DR. SEUSS AND A PASTOR’S WEDDING POLICY
Written by Pastor Jim Law
I’m wondering if pastors and churches haven’t contributed to the marital malaise of our generation because of a lack of diligence in upholding biblical standards for marriage and weddings? Sadly, in many instances weddings have become a perfunctory ceremony devoid of preparation, reverence and significance.
I have a pastor friend who recently attended a wedding conducted by one professing to be a minister of the Gospel. The ceremony lasted about ten minutes. No Scripture was read and no prayer was offered. The vows exchanged were so vague he scarcely could establish that it was a Christian gathering. The ceremony seemed only to broadcast a disconnect from any biblical foundation. To me it just seems certain that this is one of the reasons that biblical marriage is increasingly undermined by a divorce culture that sees marriage as a temporary social arrangement.
Of all human commitments, second only to following Jesus Christ, if any deserves the taking off of our shoes because we are on holy ground, it is the occasion when a man and a woman unite before God in the covenant of marriage. Furthermore, at the heart of the Great Commission is the command to make disciples, and I can’t think of a better strategy for disciple-making than to prepare the church to honor God in marriage.
Tragically, however, marriage is esteemed lightly even in the church as pastoral responses to weddings have been all too accommodating in a culture that has lost its way and is vastly ignorant of the demands and expectations of Christ-centered marriage. This mindset has bled into the body of Christ leading to an abysmal affect on the state of marriage among God’s people.
Many pastors flippantly entertain weddings with little thought of upholding biblical standards. To borrow a phrase from Dr. Seuss used in another context, many pastors’ wedding policies sound like this, “I will marry you in a box, I will marry you with a fox; I will marry you with a mouse, I will marry you in a house; I will marry you here or there; I will marry you anywhere.”
It is time for God’s people to honor marriage by creating a discipling-mentoring atmosphere within the church to prepare future generations to honor the Lord. I am submitting that one of the greatest opportunities for pastoral impact is preparing couples to enter married life.
This preparation should actually begin earlier than one might think. It is not when the couple is talking about cakes, dresses, cumberbuns and honeymoons. It should begin among the children and youth of our church family. They should be challenged, along with their parents, to prepare for the next ten to fifteen years in their lives, and for most that will include marriage. Diligence on the front end, will save a lot of heartache later.
How does a pastor lead in this area? How does a church collectively move in this direction? I think it begins with biblical teaching on marriage from the pulpit to summer camp. Additionally, I would urge pastors to think through their wedding policy and have it in writing. The policy should emphasize that marriage is a covenant between believers, and is a profound picture of Christ’s relationship with his Church (Ephesians 5:22-33). There should be a challenge to biblical purity in the face of proliferating cohabitation (Hebrews 13:4; I Thess. 4:3). Mandatory pre-marital counseling should be established with a series of meetings for the purpose of biblical instruction and prayer. This counseling should also include practical training like requiring the couple to prepare a budget, discussing conflict resolution, marital intimacy and establishing spiritual disciplines together as a couple.
Not all are interested in such preparation. Many want the “Marrying Sam” Pastor who doesn’t ask any questions and doesn’t uphold biblical truth. They don’t want to answer the hard questions. However, setting such a standard helps eliminate those gut-wrenching encounters when a couple presents themselves for marriage but have given no spiritual preparation to what that means.
In my experience, I have found that wedding preparation without spiritual commitment is very bad ground for evangelism. It is bad ground because often the couple wants to get married in the church, and most know that in order for the pastor to be involved in the wedding they must give at least a tacit acknowledgement that they are believers. The meeting with the pastor therefore becomes a forced conversation, a hoop to jump through, and I believe that is bad ground for serious Gospel conversation.
Such experiences have led me to establish a wedding policy that states that not only must the couple be a member of our church, but that membership must be seen by faithfulness in worship and in small groups. In forging pastoral conviction, I have resolved that there are 100 people within a ten-mile radius of my desk who can handle the paper work for a legal wedding, but I believe the Lord has called me to invest in those who are committed to honoring marriage evidenced by a life of obedience to the Lord.
One of the great joys for me as a pastor is to stand with a couple as they exchange marriage vows. In this time of preparation, I have come to know them deeply as we have talked about Jesus Christ and His call on their lives. I believe this is one of the greatest aspects of discipleship I can be engaged in as a pastor. I am confident that it offers the strongest strategy for multi-generational faithfulness to the Gospel, for the church can seldom resurrect what the home puts to death.