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Thursday, May 30, 2013

It's Time For the Church To Do More To Create a Marriage-Positive Culture - And the Church is US!

I recently learned a statistic that amazes me: there are an estimated 3.9 million “mommy blogs” in North America. Does that rather large number blow your mind like it does mine?

It's a good indicator of the substantial network of help and support that is available to moms, which is actually a great thing. It seems that moms (and dads) everywhere are concerned about parenting their children well, and many are turning to the web for help.

Picking Priorities

Churches also tend to place a high priority on parental support and children's ministry. I would venture to say there are few churches that do not have some type of “Mother’s Group” or "Mom's Day Out." Virtually every church has a children’s ministry, often including staff paid to oversee the ministry to children. (Full disclosure: my wife is on staff in children's ministry in our church).

Our society's effort to parent well is wonderful. However, the truth is that the very best thing you can do for children is to have them in a home environment with a strong, loving and passionate marriage. Period.

I often speak to couples about the importance of making their marriage a priority, even above their children. Unfortunately, society in general (and the church in particular) doesn't typically operate under these priorities.

A Post-Marriage Society?

In many ways we are becoming a post-marriage society. The marriage rate has dropped more than 20 percentage points from 1960 to 2010 (from 72% to 51%), according to a 2011 Pew Research Study.

These numbers are even more startling if you look at young people. In the same time period, in the 18-24 age range, marriage dropped from 45% to 9%. In the 25-34 age range the decrease was from 82% to 44%. Stunning. Stunning and sad.

As bad as these numbers are for marriage, the implications for children make it worse: The decline in marriage may also affect conditions for the younger generation, because of the growing number of children born to unmarried parents. In 2008, nonmarital births accounted for 41 percent of all births in the United States. Although roughly half of these nonmarital births are to cohabiting couples, these unions tend to be less stable and have fewer economic resources compared with married couples.Therefore, declining marriage rates put more children at risk of growing up poor, which can have lasting consequences for their health and future economic prospects.

I believe these are more than statistics. I believe this breaks God's heart.

Too Little, Too Late

Of course there are a lot of marriage resources on the web as well. 

However, in the few years I’ve been blogging I’ve made an observation about the people perusing the pages of marriage blogs. Not including friends and family, there are basically two reasons people find themselves reading a blog like mine.  First, there are those having marriage difficulties and are seeking answers for their problems.  Second, there are marriage bloggers and others involved in helping marriages who are trying to equip themselves for the task and network with like-minded people.

There's an interesting and important difference in the blogosphere between the parenting blogs and those focused on marriage. My perception is that parents (mostly moms) seem to know that they face a challenging road in raising their children, and they are proactive about seeking help and support in their journey. In contrast, it seems married folks often wait for the trouble to start, maybe even for the trouble to reach a crisis point, before seeking out help and support.

We seem to know that raising kids is a big and important challenge, but we don't seem to understand that having a great marriage takes similar dedication and effort.

We expect great marriages to "just happen." We make the mistake of thinking that if two people love each other, that's enough to make a great and enduring marriage. It's not!!

Reflecting Culture vs. Impacting It

Many churches, though certainly not all, reflect these same two common societal maladies by:
  1. Misguided priorities - Placing a higher priority on children (i.e. children's ministry) than on marriage (and marriage ministry) 
  2. Waiting Until Too Late - Focusing our efforts on marriages already in crisis (or even on divorce recovery and pre-marital counseling) rather than on making "average marriages" great

In one sense I can't blame the church. We are obviously trying to minister to the felt  needs of society in the ministries we offer.  But I strongly believe that if we are to make strides in overcoming our prevailing post-marriage society, we are going to have to go beyond reflecting the culture.

Instead of reflecting the culture, the church needs to set about influencing it. And guess what? The church is US!

What Can We Do?

Reclaiming a culture of marriage is not going to come from society at large. It has to come from the church. I have said many times before that the church should have the most amazing marriages because we have the inside track: a personal relationship with the creator of marriage. Sadly, it isn't really so, at least not to the extent that it could and should be.

We need to move beyond whining and hand-wringing over the state of marriage in the US. We need to take action - bold action.

1) Speak Up For Marriage - When you hear others denigrate marriage, speak up for the institution. Arm yourself with the relevant statistics on what our country's retreat from marriage has cost us economically, spiritually and societally. Understand how a post-marriage society puts kids at risk. Be able to intellegently defend the fact that traditional marriage is the essential support system for our society.

2) Promote your own marriage - How do you talk to others about your own marriage? Do put down and complain about your spouse publicly? Stop it! Instead, go out of your way to show your honor, respect and love for your spouse to those around you. Nothing promotes marriage like great marriages.

3) Advocate for marriage ministry in your own church - Church leaders will tend to offer ministries that church members ask for the most. So ask! Make it clear that you are looking for more than just crisis marriage support, but something to promote healthy marriages throughout the church: marriage-focused small groups, marriage-oriented Sunday school classes, marriage retreats, etc. Be willing to volunteer to help with such a ministry.

4) Mentor other couples - If you feel your marriage is above average, be deliberate about engaging with other couples whose marriage appear a bit rocky. If your marriage is visibly great, you will find that couples will actually seek you out. Don't ever stop working to make your own marriage great!

