Marital Mentors

Cracks were forming in the marriage of a young woman I'll call Susan. But she didn't feel comfortable discussing her troubles with her minister. He was a single man, and she didn't know him well. But Susan had an unusual alternative. Her church had just begun a mentoring ministry in which mature married couples counseled engaged couples and newlyweds. Susan and her husband patched up their marriage with the help of a couple whose own marriage had weathered 30 years of matrimonial storms. It was the kind of in-depth assistance their overloaded pastor would have been hard pressed to provide. In the new edition of his book Marriage Savers, Mike McManus explains how couples with solid, seasoned marriages are one of the church's greatest untapped resources for preventing divorce. In an age of widespread marital breakdown, ignoring any resource for preserving marriage is a scandal. And mentoring programs have proven their worth: Couples who go through mentor-assisted programs like PREPARE and ENRICH vastly increase their chances of marrying the right person—and staying married afterward. That's because PREPARE and ENRICH involve more than just taking compatibility tests. They entail frank discussions with older couples who have what McManus considers the equivalent of a Ph.D. in matrimony. These folks can draw on years of experience to teach younger couples how to resolve conflicts, improve communication, and cherish one another. But how many churches think of calling in older, married couples to mentor the engaged or newly married? Hardly any. That's partly because most pastors view marriage counseling as their own preserve. But it's also because even the happiest couples tend to focus on their imperfections instead of their strengths. They feel unqualified to advise others. But McManus argues that young couples can more easily identify with a married couple than they can with a minister. And lay mentors often find it easier than a minister to be vulnerable—freer to expose their own mistakes and reveal how they solved their own marital problems. And mentoring is a role the early church specifically delegated to mature lay people. In Ephesians, Paul tells pastors and teachers to "equip the saints"—that is, the lay people—"for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ." In Titus, Paul is more specific: He says older women are to "train the young women to love their husband and children." It's clear that the older generation is expected to mentor the younger one. With our spiraling divorce rates, the church must do more to ensure that couples have a place to turn to when their marriage hits the rocks. We ought to tap into that huge, unused reservoir of marital resources—these ordinary, happily married couples in your church and mine. Why don't you encourage your own pastor to read Marriage Savers and begin a mentoring program at your church? And if you and your spouse have been happily married for a long time—if you have a "Ph.D. in matrimony"—why not consider becoming mentors yourself? You can help heal the cracks in younger marriages—and turn your church into a real marriage saver.    


Chuck Colson


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