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We are all familiar with the Covid-19 pandemic which we have experienced for the last two years. But there is another pandemic which is spreading thick and fast among Indian Christians with which we should be familiar. That is the pandemic of broken marriages. Given that we live in a highly individualistic society nowadays where social pressure no longer acts as a strong deterrent, broken marriages are becoming increasingly common. Either people divorce or they just choose to live separately. I have been a pastor for five years. And in these five years, I have seen two marriages end up in separation, one being very strained, and a couple of marriages ending up in divorce. This state of affairs among Christians is truly lamentable.
To a large extent, I would pin the blame for this debacle on the church. Pastors and Christian leaders simply cannot escape responsibility. When we get a man and a woman married, it is our responsibility to ensure that that couple understands what they are signing up for when they take their marriage vows. When pastors are casual about getting couples married, it is no surprise that many couples end up staring at a bleak marital future rather quickly.
So, what can pastors do to arrest this pandemic? Let me give you three ways. These ways are by no means foolproof. But they do help in putting a brake on this accelerating malaise.
Insist on Premarital Counselling
As a pastor, you must insist on premarital counselling. You must make it clear to the couple and to their families that without premarital counselling you will not solemnise their wedding. Indian parents and couples are very impatient, however. They may agree with you on this requirement, but they may pressurise you to give premarital counselling quickly; they may insist on a crash course for a couple of hours before the day of the wedding. Don’t budge. Resist this pressure. Premarital counselling given hurriedly is a farce. It does not enable the couple to work through their issues at all. You must insist on at least three weeks of premarital counselling in which the couple does the homework assigned by you.
During these three weeks, make them read a basic Christian textbook on marriage. Help them to understand basic concepts such as what a Christian marriage is, what is the role of the husband (leading in love) and the wife (submission in love), communication, sex, and relationship with extended families. In three weeks, you may have time to cover only these topics. Give them homework so that they may wrestle with the issues. And if after three weeks, you are not persuaded that the couple has understood the basics, or are extremely slow in grasping the concepts, be prepared to tell them that they have to put off their wedding date. I have found that such a drastic measure is not necessary in the case of most believing couples, but you must be prepared for all eventualities. Why would you want to endorse another marriage which is going to contribute to the pandemic?
Offer Family Discipleship and Marriage Counselling
Premarital counselling alone is not enough to establish Christian couples. They need discipleship. Often when we think of discipleship, we think of one individual discipling another. Such thinking is not wrong, but it is inadequate. We have to disciple families, and this discipleship can take place if experienced and mature couples take the time to disciple younger and less mature couples. Pastors must give importance to family discipleship and make it very high on their agenda. The apostles in most of their epistles addressed families (Eph. 6:1-4; 1 Pet. 3:1-7; Col. 3:18-21; 1 Cor. 7:1-5). This focus on families is indicative of their priorities; they must have invested time in strengthening families.
So, how do you go about family discipleship? Perhaps an annual Bible study or a church class on “Christian living in the home” may be appropriate. Regular and frequent visitation of younger couples by the elders can be another way. Asking more mature couples in the congregation to follow up with one younger couple constantly could be another idea. Each pastor has to think through this matter and create a system which does not die out once he takes his foot off the accelerator; the system has to be self-sustaining.
Closely related to family discipleship is marriage counselling. Despite your best efforts at discipleship, couples will have trouble. You must be prepared to hear them out and give them wise counsel. Often, couples joining your church from other churches will have a host of issues because of the lack of discipleship in their previous churches. You cannot disregard them. If the Lord has brought them to you, it is your duty to give them attention. You have to give marriage counselling to them too. Today, there are a plethora of resources and courses which help us in getting equipped in this area. It would be wise for a pastor (and the elders) to get trained in marriage counselling so that they can bind up the wounds of hurting sheep.
Protect Your Own Marriage
Finally, to stem the tide of the broken-marriages-pandemic, you have to set an example with your own marriage. I have often heard it said that preaching is caught more than taught. The same thing could also be said of healthy marriages. Young couples need good examples. If they don’t have examples, they will inevitably imbibe the practices of the world and end up having miserable marriages. They must be able to see your marriage and notice the way you treat your wife, your children, and the priority you give to cultivating them as disciples of Christ.
Therefore, as a pastor or as a Christian leader you must give time to cultivate your own marriage. You must give time to your wife to nourish her spiritually, emotionally, and physically (Eph. 5:22-33; 1 Pet. 3:1-7). You must give time to your children. You must give time for family worship, family meals, and family vacations. All of this requires planning, which you must be willing to do lest your ministry (or hobby or whatever) swallow up your marriage. You have to set aside time for your family and be willing to say “No” to commitments which interfere in your discipling of your family. If a church ministry is hindering you from fulfilling your responsibility toward your family, then that ministry has to go. The last thing you want to hear from your wife and children is that you loved your ministry more than them.
Being a godly Christian husband, father, and leader is a tall calling. None of us are perfect and we will often fail. But the Lord gives grace to those who ask for it. And in time, God will help us to progress much in our marriage so that he truly uses it in the lives of others.
Strong families build strong churches. The church is a family of families (singles are of course as much part of the church as couples). Pastor/Christian leader, are you giving time to strengthen this institution? I pray that you will. And I also pray that the Lord will build his church with the strong blocks of mature Christian families and that the pandemic of broken marriages will be arrested.