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As a minister, and especially as a pastor, you can expect to be called upon many times to conduct weddings. The following material is designed to give the minister general guidelines regarding this all-important task.

This article addresses three primary topics:
1. Premarital Counseling
2. Policies and procedures regarding the use of church facilities and equipment
3. Planning and performing the ceremony itself

If these three areas are handled efficiently, the pastor and church have served their people well in matters pertaining to weddings.

Premarital Counseling
It is important to understand the immense responsibility the minister has, not only to conduct a wedding ceremony, but also to provide spiritual guidance and godly counsel to the engaged couple.

Those who have counseled couples after marriage know how essential a solid foundation is in building a stable and healthy home. With the high divorce rate and the enormous pressures confronting families in our society today, it behooves every minister to provide the best counsel possible to couples seeking marriage through his church and ministry.

Some ministers approach premarital counseling by asking the couple if they want to ask any questions about marriage. Then the minister may share a few thoughts about marriage before discussing the ceremony.

However, it is important to realize that the couple is often so much "in love" and "starry-eyed," they don't know what questions to ask. They also readily agree with any positive advice the minister may offer. But in reality, very little of what the minister is telling them may be sinking in. That's why a more in-depth type of premarital counseling involving more than one session can be beneficial in preparing a couple for marriage.

Before discussing the format and philosophy of premarital counseling used at RHEMA Bible Church, it is important to note that we are speaking in generalities, not in absolutes. We realize that there are couples who never receive any premarital counseling whatsoever. Yet because they possess a measure of spiritual maturity and commit themselves to walking in love toward one another, they develop very loving, strong marriages.

On the other hand, there are also couples who received much instruction, read many marriage books, and listened to many tapes about marriage. Yet they did not make a success of their relationship.

Premarital counseling does not offer any absolute guarantees. It does, however, provide couples with an opportunity to grow together as they gain knowledge and wisdom to help them build a strong marital foundation. Therefore, we believe that a higher percentage of healthier, stronger relationships result from couples who participate in premarital counseling.

We have adopted an approach to premarital counseling that encompasses three basic elements:

Instruction is the first element of premarital counseling. Instruction about the subject of marriage is based on the eternal principles of God's Word. It is fortunate that many excellent books, as well as audio and video tapes, offer wonderful information to married couples and to those considering marriage. A pastor can select some of these resources as homework assignments for the couple.

Some of the basic subjects of instruction that help couples preparing for marriage include:
1. Recognizing God as the Author and Architect of marriage
2. Recognizing the union that is established in marriage. In marriage, people should not lose their individuality, but they should surrender their right to independent living.
3. Recognizing the respective role of each person. The husband is to be a Christ-like leader, not a dictator. The wife is to be submissive, but not a doormat.
4. The offering of mutual support. A couple needs to learn how to bring out the best in each other (Eccl. 4:9-12).
5. Establishing effective communication skills. Gary Smalley and John Trent have co-authored some excellent materials on this subject, as has Norman Wright.
6. The importance of friendship in the marriage
7. Family planning and birth control
8. Sexual adjustment. Two books considered to be excellent sources of information on this subject are Intended for Pleasure by Dr. Ed Wheat and The Act of Marriage by Tim and Beverly LaHaye.
9. Budgeting and financial planning
10. In-Laws. The couple needs to know how to keep their in-laws from becoming "out-laws"!

Identification, the second element of premarital counseling, encourages the couple to realistically identify and recognize the strengths and weaknesses or "growth areas" of their relationship.

There are 16 questions on the back of the RHEMA Bible Church Wedding Request Form, to which the couple provides written answers. It is realized that the couple could merely give answers they feel are "expected," but at least they are challenged to think about issues pertaining to expectations, strengths, weaknesses, goals, desires, etc.

Also, the couple is given information regarding "Ten Wrong Reasons for Marriage." The purpose for this is to help couples identify wrong motivations for pursuing marriage.

The following is a brief summary of the ten wrong reasons that should be covered in premarital counseling:

1. Lust We understand that it is natural and normal for a person to sense a physical desire for the person they plan to marry. And certainly there is nothing wrong with desiring intimacy with one's future spouse. On the contrary, it would be of great concern to a pastor or counselor if a person desiring to get married did not sense any physical desire for the other person. However, we emphasize to the couple that marriage needs to be founded on far more than just a physical attraction or desire.

2. Infatuation We're not against falling in love, but we recognize that it doesn't take the place of growing in love together. If you merely "fall in love," you can also "fall out of love." If "love at first sight" occurs, that's fine, but we encourage people to take a good, long, hard, second look to make sure it is not just infatuation, but the kind of love that lasts a lifetime.

3. Being in love with the idea of marriage. This is different from being genuinely in love with a person.

4. Fear of not getting married. Some people are afraid that if they don't take the present opportunity to get married, they may never find another opportunity. Again, this is far different from genuinely loving a person and sincerely desiring to spend the rest of one's life with that person.

5. Coercion (Pressure) Some people get married due to pressure from family, friends, or their betrothed. Marriage is a decision far too important to be rushed into. It is a lifelong commitment. Therefore, both partners need to get to know each other well enough to feel comfortable about the relationship.

