Making Your Marriage a Covenant: Interview with Phil Waugh
In an interview with New Man magazine a few years ago, Phil Waugh, director of Marriage Covenant Movement shared that he and the organization were on a mission to teach couples to ditch the marriage-as-contract mind-set and start thinking of marriage as a holy covenant. That mission, as well as their calling, still stands today as it did at its conception
 Interview by Drew Dyck
New Man: Can you describe the Covenant Marriage Movement?
Phil Waugh: The covenant marriage movement is a nonprofit faith-based organization with a mission to lead couples to a full understanding of God’s design for marriage. We encourage people to realize the fulfillment of God’s purpose for their lives in marriage. Our organization was birthed by 18 different ministries and now consists of 80 ministries and foundations. All of these ministries have chosen to be cooperative ministries of the Covenant Marriage movement with the purpose and intent to lift up marriage as a covenant within their various organizations.
We got going back in 1998. There was a lot going on at that time, especially in regard to various states introducing covenant marriage laws, marriage licenses, and that provided some of the impetus for getting started. But we did not organize for the purpose of lobbying. Our focus from the beginning until now has been on the bride of Christ, not on trying to change the laws of the United States. Laws are important, but they cannot change the heart. That’s the church’s job. That is why our focus has been on changing the culture through the church.
New Man: What do you mean by the term “covenant marriage?”
A covenant is a relationship of the highest order. It is not just a promise that we make. A covenant marriage carries the highest rights and responsibilities and privileges known to man. But it also includes the most severe penalties from the fallout of that relationship.
“Covenant” is the word that is used to identify God’s relationship with us. In Scripture covenants are not entered into lightly. When someone entered into a covenant relationship with another person or family they were making a bold statement: “Everything that I have is yours and everything you have is mine.”
The word covenant comes from a Hebrew term that means “to cut.” It’s used in reference to the sacrifice that was made whenever a covenant was entered into. When a covenant was made there was always a sacrifice, always a death. An ox or another beast was split head to tail and was spread out on the ground. Then the heads of the two families making the covenant walked through the blood and gore and would make the vow, “May it be done to me or worse should I ever break covenant with thee.” It definitely was a “until death do us part.” It was the covenant God entered into with Abram. So with the covenant came the assurance of Gods provisions and protections. It’s intense. That’s why we need to communicate to men how strong of a relationship this is. It’s not to be entered lightly.
New Man: Is marriage in trouble in our culture?
Waugh: It’s easy to look at all the negatives and say, “Yes, it’s in trouble.” But I feel that God said to me, “I’m working here. I’m working,” and pointed to different ministries. He just pointed out that while marriage may be on the decline in the culture, He is still Lord. Marriage Covenant exists to uplift and affirm the work of God in marriages. God is still on the throne. God is still involved in marriages. He still reigns.
Barna put out a study recently about how divorce has had an impact on our culture financially. Christians still have about the same divorce rates as non-Christians. Yet 70 percent of people believe that marriage should last a lifetime. So that should be encouraging—that at least we still have the right belief about marriage, even if we don’t live it. The problem is that we live in a contractual society and we have allowed that mind-set to infiltrate our relationships. So as long as you do this and don’t do that we’re good. But the moment you don’t hold up your end of things then I’m out of here. That is a contractual mind-set. A covenant mind-set is completely different. It says, “I enter this covenant with you, and there is nothing I can do to end this.”
New Man: What can Christian men do to strengthen marriage in our culture?
Waugh: It really starts with individual men. The first thing a man needs to say is, “The buck stops here.” He has that responsibility in his own life and the life of his family. Men need to understand that they’re in the driver’s seat. They’re the ones responsible when something goes wrong. It’s the husband taking the lead. It’s about the husband laying down his life for his wife and sacrificing. Ultimately the man’s the one responsible.
New Man: How did you get involved in this ministry?
Waugh: I was at LifeWay working in the areas of marriage and family. I had the opportunity to do some events called “Experiencing God for Couples.” I believed it was best to hear God as couples. I pulled together some leaders to teach these conferences. I really felt like God was saying to me, “Phil, the message is that marriage is a covenant.” Later on God called me out of LifeWay in order to take on the directorship of the covenant marriage movement.
New Man: What kind of things do your wife and you do together that has fostered intimacy?
Waugh: Some of the things we do goes back to the realization that God brought us together for a purpose. When God came to Abraham, He said, “I’m going to bless you so that others through you might be blessed. So in a covenant relationship the concept of a blessing for us is really a blessing for others. So our covenant marriage is not really even about us. It’s about others. What we get out of it is seeing God bless others through us. One of the things we do is invest our marriage into the marriages of others. We lead a Bible study class together. We mentor couples preparing for marriage. We lead conferences and do seminars and retreats. I’m a strong proponent of families serving the Lord together.
New Man: Can you talk about the generational aspect of marriage? How important is it for men to train their sons to be good husbands?
Waugh: It’s imperative. The best thing you can do for your sons is to be a covenant-maker. We need to train up our sons in what it means to enter a covenant relationship. A lot of people are praying that God will bring just the right person to their son or daughter. But they should be praying that their son or daughter would be just the right person who will draw the right person. In a marriage relationship we have the privilege to be used by God to enable another person to become what God wants them to be. That’s how important it is. We need to prepare our sons to have character and to be in relationship with God. Then God will bring the right person to them.
New Man: What is your vision for Covenant Marriage and how can our readers get involved?
Waugh: My vision for Covenant Marriage is one I believe was given to me by God. There will be a time in our nation when marriage is no longer viewed as a contract. You think of a covenant. It needs to start with the bride of Christ. Couples in the church must start living out their relationships as covenants. Right now we have 39,000 couples around the world that have signed covenant commitment cards. My goal would be to have more than a million couples that have agreed to live their marriages out in this way. I want people to see that when they enter a marriage they are entering a covenant and know what that entails until death do us part. I’m less focused right now on trying to change our culture. I first want to change the church. I’d encourage your readers to man-up and begin relating to their spouses in a covenant mindset. There are resources on our Web site to help them understand that. Then they should teach it to their children. Then I’d also encourage them to go to their congregations and ask them to get involved. It’s a great way to be used by God to bring change into the lives of couples in their churches.