Starting a Marriage Ministry Part 2: Determine the Needs

married life logo
In the last blog post I talked about some things to consider if you are looking at starting a marriage ministry in your church. One of those things included surveying your people to get an idea of what they need and the best ways to deliver those things. At Saddleback Church I did a survey of all of the married couples of our church and it helped me to shape what we are doing today in the marriage ministry.
When it comes to surveying the couples in your church one of the best tools I have found for doing this is Survey Monkey. Survey Monkey is a survey website that lets you put together surveys, email the link to people you want to survey, and once they respond (their responses are anonymous) aggregates the results so you can see the trends in people's responses. The tool is very easy to customize and use and highly recommend it for any surveying you may be doing.
So I put together a survey to get a handle on where people where at and how best to proceed with the ministry. Below is a sample of the questions I asked. You could ask any questions you feel you need to ask but I really wanted to know their struggles and the best days/times to run events so I wasn't scheduling things when they weren't available. I am so glad I did this as I found that Friday was the best day to do something which is one of the last days I would have chosen had I not asked. Here are the questions I asked:
  1. What types of things have you used in the past to improve your marriage? (Options: Time away, Date nights, Counseling, Small Groups, Retreats, Seminars, Books, Time Alone, Prayer, Working on Self, Other)
  2. Which of the above have you found most effective?
  3. If the church holds classes/seminars dealing with the topic of marriage, which time slots would work best for you (check all that apply).
  4. What would be the biggest obstacle to you attending a marriage event?
  5. If we were to offer other classes or seminars dealing with marital issues, what types of topics would you like us to cover?
  6. What other events and/or resources would you like to see made available to couples?
From the results we received we used these to shape our marriage ministry. It is always valuable to get a handle on where people are at as you seek to shape a ministry. If you shape it in the way they will best receive it, you can help and reach more people. As you will see, I continued to survey after each event to continually refine what we were doing. In the next article we will talk about setting up your model for marital health.


Starting a Marriage Ministry Part 1: Setting the Direction

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I haven't written much in a while about marriage ministry and the process we went through at Saddleback Church in getting our marriage ministry off the ground so I thought I would do that in a series of articles on my blog. Hopefully it will help you if you are looking to get something started in your own church.
When it comes to starting any ministry there are a few questions you need to answer:

Is this ministry something our church needs and can do right now?
This is a very important question. Just because a ministry is valid and seems to be a big need does not mean it needs to happen now. You need to make sure your church is ready to do something like this and is on board to make it happen. There are so many things that happen in a church, you want to make sure it is a support not a distraction.

Does your ministry support and help fulfill the vision and mission of your church?
There has been a lot written on vision and mission in business and ministry circles. There was a time where every ministry in the church needed to have a vision and mission statement to be valid. Now having a vision and mission is a good thing but if that vision and mission does not roll up to the overall vision and mission of the church, the ministry can become a distraction instead of a help to the church.
When you look to start a marriage ministry at your church, your vision and mission statement should be the vision and mission of the church. If your ministry doesn't fulfill the vision and mission of your local church, then you shouldn't do it. This will force you to think long and hard about why marriage ministry is important and how it fits in your church. When we set out to do marriage ministry here at Saddleback, we had to consider how it fit the overall vision and mission of Saddleback Church. This thinking also guided how we put the ministry together so it was integrated well with our church (and I'll talk about how we did that and how that works in another post).
Now when I say it needs to line up with your churches vision and mission I am NOT saying you should try to get the church to re-write it's vision and mission statement to include marriage ministry. You don't need that for your ministry to be a success. If your ministry aligns with the vision, mission and strategy of your church people will see it as a value.

What Do Our Married Couples Need?
Don't proceed without first getting a gauge on what the married couples in your church need and are struggling with. So many of us start ministries thinking we know what people need. So we put in a lot of time and energy to develop something that no one needs or wants. Instead of doing that, take some time to talk with people in your church, survey them, and find out what their needs are. I'll give you some ideas of how to make this work in a future blog post. Know your married couples well enough that you know what you are developing is what they need.
If you spend the time up front thinking through the three things, making sure your church is ready for this ministry, that it fulfills the vision and mission of your church, and you have a good idea of the needs of the people you are trying to reach you will have a good base on which to build a solid marriage ministry. In the next article I will talk about how to get this information and get started with the process.

