The Pastor and Premarital Counseling

There is a tremendous responsibility that is involved in preparing for marriage.

WHEN  a  betrothed  couple invite me to  perform  their  wedding  ceremony  I always  respond  with  what  I  consider to be a natural degree of satisfaction. In spite  of  this  warm  feeling,  the  pastor who  receives  such  a satisfying  intention must face with some fear and trepidation  the  tremendous  responsibility that  is  involved—one that is  too  often overlooked  or,  at the  best,  superficially undertaken.

Marriage was the first institution ordained  of  God  in  the  Garden  of  Eden and,  next to  the  decision  that is  made for Christ, the decision of  a life partner is the most important. So sacred is this relationship that God Himself uses it as a  symbol  of  the  relationship  between Christ and His church (Eph.  5:22-33).

Perhaps  at  no  other time  in the history  of  the world has a thorough preparation  for  marriage  been  more  essential. It is no longer, if it ever was, safe to assume  that  because  two  young people happen  to  be members  of  the  same church it is safe for them to pursue their marriage plans.  The increasing divorce rate among married Christians must be of deep concern to every minister.

It is essential, then, that the minister requested to perform the marriage ceremony,  spend considerable time in guidance  and in counseling the couple to be married. He is responsible for satisfying himself  that  he  has done  everything possible  to  lay  before  the  couple  the principal and basic preparations needed for a successful Christian marriage.

Too  often the minister is led into trifling  considerations,  perhaps  commenting  upon  the  good  looks  of  the  young lady  and the  fortune  of  the young man to  be  able  to  attract  one  so  beautiful, thus  implying  that physical  beauty  is one  of  the  great  criteria  for the  choice of  a wife.  On the other hand, emphasis can  be  laid  upon  the  success  of  the young  man  and his  future  prospects in worldly  achievement,  and  again the young lady can be inadvertently turned to  the  less  important  aspects  of  marriage preparation.

In  contemporary  society,  where  the goddess of  sex has been established just as  effectively  as  it  was  established among  the  heathen  nations  in  Bible times,  it  has  become  increasingly  popular  for  the  Christian pastor  to  allow his  premarital  counseling  to  be  dominated  by  discussion  of  sex  as  if this is the  most  essential  aspect  of  a  successful marriage.

Thus  young  people  have  reinforced the  view  that sex  is the  prime  purpose of  marriage.  They  come  to  believe  that any problems that might be experienced in  their  sexual  relationship  become  a dramatic barrier to their marriage, and so  the  seeds  of  discontent  and  dissatisfaction  are  quickly  sown—seeds  that often  bear  fruit  in  infidelity  and  marriage breakup.

So  often  the  greatest  pressure  on young people today comes from the early intimate  associations between boys and girls.  Often even before adolescence has been  achieved,  these  kinds  of  relation ships  have been reinforced  by  such  activities  as  Valentine parties in the elementary school. The pressure of society, especially in the United  States, is such that  every  teen-age  youngster  feels somewhat left out unless  he  or she has some kind of romantic attachment. This has led to the tragedy of numerous early marriages  before  young people  are mature enough or  stabilized enough to  effectively  understand  the  great  responsibilities  that marriage  demands.  The situation  is  accentuated  frequently  in the  college  environment.  Whereas  in previous  college  generations  the  protective  environment  supplied  by  the administration  and  board  slowed down the  rapid  and  intense  development  of courtship  relationships, the much  freer atmosphere  of  even  the  Christian  college today  has  few  such protective barriers.

This means that in the close confines of  the boarding  college  such  romantic attachments  can  intensify  in  a  frighteningly  short  period  of  time.  Thus  a very large number  of  young people  are married well within the first year of the beginning  of  their association,  often without  really  knowing  the  person  to whom  they  are  making  such  solemn vows and frequently assuming a responsibility  for  which  they  are  totally  unprepared. For  the  majority  of  young people it is not only wisdom to wait until the completion of  a college program but also to wait  for  at least  one  year to establish  in  a  secure  pathway the career for which they are called.

Too many of those who marry during their college  education  are  forced  into undue  strain  because  of  financial  responsibilities.  Frequently young people are  forced  away  from Christian  education  into  public schools and  colleges that  do  not  keep  before them  those Christ-centered  principles  that  help make  their  marriage  a  successful  one, and  also  do  not  train them  specifically for Christian service. There is heavy responsibility  upon  ministers  to  bring these critical  issues  before  today's youth.

