Some couples value counseling and seek it out. Other couples seem to submit to counseling as one of the necessary evils one needs to do before marriage. Still other couples rebel against the notion and take their wedding plans elsewhere.
Some churches require counseling. Others offer a few tid bits of advice and go over the ceremony. Still other churches require couples to attend formal counseling.
What should churches be doing when it comes to pre-marital counseling?
Let me explain right from the start that our church has had a long standing requirement of counseling prior to a wedding. We generally ask couples to submit to 8-12 weeks of counseling prior to their wedding.
This article is not about whether a church should make counseling available to those who want it. It is seeking to answer the question of whether a church should require counseling because the couple needs it.
I would like to suggest 3 primary reasons that your church should have an organized requirement and curriculum for preparing couples for marriage.
Reason #1: Many, if not all, young people do not understand the core issues of marital success.
I have yet to hear a couple about to get married tell me that they hate each other, that they think their fiancée is unattractive, that they cannot stand to be together, and that their relationship is in shambles.
But I have heard all of these things from couples that I have counseled after 10 years of marriage. So what happened? Surely that was not their original plan.
Simply stated, the things that worked in their dating relationship did not work as well once they were married. In the dating relationship the couples were willing to overlook certain annoying characteristics. They were able to return to their own residence if a problem got too hot to handle. But when they got married there were no such escape routes. There was no place to run and hide and “just get over it.”
In addition, the warts that each person was able to hide during the dating period were exposed in marriage. In marriage, each partner saw what they really got!
In other words, the young couples in your church believe that their relationship is strong and able to handle challenges. In reality, many of them fail to recognize that the great themes of Scripture such as worship, love, identity in Christ, and service have largely been absent to this point in their relationship. Yet, these are the very things they need to understand in order to handle the tensions in marriage.
In my view, every church should be explaining these core themes and helping young couples learn about them prior to marriage.
Reason #2: People bring their own personal struggles and challenges to the marriage and thus there is need for individual attention
The Lord has created a lot of diversity in his church. The Lord saves people from wonderful homes and those that are not so wonderful. He saves people from different cultures. He saves people with gifts and abilities as diverse as the human race itself.
In addition, 1 Cor 6:9-11 reminds us that the Lord saves people with all sorts of sinful issues. Some are thieves, others are liars, others are immoral, and others are slanderers.
When two people get married they bring their own issues to the marriage. Thus, group teaching is valuable, helpful, and worth being part of the premarriage program. But individual ministry to help the couple overcome their individual challenges is helpful and needed.
Here is but one of a hundred different possible illustrations. I have several friends that married a person from another culture. In one case, the man is Anglo, while the woman is Filipino. They have experienced some challenges both as a couple and when they had children dealing with the various amounts of pigment in their skin and the facial features common in different cultures. To be sure, these challenges were the result of sinful actions of others, but dealing with these issues was going to be part of their married lives. In fact, the comments made by others would be a stress point on the marriage itself. Wise is the pastor who helps prepare the couple for these challenges and shows them how they can be an example to believer and unbeliever alike. Thankfully, my friends have had the privilege of ministering to many other couples in their same situation.
My point is simply that each couple brings a unique set of joys, blessings, challenges, and potential struggles. It should be the goal of the church to prepare the couple to handle all of these things in a biblical fashion.
Reason #3: It is some of the most meaningful ministry you can have with another person.
My ministry as a pastor is quite varied. Sometimes I teach, sometimes I write, sometimes I pray, sometimes I have fun, and other times I meet people in the midst of major life moments.
Almost without exception, the people that I have worked with in premarital counseling remember more of what we did together in those sessions then they remember from all of the teaching I have done in a public context.
As you think about stewardship of your time, investing in a couple preparing for marriage may be the most effective time you will ever have with them.
Share this post with others and maybe we will see more and more churches preparing couples for a life of marriage and not simply for a ceremony.