On a recent Sunday at our church, a brave, young couple shared their painful journey of marriage failure and redemption. Here’s what they said (their video testimony is at the first of the video; their live interview is at the end):
Watching the video and the live interview which followed was a tough experience for them as well as for our congregation. The wife told her story first, of how she discovered her husband’s infidelities. The husband then followed, sharing his failure, guilt and regret in what he’d done.
Following the video, both then appeared live in front of our congregation to talk live about how they came through it all to a new beginning for their marriage. The ending of their story was wonderful—which was of course the point of the day’s sermon. They found how willing God is to restore our brokenness if we will turn to Him.
What followed after, though, wasn’t nearly as positive. The day following the service, the wife shared with me that following her testimony, twelve women had approached her asking for help in handling the same kind of situation in their own marriages. A dozen women within 24 hours! A week later, she told me that women continued to come to her for help.
Other women have been continually contacting me personally with the same situation, on the telephone, through email and by making personal appointments:
Pastor, my husband has been having an affair, what should I do?
Pastor, I caught my husband having internet relationships with other women, can you help us?
Pastor, my husband left me for another woman years ago, and the pain has never gone away, can you refer me to a counselor?
Our church is a great congregation of committed, loving people serious about their faith. For this kind of grass-roots response to such an issue makes me believe that we’ve only begun to see how serious this problem is. This is only the tip of the iceberg, and many more marriages in our churches today are wrestling with the private pain of betrayal than we realize.
I admit that I’m struggling with how to respond. Starting a support class—the typical Baptist response to anything—doesn’t fit the bill. Somehow, the idea of a group of wives sitting around a Sunday School classroom grieving their marriages doesn’t sound like it will address the gravity of this situation. A sermon series—another favorite response—while maybe addressing the biblical issues involved, won’t help that much either. Many of the very people who’re falling into this kind of behavior have been in church most of their lives. If preaching would have fixed them they would have been fixed long ago. Men’s accountability groups are another way churches try to help. And men’s groups can have a great impact. In fact, many men have found that meeting regularly with a group of godly friends is one of the most positive things they do. At the same time, just because you’re meeting with a men’s group is no guarantee that you’re not going to hide what’s really going on in your heart. Gordon MacDonald, one of the nation’s best known evangelical pastors was faithful in his men’s accountability group while having an affair (you can read his compelling story in Rebuilding Your Broken World)
I think the place we begin with this—and it’s only a beginning—includes the following actions:
· Work to create a church culture where stories of failure are as welcomed as stories of victory. The gospel is for broken people.
· Hold up marriage in our churches, not as a place of performance and perfection but as the most important place where God’s work of sanctification is really accomplished. It’s our marriages more than even our churches where God truly makes us like Jesus.
· Realize that our churches aren’t exempt from the same stresses and failures that are affecting the rest of our surrounding culture. Whatever’s happening in society around us is also happening in our churches.
· In our sexually charged society, where people can and do act out in whatever ways they choose, we should be prepared in our churches to deal with the consequences of sexual sin.
· Passing judgment on people who’ve wounded others and been wounded themselves by their sexual sins doesn’t accomplish anything. Our focus instead must be on restoration.