by Jamaal Williams
I remember the day as if it were yesterday. I was filled with gratitude, excitement and nerves as we sat in our pastor’s office waiting to begin our premarital counseling sessions. My wife and I had a long-distance courtship for three years as I waited for her to finish college. She lived in Michigan, and I lived in Louisville. Whenever I could make it up to see her, which wasn’t often, we would spend multiple hours preparing for marriage with our pastor. Our time together was a joyful challenge. Both she and I grew as a result of hearing another perspective.
I believe that every Bible-believing church should have premarital counseling as a prerequisite to marriage for their members. While we can’t force people to go through with counseling, we do present it as an expectation and require it if the couple is going to use the church’s facilities or have the pastor perform the wedding.
It concerns me when I hear a Christian share his or her engagement story before marriage and the story doesn’t include premarital counseling. Or, if they have had marriage counseling, when their experience was similar to one couple in which their first and only session consisted of an hour-long sports conversation between the husband-to-be and the pastor. If our churches don’t offer acute care to people who are engaged or married, we’re missing an opportunity to teach them what it means to “honor marriage” as Hebrews 13:4 commands.
I’m convinced that the best way to create a strong church is through strong families, and strong families are a result of strong marriages. Since this is true, it’s wise to invest in marriages before they begin. Sadly, many couples in our pews will spend more time discussing their first house or vehicle purchase than they will discussing the intricacies of marriage. They’re lead to believe, perhaps by the silence of their pastors, that as long as they love each other now, that everything will work out.
Here are the three most significant elements of a premarital ministry that will help couples honor marriage:
- First, it’s important for each couple to spend a significant amount of time with a pastor, mentoring couple, or church leader. I recommend a minimum of 8-10 sessions with each one, lasting at least an hour. During this period, the couple should reflect on their own personal journey and family history. They should also read a book about marriage that will help facilitate discussions about communication, biblical roles and expectations, sexual intimacy, financial stewardship, raising children, spiritual synergy, etc. I’ve found that some of the best “aha” moments of the marital experience happen as they read and discuss the assignments that they were given together.
- Another important component is having the engaged couple interview married couples in the church about areas of their lives in which they’ve seen God at work. For example, since there are couples in our church that excel in financial discipleship, I have engaged couples meet with them to learn from their experiences. Each couple is then encouraged to make a budget that they can implement together from the very first day of their marriage.
- Third, premarital counseling is an excellent opportunity to get couples reading their Bibles more often as individuals and together. I’ve found when couples come for pre-marital counseling they’re ready and willing to do whatever it takes to ensure a healthy marriage. As a Christian pastor, I believe that abiding in the Word of Christ is one of the healthiest endeavors that a couple could partake in. It’s through the regular, prayerful, and careful reading of scripture that couples will learn about the person and work of Jesus. As pastors, we should use this time to evaluate the couple’s personal devotion life and help give them a vision of what life in the Word could look like for them in the future.