Pastoral Care and Leadership - Lesson 10

Pastoral Care and Weddings

There has been a disintegration of the institute of marriage in the American culture over the past 60 years. People in our culture today traditionally get married in a church. Meet with the couple before you agree to marry them. Have procedures and policies in place for use of the church building and your involvement. Suggest that the couple choose one of the following passages as the main focus of the wedding ceremony: Col 3:12-14; I Cor 13:4-7; Phil 2:1-4; Gen 2:24-25; Ecc 4:10-13.

John  Johnson
Pastoral Care and Leadership
Lesson 10
Watching Now
Pastoral Care and Weddings

Pastoral Care and Weddings

I. Introduction

II. Initial Questions about Marriage

A Should the church be in the marrying business?

B. How do we handle requests to use the church from people outside the church?

C. What would you do if you are convinced that two people should not marry?

D. What if a couple is living together?

III. Guidelines for Who to Marry

A. Go through the premarital counseling far enough that you can be confident that it's God's will

B. Don't commit to marrying a believer and an unbeliever

C. Is it ok to marry two unbelievers?

IV. Guidelines for Preparing for the Wedding

A. Have a good plan for premarital counseling

B. Ask people who are living together to separate

C. Be aware of legalities

D. Have a set of procedures and policies in place

E. Gather the initial wedding information

F. Give careful thought to the rehearsal

1. Pre-rehearsal

2. Rehearsal

G. Guidelines for the wedding

1. Set the tone

2. Maintain order

a. Processional

b. Ritual

c. Recessional and signing

V. Concluding Thoughts

VI. Questions

  • Being a shepherd to a congregation includes the responsibility to protect, provide and lead. A church is a group of believers that is incorporated into one body and adopted into a family. The church has a mission to go after truth, respond to truth, love one another and share their faith. The pastor is called to care for and lead the congregation in the process. 

  • Convergence is where your greatest passion, giftedness and abilities line up with the greatest opportunity. When managing your time, don't measure your success only in how busy you are. God has not called to do, but to be. Be on a lifelong journey of becoming so you have a reservoir to give from in both your relationships and your preaching. 

  • Visiting people in their homes is an important part of your ministry as a shepherd. Keep track of who you visit and take notes. Have a plan for a meaningful conversation. As you know people personally, it will make a difference in how you preach and how you pray for people. Pray that the Lord will lead you in what to say and be aware that you may often experience something unexpected. 

  • Jesus devoted part of his ministry to the sick, so you as a pastor should, also. God's not interested in taking us back to where we were, but he's always interested in taking us where we need to go. Sometimes being sick and experiencing pain causes us to focus our attention on God. Call the elders to pray for physical and spiritual healing. Part of the misery of sickness is often solitude. When you visit people in the hospital, be timely, expectant and careful with your words. 

  • In your older years, letting go of life can be difficult if people are not realistic about accepting the inevitability of their own death. The process of dying often helps you sift out the trivial. As you approach death, life often seems to become a series of medical tests, interruptions and uncertainty. If someone begins to lose their sense of identity, remind them that God is good and perfectly wise in everything he does, and that he is powerful. In a Christian context, there is every place for grief but no place for despair. 

  • Help the family plan and carry out the services they want in a way that honors both the dead person and their relatives and friends. Help the family navigate the details regarding what kind of services, who should speak, whether the casket will be open or closed whether people should give flowers or donate to a charity, etc. When you are planning what you will say, take into account special circumstances like murder, suicide or someone who may not have assurance of their relationship to God.

  • With the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, there is something happening beyond the surface that is sacred and divine. In the act of communion, we should experience an empowering grace. We look back to the Passover when God led the nation of Israel out of Egypt. We look back to Jesus' death on the cross. We celebrate our present communion with God by the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We look forward to the consummation of all things in the future. 

  • How often should you practice communion? Who should be allowed to participate? Should you use wine or grape juice? Should it be done at home or always at church? Should it always be with the whole corporate body? Should communion be part of a wedding ceremony? When should it be in the order of service? As a pastor, how do you deal with serving communion to people you know are struggling in their lives?

