Mentoring is essential to personal and professional development, and its importance cannot be overstated in every sphere of life. In Africa, mentoring has always been an integral part of communities and cultures, with elders and experienced individuals playing vital roles in guiding and supporting the younger generation through a relationship that emphasises mutual respect, trust, and understanding. Thus, from an African perspective, mentoring is viewed as a way of preserving cultural heritage, transmitting knowledge, and promoting social values. The mentor acts as a role model, providing guidance and support to the mentee, while the mentee learns from the mentor’s experiences and expertise. Besides, the communal emphasis of the African worldview also plays a role in how mentorship happens. Mentors are not just individuals who guide and support mentees; they are an essential part of a community that commits to and cares about the mentees’ success. The collective sense of the African community facilitates the mentoring and provision of support, encouragement, and resources for the mentees in achieving their goals. I believe the institution of marriage can benefit from this mentorship system based on the principles of the African community. Hence, this essay proposes Marriage Mentoring as a productive approach to enhancing Christian marriage.
The imperative for healthy Christian marriages and families in society cannot be overstated. Most pastors would agree that healthy churches and marriages are essential for the transformation of whole communities. However, statistics have shown that many churches do not prioritise marriage ministry. For instance, according to one survey, 69% of churches do not have an ongoing marriage ministry, and only a few have a comprehensive premarital program. While many African denominations have trained ministers for children and youth ministry, they do not often have full-time marriage pastors. Sadly, many pastors themselves also struggle maritally and lack the resources, skills, and training for effective marriage and family counselling. As such, the vast majority of churches do not have effective marriage and family ministry, thus, undermining their ministry and mission. Distressed couples and families will certainly affect the life of the church adversely in other areas, such as serving, volunteering, tithing, and attendance. Therefore, cultivating Christ-centred marriages should be a top ministry priority for churches.
To promote healthy Christian marriages and families within the Church, more so within the African milieu, it is important to equip mature and exemplary couples to mentor young couples and those whose homes are in distress. I will refer to these people as marriage mentors. While pastors, ministers, and professional counsellors play a crucial role in church-based marriage counselling, marriage mentors can also deploy their skills and experiences to help turbulent homes regain stability. By equipping marriage mentors and, thus, promoting healthy marriages, churches can fulfil their mission to transform their communities and have a trans-generational impact.
In building a thriving marriage ministry within a church, here are six helpful considerations deriving from Gary and Smalley’s work.
1. Develop a Vision for Marriage Ministry
The initial step is to develop a marriage ministry vision that is founded on a theology of relationships. This means that there should be a biblical rationale and foundation for wanting to develop a marriage ministry for your church. The emerging vision must be grounded in love for God (vertical love) and love for one another (horizontal love). Marriage ministry can be a powerful way to help live out the Great Commandment (love) and The Great Commission.
2. Discern The Status Quo
The second step is to conduct a thorough and honest assessment of the church to ascertain the spiritual, emotional, and relational state of the congregation. This step helps to identify the specific needs and challenges that couples within the church may be facing.
3. Identify Marriage Ministry Leaders and Marriage Mentors
The third step is to identify one or two lay couples to lead the Marriage Ministry as well as other couples that could be marriage mentors. The pastor’s role is to equip and facilitate, not to do all the work. By designating these couples as Marriage Mentors, the church can effectively delegate the responsibility of leading the marriage ministry to lay leaders. Such couples would be those who are known to be consistently working on their marriage, communicating effectively and already frequently providing marriage guidance. They should be authentic and transparent about the good, bad, and ugly in their marriage, and have a passion for marriage ministry. They should be mature believers, committed to spiritual growth, possess excellent people skills, and be consistent in their church attendance. In all, they must value the power of small-group fellowship.
4. Equip and Deploy the Marriage Mentors
After identifying them, churches should train and deploy the marriage mentors. While one or two couples may serve as lay leaders of the marriage ministry, others can also play a vital role in mentoring and supporting couples in crisis. By investing in marriage mentoring programs, churches can help strengthen families and ultimately build healthier communities.
5. Introduce Premarital Counselling Programme
It is also important to have a premarital programme for engaged couples. Such a programme should provide, at least, 8 to 10 hours of education from marriage mentors. Sessions can cover subjects like the purpose of marriage, commitment, communication, relationship with in-laws, sex, finance, and building a community. It has been proven by research that couples who went through a well-structured premarital counselling programme are significantly more likely to stay together.
6. Introduce Periodic Marriage Enrichment Events
Marriage enrichment activities could include events like parents’ night out, annual marriage enrichment seminars, daily or weekly devotionals for couples (received via social media platforms like WhatsApp or accessible from the church’s website), blended family support systems, and marriage teachings in small groups. These activities can enhance couples’ relationship skills, thereby, giving divorce a less likely chance.
7. Provide Marriage Crisis Support
It is equally important to provide meaningful help and social support for couples who are in a marriage crisis. Divorce and distressed couples or families can cause harm to the church’s reputation, create leadership voids, lead to a decline in giving, and disrupt other relationships. By creating a safe place where people can talk about their marital difficulties with trusted persons, the church can provide appropriate help and support to those who need it most. The rich oral tradition of African societies and storytelling can form an essential part of delivering this support. Marriage Mentors can use stories and anecdotes from their lives, the experiences of other believers, and the Bible, to convey knowledge, wisdom, and transformational marriage lessons to couples in crisis. These stories help to connect the couples to their cultural and biblical heritage and instil in them a sense of pride and identity.Of course, there must be a place for prayer, transparency about members’ struggles, and testimonies of couples who have overcome similar situations. For some complex situations, it may also be wise to explore external support systems such as professional Christian counsellors or mental health experts.
In conclusion, since healthy marriages and families make healthy churches and, ultimately, a healthy society, nurturing them should be a top priority for every church. Indeed, the church should be the breeding centre for healthy marriages in a country due to its unique role in nation-building. God is a relational being of love, and He desires all humanity to love.