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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!

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photo credit: alexmioss /


Paul Byerly said...

Scott - You are so right, we busy chasing the horses that have escaped we can't find time to close the barn doors where there are still horses.

Paul Byerly said...

Scott - Your first point is huge. We as individuals must be willing to get involved - sometimes even when those who need us to be involved don't want us to be.

How about a "Friends don't let friends divorce!" campaign?

Ginge said...

I only have my limited experience of a few churches in the UK, and we are a much smaller country than the USA, but it seems the same here. In my current church, if you were looking in, you wouldn't see anyone admitting to marriage troubles, and no counselling to married couples apart from pre-marriage counselling. There is so much keeping up appearances, and the good old fashioned British stiff-upper lip, that means many aren't willing to be vulnerable and say that they have a problem in their marriage.

I'm not advocating that we need to share our problems with everyone, but we need to be willing to share with some people we trust. Perhaps we need marriage counsellors in churches as much as we need children's workers, or at least a pastor (or equivalent) to have training specifically in this area.

Time for the churches here to realise that marriages underpin so much of society and they are slowly being eroded. Time to take action.

Anonymous said...

I loved this post Scott and you nailed it; the best thing we CAN do for our kids is to have solid marriages.

What I've noticed in the marriage blogosphere is that there are two types. I can't tell you what their roots are, but I can tell you how I feel after I read each type. One compels me to assert my rights as a Christian wife - claim the grace God has given me. And the other compels me to submit my rights as Christ did. One drives me towards myself; the other drives me towards my husband.

Unfortunately, not being as astute as I would like, I'm unable to detect this upon reading a few posts. It is only through reading them for a while do I begin to see the divergence; then I have to backtrack to see where I went wrong.

@Paul: I love that campaign idea!!!

Anonymous said...

@Ginge, I'm Canadian and I find the same "keep up appearances" here as well. In the last 4 years we've moved from Ontario out to BC and back to the middle in SK and the feel is the same.

J said...

Brilliant post! I agree wholeheartedly.

Anonymous said...

Wow Scott! When I first glanced at the post I knew it would be great and it surpassed by expectations. I could go paragraph by paragraph and agree with you and add to your reasoning. I was amazed at the number of Mommy blogs. I have to say I wish there were more dad blogs out there! (I hope you all pray about that one!)

I have been frustrated in my years in the church that so many times the church never knows that people are having troubles until they announce that they are getting a divorce. We need to let people know that it is okay to have problems in marriage and that you should seek help earlier rather than later.

I have been a fan of Promise Keepers, I think they have helped men to do a better job of being dads and husbands. Encourage as many of the guys in your church to go to PK. [Yes, they are still doing events.]

Ask your church to do periodic sermons on marriage. They need to do two things, advocate for Biblical marriage. (While at the same time not beating up divorcees, they need to know they are forgiven.) The church should also seek to give some tools to help couples.

Sorry for rambling, edit this down if you need to Scott.

David Carr said...

Thank you so much for this post. I feel the same way and have been looking for a way to make that a ministry at our church.

Unknown said...

Brilliant post! I read many marriage blogs regularly - including yours,Paul's Generous Husband,Simple Marriage, Etc. I will quite often tweet or facebook my own thoughts and link to articles from these sites. I will catch a complaint or two periodically about posting so much marriage stuff but you would be surprised at how often I will get personal messages and other comments that these have helped - its what keeps me going. One thing that I have consistently seen is the observation that churches aren't doing enough to help STRENGTHEN marriages. As you pointed out, there is before care and after (divorce) care but not much in between.I am blessed to be part of a church that does support marriages, we often partner with other marriage minded churches (check out Love and Laughter sponsored by the church Gary Smalley attends in Brandon MO!). There was a time where that wasn't the case though. it took a movement. A few of us started in home small groups that focused on marriage studies. We got a group of us to go to the aforementioned Love and Laughter conference. These were the things that helped to change the culture in our church. Everyone has the ability to change the culture it just means that it may be up to you to start that movement. I think what you'll find is that if you can get the ball rolling that the church leadership will help encourage and promote. As more "sign on" the larger the movement. It takes dedication and passion but is definitely possible! Don't wait for someone else to do it, maybe He is calling you to do more.

Scott said...

Thanks everyone for the terrific comments and support! Paul, thanks for featuring on your blog and for the tweets too!

Ginge - interesting to hear the UK perspective - and Robyn - the Canadian one.

To everyone - lets keep this issue in front of our church leaders!!

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