I have heard of a pastor being asked to marry a couple secretly. It is wise for the pastor  to  contemplate  the implications of  doing this.  Is it possible that God can honor a deceptive act? Especially is this serious if the parents of the young people  concerned  are  meant to  be  kept  in ignorance as to the married state of the young  people.  Even  before  a  steady courtship  has  been  undertaken,  it  is important  for  the  young  man  and the young woman to be open, to seek counsel from  their  parents,  for  any  deception will  certainly  lead  to  unfortunate  con sequences.

One  Christian  writer  addresses  this problem  as  follows:  "A  young man who enjoys  the  society  and wins the  friend ship  of  a  young  lady  unknown  to  her parents,  does  not  act  a  noble  Christian part toward her  or  toward  her  parents. Through  secret  communications  and meetings he may gain an influence over her  mind;  but  in  so  doing  he  fails  to manifest  that  nobility  and  integrity of soul which  every  child  of  God  will  possess.  In  order to  accomplish their ends, they  act  a  part  that  is  not  frank  and open  and  according  to  the Bible  standard,  and  prove  themselves  untrue  to those who love them and try to be faithful guardians over them. Marriages contracted  under  such  influences  are  not according  to  the  word  of  God." —Messages to  Young People,  p.  445.

Guidelines for Counseling

It is  vital that the couple  desiring to be  married  be  brought  a  clear  realization  of  what is involved in preparation for  marriage.  Some  of  the  questions that  every  young  man  and  woman should be asked to face are:

1.  Will this union honor God?

2.  Will it allow both the young man and  the  young  woman  to  better  fulfill God's purpose in each of their lives?

3.  Are they willing to allow Christ to become  the  basis  of their relationship?

4.  Do they understand the many responsibilities that marriage brings and the  selfless  foundation upon which true married happiness is obtained?

5.  Are  their  interests  and  goals  in life compatible?

6.  Have  they  an  understanding  of the  proper  approach to Christian stewardship  as  a  part of true Christian development  and  home  establishment?

7.  Have they known each other long enough and in sufficiently varied experiences  to  be  sure  that  God  is  leading them together?

8.  Have  they  learned  to  pray  together  and  to  study  God's  Word  together?

9.  Have  they  sought  wide  counsel from  spiritual  people,  especially  their parents  if  they  are  deeply  committed Christians?

10.  Have they learned to work for the Lord  together? And  are they  both willing to serve wherever He leads?

Too often young people feel that many of the spiritual needs that they consider relevant  to  married  life  will  somehow naturally evolve  after marriage.  But if these  foundations  are  not  laid  effectively and consistently prior to the con traction of the marriage it will be much less  likely  that  such  will  develop  in their later marital experience.

Pastor's Broad Responsibility

The pastor has a broad responsibility for  the  total  youth  community  of  his church. While it is true that the primary responsibility  for  training  young  people  in  preparation  for  Christian  marriage rests upon the home,  and while it is  further  true  that  in  our  school  curriculums  there  is  opportunity  for  the development of such insights, nevertheless, the pastor must be conscious of the fact that many of those he serves do not come  from  homes  where  parents  have effectively  established that kind of  rap port and relationship with their children that allows  them to  bring  a  strong and clear  understanding  of  future  marital responsibilities.  Too  often  these  homes have  also  failed  to  demonstrate  true Christian  principles  before  the  youth, and therefore the inadequacies of these examples  are  often  taken  into  their marriage situations.

It is clear, too, that many of the young people in the church community will not have  had the benefit of  a Christian education  and  will  especially  need  the careful guidance of the pastor.

It  would  therefore  be  wise  for  the pastor to  establish training classes  and discussion  groups  whereby  the  true principles  and  foundations of  Christian marriage  can be  explained to the youth even before they have committed them selves  to  a  particular individual.  Such will  often  benefit  the  young  people  in avoiding  making  commitments  which later have to be  reversed.

When the pastor has taken every possible  step that seems  reasonable in the preparation of young people and specific couples  for marriage, he can confidently look  to  God  to  add  His  blessing  to  the marriage  service  that  he  conducts  on their behalf.

But  if  he  has  been  careless  or  negligent in this matter, he  stands partially responsible  at  least  for  any  of  the  domestic problems that subsequently arise in that marriage.


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