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Pastoring Couples to become Friends, Partners & Lovers

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Photo of a pastor conducting a wedding with the married couple holding hands.
Pastor Kevin A. Thompson recently took time to talk about how to pastor couples into becoming better friends, partners & lovers.

Kevin A. Thompson is the lead pastor at Community Bible Church in western Arkansas. He is also the author of the book, Friends, Partners & Lovers, and hosts a blog at kevinathompson.com. Pastor Thompson recently took time to talk about how to pastor couples into becoming better friends, partners & lovers.

As a pastor, what role do you play in helping marriages?

Ultimately, who is it that people turn to when it comes to the relationships? Whenever they want to get married, they call the pastor. Whenever they are struggling with issues, they call the pastor.

I see myself often as a triage nurse. I’m not a professional counselor. I’m not going to spend multiple sessions with a couple over a long period of time. That’s a professional’s job. But when the affair is found out, when the debt is suddenly revealed, when the struggle has finally gotten so much that one person reaches out, they come to my office. I’m going to figure out how severe is their illness at this point, and who is the specialist they need to get with.

On occasion, they just need to read a good marriage book, they just need some time off, to think about marriage. In other circumstances, I’m encouraging them to go to Hope Restored marriage intensives. I’m telling them to go to Focus on the Family to get assistance. I’m linking them to a local counselor of some sort.

I think a pastor has to look at this in the totality of all his roles and responsibilities, that marriage is always on his mind in some way.

What should pastors do when couples come to them with marriage problems?

I think as a pastor you need to recognize your strengths and your weaknesses. If we’re not very careful, people expect pastors to do everything.

I’m not a counselor. My joke is I play one on the internet. I can write marriage books that are generally true, that are generally good principles. Anyone can pick them up, read them and it’s going to help their marriage – I have no doubt about it. I can do a marriage conference where we can study the general concepts about a relationship. That’s my strength.

I can meet with a couple and send them to the right people. That’s what I can do. What I can’t do is get down and dig down into an individual couple’s problems and over an extended period of time, really get to the root causes and help them plan what’s going to come next. I’m just not going to have the time to do that. I also don’t have the training to do that.

Pastors need first and foremost to recognize what they are good at, and what they are not good at. Have no shame in that whatsoever. You need to have a series of counselors that you trust, that you refer to on a regular basis. You’re playing the spiritual advisor as they’re working on that relationship with a professional.

Then as a church, you’re investing in relationships. You’re holding marriage nights. I love doing them. I’ll go to a church, and we’ll meet for two hours, three hours, and that will be just a shot in the arm, almost like a steroid shot to those couples, to go out and motivate them to work on those issues. It doesn’t require anything from the pastor, maybe a small investment. In most areas and regions, there are people who can come in and do these kind of events. My guess is you can call Focus on the Family and get assistance with that.

The danger for churches is we can claim that we value marriage in theory, but in practice, we’re actually eroding it away. We’re not giving it the investment that it actually needs. I think for pastors, we need to know our limits, know our strengths, have the right resources we can point to, and just encourage people to do what they need to do. 

What other responsibilities do pastors have to married couples?

I think it’s my responsibility to model a strong marriage. I have to be very intentional with (my wife) Jenny in our relationship. She owns her own business. I’m pastoring a church. I’m writing books. I’m traveling to conferences. It would be very easy for us to proclaim what we need to do and never live it out. When problems come up, we go to counseling. We read marriage books. We intentionally take time off so we’re working on our own relationships.

We model it and create a culture in which we value marriage. That means there’s no shame when you’re going through problems or struggles. The only shame would be if you didn’t work on it. We expect problems to come to light, but we’re going to point you in the right direction and applaud you as you’re doing the work that is necessary.

Then as we’re preaching, we’re making sure we’re applying God’s word into marriages. Wherever you are in scripture, God instituted the church and the family, so I think it’s very easy to apply God’s word into both of those areas.

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