  • Baptism is a sacred ceremony so you as a pastor should treat it with care. People have different views on baptism as it relates to who should participate, the mode used and it’s function as a means of grace or ordinance. Dr. Johnson says that baptism doesn’t produce change, it announces change. As one way to prepare for their baptism, the person who is being baptized can write out their testimony in a way that people who aren’t believers can understand it.

  • There has been a disintegration of the institute of marriage in the American culture over the past 60 years. People in our culture today traditionally get married in a church. Meet with the couple before you agree to marry them. Have procedures and policies in place for use of the church building and your involvement. Suggest that the couple choose one of the following passages as the main focus of the wedding ceremony: Col 3:12-14; I Cor 13:4-7; Phil 2:1-4; Gen 2:24-25; Ecc 4:10-13.

  • Discipleship was an essential part of Jesus’s ministry and a significant part of the early church. Be deliberate about spending time with people that are leaders and potential leaders that are living their lives to follow after God. The heart of congregational accountability is being involved in soul care for each other. Admonition is rebuke and correction that calls people back. Part of admonition is corrective preaching that is done with the right motives and in the right way. Membership requires sacrifice to join others in a battle with others who see themselves as investors not consumers. You, as a pastor, are accountable to protect, guide, encourage, comfort and admonish. In the process of confrontation, it’s important to have a commitment to mutual understanding, to do everything in love, aim for reconciliation, to be proactive, do all for God’s glory, to be a peacemaker and for reconciliation and closure.

  • Attention to administration is critical to the health of a church. By administrating effectively, you will have more time for other activities. A certain amount of administration cannot be delegated. Historically, three models for church structure are the Episcopalian, Presbyterian and Congregationalist. Churches need to be led by effective leaders.

  • The organization should always serve the organism. In some churches, the pastoral responsibilities are carried out by one or more of the elders, and in some, the pastor position is distinct from the elders. It’s important for you to make sure that the elders are qualified and that they carry out the duties for which they are responsible.  Recognize the structure in your church and your place in it so you know how to relate to people in a way that helps you to lead effectively.

  • Create a culture with a fundamental value of training and becoming leaders. Establish clear qualifications of those who will lead. Create productive meetings that avoid intimidation and manipulation, avoidance of tough issues, personal attacks, digression from the agenda, hot button issues without proper preparation, too much time on money or people issues, leaving the vision and mission out of discussions, people who monopolize and dominate meetings and insistence on unanimity. Have a clear succession plan in place for board members. The staff has the role of daily managing and shepherding and the board focuses on mission and vision.  

  • Determine reporting relationships and a structure for accountability. Develop effective staff meetings. Meetings should be regular, clear agenda, predictable time frame, participation, encouragement, focus on the mission vision and operational plan, informational, innovation, nurturing, praying together, discerning and sensitive to cultures. Establish personnel policies including a staff assessment plan and a release plan. 

  • Assessments are important because God calls us to be fruitful as well as faithful.  Effective ministry requires metrics because it helps you address real needs. A church’s mission should include pursue truth, respond to truth, mature the saint, love one another and reach lost people. What is your expectation of outcomes? What would it look like if you gave a final exam each year to determine what people could remember and what they have put in practice from your sermons? The difference between an organization that is good, and one that is great, is discipline.

  • Conflict is part of our lives anytime we are interacting with other people. According to Alan Redpath, if you are a pastor you are always in crisis, either in the middle of one, coming out of one or going into one. Reasons for conflict include that it’s part of life, the role of a leader, your personal growth, change, style, staff, budgets, preaching and uninspiring results. People often don’t like change, but effective leaders require change to make improvements. Your style of leadership can create conflict because of the expectations of people in your congregation, or what they are accustomed to.