Also, people should not allow circumstances to pressure them into a quick marriage. For instance, if the woman gets pregnant, that does not necessarily mean that marriage is a "solution." However, if the couple was planning to get married anyway, it might be best to proceed.

In other situations, the relationship may not have been a healthy one from the beginning. In these cases, marriage could be a second mistake following the first mistake. Prayerful consideration of the responsible options is required in these cases.

Another form of coercion occurs when people mistakenly believe that the Lord has "told them" to marry a certain person. In other words, they feel God is pressuring them into marriage.

I am not saying that God will not guide people and give insight or confirmation regarding a marital decision. God does not "order" people to get married, thereby guaranteeing a successful marriage.

Even when God's peace accompanies a couple's decision to get married, that couple still has to continually work at improving their relationship. They must still invest their time, energies, and best efforts into the growth of their relationship if it is to be successful.

It would be extremely unwise for a couple to get married only on the basis that they felt "God told them to." Other relational aspects necessary for a healthy marriage (love, willingness, desire, communication skills, and so forth) should also be present and developing.

Philippians 2:13 says, "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." If it's actually God's will that a particular couple marry, both people should exhibit the willingness and desire to grow in these relational qualities.

6. Rebound situations It is generally ill-advised to enter into marriage while "rebounding" or recovering from the emotional distress of a divorce, the death of a spouse, or a broken engagement or relationship.

The fact that someone seems comforting in a time of distress does not guarantee that he or she will make a good lifetime companion. In the midst of distress, such a determination can be difficult for a person to make accurately.

7. Money Money in itself is not wrong to acquire, but it should not be the motivating factor for marriage. Many have painfully discovered that money alone does not bring happiness or guarantee a successful marriage.

8. Escaping problems Some people marry with the mistaken notion, If I just get married, all my problems will go away. In reality, they may be jumping out of the proverbial frying pan into the fire!

Some people who are lonely or in a bad home situation see marriage as "a way out." It's understandable that people want to get away from problems. But what will they do when they face marital problems? Will they escape those problems by jumping out of the marriage the same way they escaped other problems by jumping into the marriage?

9. Pity Some have actually gotten married in part because they felt sorry for the other person and did not want to hurt him or her.

10. Unreasonable expectations Some cherish the idea that the person they are marrying will be perfect or that their bad habits, tendencies, personality traits, and so forth, will change after marriage.

Both people must come to understand that their chosen lifetime mate is imperfect. Then they must be willing to love each other just the way they are. The person getting married should decide if he or she can be happily married even if the other person does not improve.

This decision does not negate the importance of each person striving to be the best he or she can be, and it should not be used as a cop-out to avoid seeking self-improvement. However, this decision does help minimize the disappointment created by unrealistic expectations and reduces the frustrations of trying to change the other person.

A tool used at RHEMA Bible Church that is very helpful in identifying the strengths and weaknesses of relationships is the Prepare-Enrich Inventory. It is necessary to attend a one-day training seminar in order to be certified to administer and evaluate this inventory.

The Prepare-Enrich Inventory consists of 125 statements to which each person records their level of agreement. Their responses are compared and contrasted in such categories as Personality Issues, Conflict Resolution, Communication, Children and Parenting, Religious Orientation, and several others.

This inventory also provides insights regarding the couple's family backgrounds. It provides a good springboard for discussing positive and negative patterns from their upbringing that they desire to incorporate into or keep out their marriage.

As strengths, weaknesses and other attributes of the relationship are identified, it is important at the same time to also incorporate interaction, the third element of premarital counseling.

Interaction refers to the couple actually getting involved in dialogue about issues pertaining to their relationship. In other words, the couple doesn't passively listen all the time. They are actively involved in the process of counseling.

It is during times of interaction that couples will either find success in their ability to work through issues and reach mutually acceptable agreements, or they will discover they've reached an impasse on certain points. Occasionally, a couple decides not to get married because of serious differences they are unable to resolve or important areas about which they do not agree.

There may be disappointment in such cases, but it is far better to have such serious problems discovered in premarital counseling than years later when issues previously ignored finally erupt and result in the destruction of a marriage.

Once the couple has satisfactorily completed the premarital counseling, the pastor can agree to conduct their ceremony with a good conscience because he knows that the couple is building on a strong foundation.

It should be stressed that a minister is not under any obligation to perform a marriage ceremony with which he is uncomfortable. However, it is usually not wise to be overly strict in refusing to marry a couple for less than serious reasons, since this may only serve to alienate them from the church. And in most cases in which a pastor refuses to marry a couple, the couple just finds someone else who will marry them.

Obviously, it would be unscriptural to marry a couple when one person is a Christian and the other is not (2 Cor. 6:14-16). In other cases, the minister may recommend a couple to take more time in developing their relationship before marriage.

It is also good to encourage the couple to make marriage-enriching materials a regular part of their spiritual diet. This can be encouraged by making good marriage-building materials available in the church bookstore and by teaching occasionally from the pulpit about marriage and the family.

Author Biography

Kenneth W. Hagin
Web site: Kenneth Hagin Ministries
Kenneth W. Hagin, President of Kenneth Hagin Ministries and pastor of RHEMA Bible Church, ministers around the world. Known for calling the Body of Christ to steadfast faith, he seizes every ministry opportunity to impart an attitude of “I cannot be defeated, and I will not quit.”

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