Wrestling with the Soul

“And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?” Matthew 16:26

I have had several talks with people lately and been reading a lot about the care of our souls. So many of us are good at doing the work of ministry but struggle when it comes to actually being a good minister. We have this thing where we substitute our work for the actual relationship we have with Christ and this causes many of us to go down the road of burn out and fatigue in ministry. How do we get a handle on our internal lives to help us to serve from a place of being filled up?

It seems to me there are two things working at the same time. On the one had we have the issue of desire and on the other hand we have the issue of our identity. These two things need to work together if we are to live from of place of taking care of our souls.

The issue of desire is an interesting one. Many of us like the idea of having a close relationship with Christ but few of of us want to do the work required to actually have it. We talk all around it and even attend courses and events to learn about how to have it, yet when it comes to actually doing what is necessary to have that close relationship with Christ, we have excuses or substitute things we think are of equal value in its place. We tend to want to take the easy road to relationship when there is nothing that can replace actually spending time with someone to get to know them. I see a similar thing in many couples who come to me for counseling. They all like the idea of marriage and what they can get out of it, but few really want to put the work in to have the marriage they want. So they take short cuts and stop communicating and start complaining when things don’t go their way. They all come into counseling looking for a short cut around the hard work it takes to maintain a relationship. In our spiritual lives, we too take short cuts all the time and then wonder why we don’t have the relationship with Christ that we all so desperately want. If we are going to take care of our souls and grow in our faith, we need to develop the desire and then respond to it in our pursuit of relationship with Christ.

The other issue that creeps up in our lives and effects how we serve and minister to others is our identity issues. To maintain spiritual health we need to be anchored in such a way that our lives are not thrown around by the things that come our way. When we are in a place of complete trust and we are taking care of our souls, we handle things in life with a depth of character that only a settled identity could have. But because of the fall and our humanness we struggle with two sides of a vicious coin. On the one side we have insecurity that says my identity is wrapped up in what others think of me and pride which says I am always right and others need to recognize how great I am. We tend to fluctuate between these things when we are driven by anxiety or need to feel we matter. The insecure side is looking for others to validate us and when they don’t come through we claim to be victims of some wrong and sulk and manipulate to get some sense of self from others. On the flip side if we are prideful we assume others are wrong and we get cynical and critical when others can’t seem to get with the program and see things from our perspective and act in our timing which is always right in our eyes. Cynicism and feeling sorry for ourselves are sure signs our life is not balanced and we are not taking care of our souls. Our call is walk in the middle of those two things and hold them in check because we know our identity is not found in what others say about us or how smart we are. Our identity is in a relationship and that relationship is with Christ.

The more we pay attention to our desire and settle the issue of our identity we set the stage for a soul that can be cared for and grow. As we seek to be authentic people whose back stage is the same as their front stage we learn that living life the way God intended is not just the right thing to do, but the only way to live.


Taking Care of Our Souls

I’ve just started reading a book by my friend Lance Witt entitled Replenish: Leading from a Healthy Soul. In the opening chapter of his book, he has a sentence that I think summarizes the issues most of us deal with when it comes to our spiritual formation. He says, “Having talked to some whose ministry has come crashing down around them, I can tell you the convergence of outward success, self-deception, soul neglect, and relational isolation creates the perfect storm for disaster.” These four things are important things for us to keep in mind as essentials when it comes to thinking about our own spiritual growth as leaders.

Outward Success
There is something about us that causes us to want to be successful in life. There is nothing wrong with doing our best and striving towards goals we have set in our lives. We are called to be good stewards of the things God has given us. The problem comes not when we do all we can to do our best to use the gifts God has given us. The problem comes when we actually start having success and begin to believe that we are the source of that success. When you and I get to this place we begin to believe what others tell us about ourselves and pride starts to set in. When that happens, we start to drift away from our close relationship with God because our ego has no need for any kind of dependence on anyone or anything. Meanwhile, our soul and character begins to be neglected and our interior life doesn’t have the strength to support the weight of our exterior life. When this happens we are set up to find some kind of relief from the pressure that success brings and many end up doing things that end our ministry. We have got to get beyond measuring how well we are doing by the numbers and successes of the things we do in the ministry and start to measure our success by our reflection on those successes and failures we have in ministry and how we have grown in and through each experience. The more our focus is on our interior life, the more we will have the character to handle the successes in our exterior life.