  • Accept notes from people about situations in the church, only if they are willing to sign them. Work to gain trust. Don’t assume that people being kind to you at first means they trust you. Help people become dissatisfied with the same things you are. What got you here won’t get you there. As you create a culture for change, demonstrate that you respect the past and leave some things the same if they are working. Encourage people to accept and value your strengths and be patient with your weaknesses. Develop and teach a clear theology of worship. Worship is response to revelation. If you can articulate a theology of worship, it helps reduce the conflict about styles of worship. Focus on the mission and vision of the church to help avoid conflicts about finances. Teach people how to disagree without making it personal.

  • The Pastor’s job is to equip people to do the work of the ministry. Decide on and communicate the mission and vision of the church that the people support. Create a process to assimilate people. Have a clear entry point and subsequent steps for maturity and involvement. There are 4 historical models for how the Church relates to the world. 1. The church separate from the world to stay pure, and attempting to attract outsiders. 2. The Church in the world to be relevant to people. 3. The Church over the world attempts to gain power and position to control the government structures. 4. The Church engaging the world is being salt and light in the world without separating, compromising or trying to control the structures.

  • If you manage your own finances well, it will be easier for people in the church to trust you to manage the finances of the church. Teach your congregation principles of how to manage money and how to give wisely.

  • Designated giving can undermine the budgeting process. Faith-promise offerings can sometimes be helpful practically, but they can also create a false hierarchy of giving categories. Create a budget driven by the mission and vision of your church. Establish procedures and check to make sure people are following them. Conduct periodic audits to avoid embezzlement. Make the salaries one line item in the budget but don’t discuss the salary of an individual in a public meeting.

  • What got you here won’t get you there. Read current publications to keep up on culture. People like Stuart Murray suggest strategies for connecting with people in this post-Christendom era. Balance the tension between tradition and innovation. Evaluate why people are coming to your church as well as why they leave. Engage the world but don’t become like the world.

  • How you manage transition is a critical aspect of leadership. Manage your present ministry by keeping in mind that, “Success is not measured by what you are leaving to go to, but by what you are leaving behind.” “Every congregation is a congregation of sinners and worst of all, they have pastors who are sinners.” When circumstances in your ministry are difficult, it may be the time to stay and learn important lessons about you and your congregation, not necessarily to leave right away.

Are you a pastor? Are you studying to be a pastor? Are you a leader in your church and you want to encourage your pastor? As a pastor, what does it mean to care for your congregation? How do you do it well? What does it mean to be a good leader? What character traits can you develop? What relational, motivational, spiritual and educational strategies can you use to become an effective leader and develop leaders in your church? 

In Pastoral Care and Leadership, you have the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Johnson as he relates what he has learned, experienced and taught over the past three decades. What a great opportunity you have to learn about how to lead and care for people in your congregation from someone like Dr. Johnson who is thoughtful, relational, highly trained, a talented communicator as a seminary professor and experienced as a pastor who served for more than a total of 30 years at three distinctly different churches. 

In this class you will learn how to:

Care for yourself and others;

Deal with sickness and death;

Celebrate the Lord's Supper and Baptism;

Lead a wedding service;

Relate to the board and staff;

Grow from conflict

Handle your own money wisely, and the church's;

Transition the church forward with innovation.

Learning to care for yourself is critical. Understanding who you are and how you apply your gifts, abilities and training is an important place to start. Getting enough rest, being deliberate about your relationship with God and responding to his leading, and nurturing your family and your friendships helps you to have the emotional and relational energy you need to encourage and comfort the people in your congregation. As a pastor, you are often invited to be a part of some of the most memorable and intimate events in peoples' lives. You are welcomed into their homes to get to know them and pray for them. You are in the "front row" for weddings, baptisms, baby dedications and funerals. Dr. Johnson gives you some specific direction based on his training and experiences to help you know what to say and to make these times meaningful and encourage people in their relationship with the Lord in the process. 


