One Pastor’s Experience
An Interview with Paul Lux
Cornerstone Fellowship in Livermore, California
Cornerstone Fellowship in Livermore, California
How, when, and why did your church launch a marriage mentoring ministry?
My wife and I have been attending Cornerstone for 16 years, and we’ve been married 21. About a year ago we were offered the opportunity to lead the marriage ministry, and it’s been great. We had great staff leadership in our marriage outreach for many years, but there was a bit of a void in concentrated leadership in the recent past. One of the net results was that there was a hunger within the marriage community. We know a lot of people in the church, and many of them came up to us when we started and asked us, “Is there any way you can put together a system for us to meet with mature, experienced married folks? Where we can find another couple to come alongside us?” So they were voicing this need in a raw form, and often they didn’t even necessarily know how to articulate it, but they were looking for a couple who is a little further down the road to come alongside them.
I didn’t have the bandwidth or the desire to create something from scratch. So I looked at the options available, and what I liked about the Parrotts’ program (the Marriage Mentoring Academy, created by Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott) is the flexibility it offers, which is reflected in the attitude and spirit of the leadership in their organization. Their attitude is, “If you can tweak it to make it work for you, that’s wonderful.” I wanted the flexibility to fit the culture of our church and the needs of our people.
Can you tell us about the training?
We have required training because we want some standardization. For some couples it’s almost entirely new stuff, and others are already familiar with many of the concepts. But it gets everyone on the same page no matter where they’re coming from. The Parrotts have a web-based training module that couples can do on their own, but what we found was that no one was willing to do it on their own, because everyone leads busy lives, etc. So we did a Friday night and Saturday morning event where we fed everyone dinner and breakfast and went through all the modules, and it worked very well. I really liked being able to host the training, facilitate some group feedback, handle concerns and build a sort of team spirit amongst the group. After eight hours all the mentors have been trained and are out of the gate and ready to go.
What was the initial interest level among your congregation?
It was good. I’m glad it wasn’t too gigantic right away because if it was any bigger I think we’d have been overwhelmed. The Parrotts suggest three tracks in their marriage mentoring—preparing, maximizing, and repairing—but we were only interested in the maximizing track because we already have programs in place that address the other two needs. We wanted couples coming alongside and encouraging, praying for, and strengthening other marriages.
We then identified a lead couple to help take point on the ministry but, after further prayer and honesty with themselves, felt they may have jumped the gun and decided not to fill that role. The “mentor train” had left the station by that point so my wife and I were left to do the brunt of the initial work. But I really think it was providential because it allowed us to get our hands dirty and really get involved at the ground floor. And I’ve just recently met with another couple and, after much prayer and discussion, they have decided to be our lead couple. Phew!
Our initial efforts were aimed at training mentor couples, and we had about 50 couples who expressed an interest right away. An unexpected, but encouraging and affirming thing occurred: we also had about 30 couples express an interest in being mentored before we had even asked!
What feedback are you getting from the couples involved?
I am amazed at the ways in which God has paired couples with commonalities in which we were not even aware. We have already seen marital issues that were being “stuffed” or “buried” (because of pride or confusion or uncertainty of how to proceed) come to the surface through discussions and then have those issues resourced with counseling and other help while the mentor couple remains supportive and in their corner. Often, we wonder why God allows us to go through tough times. As we come through those tough times, we see that God can use the lessons we’ve learned and the examples of His provision for the benefit of others. Marriage Mentoring is such an awesome way to share those life lessons in a very real, honest, and empathetic way.
From your experience, what would you say are some of the keys to success?
I think one of the keys would be to develop a network of folks who can be a sounding board, where you could check in by monthly conference call or whatever. It would be useful to have pastors who are leading a marriage mentoring program sharing with each other what they’re learning. Another thing I already mentioned, and that is to get all the paperwork done at the training, so you’re not having to chase it down afterwards. I’d also recommend offering the training in such a way as to get as many of the couples who are interested trained at one time as possible.
What have been some of the biggest challenges?
One of the things we did was add a confidentiality agreement to the Parrotts’ mentor application, because our on-site counseling center leadership suggested it. Nothing too complicated, but there should be an expectation that what happens within the confines of the mentoring relationship stays there. But we only added that later as an afterthought once the training was already finished, so we expended a lot of energy chasing people around to get those signed and returned. Live and learn!
