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Identifying Problems Before They Start

with Gary Barnes, Scott Stanley | May 23, 2006

Today on the broadcast, Scott Stanley, author of several books including The Power of Commitment, joins Gary Barnes, associate professor of biblical counseling at Dallas Theological Seminary, to talk about their work with CPREP, a Christian program for couples aimed at identifying potential trouble spots in a relationship.

Today on the broadcast, Scott Stanley, author of several books including The Power of Commitment, joins Gary Barnes, associate professor of biblical counseling at Dallas Theological Seminary, to talk about their work with CPREP, a Christian program for couples aimed at identifying potential trouble spots in a relationship.

Identifying Problems Before They Start

With Gary Barnes, Scott Stanley
|
May 23, 2006
| Download Transcript PDF

Scott: As we all know, the Christians' record in marriage is barely better than non-Christians, and from the world's perspective, we don't do marriage so well, and marriage is the fundamental thing that God created to demonstrate the nature of oneness.  And what's He's conveyed is wrapped up in marriage in some way, and the ability of the world to see Christ is related to our ability in the church to demonstrate oneness.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, May 23rd.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  When you say "I do," "For better or for worse," you're saying something that's pretty significant.  Stay with us.

 And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.  You got marital counsel before you and Barbara got married, right?

Dennis: Yes.

Bob: Did the church you got married in have some kind of premarital preparation classes?

Dennis: I did not go through a formal course.

Bob: I know Carl Wilson told you to pray together.

Dennis: Yes, that was after we got married.  That was not marriage preparation.

Bob: All right. 

Dennis: There was a couple of sessions that were just kind of – we had a very good friend, Don Meredith and his wife Sally.

Bob: They helped start FamilyLife.

Dennis: They were instrumental in starting FamilyLife, the FamilyLife Weekend to Remember marriage conference.  They have been very instrumental in this ministry's development.  But they sat Barbara and I down and just looked us in the eye and said, "You need to decide whether you're going to get married or not."  And we had known each other for over three years, so it wasn't like I didn't know who Barbara was and she didn't know who I was, although she would still share today I'm a lot – there was a lot there she was getting she didn't realize.

Bob: Like Crackerjacks – there's a surprise in every box.

Dennis: There was more than one surprise in this box, there's no doubt about it, and she's not here to defend herself, but I'll say it for her, because she would say at that point – but I would have to say, looking back on it, in all honesty, that our marriage preparation – again, we got married in 1972, so that was back before all of the innovations around marriage preparation occurred.

 Frankly, our marriage preparation was pretty shallow compared to what is available for couples today.

Bob: Well, I remember one of the couples who speak at our Weekend to Remember conference telling me – I asked him about his premarital preparation.  He said, "I'll tell you what we got," he said, "the pastor walked in and said, 'I see you guys are getting married on such-and-such a date.  You got any questions?'"  That was it.

Dennis: That was it?

Bob: Yeah, I mean, they went over …

Dennis: I think I know the couple.

Bob: Yeah?

Dennis: And that pastor is one of the leading pastors in America.

Bob: And that's all they got.

Dennis: And it's, I think, the second most important decision and commitment a human being makes in their lifetime, the first being deciding what you're going to do with Jesus Christ; whether He's going to be your Savior and Master.  After that, it's who are you going to spend the rest of your life with?  And to think that's all the preparation they received, that's not enough.

 Well, we have a couple gentlemen here who are well versed in marriage preparation – Dr. Scott Stanley and Dr. Gary Barnes join us again on FamilyLife Today.  Gary, Scott, welcome back.

Scott: Thank you.

Gary: Thank you, it's great to be here.

Dennis: They, together, have developed – well, contributed to what's called "Christian PREP," or CPREP, which is a – it's more than marriage preparation, it really equips people for having healthy and successful relationships, but in the case of Christian PREP, it's anchored in the Scripture.  And, Gary, you're a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary.  You're applying this there to future pastors and educators, and I'm really excited about this because I think we've got to have a stronger marriage preparation program in the local church.

Gary: Yes, we are really excited as well, and, as you know, having gone to DTS, they've had many great things going for a long time that Dr. Howard Hendricks has gotten started, and we're very privileged to build on what they've had for us. 

 What we feel is a great advancement now is that we are actually able to equip future pastors and counselors with good, solid theology about marriage along with good discovered truths from social science that we've learned about predictors of outcomes and relationships.

Bob: Scott, we've already talked this week about some of what the social sciences say about predictors; namely, that conflict resolution is a big deal – your ability to resolve conflict is a predictor of success.  Is there a top three, a top five?  If you had to boil it down and say, "You know what?  If you've got these, you've got the foundation.  If you don't – if these aren't rightly calibrated, you've got trouble brewing.