We all have a propensity towards fooling ourselves. There is something about the fall that allows us to talk ourselves into anything right or wrong. None of us likes to admit weakness or failure so we excuse those things away and don’t choose to work on what is most important. Without ruthless honesty about who we are and where we are at, we will never be able to truly grow to become more like Christ. It is in moments of self deception that we hide pieces of our lives in the dark corners of our soul and don’t want to shine a light in those directions for fear we might be exposed or look bad in front of others. The reality is, however, that the more we actually live in the light and let our weaknesses and dark spots show, that we actually experience the freedom and peace that we are all after in this world. The more I work to hide what is going on in my life, the more I get caught in playing a role and create more stress and tension in my life because I now have to remember and juggle this person who is not naturally who I am. I have talked with many people who have thought their sins where too great for anyone to know and that people would hate them if they knew what they were struggling with. These same people, when they chose to stop deceiving themselves and put their dark corners into the light, experienced a level of acceptance and grace that they never thought they would experience. Most people admire leaders who are transparent more than they do leaders who seem to be perfect. As humans we have a built in meter that tells us someone can’t be as perfect as they are presenting and we look for ways to expose it. If you hide in self deception, you will be found out eventually, and as you wait to be exposed, your life is filled with stress.

Soul Neglect
It is so easy in ministry to neglect our souls. We are so busy with the work of the ministry that we talk ourselves into thinking the work of the ministry is the same as taking care of our souls. When I was going into seminary I remember my dad telling me something that literally saved my soul. He said not to think that my study in class was a substitute for my time with God. He said if I didn’t take care of my soul and build my relationship with God I would end up dry and discouraged. I took his advice and was able to come through seminary ready for ministry. I knew plenty of other guys who didn’t heed that advice and burned out before they even got started. As leaders, we need to remember that our soul needs to be filled up and our relationship with God is the single most important thing to keep in tact as we seek to minister to others in His name. Neglect your soul and you have just hurt your congregation more than anything else.

Relational Isolation
This one issue is one of the biggest reasons leaders, and really any human being, fall. When we have no one in our lives to speak truth to us and to help us see ourselves and our choices from the perspective of reality rather than our well crafted rationalizations, we really are vulnerable. There is something about us as leaders that causes us to shy away from true relationships. We tend to believe the lie that people want a leader who has no faults and therefore we need to keep our distance from people if we are to keep our image up and ultimately our job. There is also a prideful side that causes us to think that we are the one’s who have arrived or are further along than the people we lead so we really don’t need the same level of accountability as the people we lead do. When we buy this lie we are missing out on an important aspect of how God created us. There is something about community that God built into everyone of us. He wants relationship with us and asks that we have relationship with others. When we are relationally isolated we literally lose something that God intended for each of us to have. When we lose that sense of connection and have no one who can see our lives and speak into them, we have no way of knowing how we are doing spiritually and can end up in a place where we talk ourselves into doing the wrong things for what we perceive as rational reasons. We all need the support and the accountability relationships bring if we are to grow as followers of Jesus Christ. Isolate relationally and that need to connect will come out in dysfunctional ways.

As we look at how to help one another to take care of our souls and to grow our lives and characters to look more like Jesus Christ, we have to look out for the things that can do the most damage. If we don’t manage our outward success, self deception, soul, and relationships our impulses and exterior pressures will manage us and drive us to a place of dryness and vulnerability. But the more we manage our souls and choose to live in the light in relationship with others the more we will experience the growth and stability we need as leaders and followers of Christ.

Leadership Insights from the Tech World

I saw this article over at the Nerd Business website that is a collection of 22 quotes from the leaders of high tech businesses. Reading through the quotes I found a few that really stood out to me and got me thinking about leadership and how that works in a church context. Below are a few of the quotes and my comments on what I thought about what each leader said. One of the overarching things that stood out to me was the fact that each of these leaders did not settle for the ordinary and each realized their role in leading their organization to success.

