Promise Me Forever

"I can't promise you forever," a Hallmark card says. "But I can promise you today." It's the quintessential love card for the nineties: no commitment, just warm, fuzzy feelings . . . as long as they last, that is. No wonder 60 percent of marriages are failing. Young people are training themselves for relationships without commitment. America has the highest divorce rate in the world. Ironically, it also has the highest rate of church attendance among the major nations of the world. Clearly, churches are not doing much to stem the tide of family breakdown. This is scandalous: In his book Marriage Savers, Mike McManus says that many churches have become "blessing machines," willing to marry any couple that comes knocking. Some do offer a cursory form of premarital counseling, but judging from divorce statistics, it's not doing much good. The church needs to boldly proclaim the biblical teaching on marriage. It also needs to offer practical help to dating couples who need help in honestly assessing their relationship before they walk down the aisle. In Marriage Savers, Mike McManus lists several excellent programs churches can use. One is called "Relationship Instruction," designed by Jim Talley, author of Too Close, Too Soon. It's a four-month course for seriously dating couples, teaching them how to identify problem areas in their relationship and resolve conflicts. After using "Relationship Instruction" with more than 100 couples, Jim Talley knows of only one that later divorced. That's a 99-percent success rate! For engaged couples, there's a program called PREPARE (Premarital Personal and Relationship Evaluation). Couples fill out a questionnaire whose results give an objective snapshot of the state of their relationship—its strengths and weaknesses. Then, older couples who've been married for many years teach them concrete strategies for tackling the weak areas. PREPARE's questionnaire has proven so reliable that it can predict with 80-percent accuracy which couples will divorce. Another excellent program is Engaged Encounter. It's an intensive weekend that challenges engaged couples to put God at the center of their relationship. Paradoxically, one of the best ways to test programs for dating or engaged couples is the number of relationships that break up as a result: This gives a good measure of how rigorously the program forces couples to face their problems head-on. In both PREPARE and Engaged Encounter, about a tenth of the couples that enter the program end up breaking their engagement. That's good news: It's far better to break up a weak relationship before the marriage than afterward, when it rips apart a home and family. Has your church become a "blessing machine"—failing to teach couples how to build lasting marriages? Why not introduce your pastor to programs like PREPARE? And if your own children are planning to marry, find them a church that offers rigorous premarital programs. Think of it as divorce insurance. It's the best wedding present you'll ever give your kids.


Chuck Colson


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