When Toni was a child, she grew up in a broken home. She missed not living with both of her parents every day. “Mostly, I lived with my mother,” she says. “She taught us about the Lord and that He loved us, but I still missed my earthly father.”
Ted, on the other hand, grew up with both of his parents. But open communication was lacking in his home. “My parents, though saved, did not communicate well,” he says. “My father believed that being the head of the home meant doing whatever he felt was best without consulting or communicating with my mother or us children.”
When we married 31 years ago, we wanted our family to be different—we wanted God’s best. Since He designed the home with a mother and a father, then that’s what we wanted for our family. We desired to be lifelong friends who shared in family decision-making.
We also realized that we could never know enough about how to strengthen our marriage. When we attended a FamilyLife Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway, we heard about FamilyLife’s small-group Bible studies, The HomeBuilders Couples Series®.We decided that it could help not only our marriage, but also other marriages in our church.
A revolution in our church
We attend Christian Faith Fellowship Family Church in Middletown, N.Y., and its vision is to build strong families. Almost two and a half years ago we visited with our pastor and his wife about beginning a HomeBuilders small-group ministry. They agreed that the timing was right and that God was leading us.
We didn’t want to see any more divorces in our church. We felt that God was leading us to help strengthen others’ marriages while continuing to build a strong marriage for ourselves. So in January 2006 four couples joined us in our first HomeBuilders Couples Series study. In the last two and a half years, 96 couples have gone through the study, and it is revolutionizing our church.
We’ve discovered that most married couples are ignorant of God’s plan and purpose for marriage. Several of our couples came to a small group on the verge of divorce. One couple in particular told us there was nothing we could do to change their minds. They were already seeing an attorney, and they were set on getting divorced. By completing the HomeBuilders study and through prayer, they decided they would work with God and each other to build a strong marriage for the future of their children and grandchildren.
Another couple had experienced some infidelity on both of their parts. The husband had stopped going to church. Following the sessions, he returned to church and is now seeking church membership. They renewed their wedding vows and are enjoying being married. They have forgiven each other. We saw them shopping together last week with their three children. It was a joy to behold!
Graduation and renewing of wedding vows
After going through the study, couples have the option of renewing their wedding vows. More than 80 have done so in front of our congregation. We have one renewal-of-vows ceremony per season (winter, spring, summer, and fall), and it is incorporated into the morning service.
We call it our graduation/renewal-of-vows ceremony. Everyone dresses in the same colors (red, black, and white) just like any other graduation. Each bride is given a rose to carry in her hand. Before the service we pray over each couple individually and we line them up and prepare them to enter the sanctuary.
As the couples walk down the aisle during the ceremony, their names are announced and their wedding pictures appear on a giant screen. The congregation applauds each couple. When all have come forward, we tell the congregation the vision of the HomeBuilders Couples Series, what we do in each class, and then we ask the couples to face each other and repeat their wedding vows. It’s like a fresh start.
On April 27, 2008, 25 married couples renewed their vows and sealed their words with a kiss on the platform in front of a few hundred people.
We want even more marriages to be transformed and strengthened through HomeBuilders studies. That’s why we are currently training some potential leaders who will help us facilitate additional groups. Our prayer is that there will be no further marriage casualties in our church.
There is so much joy in knowing that we are making a difference in other people’s lives. And to think that we just wanted to strengthen other marriages as we strengthened our own. We put our desire in God’s hands and He did the rest.
*The HomeBuilders Couples Series® is now The Art of Marriage® Connect Series.
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