Whatever you say about the state of marriage today, one thing is sure: Most people get married at some point in their lives. I’ve found that the period before the wedding is a key time for the church to connect with these couples. Think about it: They usually need a pastor to perform the ceremony, and they want to learn how to have a good marriage.
I began using Preparing for Marriage about eight years ago for couples who need premarriage counseling at the church where I serve. At first I met with one couple at a time, but as the demand increased, I shifted the private counseling to a group setting. I now take groups of 8-12 couples through the material, and for the past two years I’ve taught a six-week Preparing for Marriage class at my church, three or four times a year. About half of the couples in the classes do not attend my church.
I live in Orlando and serve as the evangelism pastor in my church. Over the years I’ve performed marriage ceremonies at almost every destination resort in Central Florida. It’s amazing how many unchurched couples have asked me to perform their weddings. And it’s been a great opportunity to talk with them about their relationship with God.
After an initial meeting, I ask them if they would like to go through Preparing for Marriage, a premarriage resource from FamilyLife that consists of a leader’s guide and individual workbooks for the couple. Most of them take me up on that.
I’ve had the privilege of taking more than 400 people through Preparing for Marriage. Many of them accepted Christ through this Bible study. They understood for the first time what it means to have a personal relationship with Jesus. The thing that I try and emphasize is that they cannot be whole as a couple unless they are individually whole—and that comes only from a personal relationship with Christ; He is the only one who can make them whole.
The other thing I emphasize is spiritual compatibility. I explain that only Christ can give them (through His Holy Spirit) the deepest love (agape) and that agape love can then permeate every aspect of their lives, deepening their friendship and closeness and intimacy. That this agape love cannot be mustered up, but is given divinely by Christ at the new birth.
I have discovered that most couples at this stage in their life want a deeper measure of wholeness and love in their relationship. Fortunately, recognizing Christ is the key to that for them.
Thinking through issues
There are many things that I really like about Preparing for Marriage. I love the ongoing story in the book about a couple deciding to get married and then adjusting to life together as newlyweds. It’s a great icebreaker to talk about an imaginary couple. After I share the first part of the story, I can tell where the couples are in their relationship. It’s interesting to hear them talk about whether the couple should jump into marriage so quickly. Going through these scenarios helps the couples think through issues that will come up in their own marriages.
I also love the projects about spiritual compatibility and relationship compatibility. We talk a lot about the individual differences that are brought into a marriage and how these differences can either help a relationship or cause problems.
Almost 50 percent of the couples going through Preparing for Marriage take it as a pre-engagement class. It’s a lot easier for them to say, “Maybe we shouldn’t take this to the next step,” than to break off an engagement.
Changed lives and legacies
There have been some unbelievable stories over the years. For example, about 12 years ago a couple in my church asked me to do a wedding at a local reception hall. I hit it off with the wedding planner and her live-in boy friend. She said, “Is it okay if I put you on the list here for couples to contact you for you to marry them?” And I said, “Sure.”
When the wedding planner and her boyfriend were going through a rocky stage, they called me for help. She ended up recommitting her life to Christ, and he gave his life to Christ. They got married (although they later divorced).
I also got to know this wedding planner’s daughter because she helped cater the weddings. The daughter asked me to officiate her own wedding. After I met with her and her fiancé, they gave their lives to Christ.
Then two years later this young woman’s sister, Jennifer, and her fiancé, Jason, asked me to perform their wedding. They went through the Preparing for Marriage classes at our church. Jennifer prayed to receive Christ after the third session and Jason recommitted his life to Christ. For the last year and a half they have been plugged into everything at church.
Also, I married my daughter and her fiancé about a year ago. When Travis told me that he was interested in possibly marrying Britni, I said, “Well, I want you to take the Preparing for Marriage class as a pre-engagement class. And, while you are taking it, you and I are going to discuss it.”
Then there was the couple who were living together when they visited our church for the first time; that’s when they heard about the Preparing for Marriage classes. They decided to attend because they were thinking about getting engaged.
During one of the classes, I talked about spiritual compatibility and then shared the gospel. He recommitted his life to Christ and she prayed and received Christ. At the end of the Preparing for Marriage classes, this couple was baptized together. They have stopped living together and are both working in my sports outreach.
Loving and helping
When I take a couple through Preparing for Marriage, I feel like I’m their pastor. They usually feel the same way, even if they don’t come to our church. To me every couple needs a pastor. They need a spiritual mentor.
Preparing for Marriage has been a great bridge to speak into couples’ lives. I’ve been able to use it as a tool to not only share the love of Jesus Christ, but also to help couples become prepared for marriage and life.
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