Interview with Pastor Ron McLain, Co-founder of the Healthy Marriage Coalition
Apr 20, 2018 11:10AM
By Richard Melella
Ron McLain was born and raised in Yakima, Washington, where he met and married his high school sweetheart Joan in 1969. They moved to San Jose where Ron graduated from San Jose State University in 1974 with a B.A. in Public Relations. After graduating, they joined the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ, serving for seven years with the athletic arm of Campus Crusade, Athletes in Action.
In 1981, their home church, Los Gatos Christian Church in Los Gatos, California, extended a call to Ron to become Assistant Minister of Missions. They served there for five years and then moved to Santa Cruz, California, in 1986 to work at Santa Cruz Bible Church as Pastor of Family Life and Missions, until 1989. While working at these two churches, Ron traveled to 27 different countries, visiting and encouraging missionaries. He also taught couple’s courses and taught a six- week lay counseling training course. He also spoke regionally and nationally at mission’s conventions.
Ron worked as a pastoral counselor at Link Care Counseling Center in Fresno from 1989 until June 30, 2004, most recently as Director of Pastoral Care. In July of 2004, Ron and Joan formed the 501(c)3 non-profit public benefit corporation, Marriage Mentoring Ministries, Inc., with the hope of helping churches in Central California train marriage mentors who would, in turn, help other couples begin and maintain a vital and healthy marriage.
In April, 2016, the McLain’s organized and hosted the area’s first, “The Church & Mental Illness” Conference, held at New Covenant Community Church, with over 500 people in attendance. After that event, they started a Mental Health Support Group for those who are supporting someone they know who has a mental illness.
Ron was ordained in 1985 as a minister of the gospel and received an M.A. Degree in Biblical Counseling from Tyndale Theological Seminary and Bible Institute in Ft. Worth, Texas, in 1995. His thesis was titled, “Spiritual Warfare in Marriage”.
Ron and Joan are the proud parents of three grown children, who reside in the Fresno area and two children in heaven, Michelle and Alex. The have six grandchildren, all of whom live in Fresno. The McLains have been married for over 47 years.
Central California Life Magazine had the opportunity to interview Ron and learn more about the non-profit that he and Joan started in 2006.
How did idea of the marriage coalition come about?We had been working with couples since 1983 and had a real burden to help strengthen couples to go the distance in their marriage. For 15 years I worked at Link Care Counseling Center in Fresno as a Pastoral Counseling and did a lot of premarital counseling. One day it hit me that what I was doing with these couples was fairly basic and something that lay couples could be trained to carry out in their own churches. So, we both quit our jobs (me and Link Care and Joan at Bank of America) and started a nonprofit, Marriage Mentoring Ministries, in 2004. That first two years, we trained 240 couples from 40 different churches to be marriage mentors to other couples, both in the area of premarital counseling and marriage counseling. It seemed to be a glaring need in churches and was met with great enthusiasm. From there we branched out into offering communication classes, marriage retreats, and personal counseling.
Pastor Ron McLain
So, you saw an opportunity that was met with enthusiasm by the churches you supported and moved forward. Have you seen much growth in the support group?
Yes, we saw immediate growth. When we began in 2004, we started with a pastor’s breakfast and had an African American pastor from Oakland as our guest speaker at Northwest Church. We had more than 80 pastors and Christian leaders attend where we were able to inspire them and introduce them to our ministry of helping churches expand their own marriage ministries. Since 2004 we have been able to provide our services throughout Central California and beyond, including Washington State, North Carolina, and internationally to China and Thailand where our materials have been translated and are being used there.
What is unique about the Healthy Marriage Coalition support group?
We are unique in several ways. To our knowledge, we are the only Christian nonprofit marriage ministry between Los Angeles and Sacramento that focuses on teaching marriage communication skills in churches. We go beyond that, also, to teaching communication skills in businesses and other organizations. For instance, one year I spoke at several Cal-Trans offices to their staff on how to communicate with each other on the job. That was a hoot because some of those Cal-Trans highway workers are pretty tough characters and it wasn’t exactly something they were chomping at the bit to learn. But we made it fun and they eventually benefited and even saw how it could help them at home with their spouses and kids as well.