Scott: Yeah, let me give you what I think at the moment based on what research says are the real top three.  A point we like to make in Christian PREP to differentiate is we focus in Christian PREP on the things that are risk factors that are changeable.  There's a lot of things that are related to risk in marriage for people that aren't changeable.  For example, if a person's parents divorce, they are less likely to do well in marriage themselves as an adult.  But they can't go back and change that.  They can't change the history of their parents.

 On the changeable side, the three that seem, really, the most powerful to me – one is, as you mentioned, the conflict management – being able to really deal with the differences constructively instead of destructively; number two, commitment.  And this is one that hasn't gotten the attention it really deservers in terms of research, but we have increasingly, and some others in the field have been focusing more and more on trying to understand all the nuances of what commitment is about and the nature of being a team and the long term view and being willing to sacrifice for one another.  But there is a lot of power, obviously, there.

 And I think the third one is something we talked about in the prior show is expectations.  It's very clear that when people have differences in expectations or just expectations that are ridiculously high and just – there's no way to achieve them, they're going to not do as well in marriage.

 So a program like Christian PREP covers all those bases in terms of how to help people clarify their expectations; learn how to manage conflict well, and how to deepen and act on commitment.

 Now, it's not the only material out there – just to be clear.  I think, by the way, my reading of the research right now is that some approaches for helping couples prior to marriage are better than others, but much more fundamentally, while I'm an advocate of our program, obviously, even beyond that, I want to see pastors doing anything that's reasonable and systematic for couples before marriage.

 What the research shows right now is that up to about 10 to 12 hours or so of premarital preparation, couples get real benefits from that, and the more the better.  Now, beyond 12 or so, you have diminishing returns, but people who do a systematic premarital preparation program as opposed to what you described a minute ago, which is where to stand, which isn't even about taking a stand, you know, just where to stand, and …

Dennis: … in the ceremony.

Scott: That's right, you know, what that does in terms of an absence of ministry there is it reinforces to a couple a sense that what they're doing about commitment in marriage is what they do on that day in the ceremony.  And all of us know that what we do about commitment in marriage every day after the ceremony matters a lot more than just what happened on that day.

Dennis: One person has described the local church – and I'm not taking a cheap shot here of the local church, because this ministry is committed to helping local churches be effective here – but one person described the local church when it comes to this subject, as a "wedding factory."

Scott: Yeah, or "blessing machines" I've heard also.

Dennis: Just spinning out these marriages and, you know, it seems to me it would be the wise church that required a certain high level of marriage preparation that systematically walked a couple getting ready to get married through a program and through material with a mentor that could help them before they get married and then follow them into the early part of their marriage when the real test comes.

Scott: I think that follow-through is so crucial, but let me come back to your main point there.  This is what I'm so excited about what Gary is doing at Dallas, because – and I'm sure there are some things like this in other seminaries as well, and a lot of other seminaries probably not too much, but he and the leadership there are really putting in place a very full kind of robust training of these pastors-to-be in how to work effectively with couples before and after marriage.

 You know, pastors are like anybody else.  We don't like to do things we don't feel like we do well.  You know, we will avoid doing things, even if we think it's an important part of our ministry or our work in life – if we don't think we do it well, we're going to avoid it, and Gary is addressing that gap.

Dennis: Gary, it's clear that we need this marriage preparation training, but I'm thinking of an existing pastor or a Christian educator who is going, "I'd love to get this training that Dallas Theological Seminary offers, but I can't afford to take out two years, three or four, to go back to seminary."  Are you offering any kind of seminar training or package that a pastor could get over a weekend at the seminary there?

Gary: Yes, there are multiple ways that pastors can come back or come for the first time to Dallas Theological Seminary to receive training.  They could actually come as a participant to go through a couple's workshop just as a participant with their spouse.  They could also come back, and they could be a part of a course on marriage, and they could actually receive training on how to be a presenter in the PREP model.  And they can get leader materials after that.

 They can also be hosting a CPREP workshop at their own church, where I can come with some of the students, and we can actually conduct a workshop to include people in their own body that they would like to be come mentors with couples.

Dennis: Where you could train the laymen on the spot to help take …

Gary: And offer it to their members as well as people from their community that aren't a part of their church.

Bob: And I think that's an important point – a lot of pastors are thinking, you know, if we're talking about 12 hours of prep with every couple that's getting married in my church, okay, I don't have time for sermon prep anymore because we've got a lot of folks getting married.  It's not only possible but, in a lot of cases, it's wise to have lay couples get trained in doing this premarital preparation.  The pastor meets with the couple the first time, he hands them off to the laymen, the laymen take them through material and do the training with them.

 I know we've created a workbook, a "Preparing for Marriage" workbook.  A lot of lay couples have used that in a mentoring relationship with younger couples, engaged couples, and then the pastor can meet with them all at the end and say, "Now, how did it go and do you have any questions," and move ahead with the wedding.  It doesn't all have to be on the shoulders – the pastor doesn't have to do everything, does he?

