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Pastors get asked lots of questions. It’s actually one of the best parts of the job. When a person asks a question, it means they are really wrestling with discovering truth. My three year old has recently been asking a ton of questions: What does “beginning” mean?” What does “purpose” mean? What does “abuelo” mean? She’s interested in discovering the truth. So, when a church member (or non-church goer, for that matter) asks a question, I’m excited to give a response. We can attempt to get at the truth together, with some help from God’s Word and His Spirit.

The question today was, “Does God Hate My Marriage?” Ok, maybe the question wasn’t quite the strong. But, the sentiment was there. Have I been having a hard time in my marriage because my marriage isn’t honorable before God?

I think we must first note that this is not simply an academic question. Marriage is a very personal thing, a union between man, woman…and God. So, it’s personal. As such, any response must keep in mind the greatest commandments (according to Jesus, if you are in to that kind of thing). The first: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. The second: Love your neighbor as yourself. In other words, love has to be a motivating factor and central theme in the response.

Usually when someone asks this question (Does God hate my marriage?), it’s because either the marriage is struggling, or this was a second marriage, or both. If it’s that the marriage is struggling, utilize extreme caution. This is a tough time for the individual and couple. If it’s that the marriage is a second marriage, utilize extreme caution. If it’s both, you guessed it, utilize extreme caution.

The point is that marriage between man, woman, and well, God is a sensitive and important topic. Here are some guiding thoughts from the biblical perspective.

1. God doesn’t hate your marriage; he hates divorce.

When God says in Malachi 2:16 that he hates divorce, he means it. He takes marriage seriously. That’s because it’s a lifelong committed relationship between man, woman, and the God who ordains it. In Genesis 2:24, God gave the reason he has ordained marriage. It’s so that the man and woman will leave their first family, form a new family, and make a life together. It’s a life centered on the God who ordained it, and he takes it seriously. So seriously, in fact, that he gave another set of instructions: be fruitful, multiply, and have dominion over the earth. Marriage is God’s way of putting a man and a woman together to fulfill his purposes. Divorce gets in the way of those purposes in drastic ways and it tears apart the union that God has established. And so he says in Matthew 19:6, “What God has joined, let no man separate.” But, no, God doesn’t hate your marriage, he hates divorce.

2. God’s purposes, instructions, and warnings about marriage apply both to men and women.

Some have taken the interaction between Jesus and the woman in John 4:18 to mean that Jesus had a different standard for women than he did for men. That line of thinking accuses Jesus of setting up one standard for men and a completely different one for women. Why can men divorce and women can’t? Is Jesus saying that women should stay in an abusive relationship? Is infidelity really the only reason that God excuses divorce? With these questions, it is important to understand that God’s standards for marriage and divorce apply equally to men and women. Jesus was not a misogynist. In fact, we see examples of Jesus lifting up women throughout his ministry. Remember the woman caught in adultery in John 8? “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more,” says Jesus.

3. There is not only one legitimate reason to divorce.

Jesus does not teach that remarriage is adultery in every situation. Further, he does not teach that adultery is the only legitimate cause for divorce. Just use good exegesis and common sense on this one, guys. I’ve heard in many places and for many years that women have to suck it up in an abusive relationship because, well, the guy hasn’t cheated. And yet, we laugh at the legalistic Pharisees that Jesus scolded. At the very least divorce is permitted or accommodated in Scripture when there is infidelity, abandonment, abuse. God doesn’t desire for people to be “stuck” in marriages that are abusive, adulterous, etc. Also, there are situations in which remarriage is appropriate. Here is a helpful podcast on this issue: Vox Podcast with Mike Erre: Divorce. Mike Erre correctly exegetes the passage in Matthew 5:31 to show that Jesus was actually refuting what was known and practiced as “any cause” divorce during those times. Like many other times in his ministry, Jesus was actually raising the standard here and elevating women.

4. Men and women are not “disqualified” for ministry if they have been remarried or divorced.

Paul had people killed and is an apostle. Peter denied Christ and is an apostle. God uses broken people for his purposes and can use those who have been remarried, divorced, or even committed adultery for ministry. Paul tells us in two places in Scripture that an elder is to be the husband of but one wife. This does not mean that a divorced or remarried man cannot be an elder. (This also does not mean that women are outlawed from ministry – See Priscilla, Aquila in Acts 18, Phoebe in Romans 16, and others). Instead, like the other qualifications, Paul is saying this is the character of a person who is to be an elder. Notice he says “not given to drunkenness,” not that the person must have never been drunk in his life. He says “not quick-tempered” and not that the person has never lost his temper. Similarly, the teaching is “faithful to his wife” or “husband of but one wife,” and not that the person has never had a divorce or has never been remarried.

