Early in our marriage, my husband and I started attending a church where we were placed in a small group with other young families. One week our leader asked the group two questions: What do you admire most about your spouse? And what is one thing that you would like to change about yourself that would make your marriage better?

The answers to these questions revealed burning issues underneath the surface of their glowing faces. Although I have no doubt that each husband and wife loves his or her spouse, there were relationship problems building already, even though most of them have been married a short time.

One of the most poignant examples was John, who confessed to shutting out his wife, Mary, because he was drained from going to school while also earning a living. “I want to get back to being the man I was when she married me,” John said, turning to look at Mary. She smiled awkwardly, and then turned away, attempting to cover her weeping eyes.

Another couple, married less than a year, confessed they felt they were already growing apart due to spending too much time with friends and activities, and not enough time with each other.

It isn’t that these husbands and wives are angry at each other or don’t love each other; they just haven’t had anyone show them how to have a healthy, biblical marriage. Their problems can be remedied with the right teaching, but unless there is someone to show them the right road, how will they ever find it?

Historically, it was parents that took a role in shaping the lives of young couples, but in recent years, our society has veered away from dependence on extended family. In addition to that, parents often come from a background of divorce and have a difficult time understanding marriage themselves. As a result, they find it hard to mentor their children in an area where they have been hurt or don’t understand.

That’s why mentoring is so important—someone must fill the void. Mentoring takes place when older married couples in the church are willing to invest in the lives of younger people, showing them what marriage is meant to be. Sometimes it involves guiding and teaching in a private setting; other times, it just involves a willingness to share.

What young couples need is you

Young couples need growing husbands and wives to step into their lives, bringing wisdom. As our society has become more focused on personal rights, we tend to shy away from teaching others about life. After all, we don’t want to “force our feelings onto someone else” or “judge them when I am just as guilty.” But this is not about “forcing” or “judging,” it’s about feeding the hungry and healing the sick. In Titus 2:2-8, Paul specifically encourages the older in the church to teach the younger:

Older men are to be temperate, dignified, sensible, sound in faith, in love, in perseverance. Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.

Likewise urge the young men to be sensible; in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us.

Mature couples may feel they are not qualified to mentor, especially when their own marriage isn’t perfect. But the mentor relationship isn’t about perfection; it’s about growing.

Jerry and Naoma McCartney of Little Rock, Ark., have mentored dozens of couples in the past five years through newlywed small groups, marriage preparation classes, and friendships with young people. Jerry explains being a mentor in the terms of a baseball coach: “You may not have been the best at baseball, but you know more than a first-grader does, even if you just teach him to stand at the plate.”

If you are in a growing, Bible-centered marriage, then you may be a perfect candidate to mentor couples in your congregation.

Shane Fookes, a previous staff member of Familylife, has completed hours of research and compiled thousands of survey results regarding the meaning and definition of mentoring and its value in the culture. Fookes introduces his explanation of mentoring with this statement:

No matter how you define mentoring, the strength of the concept is firmly rooted in the power of relationship. In our culture, many are under the mistaken impression that the way to produce spiritually mature Christians (or good marriages) is to enroll people in a course. We give them books on the subject. We take them to passages of Scripture. We hand out assignments and worksheets. Certainly these are good things. But people need more—they need someone who cares about them enough to encourage them, share skills with them, and help them apply all these to meet their specific needs. This is the heart of mentoring.

The McCartneys agree that mentoring is more about relationship than a regimented schedule. “It’s really about being a sister or brother in Christ,” Naoma says. “There will be times when you have to pray with that person and speak the truth in love, but it’s difficult to do that if there is no relationship established between you.”

David and Michelle Ready of El Cajon, Calif., is another couple that is involved in a mentoring ministry. The Readys have been officially mentoring young couples in their church for more than 3 years and unofficially for more than 10. “Mentoring is a lot like discipleship,” David says. “You live out what the scripture says, and in doing so you become an encouragement to others around you.”

There are many ways to be a mentor, but in this article, we will cover three main methods: Casual relationships, small group leadership, and one-on-one relationships with specific goals.

Casual relationships

The first type of mentoring takes place in causal relationships. By casual relationships, I mean co-mingling with young couples, getting involved in their lives as a friend and living example of what a godly marriage looks like on a day-to-day basis.