Success in both business and marriage often comes down to understanding effective interpersonal communication skills. What are some of the topics you focus on in the support group?
We focus on adopting good communication skills, including how to have empathy for your spouse, how to start up a difficult conversation so that your spouse wants to hear and respond, how to work through conflict and come to a resolution that you can both live with, how to solve problems, using good communication skills and strategies. The underlying principles for all of our teaching are humility and forgiveness. Without those twin pillars of action, the rest falls apart. Some of the topics we actually promote at retreats are: “How to take your marriage from good to great”; “How to apply grace and forgiveness in your marriage”; “How to have you marriage you’ve always wanted”; “How to affair proof your marriage”.
What are some of the common roadblocks that you often see in your workshops that contribute to marital miscommunication?
Pride. Pride. Pride. What does that look like? Usually it comes across as the person wanting to be right. There is a great book out there, titled, “Do you want to be right or do you want to be married?” That says it all. So Pride is the foundation of most marriage problems, which can be solved with humility and realizing that you may not always be right. Another roadblock is not listening. We are not good listeners today in our culture. We tend to hear what we want to hear. So, in our classes, we teach reflective listening so that our spouse knows we heard what he or she said. That doesn’t mean we agree, it just means we heard them.
Because of their unique dynamics, blended families often struggle with the discipline of their kids. This is a huge topic and one that volumes have been written about. We offer a blended family marriage class to help these couples.Aside from working on interpersonal communication skills between partners- its sounds like you also stress healthy lifestyle choices- how important is that to marriage success?
Marriage is the coming together of two people who bring all the experiences they’ve ever had in life into one shared experience and that includes the areas of Body, Soul and Spirit. Physical health is crucial to a successful marriage. Our body is our “earth suit” that contains the real us, including all of our organs and other systems. This would include brain issues that can lead to anxiety, depression, ADHD, dementia, bipolar disorder, and a myriad of other issues. I have struggled with anxiety and depression most of our married life and we now the absolute necessity to treat this area very vigorously. I’ve had DNA and brain testing that has helped point out some very specific issues for me along with incredible solutions to help me function in a healthy way with Joan. Then there are heart issues, cancer, and the list goes on and on. So lifestyle choices of eating well, exercise, having fun, laughing together are all important for a good relationship.
Please let our readers know of some of the retreats that group participants have gone on- what is a typical Health Marriage Coalition retreat like? Activities?
Dave and Cheryl Beldin- Group Facilitators
We are constantly conducting six-week communication classes in different locations. We mostly meet in churches because that’s where couples tend to get married and bring their families for spiritual growth. It doesn’t matter to us what denomination or affiliation the church is, we just want to reach out and help couples. Our classes are Christian based, however, our teaching is skills-based and we leave the theology to that particular church. That’s their role. But we don’t shy away from speaking about the benefit of loving God and loving others.
We also put on marriage retreats and workshops and have since 2004. Not sure how many but well over 40 during that time.Are there any retreats planned over the course of the next year?
We are having a married retreat in Arroyo Grande on the Central Coast the first week of November. For all of our classes and retreats, a person can go to our website and check it out: www.growyourmarriage.com
Please tell our readers about the Mental Health and Well-Being Workshop that you will be participating in on Saturday, April 28th? What are some of the topics that you will be addressing?
We are very excited to be conducting this workshop at New Covenant Community Church in Fresno. The Church, as a whole, has been very neglectful on the issues related to mental health and this gives us the opportunity to help "break the silence" regarding the fact that one out of every four adults in America have some kind of mental health issue that they are dealing with. Dr. Brad Wajda will be speaking on various issues and I'll be addressing some things related to how to have a healthy marriage and what it takes to learn and maintain good communication skills. The Healthy Marriage Coalition will have a resource booth there as well with some handouts and resources for further relational growth. This workshop will be amazing in that people can gain mental, emotional, physical and spiritual insights on how to grow in their life.
Joan and Ron McLain with Dr. Brad Wadja
How can our readers get a hold of you for more information regarding the Healthy Marriage Coalition?
Whether it’s a need for personal marriage counseling, or wanting to take your marriage from good to great at one of our classes or retreats, you can reach out to us at:
Thank you Ron for the good work you and Joan provide to our community!