For almost a decade I’ve been pastoring a church plant in the heart of downtown Columbia, SC. When you’ve got a young church with lots of college students and young professionals, a couple things are true.
First, you’re broke.
Second, your people are dating, hooking up and getting married constantly. My wife and I once attended and/or officiated 17 weddings in one summer. As our culture continues to foster its own view of marriage that focus on autonomous, happiness-based, romance-idolizing relationships, you need a gameplan for premarital counseling that gets to the heart of what matters without wasting your time and theirs.
Don’t assume the gospel.
If they’re not a Christian, they need the gospel. If they are a Christian, they need the gospel.
They don’t just need marriage tips and tricks or new laws to obey. They need a Savior who created marriage, redeems sinful spouses and empowers sinful spouses to survive the years of pain, excitement, disappointment and joy that are coming (1 Corinthians 15:1-10, Ephesians 5:31-32).
Don’t assume they have any idea what marriage is about.
You have to ask them, “Why are you getting married?” And don’t be surprised when their answers are lacking. The cultural marriage waters they swim in tell them marriage is about maximizing compatibility to maximize happiness. That’s a terrible, flawed, weak foundation. To correct this view, you may use helpful books like Tim Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage, John Piper’s This Momentary Marriage, Matt Chandler’s The Mingling of Souls, and Dave Harvey’s When Sinners Say I Do.
Give them a game plan for dealing with their sin.
If they don’t have a game plan for sin, then they don’t have a snowball’s chance at living out a gospel-centered, God-glorifying marriage.
Dave Harvey’s When Sinner’s Say I Do is a great primer here. Help them understand how to proactively confess and confront in order to bring sin into the light. Help them know how to walk in forgiveness and repentance so that reconciliation is full and sweet and bitterness won’t have any soil in which to grow (1 John 1:5-10, Hebrews 12:15).
Assume sexual sin.
Not only are most millennials having sex outside of God’s design, they also have no idea what God designed sex for and why sexual sin is sin at all. If you’re skittish, awkward and cowardly around the topic of sexual sin, your people will continue in unrepentant sin and you will give account to Jesus for why you didn’t graciously confront and help them. Ask them direct and pointed follow-up questions that force the issue. Yes, make them be specific. No, don’t act weird or overreact as if their sexual sin is shocking or worse than other kinds of sin. We’re not aiming for perfect people. We’re aiming for mature Christians who love Jesus, understand God’s good design and repent of sin when they’re confronted (1 Thess. 4:3-8).
Make them fight.
Couples who fight a lot are more likely to know the weakness, and therefore more likely to ask for and receive help. It’s the non-squeaky wheel couples who are nice and polite and never fight who are more in danger.
They will either continue to avoid conflict and not grow in unity or find themselves fighting with no idea how to do that well.
If they don’t fight a lot, make them fight during engagement under your watchful care so you can coach them up.
Make counseling a team sport.
Broad truths effect all marriages. Each individual marriage applies those truths in different ways. So part of our premarital counseling track is to eat dinner with three married couples in our church family and ask them specific questions about marriage. You get to follow up with what they learned and coach them up if/when they get bad/questionable advice (Proverbs 15:22).
As is the case in all counseling situations, helping them arrive at gospel-centered, biblical answers is more helpful than spoonfeeding them the answers. Ask hard questions. Coach them up when they’re off. Give them engaging interactives so that you can help shape their discernment. In the end, pray and counsel them in such a way to help them see how their marriage makes the most sense and comes alive in light of the cosmic marriage made possible by Jesus dying for the church.
Published August 24, 2015