At 9 a.m. on any given Monday, pastor Rob Pierce of Latta Baptist Church meets up for breakfast with other pastors from his area at a local McDonalds, what he calls an informal group with no set structure or agenda.
In September, he brought up the subject of marriage — specifically at-risk marriages that these pastors were dealing with in their respective churches. Every one of the pastors in in attendance knew of at least one such troubled marriage, and several of them knew of more in the community at large.
“Some of these marriages are in serious trouble due to moral failures – and some of them are just in trouble because of communication issues,” said Pierce.
As pastors, Pierce said that counseling couples about their marriages is part of their jobs.
“We certainly don’t mind meeting with people and talking with them, and we’re doing all we can inside our expertise – but you’ve got to know when to refer out to somebody else that has got more expertise or is a licensed professional counselor,” he said.
This motivated Pierce to start thinking about how to give folks what he called a dose of preventive medicine before trouble strikes – perhaps a conference or retreat for couples who are not necessarily in trouble and for couples that are having some issues.
“We came up with the idea of having a marriage retreat, and of course we are only 60 miles from Myrtle Beach – and so we were like, ‘let’s do it at the beach and make it a weekend getaway – and let’s include it on a Sunday.’ Quite frankly, I’ve got pastor friends that need to get away for a Sunday with their spouses and would enjoy some time away,” he said.
The next logical step was to find and book a speaker – and Pierce immediately thought of renowned Christian psychologist, speaker and author, Charles S. Lowery, Ph.D.
Lowery is president and CEO of Lowery Institute for Excellence, Inc [LIFE, Inc.], speaks to more than 100 thousand people a year and is the author of a marriage course called “Balanced & Blessed.”
He was mentored by the iconic motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar.
“I heard Dr. Lowery at a conference about four years ago in Myrtle Beach – and I liked him because he’s very humorous and lighthearted, and “Balanced & Blessed” is a video course that churches can do. I thought why do the video-based course when we could have the real deal – the man in person,” said Pierce.
According to Pierce, Lowery is usually booked as much as 18 months out, but he happened to have the first weekend of February available. Some would call this a “God moment.”
“It was one just one of those deals where if you believe in God, you just sort of say ‘thank you,’” he said. “It just worked out for us.”
The event, “A Weekend of Encouragement,” will take place at the newly-renovated DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Myrtle Beach Oceanfront [formerly Springmaid Beach Resort]. The cost for the conference is $99 per couple, and rooms are $79 plus tax per night. It is not necessary to stay at the hotel to attend the conference.
Pierce feels that the event is affordable compared to similar events priced into the hundreds of dollars.
“None of this money is going toward our salaries. It’s simply to pay the expenses for the retreat. If we come out at the end of the day with a positive balance, we are going to leave it there for advertising next year,” he said.
The first session is slated for Friday, Feb. 3 at 7:30 p.m. – allowing registrants to arrive from Florence, Columbia, Charleston and Rock Hill.
“They can check into their room and get some supper, and the first session will probably last an hour and a half. Saturday, we will have a couple of sessions in the morning and one right after lunch.”
The rest of the day serves as a “date day” for the couples.
“Sunday morning, we will have a worship celebration and a commitment service,” he said. “There will be some free time involved where the couples get to spend time together. It’s a beautiful property.”
Trouble doesn’t happen in a marriage overnight.
“If someone is in that cycle of noncommunication or just surface communication, then their marriage is probably already in trouble and they know it. They simply don’t want to deal with it. I encourage them to invest in their marriage, spend a little money and come out to the beach.”
Lowery is based in Dallas, Texas, but he grew up in Aiken. He holds three degrees from the University of South Carolina.
Years ago, Ziglar convinced him that he could actually talk for a living.
“I was a psychologist, but honestly I got tired of listening – so I get to talk now,” he said.
Lowery said he will be on hand all weekend long, speaking and conducting member sessions specific to certain areas.
“One session would be about communication,” he said. “A lot of people think they communicate, but they really manipulate and try to get what they want – so we teach people how not to manipulate but how to communicate.”
And he teaches men how to listen, what he calls the “miracle service.”
“I also teach women how to appreciate men, because most of us are just 10-year-old boys grown up so we want a lot of attention. I teach women how to give that man the attention he needs. We really try to make good marriages great,” he said.
He tells people that opposites attract before the marriage and then they attack in the marriage.
“The very thing that attracted you from a distance starts to irritate you up close, but I teach people that the difference becomes the dynamic and you become more together as a team than you could ever have been apart – and that’s God’s plan for us.”
Lowery added that in addition to having a doctorate degree and speaking to 100,000 people a year, he has also been married for 47 years – so that helps too.
The one takeaway he wants to impart to participants is that they really just need to change one specific thing.
“Our whole emphasis will be on changing that one thing in your relationship – and it will be different for everybody,” he said. “It may be that they just change the word they use. They don’t say “you” to people anymore. They say, ‘I feel this way.’”
Lowery teaches a mnemonic called WIN: WHAT happened? INSIDE, how did that make you feel? NOW what do you do about that?
“We cover a lot of different topics, and I tell people that you will never get terrific in your marriage unless you get specific,” he said.
“A Weekend of Encouragement” is for couples of all ages and stages.
“Because your whole life is based on relationships, the most meaning in your life will come from your relationships. Whatever age, they will be able to benefit – so even people who have been married for 40 years will say they wish they heard this 20 years ago,” he said.
Conway resident and itinerant pastor James A. Way said he initially signed up for “A Weekend of Encouragement” because of Lowery.
“Charles Lowery is just an absolutely wonderful speaker, and especially on the topic of marriage and relationships. I have watched his videos and webinars, but never had the privilege of being able to hear him in person,” he said, adding that Pierce has done a good job of keeping the cost down for the event.
He said that although he feels that his marriage is a good marriage, every good marriage needs a little checkup every now and then.
“Our life is changing a little bit – between ministry opportunities, and we have two children in college now and one in high school. It’s a good time to kind of sit back and hear some things – to be reminded of the things we are doing right, and maybe even be challenged in some areas we need to look at and be stretched and rebuked in,” he said.
He said his daily prayer for his wife is that God will meet her needs and that he will be the husband she needs.
“In my heart of hearts, going away from this conference, my number one thing would be how I can be a better husband to her, meet her needs in the way that the Lord wants me to meet her needs – and parent my children in the way that I need to teach them.”
Wife Jenny Way is also looking forward to “A Weekend of Encouragement.”
“In this stressful and fast-paced world that we live in, it is good for couples to stop and take time to take care of their relationship. My husband is a pastor and we are always giving, ministering and counseling others. This gives us a chance to refuel and be ministered to,” she said.