Gary: That's right.  The pastor cannot do everything.  But I'll tell you one thing that makes a real difference is if the pastor knows it and owns it, and they'll have to experience that in order for that to happen.

Dennis: And, personally, I think it's not only the wise thing to do, I think this is the ministry of the future – the church has to be viewed in our communities.  I can't tell you how I pound the table about this – if we're going to see marriages and families strengthen in the next generation and turn around this culture of divorce, the church needs to step in and define what commitment looks like.  It needs to provide the tools to show people how to resolve conflict.  It needs to step in and help people understand what should they expect out of a marriage relationship and out of the other person and the sexual relationship and finances and communication and be a solution after the cultural gets married; not merely the place where they start their marriage out but the place they go to to find solutions over a lifetime.

Gary: Absolutely, and to me one of the most sobering things said in all Scripture is in John, chapter 17, and where Christ essentially says, and I'll just paraphrase, but He essentially says, My reputation in the world is hinged on your ability in the church to demonstrate oneness.  And, as we all know, the church's record, Christians' record, in marriage is barely better than non-Christians, and there's some complexity there about what all the research says, but, you know, from the world's perspective, we don't do marriage so well, and marriage is the fundamental thing that God created to demonstrate the nature of oneness and the nature of His character.  We see that all the way back in Genesis, chapter 1 and verse 27, I think, where God's whole sense of who He is and what He's conveyed is wrapped up in marriage in some way.  Marriage ministry is a very important part of what churches can and should do, and the ability of the world to see Christ is somewhat related to our ability in the church to demonstrate oneness.

Bob: We were talking to some friends from a church in a Southern city.  This church is an old downtown beautiful church.  They said they have a lot of people who will come and say, "We'd like to get married in your church."  I mean, it's the church to get married in because it's a beautiful church, and they've said, "That's fine.  Here is what is required.  You've got to go through these classes," and folks will go, "Okay, we'll do whatever, because we want to get married in this pretty church."  They said, "We've had more people come to faith in Christ through premarital preparation.  We've had them go, 'Huh, I never thought about this,' and it's all because they made this issue of we've got a commodity here, and if you want it, you've got to hear the Gospel before you can get it."

Scott: Marriage ministry is much closer to The Great Commission than what a lot of people in church leadership think in terms of what we're really doing in the world.

Dennis: No doubt about it, there's no doubt about it.  In fact, I was on National Public Radio with a prominent divorce attorney.  We had a lot of points of agreement.  He was really in agreement with us here today saying that there needed to be better marriage preparation – and he's a divorce attorney, all right?  But his major concern, as states pass laws related to covenant marriage, was who would they go to for training?  His worldview – you could tell, his worldview was not one that would hope that people would go to the church to be equipped to start their marriage.

Bob: He was saying, "Let's not lock them into some kind of covenant obligation when they've got no better shot of making that work than the average couple."

Scott: There's nobody to help them do it.

Gary: Just trap them.

Dennis: Yeah, and he's going, where are they going to go?  And I'm going, "I know.  I know the place that knows the author who wrote the book."

Gary: Dennis, Scott and I were talking about this earlier – we're really excited about the church.  We're not down on the church.  If you think about it, in the U.S. still, most first marriages happen in the church.  So there's that accessibility factor there that opens up new follow-up.  But if you look beyond that, the church is already set up with support networks relationally for couples to network into.  It's not just a program, it's a relational network that they can become a part of.

 And then to even take it a bigger step beyond that, if you look at the full lifespan of families in the church, and children growing up through the church, you have a shot, like Scott was saying earlier, of giving youth new information that corrects myths of marriage along the way that can better prepare them.

Bob: There is a word that has been rediscovered recently.  We used to talk about the covenant community.  That word "community" has been refound, and that's what the church is supposed to be, isn't it?

Gary: Yeah, you know, we really have underestimated in America, we have such an individualistic culture and mindset – the power of community.  I mean, there's no doubt that – you know, we have the power of the Holy Spirit, we have the power of truth and there's a lot of ways to think about what moves things, but somebody is not paying attention to Scripture if they don't get the idea of the power of what God meant the church to be as a community. 

And in terms of what I've – let me see if I’m taking your meaning correctly about the idea of a covenant community – one of the things that's powerful about getting a couple more involved in an active church is not just like a social network, it's a social network with a really big meaning that is shared among the group, and there's a group reinforcement of things about living out commitment; about being a blessing to your mate; about sacrificing for one another.  Those things may exist here and there in bits out in the world, but they're not always strong in the church, but they can be very strong in the church. 

I believe in certain kinds of things that are valuable to do with couples in terms of premarital training, but I really believe the most powerful thing of all in that is the potential to get people involved in that community.

