“My marriage is in crisis. I need to speak to the pastor.” I said those words in 1987. I expected the pastor to fix our broken marriage. After all, we had both started attending his church and were baptized…wasn’t our marriage supposed to get better, and wasn’t he supposed to drop everything to help?
Our marriage did get better, but only after being separated for two years. A year later, that same pastor asked us to help others in crisis. We did, and have been doing so on a national level since 1997.
We believe church leaders across the country are at a loss as to how to help couples in crisis. If this weren’t true, why is the divorce rate in the church just as high as outside the church? Here are 3 mistakes we see regularly:
MISTAKE #1: Recommend Going to a Licensed Marriage Counselor As a First Response
There’s nothing wrong with licensed counselors. In fact, we network with them all the time and have partnered with the National Institute of Marriage with our Marriage 911 resources. However, when that is the first response from a pastor or church leader, it produces frustration rather than hope, because…
1. It is usually one person who is calling out for help. Effective counseling works best when both parties are willing to attend and work on their issues together.
2. It is expensive. Couples in crisis usually have financial problems as well.
3. It takes more than 24-hours to get an appointment. In fact, in many cases weeks.
Instead, have your church get a resource list together for local and national organizations that offer online or class participation for marriages in crisis. This way you can hand a resource to the person in crisis within 24-hours and they can get started immediately. When the person who wants to work on the marriage takes the first step, their spouse will often follow.
MISTAKE #2: Refer Separated People to a Divorce-Recovery-Type Class
Again, nothing wrong with sending someone who is divorced to a class to heal. However, referring a separated person to a class like this just helps end the marriage in many cases. Separated people are still married.
When Mryna attended a divorce-recovery-type class because her husband had moved out, she sat at a co-ed table with a hurting man whose wife had also left. Before long, she and the hurting man hooked up. They lasted about a year, and never married. Not only did she not get the help she needed, but she fell into a wrong relationship while she was still married. This caused her even longer to heal.
Instead, recommend a same-gender Bible study or same-gender support group that will focus on some of their felt-needs. At least half the time, the spouse who left will cycle back through for another shot at the marriage. The church needs to help the abandoned spouse to avoid third-party involvement at all costs.
MISTAKE #3: Offer Prayer Without Resources
Prayer without resources leaves the couple in crisis feeling as if they have done something wrong if their marriage isn’t miraculously healed after they’ve been prayed for.
Instead, after prayer, refer the person calling for help to immediate, cost-effective resources. Look for faith-based and community classes that offer tangible tools on things such as, communication in marriage, family, parenting and finances. With the Internet, great resources are now at our fingertips.
Helping Couples Reconcile God’s Way,
Joe and Michelle