September 1, 2001
100,000 Mentor Couples in 10,000 Churches
The American Association of
Christian Counselors (AACC) made an extraordinary announcement this week
that they will seek to train 100,000 married couples as marriage coaches
in 10,000 churches over the next five years.
''This is the best news I have
heard this year for the marriage-strengthening movement,'' commented
Diane Sollee, founder and director of the Coalition for Marriage, Family
and Couple Education.
''Research shows that the people
who can best teach the skills of how to have a good marriage are those
who have solid marriages, serving as mentor couples. People get married
in churches, so this work is best done in congregations, where there is
trust. It is natural to recruit couples who are part of that
Most marriage preparation today
is done by pastors or professional counselors, such as AACC members.
Sollee, a former Associate Director of the American Association of
Marriage and Family Therapy, thinks that is a mistake:
''We don't need to turn marriage
into a mental health issue. Marriage is not a disease. It is a language
that must be learned. Mentor couples do a better job of teaching because
they are not outsiders with a white coat syndrome. For example, a
stepfamily couple who has walked the walk, can be more helpful to a
couple entering a stepfamily than some professional who may never have
been in a stepfamily and may not even be married.''
AACC President Tim Clinton said
his group's 45,000 members were moved by recent George Barna polling
data showing that ''divorce in the church is at a par with the society
at large. The divorce rate is still at an epidemic proportion. About 40
to 50 percent of people who are getting married this year, will end up
getting divorced, and if separations are also counted it is 66 to 67
Therefore AACC is calling not
just the church ''but the nation to some type of effort to curb, to
reduce the divorce rate. We are demonstrating our commitment by
providing resources to help strengthen marriages. We have produced
''Marriage Works,'' 30 one-hour videos by some of the finest people in
marriage coaching and marriage mentoring. We have enrolled 5,000
already, with more than 100 from a single church.''
Most marriages fail due to
selfishness. What they need to see modeled for them is selflessness. No
one can do a better job teaching selfless love than a couple who has
learned that lesson often painfully.
Consider Kevin and Julie Steuber
of Overland Park, Kansas. Both had one failed marriage before marrying
each other 15 years ago. Four years later, Julie filed for divorce.
Police showed up to escort him out of the house. Why?
''Kevin was very controlling.
When I got a job and brought home a paycheck, he said, `It has to be
spent on what I say it goes to.' No matter how many times I explained
how I felt, he did not understand. We differed on the way we should
raise children, in our communication styles and did not agree on
Kevin thought he was the
''perfect husband,'' a Christian who was a good provider, working at two
jobs, who never chased other women. But he now ruefully acknowledges
that ''I never listened to Julie, to hear what she needed. I couldn't
understand why she got so emotional.''
They paid $100 an hour for eight
visits to a counselor who agreed that Kevin was doing all he could in
the marriage. He told Julie, ''You better shape up and listen to your
Pretty hopeless, right? Not at
all, because Kevin was taken in by a friend, Dale Hedrick, who, with his
wife, showed him videotapes by Gary Smalley, ''Hidden Keys to Loving
Relationships'' which explain in an often humorous way, how radically
men and women differ. Dale also went to Julie and showed her the
same videos. ''They softened my heart,'' she recalls. ''I learned why he
does not understand my feelings. I agreed to allow him to come back to
''He then listed everything we
had ever argued about, and said, `When I said this, I really hurt you.'
He was right, dead on. Once you break through the communications
barrier, how each sex works, we could work things out.''
Today they lead a ''Marriage
Assist Team'' of marriage mentors at Christ Lutheran Church who came
alongside a dozen conflicted couples, all of whom saved their
The key, says Kevin, is ''God's
plan for marriage. If you think of God first, your spouse second, and
yourself last your priorities are straight. Selfishness is a huge
He knows from experience and can
Copyright 2001 Michael J. McManus.