Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Church Leaders and Marriage

            How many times have we heard the same story?  A preacher or youth minister or elder or deacon or key ministry leader gets caught up in an affair.  It wasn’t supposed to happen.  But it did.  His wife and children are devastated.  The church is rocked to its core.  And a congregation of people don’t know quite how to react since the one who was supposed to be teaching and exemplifying God’s design for marriage has destroyed his own.
            Sometimes, through a lot of hard work, prayer, grace, forgiveness, and change, those marriages can be saved.  Sometimes they can’t.  But what could have been done to prevent the situation to begin with?  When these tragedies happen, our reactive nature kicks in and we talk about ministry structures, how programs are carried out, who should or shouldn’t be recruited as volunteers, and how we can prevent a man and woman who aren’t married to each other from being put into a tempting situation.  And we do need those safeguards.  We need to learn from the mistakes that were made and do what we can to prevent them from happening again.  But how proactive are you in helping the leaders at your congregation focus on and strengthen their own marriages?
            When was the last time your congregation insisted that one of your ministry leaders go on a weekend marriage enrichment retreat, just that person and his/her spouse, for the sole purpose of focusing on his/her own marriage?  Many ministers can’t even imagine a congregation letting them go for a weekend retreat where they aren’t speaking, or organizing, or in some way running the show; a weekend where they are 100% free to focus on their own spouse.  Yet, every church ought to be doing that for their married ministers.  And the church should help make it happen by volunteering or paying for child care, and NOT charging the days off against the minister as vacation or personal leave days.
How can we insist that our ministers stand up before the congregation as examples of strong marriage if we don’t allow them to tend to their own marriages first?  How can we say that we are serving God if we allow the busyness of church work to make a minister’s spouse feel as if she/he is no longer important or cherished?  Are we fooling ourselves into believing that we are doing God’s will if we press our ministers to save the world while their own marriages go to hell?
Now, I understand that a weekend getaway is not everyone’s cup of tea.  But it’s imperative that you ask the question, “Are church leaders (elders, ministers, church staff, deacons, lead volunteers, or whatever terminology your church fellowship uses) encouraged or required to do something on a regular basis for the sake of their marriage?  I would even advocate that a church should require a leader and his spouse to have an annual visit with a marriage counselor?
            This is where the rubber meets the road.  A fun weekend retreat might be okay, but many church leaders balk at the suggestion of having an annual marriage health check-up and some downright rebel at the idea of it being mandatory. Whether we want to admit it or not, there is often a strong negative stigma associated with going to counseling. Undoubtedly, many leaders will say, “We’ve been married a long time, and we have a good marriage.  Everything is fine. We don’t need to see a counselor!” Yet, what does it communicate to the congregation when the leadership hedges at insuring their own marital health? And, being married to a minister’s wife, I know there is a level of stress that falls on a church leader’s spouse that those spouses often feel they cannot openly discuss.  If the leadership does not model strong, healthy marriages, you cannot expect the rest of the church family to follow suit. Lord willing, a yearly check-up will take a little time, create some healthy conversation between the church leader and his/her spouse, and result in an “all’s fine” diagnosis. And if a leadership couple does discover there’s a problem, wouldn’t it have been a far worse thing to have failed to ask?
            Please understand, I’m not out to just fill up the open spots for the marriage enrichment weekend below.  I just want you to do something (whatever it is, just DO SOMETHING) for your church leaders and their marriages.  Open up the conversation.  Share this post with the decision makers in your church.  If you are a ministry leader, ask your fellow leaders to help find avenues to insure healthy marriages among the leadership.  But please don’t “do nothing” and watch a leader in your congregation become the next story we’ve all heard.

A Marriage Enrichment Weekend
August 31-September 2, 2012
Fall Creek Falls State Park Inn
Email dfcamp@gmail.com for more info.

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