Church and Marriage – Part 2
This is the second of a four part blog series answering the question: Why do couples who are actively involved in church have a lower divorce rate?
# 2 – The Benefit of Accountability
It is inherent in marriage that a husband and wife are each accountable one to another. Isn’t this a part of the sacred vows that the couple makes at the altar? A promise to be faithful, to forsake all others, to thee all my worldly goods I endow, etc. This is the language of accountability. In the last post I laid the strong case for how life separates. Husband and wife easily and almost naturally find themselves going in opposite directions with separate careers, friend bases, dreams, goals, and so forth. As the distance grows so does the lack of accountability.
Once again, the church is there to anchor marriage to the rock of accountability. When I do premarital counseling I tell young couples that as soon as they tie the knot they need to establish a church home. That also includes finding and getting involved in a small group of other newly married couples. I remember the first year of marriage for me and Julie. We were serving on staff at Parkview Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. We had been hired along with four other newly married seminary couples to work on a church growth initiative. It was so awesome to be around other couples just like us. I remember sitting around numerous meals exchanging stories and laughing about married life. We were all young and naïve about life and like so many couples had entered marriage under the veil of idealism. You don’t have to be married very long to understand that a healthy marriage is real work. It is so easy to think that something is fundamentally wrong with the relationship when all is not bliss. But being able to see and hear other couples going through the exact same thing made me and Julie feel “normal.” It also provided an extraordinary level of accountability. We knew other people were watching our relationship and there was a level of expectation. That sense of expectation is a good thing. It drives you to be better. To work hard. To make it work.
There are two other aspects of accountability that only the church can provide for married couples. First, when you build your life into the church, you become acutely aware that people are watching you. Teenagers, children, singles, etc. Church is about people. Sometimes that can drive you crazy but it was all designed by God because He knows we need each other. The collective is a powerful tool of accountability. As a married couple in church you sense that people are “counting on you.” They want to see your marriage make it. Conversely there is a certain sense of shame when a marriage fails in the eyes of the church. It’s not that anyone is throwing stones. It’s more of a “we let people down” kind of shame. I would argue that this kind of shame is healthy. I remember many times as a teenager that the only reason I did not do something really stupid or foolish was because I did not want to bring shame to my mother and father. In the culture of our world, the sense of shame has been completely lost. You can do anything you want to do, be as selfish as you want to be, and hold your head high. Please listen to me on this, there is nothing wrong with being shamed into doing the right thing. Church provides this unique kind of accountability when no one else does. Second, being in church as a married couple puts you in contact with older, more mature couples who are actually modeling successful marriages. They have made it work and are happy and loving and the picture of everything you want your marriage to be. I recently performed the funeral for one of the most godly of women in our church. It was impossible to speak of her life without speaking of her husband who sat right in front of me. When you thought of one you automatically thought of the other. I spoke to this dear brother in Christ during the service and thanked him for his 64 years of marital testimony to our church. I told him that “he did it.” He and his wife had set the example for the rest of us to follow. This is the picture of accountability, once again, uniquely found only in the church.
About six months ago I ran into a young man who used to attend our church with his family. They had been very active when I came here five years ago as pastor. But at some point a couple of years ago they just stopped coming to church. People called and encouraged them to come back but they were always too “busy.” There were weekend trips, ball games, someone was sick, etc. Always some excuse to not come to church. I asked this man, who I consider a friend and brother in Christ, how things were going and I was saddened to hear that he was in the middle of a divorce. I told Julie and she made contact with his wife. I won’t go into all the “he said, she said” aspects of the story, but one thing this lady told Julie really struck me. She told my wife, “You know, looking back on it I can see that it really all started to fall apart the moment we left church.” What she was really saying without realizing it was that it all began to fall apart when they stepped outside the umbrella of accountability.
Make your marital life accountable to your church life. Save your marriage. Go to church.