The Importance of Character
“As a leader, you’re not allowed to go out and have beers on Friday night and break character.”
Scott McNealy
Co-founder, Sun Microsystems

Character is one of the things a leader has that no one can take away from him/her. It is character that should be at the center of all our decisions and it is character that causes us to put the good of others ahead of the things we feel we have a right to do on our time off. It is this awareness of what we represent and who we represent and how we respond to it that shows our integrity and character. In ministry I am never off duty nor should I be. If I claim to be one person in public but then choose to act a different way when I am “off the clock,” which person am I really? Am I playing a part? Or does my life have a value and integrity that stands the test of consistency? The world doesn’t need people to who could break a character they are trying to be, we need people who have character that no one can break.

Growth and Change
“Your advantage at a startup is that you can demand employees who crush it and who are above-average, and compensate them with stock options. Average people should work at average (by which I mean big) companies. Big companies actually run better with average folks, because those people don’t rock the boat.”

Jason Calacanis
Founder, Weblogs

How we empower people will directly impact the results we get. It is true that most big companies and churches have a hard time moving on a dime and allowing employees to make the changes necessary for things to really happen. I have been at two large churches and a large company before that and I have have seen how difficult it is to move the titanic to get anything to change. Yet change can still happen in large organizations and you can still get above average people to work in those organizations as long as you allow those people the opportunity to make changes, take risks, take care of them, give them what they need and get out of their way. Sure not every idea is a good one but if you don’t provide the environment to find out, then you will try nothing new and by definition that means you are falling further behind and become less and less relevant.

Decision Making
“The company that consistently makes and implements decisions rapidly gains a tremendous, often decisive, competitive advantage.”
Steve Blank
Founder, Epiphany

One of the most frustrating things any employee can experience is the meeting after the meeting syndrome. This is where no real decisions are made in the meeting you were just in so there needs to be a meeting after the meeting to determine what might or might not happen. The delay in decision making is one of the primary killers of innovation in any organization. That indecision can usually be linked to fear of trying new things or too many structures in the organization to go through to get anything done. The sitting around and waiting that usually follows from such delays usually has the effect of losing good people who want to make a difference but can’t stand to deal with a lack of decision making. Meanwhile other places who make fast decisions are usually quick on the draw and get things done. In the church world this is, as my Pastor Rick Warren says, “riding waves” that come your way and being quick enough to catch the waves early instead of when they have already reached the beach. Riding those waves usually leads to moments that could never be recaptured and because they come with no warning require a great deal of faith.

Well these are a few of my thoughts on some of the quotes. You can read the rest in the article.


Passing On Leadership

Today I read Numbers 26-27. As the children of Israel prepare to enter the promised land, God sets up ahead of time how much land each tribe will get based on their size. He then takes Moses to the top of the mountain to show him the land he is giving to the children of Israel (Moses can’t go in because of his sin). At the twilight of his life Moses asks God for a successor that could lead the people so God tells him to pass his authority on to Joshua who will lead them and hear from God through casting lots with the priest. The passing on of the torch of leadership and lessons learned in life is an important one. It happens in every form of ministry and industry in the world. Usually the gains of someone who was highly successful are not repeated by the successor because he is following in the leaders footsteps. It is interesting that Joshua does turn out to be an incredible leader conquering the land that God had given them yet he is not allowed to talk with God as Moses had before. When it comes to legacy and transfer of leadership, we need to do a better job of this in the church at large.

Usually in church life we wait until the last minute to pass on leadership to the next guy. Rarely does a pastor have a successor in the ranks of the church that he grooms and mentors into the role. Joshua was will Moses the whole time. He saw how he handled difficult situations. He learned from Moses’ mistakes as well as his successes. He was immersed in the culture of the nation and was able to carry forward the culture that was passed on to him. This helped to produce a smoother transition and continued the success that Moses had. If only we would do that more in the church, we would not have as many highly successful churches slowly erode to mediocrity once the founder leaves. I don’t know what it is that keeps this from happening. Is it the ego of the leader? Is it the ego of the successor? Are there no guys who are willing to sit under a great leader and learn? Are there no great leaders who want to take the time to groom younger leaders?

Lord, I pray for the church and the leaders that are to come in the future. Please help there to be leaders who take the time to mentor the younger generation. I pray also that there would be more young leaders who would take the time to learn from those who have come before them. Help me to do a good job of grooming my own boys to be good leaders and not shrink away from responsibility or quit when things get hard. Please prepare both me and them to receive what you want us to do. Amen.