I want to help you prioritize marriage. My last post was about the four stages of marriage that Brad and Marilyn teach couples and leaders. I promised I’d come back in the next post with more tips for you and the marriages you serve. This is me making good on my promise!
Thinking through the “stages of marriage” is important. Knowing the stages can be a powerful tool for assessing which stage you’re in—so you can know what to do next. Let’s recap the four stages of marriage.
Stage 1: STRUGGLE
In this stage, communication is hard. Small things spark big arguments. So, you either stay quiet and try to avoid issues, or when you try to address something—you don’t make progress. Both spouses live hurt and frustrated. Things are not going in a good direction.
Stage 2: STABLE
If you’re in this place, it’s common to hear, “We’re doing OK. We’re fine.” You may not argue a lot. In fact, you may still have some enjoyment in communication. However, you probably sense you’re not growing. You might still date occasionally or with another couple. But, you’re not intentionally investing in each other.
Stage 3: GROWING INTENTIONALLY
Couples in this phase, they’ve made it a non-negotiable to invest in their marriage. It’s one of the biggest priorities in their life. Their marriages are becoming stronger and stronger. These marriages are characterized by a rhythm of spending quality one-on-one time together on a weekly basis. The focus of each spouse is shifting more and more to blessing the other. They’ve adopted an investment and a growth mentality in their marriage.
Stage 4: THRIVING
We call this the thriving and helping stage. New life is breathing in the relationship on a consistent basis. You’re growing in the knowledge of each other and insight. You’re dating and your communication are a regular part of your marriage. Things just keep getting better. When you’re in this place, you have so much to offer others.
Now that we recapped the four stages of marriage. And, you know which stage you and the marriages you serve are in—lets look at three ways you, the church leader, can equip your church, to prioritize marriage.
3 ways church leaders can equip the church to prioritize marriage:
I want to dig deeper here and leave you with some additional help for you and the couples you serve.
While some of God’s people are called and equipped to live out their discipleship to Jesus in the precious gift of singleness, it is clear that for many of his people, God has ordained the institution of marriage. This means marriage is not only central to the story of Scripture, it is also central to the lives of many Christians. It is one of the main contexts in which we are called to glorify God through sacrificial love of neighbor.
The Apostle Paul wrote many letters to churches. And, in several of those letters (1 Corinthians, Ephesians, and Colossians being a few examples), he spends a lot of time writing about marriage. For Paul, who himself was not married, understood the significance of marriage in God’s plan of redemption. After all, it is the gospel message that Christians are called to live out in their church (Eph. 3:10) and their marriages (Eph. 5:25-28).
But, how do you, as church leaders, equip your churches to prioritize marriage?
#1 Teach it.
First, you must teach it. Like the Apostle Paul did with the Ephesian church, you must preach and teach a biblical theology of marriage. That is, you are engaged in gospel reenactment, with the husband serving as the loving, sacrificial Christ-like servant of the “church” (i.e. your wife) and the wife serving as the loving, submissive Church-like servant of “Christ” (i.e. your husband). You’ve read the marriage books. You have the knowledge you need. And both of you can only do this as you are submitted to Christ yourselves.
#2 Model it.
Second, you model it. Church leaders are called to not only teach but to set an example for your congregations. Most of God’s qualifications for church leaders are character related. Only one of them (ability to teach) is focused on a skill. Why this focus on character? Because, as the old saying goes, “more is caught than taught.” While teaching is essential, teaching must never be divorced from example (see Ezra 7:10).
#3 Structure it.
Third, you must structure it. Think of the analogy of a trellis and a vine. The vine is designed to grow, but it will only grow as it is intended with a meaningful trellis to which it can attach. Without a trellis, the vine will grow, but it will not be healthy growth, purposeful growth or intentional growth. In fact, without a trellis, the vine could be out of control. So, a wise “vine dresser” will have a trellis, a structure, for the growth of vine.
Grace Marriage exists to provide you with a structure. We exist to come alongside churches to resource you with a “trellis” for growing healthy marriage “vines.” This is why our mission is Grace + Intentionality = Transformation. Grace is essential. The trellis cannot make the vine grow—only God’s grace can do that. But, without intentionality—without a trellis—the vine will not grow as it should.
Here’s the point: You don’t have to stay at the stage you’re at in your marriage. God can work at any stage. But, let’s work in our marriage to be more about prevention instead of needing a prescription. Don’t wait for that emergency in your marriage or the marriages around you.
Homework: My hope is that you’re already doing these three things since you’re a church leader. But, are you intentionally looking for another married couple to equip? Consider the couples you serve. Pick one couple to invest in over the next year or so using these three things.
Ryan Sanders is a native Tennessean living in Washington, DC. He has been married to Tonia for 17 years and they have three children. He is currently a doctoral student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where he received the Master of Divinity. He is a Fellow at The Colson Center for Christian Worldview and serves as Lay Pastor at McLean Bible Church.