“Are y’all in a BFG?”
This has become one of the most important questions for diagnosing the severity of marital struggles in my pastoral counseling. I need to know if there’s anyone else in the trenches with us working to help this marriage. I also need to know how serious the couple is about making their marriage better.
My experience over the last few years has shown me that the vast majority of people who come to me for help with their marriage, no matter how severe the problems may be, are there due to the encouragement of someone in their small group. Coming to the pastor is rarely the first step for folks getting serious about addressing their marriage struggles. It’s the next step on the journey that began in their small group. Within their BFG community, there were moments, even if just the slightest moments, of vulnerability and accountability, that led them to the point of meeting with a pastor for more guidance.
In their small group, they heard other couples confess their own sins and struggles in reflecting the gospel in marriage. They got closer to other families and realized that no marriage is perfect. The reality that every marriage is in constant need of the gospel became real to them. Over time, they opened themselves up to genuine friendships in which they became more candid with their struggles. Then, someone over lunch or coffee with grace and kindness said, “Hey, why don’t y’all meet with Pastor Jeremy?”
This is why when the couple says to me, “Yes, we’re in a BFG,” I’m immediately hopeful for the work that needs to be done. If they’re meeting with me because of their BFG, then I’m certain these folks are already being served well. To be clear, such ministry to the couple is not always some kind of intense or intrusive accountability. Often, just knowing there are others praying for our marriages gives us hope for change. The most generic forms of fellowship can be life-giving motivations to apply the gospel to our relationships. Sharing a meal together or just hanging out to watch college football can serve as simple reminders that we are all in this together.
From this point, usually I’ll reinforce and provide supplemental coaching to things their BFG leaders and others are already providing. It’s not always this simple, and it’s rarely easy. In some situations, this is not appropriate or helpful. However, for the majority of marital counseling situations this seems to be the process.
The ministry of a small group at the most basic level confronts the deadly desire to be alone. Isolation and alienation in our struggles leads to habits of comfortability with our sin. Before we know it, we feel all alone and embarrassed about our struggles. We’re convinced there is no way out. There is no one there to help. We then fail to see this is the path we chose for ourselves,. This denial then leads to further isolation and a cold, deadly form of growing bitterness. Genuine gospel accountability won’t leave you alone with your sin. It’s the kind of friendship intent on being with you so together we might be with Jesus.
Our small groups call us to be noticed, present, and accounted for in even in the most subtle ways. There is something sanctifying about receiving that annoying weekly GroupMe or text message for BFG plans on Sunday. Knowing I’m going to have to give an account for being present or not attending is good for my soul. These nuisances have often led to “Hey, we have missed y’all”, to “Is everything ok?”, which can lead to, “Please pray for us. We need help.”
These subtle forms of accountability often serve as the presence of a dear friend holding a light that can barely be seen flickering through the rubble and debris of our own sin that has begun to cover and crush us in despair. So many have acknowledged that these silly, annoying forms of accountability are just the kind of nuisance they needed to be reminded, “I wasn’t alone. We weren’t alone.”
Our BFGs provide a safety net of sorts. Tragically, I continue to see couples without a small group fall with nothing there to catch them. Very few of these couples come for help when they are left picking up the pieces after hitting rock bottom.
To these folks I want to say, “There is hope for those without the safety net. Your pastor, along with church family, is committed by God’s grace to help you pick up the pieces.” I’m abundantly thankful for the marriages that were drifting toward isolation and alienation that, with God’s merciful intervention, sought help even without a BFG or anyone else ever knowing anything was wrong. I know, however, these stories are few and far between. This is why I cannot overemphasize the importance of a BFG.
This isn’t a ploy to get our BFG numbers up. To be honest, I don’t even know what our BFG numbers look like. I do know what the struggles for many without a BFG look like. I do know how hard it is to follow Jesus without genuine biblical fellowship. It’s hard enough with such intentional discipleship.
So, “Are y’all in a BFG?”