Let's hear it. I'm sure you've got some other ideas of what else we can do to reclaim the marriage culture in our country. Are you ready and willing to do what it takes? Let's join together to make it happen!

If you are from a country other than the USA, I would love to hear what is happening with marriage in your culture!

Related Posts:

photo credit: alexmioss /
Tuesday, May 28, 2013
I know, I know. It's been over three weeks since I've posted here. Believe me, it hurts me more than it does you! I have a few posts in the works and hope to be back to a more regular writing schedule soon.

In the mean time, I have a guest post over at the Hope at Home blog this week.  Here's a teaser and a link to the rest...

You have probably heard the story of Mary and Martha dozens of times. (If you want to reread the account in Luke 10 click here.) As familiar as this story is, have you ever tried to apply this scripture to your marriage?

On my blog, I often explore ways in which spiritual truths translate into marital truths. After all, our relationship to Jesus as our bridegroom is a picture of what marriage is designed to be. How excellent is it that we get to be “married” to the one who designed marriage in the first place?

So back to our story of Mary and Martha. There are two phrases in these verses that strike me as important in applying them to your marriage.

Keep Reading Over at Hope at Home...

Monday, May 6, 2013

Big Marriage Mistakes You May Not Even Know You Are Making

I don't usually like to write from the negative. In general I think it is more helpful to speak to the positive things you can do to build up and strengthen your marriage. 

But what if there are things you are doing to hurt your marriage that you aren't even aware of doing? That's the reason for today's post - to make you aware of some subtle but potentially marriage-destroying actions and outlooks that could be affecting your marriage relationship without you even knowing it. 

As you read through the list below, take the time to do some serious introspection. Ask yourself if you have slipped into any of these behaviors, even partially. 

1) Missing the Purpose

"The purpose of my marriage is mostly to get what I want and need in order to make me happy."

I put this one first, because I think this kind of thinking is much more prevalent that many people even realize. 

We have a very "me-centered" culture, and that culture almost can't help but seep into marriages. Thinking that your marriage is mostly about getting what you want, however, will set you up for a life of marital discord and struggle. 

I have an interesting dichotomy for you to ponder. You need to own your own happiness and not put the responsibility for it on your spouse.  But you also need to live as if you own your spouse's happiness too.  Do all in your power to bless him or her, to give yourself fully to your marriage and to live a life of selfless love. 

2) Focusing on Changing the Wrong Person

"My marriage would be so much better if only my husband/wife would..."

Go ahead, fill in the blank. I know you've said or thought things like this before. We all have. 

This one kind of goes hand in hand with #1. It's so much easier to put the onus of change on our spouse than it is to own up to our own shortcomings and areas of weakness.  It's especially easy to slip into this mindset if you have bought into the lie that marriage is all about your own personal degree of happiness.

The truth is that you only have the power to change you. If you want a better marriage, start with your self.

I recently heard someone say of marriage: the best way to work on your marriage is to draw a circle around yourself and work on everything inside the circle.  

3) Settling For Less Than Total Intimacy

"We don't have sex very often, but other than that I would say we have a good marriage." ~says the low-drive wife.

"I leave the spiritual stuff to my wife. That's really more her cup of tea." ~says the spiritually disinterested husband

"There is just no way to make room in our schedule or budget for regular date nights." ~says the busy couple

God designed marriage to be a place of complete intimacy. His design and desire is that in every marriage "two become one" in every dimension of their beings: spiritually, emotionally, sexually, financially and relationally. Too often couples settle for a lack of intimacy in one or more of these dimensions.

The thing about intimacy is that there is always more of it to be had, regardless of how great your marriage is. Never stop going for more. You can have as much intimacy as you want or as little as you are willing to settle for.

4) Waiting for Later

"I'll work on my marriage some day when..."

The problem with this kind of thinking is that someday usually never comes.

You might be tempted to think that there will be time to work on your marriages after the kids get older, after the craziness at work settles down, or after you are financially more secure. So you wait. But when that some day comes, you just might find your marriage in total crisis.

Don't wait. Today, and every day, is the day to invest in your marriage.

5) Going for Equal

"The best marriages are when everything is 50-50."

If  you've read here for very long, you already know how I feel about the whole 50/50 idea. It's just dead wrong.

When equality becomes your goal, it automatically sets up a competitive, scorekeeping environment in your marriage. Everything gets graded and measured to see who comes out ahead. The truth is that most who want a 50/50 split, aren't actually interesting in equality; they are interested in "winning" (or at least not "losing"). It comes back to issue #1 again. It's all about me.

According to the Bible, our model for marriage is Christ and the church. There is nothing in that relationship that is 50-50. Christ gave himself completely, 100% for the sake of having us as his bride. He wants 100% of us too. He desires a relationship with us that is 100/100. That's how marriages are designed to work best.

Our goal should be to out-love, out-give, out-surrender and out-bless each other.

- - - - - - - - - -

So there you have my top five. I could add more, but I'd like to invite you to chime in with your own set of "marriage mistakes that couples may not even know they are making."

Let's hear it! Leave a comment.

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