Marriage Pastors Clayton and Ashlee Hurst share what they’ve learned in their own relationship and what they see as the biggest threat to marriage in an interview with The Christian Post.
Lakewood Church is hosting their popular Spark Marriage Conference Friday and Saturday, and the Hursts are leading the event.
Thousands of people across the United States have traveled to Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, over the past four years to attend the two-day conference, which features nationally recognized speakers, and offers tools and resources to help couples build a strong union.
This year’s Spark Marriage Conference will feature relationship experts, including author of the international best-seller Love & Respect, Dr. Emerson Eggerichs; award-winning film producer Devon Franklin; stand-up comedian Michael Jr., and many others.
Clayton and Ashlee Hurst, marriage pastors at Lakewood Church, say they are not afraid to tackle the hard topics of marriage because it’s needed. Below is an edited transcript of The Christian Post’s interview with the Hursts. They share marriage advice and call out what they believe is the primary issue behind every failing relationship.
CP: What would you say is the state of marriage in this day and age?
Clayton: I think for us and what we’re seeing is that people are more open than ever before to get the help they need. I think they realize that maybe what was modeled to them growing up — whether it’s in their family or seeing a neighbor or something like that — they might have seen it as less than what God ultimately intended it to be. But I think what we’re seeing in this new generation and even with people who’ve been married for a while, is people are more willing to find and get the help to help them right where they are right now.
For Ashlee and I that was really our story. We kinda felt like we should be the poster kids for having a successful marriage because of what we saw growing up: grandparents married over 60 years, parents married well over 50 years.
And I think we kind of just assumed that this was an easy thing because we never saw people fighting, everybody was always smiling at church. We just kind of assumed that, “we don’t need premarital counseling, this is going to be easy.”
We found ourselves five years into marriage, just in really a valley of hopelessness. I was a new children’s pastor at our previous church, and we were embarrassed to open up to people and ask for help. So I see this new generation and more and more people more willing, at least for right now, asking for that help and saying, “You know what, I didn’t even realize I needed that help but now hearing about it, there are some things that we could tweak, there are some things that we could learn and grow from.”
Ashlee: There is also a generation that’s fearful of marriage, maybe because of what they’ve seen in society or with their parents. I think they’re afraid of the commitment because of problems that it could create. But marriage doesn’t create problems, it reveals problems. It reveals those things of yourself that the Lord wants you to work on. It’s a great chance to not only become a student of yourself but a student of your spouse as well. When you both decide to go on that journey of “OK Lord, what do I need to work on in myself? What can I change about myself? How can my spouse help me with that?”
It’s this beautiful journey that the Lord can take you on but I think a lot of times, people, especially this generation, see it as this commitment, kind of like a trap that there’s no way out, “So I don’t even want to get in it.”
But if they really see it the way God created it as this union between two people that have this opportunity to really work out the issues of their inner soul, it can be this beautiful thing. That’s why we want to provide a space at our church where there’s just ongoing help in marriage. We not only have our Spark Conference but we have ongoing classes every week — premarital, marital — we offer free counseling at our church. We also do a retreat every year, we’ve done marriage missions trips; we want to always provide something for couples no matter where they’re at in their marriage.
CP: What’s your goal for Spark? How did it come about?
Clayton: We have prayer in the middle of our service, every service, and we realized about five years ago that a lot of people are coming forward asking for prayers for their marriage. With the size of the church, we knew that people didn’t necessarily know who we were or what we did. So we started asking some questions. We talked with the person that oversaw the prayer ministry and we said, “Have you ever done research to find out what’s the number one prayer request every weekend?”
They had just done a survey and she sent it to us. Lo and behold, the number one prayer request every single week in our church was for marriage. We realized there’s something to this. At that time, we had just taken over the marriage ministry and we were wanting to go to a conference ourselves, just to make sure we were guarding us and to learn and grow, and we couldn’t really find one at a different church.
We just kind of had the idea and we felt like it was from God. What if we made Houston a destination location and we brought in some of the best communicators and marriage experts to one location? That way people could come here and get strength and find hope for their marriage. We proposed it to leadership and they loved it and we just began that journey. This year will be our fourth one.
What we’re hoping people gain from it is that regardless of whether they just need some tweaks, if they just need some tools, if they just need hope right there where they are, it really doesn’t matter how long you’ve been married, there’s always new things that you can learn and grow about.
I think what’s interesting is what we hear from couples every year after they leave and we get surveys back. People tell us, “We came with our divorce papers and we ripped them up, and we realized there’s tools and resources that we can utilize and grow from.” That’s what we hear a lot.
Ashlee: A lot of times in church there’s this stigma where, “We’ll go to premarital classes” but then after that it’s, “We can’t go and get help now, we should have it all together.” And we wanted to provide a place like, “Hey, no, you need to consider your marriage as an ongoing educational course. You’re going to change, your spouse is going to change; you’re going to go through things in life that are hard and difficult.”
We want to provide a place where you can get some tools in your tool belt, with some of the top marriage experts in the country and go away stronger than when you walked in. It’s OK to walk in with issues and problems and to seek out help. That’s what the church is for.
We want to make sure that specifically in marriage that it’s an open door at Lakewood church. If you need help in your marriage, come to us, we want to help. There is no topic that’s too embarrassing or too shameful to seek out help.
CP: What are some of the things you’ve learned in your marriage when having struggles?
Clayton: I think for us, what we realized is how we take in information, how we process that information, and then how we turn around and give that information back out. Just in how our minds work they are so completely different. Ashlee and I talk about this a lot; I’ve always been intrigued by how her mind works. In fact, it makes me tired. I will ask her, “Does your mind ever shut off?” And she goes, “No, that would be weird.” And I’m like, “that’s weird to me that it doesn’t.” So just having those open conversations just about the complete differences about your spouse.
You’re really on an expedition to find out more about your spouse. I think a lot of times we forget that. We’ll have conversations, she’ll ask a question about any topic and I’m curious about how that question came about. She’s like, “Oh, you don’t want to know, because I was thinking about this and when I was thinking about that …” I’m like, “I’m exhausted just hearing about that.”
Then she’ll ask me, “Hey, what were you thinking when you said this? Or when you said that?” It’s like, “Well, I was kind of in my nothing box, I wasn’t really thinking about anything.” She finds that completely foreign to her.
So there’s this mutual respect of how God created us but yet, “How can you not be like this?” or “How can you not think like this or speak like this?” or whatever.
One of our biggest issues in that was me always thinking that, when she would share something with me early on in our marriage, I assumed that she wanted me to fix her problems. No one told me as a man, growing up that, “Your wife is going to process things externally like you process things internally. So don’t try to fix her problems, she probably just wants you to listen and tell her it’s going to be OK.”
Nobody ever told me that, so we got into some of our biggest arguments early on in our marriage because she would tell me all the things that went wrong with her day and I would immediately jump in and try to become Superman and save the day and she would be like, “I don’t need your help, I was just talking, I just want you to listen.”
The differences between men and women have obviously been fascinating over the years, but it’s also becoming a student not only of yourself but also becoming a student of your spouse and learning and growing over the years.
My mom attended our conference two years ago, on their 55th wedding anniversary. I was saying, “Mom, why are y’all coming to the conference, you’ve been married 55 years, you need to go on a cruise or travel or whatever.”
And I’ll never forget it, she said, ”Clayton, the moment we stopped learning it will be the day we stopped growing in our marriage.” I was like, that’s something that will probably always be out in front of us — that we’ll always be learning and always be growing to get stronger and get better.
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Jeannie Law