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Top 10 Marriage Ministry Mistakes

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When I first started working in marriage ministry nearly 20 years ago, I admittedly did not know what I was doing. I was a young guy at a young church that didn’t even have a marriage ministry before I got there. Experience is a great teacher, and I’ve since learned a lot from mistakes—both mistakes I’ve made myself, and lessons learned from other marriage ministers who have shared their stories with me.

The Top 10 Marriage Ministry Mistakes

To help you learn from and hopefully avoid making those same errors, here are the top 10 mistakes I’ve observed in marriage ministry:

#1 – Separating Marriage and Discipleship

The vast majority of couples enter marriage ministry believing they have a “marriage problem,” that something must be wrong with their marriage. They are going to look to you to “fix their marriage.” However, this is usually only the case until they realize they actually have a “Jesus problem.” This is why marriage ministry ultimately needs to be about more than getting along. It needs to be about discipleship. It will be in discipleship to Jesus that marriages are truly healed. We cannot make the mistake of separating marriage from discipleship.

#2 – Starting by Writing Your Own Content

Many churches begin marriage ministry with the lofty goal of doing everything from scratch, including writing their own content and curriculum. While this ambition is not a bad thing by any means, it can take precious time that could be spent in implementation and leader training. Your ministry may be best served initially by content off the shelf. This gives you time and resources to work out issues and understand how you want to eventually communicate concepts in your own words.

#3 – Lacking Buy-in from Senior Leaders

One of the most frequent mistakes we see marriage ministries make is pursuing a ministry plan without buy-in from the senior leaders or elders. Ideally, marriage ministry will be a partnership of those involved in the ministry and those in authority over the church. So, when you pitch marriage ministry ideas to your senior leaders, remember to be respectful and share ownership. Know what motivates and scares your senior leaders and adjust your ministry goals accordingly.

#4 – Lacking Authenticity in Leadership 

It is only when couples are able to be truly vulnerable that change truly occurs. In order for that to happen, someone needs to go first. That someone has to be those in leadership. Passages like 1 Thessalonians 2:8 tells us we should desire not just to share the gospel in marriage ministry but our lives as well. When couples see their leaders being authentic, they will be more compelled to be authentic themselves.

#5 – Selling the Church Short

Matthew 16:18 tells us that nothing, hell included, will prevail against Jesus’ church. Therefore, we should be confident that our marriage ministries can be a conduit for real change. Doubting your impact can quickly become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Although there might be times to partner with outside professionals such as marriage counselors, outsourcing ministry shouldn’t be your default move when things get tough. 2 Peter 1:3 encourages us that we have everything we need to live a godly life and encourage others to do the same.

#6 – Avoiding Tough Issues

Divorce, remarriage, premarital sex, cohabitation, separation, same-sex marriage, and pornography are all difficult topics that the church too often remains silent about. If you are aiming to have a faithful marriage ministry, your couples need to know what to believe on these issues—before they become an issue in your church. Spend time with your senior leadership in prayer and study to determine what God would have you believe. It may be helpful to publish position papers or even cover these topics during weekly teaching to force clarity.

#7 – Forgetting What Year It Is

Marriage demographics look very different today than they did twenty years ago. Rather than assuming nothing has changed, our marriage ministries need to adapt to the new challenges. For example, the number of couples who cohabitate before they marry is higher than ever. 90-95% of people will not be virgins when they tie the knot. A secular sexual ethic is communicated almost constantly in the media. Marriage ministry needs to know how to respond to all of this with grace and truth.

#8 – Not Normalizing Pain and Struggle

One of the only promises about marriage in Scripture is that those who marry will have trouble (1 Corinthians 7:28). This should encourage us more than it discourages us. Communicate often how normal it is for marriage to be hard. Even when a couple is completely surrendered to Jesus, there will still be pain and struggle. Don’t let couples in your marriage ministry feel alone by communicating the goal is an absence of difficulty. The goal of marriage ministry needs to be full devotion to Jesus Christ.

#9 – Not Leveraging Stories

The stories of what God is doing in your marriage ministry need to be told. Sharing stories of life transformation gives others hope that it can happen in their lives as well. Encourage couples who find healing in your ministry to share their stories often, both in the marriage ministry and outside of it. We often see that transformation in marriage ministry tends to spread to every area of the church. You just need to help it happen.

#10 – Building Ministry Around a Person

The final mistake we see marriage ministries make is building the ministry around one couple. Doing this does everyone involved a disservice. It places a burden on the couple in leadership while setting the ministry up for failure if that couple needs to step away for any reason. Plus, having only one couple lead means that people only get one perspective. If you instead have multiple couples share leadership, participants get to see a variety of positive examples, and they are more likely to have someone that they can closely identify with. Work to create a plurality of leadership and disciple new leaders so that you can confidently replace yourself someday.

If you are working to build or revitalize your own marriage ministry, re|engage can help you avoid many of these mistakes. re|engage is a turn-key Christ-centered marriage ministry that’s essentially free to churches; the only cost is the workbooks that participants pay for themselves. Join us and over 450 other churches running re|engage as we seek to restore Christ to the center of marriages across the nation.

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John McGee is the senior director of Watermark Resources at Watermark Community Church in Dallas, Texas and the co-creator of re|engage – a church-based marriage enrichment program. John and his wife Pam were high school sweethearts and have been married over 26 years. Their favorite things to do are encourage couples in their marriages and have adventures with their 4 kids.