It's always better to address potential problems than actual ones, and it's better to be proactive than reactive.
Thus, our church encourages the couples in our midst who are in their first two years of marriage to join a small group of other newly married couples led by a veteran couple. Hopefully, this limits future problems and helps to build firm foundations for God-glorifying marriages.
Here are some hints for leading a newly married group.
- Keep the group smaller than six couples (including the leaders).
- Keep the group together for two years, but rotate them after one year to another veteran couple to hear another take on marriage.
- Work hard to have the entire group present each time you meet. The regularity (every two weeks or once a month) is less important than everyone being present to participate. Given the mobile society we're in, we found the simplest way forward was to bring our calendars to each gathering and schedule TWO meetings in advance.
- Meet for no less than an hour and for no more than two.
- Rotate the responsibility to host the group. As the leader you may learn a lot by visiting each couple's home.
- Pick a couple who is not hosting to provide dessert for the group. We found periodic meals after church with a discussion centered on the sermon to be helpful and fun as well.
- Get to know each other BEFORE you try to unpack the marriages.
- Spend the first meeting listening to each other's backgrounds and conversion stories.
- In a separate meeting get each person to describe his/her parents' relationship. As the leader you will learn important information about the person's experience and perception of marriage. This will undoubtedly feed your counsel to each member.
- Pick a book to begin reading as a group maybe a chapter or two for each meeting. The point is not necessarily the book itself. Your goal is to get these couples thinking about marriage and shaking their presumptions out of the closet. Use the book as a launching pad for a strong discussion. Books to consider:
- Love the Lasts, Gary and Betsy Ricucci
- Sex, Romance and the Glory of God, C. J. Mahaney
- When Sinners Say I Do, Dave Harvey
- Each for the Other, Bryan Chappell
- God, Marriage and Family, Andreas Kostenberger
- Money, Possessions and Eternity, Randy Alcorn (money is a big issue for couples!)
- When you think the group is ready, have everyone close their eyes and raise their hands if they wish to split up (men in one room and women in another) to have a discussion about sexual intimacy. The first time I did this the vote was unanimous in favor of splitting up. You would assume in our sex-soaked culture that ignorance would be limited. It's not. As the leader, you need to determine how specific you want to be in your discussion. So far everyone has found this approach helpful, and many who have struggled in this area have found it encouraging to know they were not alone.
- Mentally prepare the young couples for the addition of children by openly talking about the transitionboth the joys and the challenges.
- Lead the group without lecturing.
- Make yourself available for more private conversations outside the group for couples who are struggling.
- Finally, pray for your group. Satan loves division and has worked havoc even on Christian couples. Fight back by asking for God's protection.
Matt Schmucker, who is married to Elizabeth and is the father of five children, is the executive director for 9Marks and an elder at the Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC.
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