Meet Our Contributing Editors: This month we continue a series of interviews with CHRISTIAN STANDARD’s contributing editors. Arron Chambers, lead minister with Journey Christian Church in Greeley, Colorado, talks about intimacy in marriage and intimacy with Jesus and says the two are remarkably similar.
What’s going on at Journey these days?
We’ve been looking for a new facility, and a church in town has a great building that’s twice as big as ours. They suggested we buy their building and they buy ours.
To raise the money, we decided to scrap the capital campaign and do something that fits our culture more—something kind of spontaneous and out of the box. So we just asked our people to give $500,000 over a period of five weeks. I said, “We don’t need your pledges, we need your money; and we don’t need it in three years, we need it now.”
So we started a faith experience we’re calling Leap. We talked about what it takes to fly if you’re a superhero; first you have to don the proper attire, then you have to expect to fly, and then you have to leap. We handed out capes and set up a photo booth, and the pictures of people “leaping” were all over Facebook.
It’s been amazing. The very first week a couple sold their Mercedes and gave all the money. All the church lenders we’ve talked to told us it won’t work. But we’re excited.
I love the audacious faith part of it, but I also love how you’re working with another church, and their humility in contacting you. It would be easy for them to cling to their building, but instead they’re “thinking kingdom” and you’re both winning because of it.
We’re praying for them and celebrating their story, and they’re celebrating our story, and we’re going to do a Communion service with them. And they’re excited about a fresh start. It’s been a “yeah, God” thing.
Switching gears, when we talked last year you mentioned doing a lot of counseling work with couples. You’ve been doing this for years, right? Did you look for this ministry or did it find you?
I didn’t seek it out at all. I baptized our chiropractor about 12 years ago. At the time he was single. He went on to start a network of chiropractors with 600 offices around the world. When he got married, I did the premarital counseling and he liked my approach, so through the years he and his wife have come to me for coaching and encouragement. And through word of mouth I’ve become the official marriage coach for his network. In the past five years I’ve worked with about 400 couples. Very few of them live here; it’s either Skype or conference calls or they fly in.
It’s pretty intense and pretty constant. I have an assistant who manages my coaching schedule, and I work with two to four couples a week.
I noticed you call it coaching, not counseling.
Right—I don’t care how the color yellow makes you feel, I want to help your marriage. Most of what I deal with is hard stuff like infidelity. I don’t charge for coaching; I’m trying to do it as a ministry, and it has just taken off.
You don’t charge anything?
Many of these couples are quite wealthy and they’ll choose to compensate me. But it’s cleaner this way. My first ministry is here at Journey, and I feel like God’s blessing is really on this and I don’t want to jack it up by monetizing it or being prideful. It’s all scheduled outside of work time, and it’s all done with my wife’s blessing and the blessing of the church.
What resources do you draw from in working with these couples?
My dad did seminars on marriage and family, and I draw on a lot of what he taught. I use the DiSC personality profile, and a bit on love languages. But a lot of what I use is just practical stuff. I’m eager to get some of it into a book because there are certain principles that come up every time.
Intimacy is a huge deal. Eighty percent of the couples that start working with me are only having sex about once a month, and that’s just creating the temptation for infidelity. In Proverbs 5 we read that sex is a cistern and we need to be drinking out of the cistern and enjoying it as a healthy part of marriage. We underestimate the healing power of sex and its importance in a marriage relationship.
And infidelity is like crack. The thrill of keeping that relationship going, of having someone thinking about them, wanting them . . . it’s addictive. The person caught up in this will lie to his spouse’s face. Those texts or that secret e-mail account—any time you create a private space to which your spouse does not have access, it is fertile soil for an affair.
The issues of communication come up all the time, especially how men and women use words and process emotions. Men use words like tools, to fix things, and women use words like accessories. Men also tend to see things more in compartments, in the moment, disconnected from other realities, while women tend to see things more holistically. A guy can say something to hurt his wife’s feelings in the morning, and when they get back together that evening his wife will say, “And one more thing!” He has no idea what she’s talking about, because he hasn’t thought about it one minute. For him it’s a distant memory and for his wife it’s a present reality.
I tell the men, “When your wife keeps bringing up the same thing, it means she needs to talk about it with you.” Then I have to talk men through what it looks like to have that conversation. My wife can chat with her girlfriend for an hour, and I’ll ask her what they talked about and she’ll say, “Oh, nothing.” If your husband, Matt, and I talked for an hour we could launch a missile.
After they start learning to communicate, another big issue involves boundaries and priorities. It’s amazing to me how many successful couples have out-of-control schedules running their lives. So I tell couples to sit down on Sunday night, after their kids go to bed, and plan their week together. No one’s schedule is more important than the other’s; you are a team.
Another thing that gets incredible results is sending couples off for the weekend to whiteboard their life. They write on the whiteboard everything their life includes—jobs, hobbies, family, church—everything. And at some point in the weekend, after prayer and communication, they erase the board and write what they want their life to include. I’ve had couples come back and one of them quits a job, or they adopt a baby. It’s amazing what God has done through that simple exercise.
So obviously this will be a book in the future, but in the meantime you have a new one on discipleship coming out. This is a topic lots of people are talking about, because we’re realizing we’ve gotten good at getting people in the door but not at helping them grow. It’s a problem everyone recognizes—what are your insights on what we should do about it?
The book will be titled Devoted and will be published by NavPress in the fall of 2014. As a pastor I’ve become really aware that I do not ask my people, “Do you love Jesus?” And I’ve valued the program rather than a passion for Christ. Yes, the person may be going around the proverbial bases and hitting a home run for Jesus, but do they love the game? Do they love the Savior? I’m going to talk about this in a way that’s hopefully provocative enough that pastors will say, “Why haven’t I been asking my people this question?”
I don’t see much that’s creating traction when it comes to raising up Christians who really want a relationship with Jesus more than anything else. We do not need another program for discipleship. But we do need to raise the value of having a relationship with Jesus Christ. So my vision at Journey is that you could pull any active member aside and ask him about his ministry and why he does what he does, and he’d say first of all, “I love Jesus.” So what would it look like to reproduce that? When I grew up it was the “oaks of righteousness” [see Isaiah 61:1-3], raising up people who are like an oak tree. Well, I don’t want people who are like an oak tree. I want people who have passion, and passion is messy.
Interestingly, all the relationship coaching I’m doing has really made me want people to have a relationship with Christ that also has more intimacy and better communication. What does it look like to bring some of those dynamics into our relationship with Jesus? I don’t have all the answers, and I’ve written only a few chapters, but I’m excited about asking the questions.
Jennifer Johnson, herself one of CHRISTIAN STANDARD’s contributing editors, is a writer living in Levittown, Pennsylvania.