Another challenge, which has been exciting, not frustrating, is the actual matching of the couples. We started by matching 20-25 different couples. So we looked at the mentoree couples’ “what’s your issues” section of the application—communication issues, long work hours, different faith backgrounds, or whatever—and also looked at the mentors’ information—What are you good at? What have you gone through? We took those bits of information and a giant dose of the Holy Spirit to pair these couples. We also created profile cards for each couple where we identified ten of the top thirty issues—infertility, infidelity, etc.—and gave them greater weight. So we have these cards laid out on a big table, and we’re also looking at vocation—if we can pair a first responder with a first responder, there’s instant relatability. We also looked at geographic proximity, but that wouldn’t outweigh, say, matching a blended family with a blended family. It wasn’t easy, it was a challenge, but it was a really rewarding process.
How do you address misperceptions about marriage mentoring?
The number one hurdle I find is that I’ll run into a couple, and I’ll say, “You guys are awesome. You should be mentors.” And they’ll say, “Oh, no, we could never be counselors.” They have this perception that they would have to fix all the other couple’s problems. You have so many people who don’t understand what the role of a marriage mentor is—and isn’t. We have a system in place that allows a mentor couple to forward the couple to counseling when the larger, messier issues come up, while they remain their cheerleaders through the storm. When you handle that objection, I have found a great number of them are happy to help others. It’s not really a motivation, but it is a fact that by mentoring another couple you experience what the Parrotts call the “Boomerang Effect” – a blessing in your own marriage when you pour into others.
Any final thoughts?
If I had the ability, I would like to meet with every married couple in our church over coffee and tell them, “God loves you and He wants to see your marriage thrive, with Him in the middle of it!” The reality is I can’t do that from a practical standpoint. But with marriage mentoring I’m multiplied by other couples who are often even better suited to minister to a particular couple than my wife and I would be. My heart is multiplied by other couples with the same heart who might be able to meet with two or three other couples over the course of a year, and then be available to them long-term.
I am constantly encouraging couples to make an “intentional and consistent investment in their marriage relationship.” Marriage mentoring is certainly a key part of this, and seeing God do, not only the miraculous, but the unexpected, is humbling and gives me goose bumps!
How can I find the time to do this with a schedule that’s already packed?
Pastors with marriage mentoring in their churches often report that these ministries end up being significant time savers for the church staff. True, there will be an initial investment to help get the program off the ground. Along those lines, the two most important and significant things you can do are to simply bless the marriage mentoring effort and identify and empower key couples to help launch it. Once a lead lay couple or couples have been selected and trained, they and the rest of the mentoring couples do the vast majority of the work. Pastors then find they are called on less frequently to address marital issues and crises, both because of healthier marriages in their congregation in general and because mentors themselves become the go to people for mentoree couples, in many cases even long after the official mentoring relationship has ended.
I know very little about marriage mentoring. How do I get up to speed on the subject?
The good news is you as the pastor don’t have to become an expert. Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott have helped countless churches begin marriage mentoring ministries. You and your church can plug into their expertise, training and resources through their Marriage Mentoring Academy.
Does the success of a marriage mentoring ministry hinge on my marriage?
No. In this case, your marriage isn’t the one in the spotlight. Marriage mentoring is powered by experienced, capable couples who serve as role models for the couples they mentor. But you can positively influence the mentoring ministry by continually investing in your own marriage and participating as you are able in the program.
Will there be interest from my congregation if we start a marriage mentoring ministry?
Absolutely! Surveys show that 84% of couples want a mentor while only 22% actually have one. You’ll find there are plenty of potential marriage mentor couples in your congregation, but some of them may need just a bit of encouragement to overcome their initial hesitations. Once those are addressed, potential mentor couples are usually happy to step up to the plate. And after they do, many end up reporting that marriage mentoring is the most fulfilling ministry they’ve ever experienced!
What are some of the keys to launching a successful marriage mentoring ministry?
Practically speaking, you’ll want to first identify key couples who you think would be a good fit in leading this initiative. Talk to them and affirm them as leaders. Often couples are willing to do this, but they simply need you to empower them by your encouraging words. You’ll also want to use your platform as pastor to promote the concept to your congregation. And as we mentioned earlier, we recommend you take advantage of the tremendous resources and training available through the Marriage Mentoring Academy.
Once you have your key couple or couples trained and ready to go, walk with them as they recruit other mentor and mentoree couples, train mentors, match couples, and launch the program. You don’t have to be the one on the ground leading, but it will be important for couples in your congregation to see your presence and sense your blessing over the program.