, moonstruck couples may have to walk the extra
mileliterallyto find a sympathetic minister who will pronounce them husband and
wife with no questions asked.
Fourteen years ago, Modesto churches became the first in the nation to band
together to adopt a "community marriage policy" that puts engaged couples
through rigorous premarital counseling, sets a mandatory waiting period before
they tie the knot and says that, until the union is blessed, sex is not.
Pastors in Modesto count it as a victory that 10 percent of couples break
their engagements as a result of the prenuptial boot camp. As they say, better
now than later.
Added to the challenge facing Douglass the day he was dealing with John and
Linda was the fact that both were coming from failed marriages.
"Let me ask you something," he said. "Have you forgiven your ex-spouses for
whatever they might have done?"
He then added, "If that hasnt happened, I would highly recommend that you
spend some serious time in prayer. Ask God to allow you to forgive your
Linda felt she needed "forgiveness [from her ex] for leaving him."
John admitted that he still felt a "spark of anger" at his ex-wife.
Douglass remained serious as he explained what was at stake. "Any time two
people get married, its a spiritual battle. Satan has put you in his cross
hairs just like that," he said, snapping his fingers. "Hes sending his fiery
darts at you, and hes hoping one sinks in. If youre not up to speed with Gods
expectations, one of those darts will start to drive you apart."
Couples reaching couplesBut the program doesnt stop
with the wedding. Couples are encouraged to meet with mentoring couplesthose
who have maintained a longstanding, successful marriage, many of whom have had
to overcome trouble spots in order to keep their own lives together strong.
"We can best minister to people out of what weve experienced," says Tami
Trussell, who runs Sioux Falls Marriage Savers along with her husband, Tony.
Their marriage was once in trouble. Their authenticity in sharing this with
couples is what makes their mentoring approach to Marriage Savers work. "Weve
trained more than 50 couples to mentor other couples who are having trouble or
are about to get married."
The key to successful mentoring is honesty and building a relationship on
trust. "We have to earn the right to enter someones private life," she says.
"By being transparent and admitting past mistakes and that youre not perfect,
sharing authentically and baring your soul. That gives you the opportunity
to say that without God, we couldnt have made it though our problems."
While an ultimate goal is to lead people to Christ, they are careful not to
drive people away by being too pushy. They host many husband-wife bonding
events"baby steps" toward developing a healthy spiritual life. "We have an
event called 10 Great Dates that gets people into a church for dates and fun," says Tami. "Many who come are
entering a church for the first time."
Sometimes, the trouble spot a couple is trying to overcome is itself an open
door to talk about matters of faith, such as with one couple who had a
disagreement about church attendance. "It was clear that although they both
came from religious backgrounds, neither one of them had a relationship with
Christ. Yet here they were, fighting over which church they would and wouldnt
attend. And they were living together before getting married," Tami
After guiding the couple through a process of analyzing churches and worship
styles, the Trussells helped the couple finally decide on one they would both
be willing to attend, "a solid, evangelizing church, where they both eventually
accepted Christ," according to Tami.
The biggest need, says Tami, is for people who will offer help to othersand
that means getting involved in couples lives.
"Weve found that some people are afraid to walk alongside someone and say
that they can help with their problems. We tend to think that marriage is a
couples own private matter, and we have no business getting involved. But the
truth is, there is something we can do to help."
For more information about Marriage Savers, call 301-469-5873 or fax
Sean Taylor is associate editor of On Mission.
Some information adapted from "A Crusade to Save Marriages," by Larry B.
Stammer, published by The Los Angeles Times.
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and theAnnie Armstrong Easter Offering® ©Copyright 2013 North American Mission Board, SBC