Dennis: And I happen to believe there undoubtedly are listeners who don't even know what we're talking about here, and they've never experienced a covenant community in a local church.  It's a place where love is real, relationships are authentic, people can be imperfect without fear of rejection, and these things don't happen perfectly, by the way, but a covenant community is a group of people that are committed to one another.

Scott: They're pulling for each other.

Dennis: And they're centered around the truth of Scripture and the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  And it's what gives a young couple starting out a marriage a sense of belonging, a sense of guidance when they run into difficulties, there are older people there who are willing to allow them to enter into their failures where they've made mistakes and guide them as they start out their marriages with spiritual disciplines.  A covenant community – you know, I don't know how a young couple starting out a marriage today – I don't know how you'd start it out and have a real sense of hopefulness that you could be successful in it.

Bob: Well, in community you're saying to one another, "Let's do life together, and let's help each other, let's pray for one another, let's support each other, let's pick one another up when we stumble, because we will."  If a young couple can get plugged into the life of a healthy, active, local church, that's going to give them marriage help that there is no other way and no other place to get it.

Gary: It's more powerful than any program and any book.

Bob: More powerful than counseling …

Gary: Except maybe one book.

Dennis: Yeah, there you go.  It's marriage insurance, is what it is.  And I just appreciate you guys and the job you've done in terms of taking your research and your professional training and turning it back to the Scriptures and anchoring it in the Bible where unapologetically you're calling people to build relationships according to the truth of the Scripture, but then practically and systematically, equipping young couples to start their marriage right.  I appreciate you guys being with us and hope you'll come back and join us again on FamilyLife Today.

Scott: Thank you.

Gary: Thank you.

Bob: For those churches – we've talked a lot about churches today being involved in marriage ministry and in pre-marriage ministry.  If they're not familiar with the CPREP material, we have a link on our website at FamilyLife.com that can give them more information, and they can find out how it can be a part of what they do for pre-marriage counseling.  We also have copies of the workbooks that we've made available called "Preparing for Marriage," that are designed for couples to go through together or to go through with a mentor couple or to go through together with a pastoral counselor.  Those are on our FamilyLife website as well.

 There is information about the book you've written, Scott, called "A Lasting Promise," which incorporates a lot of the material that comes out of the Christian PREP instrument.  And then we have information about the Weekend to Remember conference, and we have a lot of young couples who come to the Weekend to Remember before they get married so they can understand the foundation for a godly marriage. 

 You and I were just speaking at the Weekend to Remember in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and we had a lot of engaged couples who came out to be a part of that weekend with us. 

 If you'd like more information about any of these resources, go to our website, FamilyLife.com, click on the button in the middle of the screen that says "Go."  That will take you right to the page where you can get more information about these resources and others that are available for engaged couples.  Again, the website is FamilyLife.com, and the button to click is in the middle of the page, and it says "Go," and it's red, and that will get you right to the page where you can order these resources or get more information about them.

 You could also call 1-800-FLTODAY for more information about these resources, and someone on our team can have them sent out to you.  Again, the phone number is 1-800-358-6329.  That's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.

 We have been mentioning this month the matching gift opportunity that was made available to us by some friends of our ministry.  We need to say a quick thank you to many of our listeners who have contacted us already this month to make a donation to FamilyLife Today.  I have not seen the latest numbers, but we have been encouraged as folks have been calling or going online to make a donation, and each of those donations we've received, so far, have been doubled on a dollar-for-dollar basis thanks to the generosity of some friends of our ministry who made a matching grant available to us and agreed to double each donation up to a total of $375,000.  I don't believe we have met that entire matching grant.  In fact, I know we are hoping many of our listeners who have thought about calling and have not called yet will pick up the phone here in the last third of the month and call 1-800-FLTODAY to make a donation.

 When you do that, part of what you're saying is that you want FamilyLife Today to continue on this station and on stations all across the country.  What you're really doing is saying, "We support what you guys are trying to do there at FamilyLife."  So can we ask you to consider making a donation this month either by going to the website at FamilyLife.com or calling 1-800-FLTODAY.  Help us take full advantage of this matching gift opportunity, and we want to say thanks in advance for your financial support.

 Tomorrow Ron Blue is going to be joining us.  Many of our listeners know Ron.  He has been an asset to the body of Christ, helping us understand how we can do a better job as Christians of stewarding our financial resources, and he's going to join us tomorrow to talk about generosity – about why it's a biblical principle and what we can do as parents to raise generous children.  I hope you can be with us for that.

 I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

 FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.

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Fun, engaging conversations about what it takes to build stronger, healthier marriage and family relationships. Join hosts Dave and Ann Wilson with FamilyLife Today® veteran cohost Bob Lepine for new episodes every weekday.

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