5. God does not want a remarried couple to now get divorced to “fix the problem.”

If you got married under poor circumstances, made mistakes along the way, and committed sins in route to getting married, God has not “cursed” your marriage. If you are married, you should stay that way. This is why Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:20 that each one should remain in the situation that he is in. Remember God hates divorce. If your marriage started poorly, don’t look to please God by getting a divorce. That isn’t happening. Instead, God stands ready to hear our confession and forgive us our sins. There is no passage that says, “except the ones dealing with marriage.” You are his child. If there were mistakes made (and sins committed), confess them to him. He forgives. Move forward asking for his blessing. That doesn’t mean continue sinful behavior. If you are engaged in sinful behavior, stop. “Go and sin no more,” He says. And remember, he loves you more than he loves your ability to follow commandments. (But, in loving you, he gives you commandments). If there is a problem in the marriage, look to God for his reconciliation. After all, 2 Corinthians 5 tells us that He loves reconciliation, sent Jesus to reconcile God to man, and has given us a ministry of reconciliation. No matter what your status is today (single, complicated, married, divorced, remarried, let’s get started in a ministry of reconciliation with God and each other!

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Changing the culture in a church can be a difficult endeavor. This is especially true if you are facing a church with a long tradition and heritage or if you are low-man (or woman) on the org chart. My hope is to encourage you in this post that such change is possible, but will require some serious seeking of the Lord in the process. Be encouraged: if you hope to improve the culture of your church, it means that you care about your church, and that is a good thing! So, here are seven steps to affect change in your church culture.

Step 1 – Pray!

The first step when you hope to affect change in your church culture is to seek the Lord! There is something beautiful that happens when we pause long enough to ask the Lord what His will is in a given situation. God invites us to seek Him concerning our circumstances specifically so that we can align our hearts with His. This is particularly important when we are thinking about changing church culture. Remember, he cares about the culture of His church more than you do! So, make sure to take time to align your heart with His in prayer. You may be surprised with the results after step 1. You may begin to see change in the culture immediately. You may not. You may see that your heart changes in the process. If you are praying for change in the culture of your church, make sure first to align your heart and your desires with His. You may also ask the Lord for patience in the process of change. You’re going to need it!

Step 2 – Listen.

The second step when you hope to affect change in your church culture is to take the time to listen to those that have been a part of the church for longer than you. Most of the time, there are stories, details, history of which you are not yet aware. If this is true, you owe it to the church and to yourself to do some research on the culture of the church before attempting to change it. Most new pastors should wait somewhere between nine months and one year before even thinking about changing major aspects of the church culture. Take this time to listen to those that have information that you do not.

Step 3 – Build.

If you are hoping to affect change in your church’s culture, you will need to build trust and relationships with leaders that are already in place. Leaders will not be effective in leading culture change within the church if they have not yet gained the trust of those they work with or for. So, since you are taking your time, use it to build loving relationship with the people in your church. If you are not able to build these kinds of relationships, you won’t want to be together where you are going anyway. Decide that the people you are traveling with are more important than the destination where you are heading.

Step 4 – Ask.

Most of the time, church cultures exist because of the ways leaders in the church have led. As a result, it is helpful to ask those leaders what they had in mind in certain decisions regarding the church culture. You might be surprised to learn that you have many of the same goals in mind, but have different ideas about how to reach those goals. At that point, you are all on the same team. You just have different ideas about the right game plays. If nothing else, this process can help all parties to understand that you are part of the same body of Christ, looking to fulfill the same Great Commission, and partnering together in how to do that best. And, if you differ on ways to do this, asking gives you the opportunity to work that through in meaningful conversation.

Step 5 – Share.

After you have shown the respect and courage to ask leaders about their thought process, you will likely find that these leaders will return the favor. You should be prepared at this time to be asked about how you would handle given situations and decisions were it placed in your hands. This is the right time and context for you to share your solicited thoughts on how you would choose similarly or differently than leadership has chosen. More often that not, if leadership is going to receive your thoughts will, it will be in a setting such as this. They’ve asked for it! Be respectful and clear, giving a well-prepared plan of action with appropriate reasoning. You may find that the leadership of the church is ready to move and was simply looking for the right plan of action that you have presented. When asked, don’t be afraid to share what you have in mind.

Step 6 – Understand.

Even after being asked for your thoughts on the direction of the church, understand that the answer may still be “no.” This is possible for any position in the church, as we mutually submit to one another out of love and respect for Christ. From the first time Worship Leader to the veteran Senior Pastor, there will be times that the answer is simply “no.” This may be a result of theology, philosophy, vision, finances, stewardship, relationships, limitations on time, or any number of other elements that cause leadership in churches to say no. But, even if this is the case, the process has been helpful. You have learned to align your heart with the Lord, listen to those who know the church better than you, build trust with leadership, ask for leadership’s vision and process, share your thoughts in an appropriate context, and understand if the answer is no. These things are progress in themselves and often, in themselves, have the effect of changing church culture. The answer might be yes next time, and you have moved the starting line.

Step 7 – Repeat.

The last step when you hope to affect change in your church culture is to repeat the process. Leaders in the church must understand that growing the church is an ongoing process. There are no quick fixes and this kind of journey is inherent in the shepherding process. A good shepherd does not just point the sheep in a direction and yell, “Go!” Similarly one cannot drive a truck through the flock and expect for the sheep to respond well. Instead, a good shepherd (like our Good Shepherd) walks in the Spirit, walks with the flock, seeks to understand, engenders trust, develops good communication, is humble to serve, and hangs in there even when things get tough. May our Good Shepherd do this for you especially as you head down the long path to affect change in your church culture!