Starting a Marriage Ministry Part 2: Determine the Needs

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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.

The Consequence of Character

Today I read 1 Chronicles 3-5. The history of our life is usually determined by our actions and the impression we leave on the people we leave behind. How we choose to live our life not only has consequences for the present, but for our future and the future of the generations that follow us. We tend to have a short term view when it comes to the choices and decisions we make today. That perspective can cause us to think about what we think will make us happy now only to find out the downside is worse than any kind of happiness we may have gotten in the moment.

In the lineage of the tribes of Israel and Judah, each descendant is named in each of the tribes. The tribe of Reuben is mentioned not as the great tribe of the first born son of Jesse, but rather as the tribe that should have been the first born but was no longer considered that because Reuben lost his birthright to Joseph because he chose to sleep with his father’s concubine. So in a moment of passion that probably felt right to him (or he was able to rationalize away why it was wrong) he sinned and that sin which he probably felt was done in secret became a permanent mark on not only him, but on his family lineage as well.

When I think about the choices I have made in life that were based on how I felt in the moment instead of doing what I knew was right, those choices have had consequences, some obvious and some not. There is something to be said for consistency and building into our lives things that keep us from going the wrong path or doing the wrong thing. Having regular contact with God and not living in the dark or hiding small parts of ourselves is one way to build into our lives things that keep us on the right path. When I choose to do something else or let my mind be occupied with distractions, those things keep me from doing what I need to do to stay consistent. Sometimes apathy or doing what I feel instead of what I know I should do can be things that start me on the path towards sin. I must always keep in front of my mind what happens when people compromise or when they get lazy. Finishing well is not so much about what you have accomplished in life. Rather finishing well is about how you accomplished the huge task of living a life of character no matter what your accomplishments or achievements.

Lord, please help me to be a man of character. I would rather be steady in who I am and end this life as a man of integrity than to become famous and sought after and lose my integrity along the way. Please keep me sensitive to what I do and the impact it has on others. Amen.


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.

Knowing Myself

Today I read Job 39-40, 1 Corinthians 13-14, and Chapter 2 in the book Integrity. Knowing who we are in relationship to the people and situations around us is so important. I find that having that awareness is the difference maker in relationships and in living out the roles we play in life. The most obvious place this is important is in our relationship with God. I find far too many times that I get to a place where I either forget God in my everyday life or I ask Him to go along with my agenda instead of trying to get in line with His. Job was in that place where he complained about God’s plan in his own life and all the suffering he was going through. If you looked at Job’s life from a cause and effect perspective I would definitely say he was getting a raw deal. Yet when we try to figure out God’s reasons and even critique Him, we are on dangerous ground because we can never even begin to understand Him. So Job had to go through a lesson in who was wiser and who should be telling who how things should go. When you really think about it I am glad I am not in control of all the details of life as I would only mess them up and end up hurting a bunch of people. So even when we don’t understand why or what God is doing, we have to trust his heart and his love for us. So, I definitely need to make sure my relationship with the Lord is such that I am the follower and He is the leader and I decide to do whatever it takes to make Him first place in my life. Very hard to do with a sinful heart like mine.

The other thing that really spoke to me today was Cloud’s analogy of the wake in his book on integrity. What wake do you leave behind you when it comes to what you accomplish and the relationships with people around you. While performance is important it is only one piece of the equation. How we deal with relationships and whether or not people like being around us and feel honored as our co-workers is just as important as getting the task done. This is such a huge concept in so many places especially in ministry. It is very easy to get caught up in task and to allow relationships to go by the wayside. After all, even in ministry we are judged by what we produce or what we have done lately for the kingdom. As a result there are some people who are very task driven but at the same time don’t look out for relationships or see relationships as a means to an end. Did the people they served with want to serve with that person again? That is a huge question.

So I want to strive to be a man who leaves a great wake behind him. Who knows and continually strives to put God in first place and bring my awareness to a place where I know he is always in charge and his ways are always well above and beyond my ability to understand them. I also want to be a man who people say they would serve again with me in a heartbeat with no hesitation because I loved them and looked out for them ahead of myself.

Lord, help me to be a man who leaves a good wake. Help me to have the character and live a righteous life like Job did. There are so many things at stake in the life that I live that I pray you would guide and direct my path and help me to be so in tune with your Spirit that I respond to the situations of life like you would Lord. Amen.