Nov 202013 5 Responses

Why Marriage Matters to the Church

The most common reason couples leave the church is because of divorce. (See: How Divorce Can Proclaim the Gospel)

They didn’t tell me this in seminary. I’m not aware of any official studies which have been done. But a decade of ministry has made it clear.

During one of my first years in the pastorate, I experienced my first serious critique. It wasn’t bad; it didn’t seem out of line. The man had legitimate complaints. He saw my mistakes and pointed them out in a constructive way.

I thought the meeting went well. The man left the church but our relationship was in good standing. Yet a few months later when I heard the man had left his wife, I was hurt. At the very time the man was questioning my pastoral abilities, he was having an affair.

I assumed it was a rare experience, but years later I realize it is not the exception, but the rule.

The most common people to complain and leave are those who are having serious relationship problems.

I’m not sure of the correlation:

Maybe their personal lives are falling apart and complaining about others makes them feel better.

Maybe they are weary so their patience is more limited than others.

Maybe critical people are more likely to get a divorce.

Maybe it’s distraction to give an excuse to leave.

People often separate themselves from long-lasting relationships before a sin becomes public so that the guilt isn’t so overwhelming, yet I’m uncertain of the exact relationship between divorce, affairs, and leaving the church.

What I do know is this: divorce damages the church.

The Bible says far less about marriage than I would expect. Yet in several passages Paul discusses marriage in his letters to the churches. Ephesians 5 is probably the most famous passage.

What’s the correlation between marriage and Paul’s letters to the churches?

Most of the early churches met in homes. As Paul wrote to strengthen these local bodies and aid their proclamation of the gospel, marriage had a very practical importance. How uncomfortable would worship be in a house where the husband and wife were fighting?

Paul wrote about marriage, in part, because of its powerful influence on the local church. Clearly marriage matters beyond the local church. It serves as a tremendous testimony to the world about Christ’s love of the church. It provides the greatest climate for spiritual transformation which most people will ever experience. But it also influences the local church.

Divorce hinders the ministry of the local church.

It was true in the day of Paul and it is equally true today.

The number one reason a couple leaves our church is because of a broken marriage relationship.

It’s not the only reason a couple leaves. The assumption cannot be made—well, they left so their marriage must be in trouble. But it happens often enough that I’m rarely surprised when someone complains, leaves, and then soon divorces.

Happily married people complain, but their complaints are most often done in the context of improving the church, understanding decisions, and supporting the pastor. Unhappy people often complain in order to distract, create a rift, and leave.

Divorce matters to the church because:

It hinders the church’s testimony in the community. The message of the gospel is not about how good we are, however, our lives are to point to a life-transforming grace. Broken relationships weaken our testimony to a world who is watching everything we do.

It steals potential leaders. At the very time in which many people should have matured in their faith and started leading small groups or ministries, they are often trying to put the pieces of their lives back together because of a divorce. Much of the leadership vacuum in the church is because of broken relationships.

It drains the pastoral staff. Marriage ministry is a part of every pastor’s life. It is and it should be. However, imagine if the divorce rate was cut in half. Imagine if the number of affairs were far less than what they are. How much more time could a pastor spend in other areas if he wasn’t doing the vital work of assisting hurting couples.

It depletes the church’s resources. Divorce is difficult on people’s finances. As they struggle, they give less which in turn weakens the churches ministry.

It distracts from the church’s mission. So often the loudest voice gets the attention. It’s true in most organizations and it’s often true in churches. If unhappy people are more likely to complain, then often unhappy people will determine the issues in which a church focuses. It shouldn’t be this way, but it often is. As someone distracts attention way from their personal problems, they often end up distracting the church away from its ultimate mission.

Marriage matters and it matters for a variety of reasons. One of the main reasons it matters is because of its influence on the local church. Healthy families create a climate for healthy worship and effective ministry.


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