Justin and Jocelyn married young. When I heard of their engagement, my immediate response was, “Congratulations! Amy and I are so excited for both of you.” A few months later, Justin told me, “You were one of the very few people excited for us. Everyone else seemed concerned and worried about us getting married in our early twenties.” This couple knew marriage was right around the corner, and they earnestly sought support from family and friends.
Bill and Margaret met at church in a senior adult class. Both lost spouses the year before and were still mourning their deaths. They attended church together, shared meals together, and decided to marry. The engagement was met with mixed emotions by their children and grandchildren. They too desired the support and blessing of their church and family.
What is one way the church can help Justin, Jocelyn, Bill, and Margaret? Is it possible to prepare them for marriage in a way that their church, family, and friends can say, “God is in this, and we are for this?”
Premarital counseling is required for all couples marrying at our church. Young and old alike, we want couples to prioritize premarital counseling under the authority of the church. We believe every marriage is a duet in need of great backup singers. Our church desires to sing backup for the budding love of the couples all around us.
You would think some couples would resist this, but I have yet to experience someone frustrated with our requirement for premarital counseling. Just the opposite is true. Soon-to-be brides and grooms show appreciation for a church that takes the time to make sure they start well, enjoy marriage, and stay together until either one lays the other in the arms of Jesus, or the Lord returns.
Most of our premarital sessions feel like we’re reading from a script. When I say, “My job is to see if I can keep the two of you from marrying,” that usually breaks the ice with a little laughter. Good premarital counseling removes the obstacles and barriers to a thriving marriage.
When a church takes seriously preparing couples for marriage, the benefits are many:
- Premarital counseling increases the marriage rate of the church. Regular weddings under the biblical authority and biblical community of the church are a sign of health.
- Premarital counseling establishes a plumb line for the couple to go back to when trials and conflict enter the marriage.
- Premarital counseling is a signal to family and friends that says, “We take our marriage seriously.”
- Premarital counseling gives each spouse the opportunity to inspect one another’s character. Great marriages flow from character, which creates compatibility.
- Premarital counseling staves off disaster. Every now and then the church must tell a couple, “You are not ready for marriage.” Sad to say, but many couples will leave the counseling office upon such news and find someone else to marry them. As a church leader, emphasize your love and concern for them and their future. Help them fill in the gaps in their character. A healthy premarital counseling program should have brides and grooms placing faith in Jesus for the first time.
- Premarital counseling brings harmony to the duets forming in the church, whereas much in the culture is leading them off-key.
Pastor, counselor, Bible study leader, elder, or deacon, take the time to sit down with couples, and prepare them for marriage. Be an objective voice that helps couples discern motives and priorities in marriage. If a couple resists your help, don’t give up. Rejection of premarital counseling or advice from elders is often a sign of arrogance, a lack of character, or both.
Marriage is a sacred covenant that is a legal, public, and binding agreement. Just as you wouldn’t sign on the dotted line if you knew the car salesman was shady, you most definitely shouldn’t sign if you think the one you are marrying is hollow in character. Marriage is a lifetime. The church has the unique opportunity to prepare couples for marriage before and after the big day.
Maybe you’ve heard something along these lines after a marriage sermon, conference, or counseling session, “I wish we would have heard this early in our marriage. It would have saved us unnecessary grief.” That is the power of preparation. It not only can prevent disaster, but it can also make what seems intolerable a little more possible.
Blessings on your church and leadership as you sing backup to many new duets.