In this type of relationship, it’s important to be aware of the young couples that run in your church circles. If you aren’t currently involved in areas of the church with young couples, get in a place where you co-mingle with them, like the nursery or young marrieds’ activities. You may also discover that the young married couples like to congregate in certain areas of the lobby or sanctuary. Start sitting with them or talking with them after services.

The key here is to learn to be available. If a young person sees that you care, he or she will be more willing to open up to you. David and Michelle experienced the benefits of this type of relationship at their church.

Michelle witnessed a young couple squabbling at the church. The husband turned to Michelle, asking what to do, so she told him to hug his wife. When the young man refused because he “didn’t feel like it.” Michelle honestly confessed, “I hug David when I don’t feel like it.” The young man was appalled that a couple with “problems” would be in marriage ministry. Michelle shared with him that everyone has problems in marriage, but a healthy marriage is one that continues to build and work through the problems.

As a result, this couple has never officially met with the Readys one-on-one, but they continue to come to them with questions about marriage, parenting, and even the occasional “thank you for your help.”

Mentoring through casual relationships requires a willingness to be genuinely interested in others’ lives and asking questions. It also requires that you are willing to share your own experiences honestly and openly. If you find that a young person is experiencing similar issues that you’ve faced, share how you worked things out. Then make it a point to check in with them in a few weeks.

Leading small groups

The second type of mentoring takes place through leading a small group. Many churches are using the small group format to create a tighter community in the congregation. FamilyLife has developed a small group study specifically for marriages called the The Art of Marriage Connect, available for purchase.

Leading a small group can be the starting point for building deeper relationships. If you have been developing casual relationships, then this is an ideal format to begin teaching them God’s plan for marriage. Biblical teaching in small groups can help start young marrieds on the right foot, and the practical side can help them through issues they face daily.

The small group format also creates a safe environment for couples to open up on a deeper level and helps keep struggling marriages accountable.

In Fookes’ research on mentoring, he states the value of premarital and marital education through mentoring:

The body of evidence supporting pre-marital and early marital education is especially compelling. The same research has highlighted mentoring relationships as the most successful means of providing education.

David says that their small group is valuable because it “allows us to reach out in a way that isn’t imposing. We teach general marriage principles so that those who are new at marriage can begin learning God’s principles, and then from there, we let those couples who are struggling come to us for help.”

One on One mentoring

That leads us to the third type of mentoring, which takes place one-on-one. This kind of relationship is more time-consuming, but it’s much deeper. When you’re ready to start mentoring a couple one-on-one, look for one that God puts on your heart. Usually all you need to do is make yourself available as a mentor, and young couples will request to meet with you.

In the Readys’ case, Michelle says, “We want them to come to us because we want to help those who want to be helped. These are the couples who will be willing to take the blinders off and grow.” In order to get the word out about their mentoring process, the Readys set up booths, make announcements in the men’s and women’s ministries, distribute flyers in the bulletin, and have a strong presence on the church’s web site. The church sends out weekly e-mails to the congregation, in which Pastors often encourage couples to participate in the mentoring program. The method that works best, however, is word of mouth referral.

Once a couple decides to meet with you regularly, set a schedule. It can be once a week, once a month, or once every three months. There is no magic number of times to meet or for a certain length of time. You may choose to go through a Bible study together to begin with, and that will help you set a pace.

Whether you go through a study together or not, remember to speak the truth in love, but at the same time be teachable. “There will be times when they ask you questions that you don’t know the answer to,” Jerry says, “but that is what forces you to find out what the answers are.”

Also, always be willing to share the struggles and lessons you’ve learned in your own marriage. By doing this, you are encouraging couples that they are not alone. They will see that you’ve been in their situation, and you made it through. “This is where mentoring is different than counseling,” David says. “A counselor or pastor has to guard his or her past. If it gets out to the wrong person, it can be misunderstood or misconstrued, but a mentor doesn’t have that pressure.”

No matter how deeply you decide to get involved in the lives of young couples, the results are worth your effort. The Bible is full of successful examples of great men of God who were molded and shaped by a mentor. There was Samuel and David, Elijah and Elisha, Barnabas and Paul, Paul and Timothy…the list goes on.

I once heard a friend say that the only thing you can take with you to heaven is people. When we take our time and resources to invest in the marriage of a couple who will live out their marriage to the glory of God, then you have just made an investment that will last eternity.

Copyright © 2005 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.