As you begin to lead a church, find out about the history, structure and culture of the church. Work with the governing board to determine mission and vision so that when you hire and work with staff members, you can all agree on a common direction. Choose strategies that are innovative and effective. Decide on metrics so that you can measure the results. Continue what works and make changes by learning from your failures. Remember that, "what got you here, won't get you there." Avoid unnecessary conflict by fostering an environment where you set clear expectations and goals, practice regular accountability and show care for people by expecting the best and listening well. When there is conflict, have the conversation with the people involved, focus on the issue at hand, avoid personal attacks and strive for reconciliation. In the area of finances, be a good example of handling your own finances by being disciplined, shrewd, wise and planning well. Manage the church finances by encouraging the budget priorities to match the mission and vision that the congregation, board and staff agree on. Set up procedures to prevent misuse of funds and be relentless to make sure they are followed. When it's time for a transition, leave well by having already mentored other leaders and by creating separation so the church can move on. 


Recommended Books

Pastoral Care and Leadership - Student Guide

Pastoral Care and Leadership - Student Guide

Are you a pastor? Are you studying to be a pastor? Are you a leader in your church and you want to encourage your pastor? As a pastor, what does it mean to care for your...

Pastoral Care and Leadership - Student Guide

I. Introduction

We have been into some pretty serious parts of pastoral care, so let’s talk about weddings, that I think will be a little more joyous. Even here, as I have tried to do with all of these themes, is to build a little bit of theology first, make sure we have thought this through.

We do need to think through weddings today. I don’t need to tell you, there has been a disintegration of marriage for a lot of reasons in our culture - the domestic problems, the marriage rates that have plunged 48% since 1970, pretty amazing. Half of marriages end in divorce and I believe that the statistic in the church is not that far off.

I think what is even more concerning today, outside of the definition of marriage that also is a huge issue, is that unmarried couples are living together in an increasing way. I think the younger generation is really asking the question, do I really need to go through a wedding process? People living today unmarried has increased, this is an astounding statistic, twelve-fold. Twelve-fold. All of which means that we in the church need to do some real careful thinking when it comes to marriage.

II. Initial Questions about Marriage

Initial questions to think through. I want us to think through for a moment questions you have.

A. Should the church be in the marrying business?

Let’s go back to the very fundamental one, one I raised in the very first lecture and that is, should the church be in the marrying business to begin with? Is it something that the early church did? We actually have little information regarding this, but it appears even in early church history, weddings were not done in the church until more of the period of Christendom, though that actually does go back to the third, fourth century. When the church and civil magistrates became more and more intertwined, then it seems that people got married both civil and church.

When I lived in Europe it was part of custom that anyone who gets married, first went to the ?_____(02:47.5), the civil authority. Then they would have their ceremony in the church to follow. In our culture here in America we have merged the two together. So either people are going to a judge, civil ceremony, or they are doing it in the church.

So that is one question: Should the church be in the marrying business? I don’t know. I sometimes have wondered this myself. Is it something a pastor should commit oneself to? My guess is, to keep the peace, yes. It is so much a part of our culture. But to say the church is called to marry people, I would say I don’t think it is. However, there is some argument that the church should because it brings a sanctifying element, a sacred element, I should say, to the act.

B. How do we handle requests by those outside of the church who want to use the church?

This is something I faced often as a pastor. I bristled. I don’t know, bristled, maybe that is a little strong; but I struggled with the thought of unbelievers wanting to use the sacred context because it is a nice setting, it is what Hollywood taught them. It is the expectation. Not everybody, but people want to be married in the church.

I did not really make our church available for unbelievers. In fact, sometimes I would just say if I was pressed as to why, “I would find it hypocritical, it would be wanting to have the trappings of God by people who have no interest in God.” The short answer is, no.

C. What would you do if you are convinced that two people should not marry?

What should you do? That is another question we are going to talk about in a moment.

D. What if a couple is living together?

Should we press them to separate before they get married? Sometimes unfortunately in our culture the laws of how people receive their income can complicate this. What about if the couple is gay, transgender?

What if my daughter came to me and said, “Dad, I’m a lesbian and I need to just declare that, and I want to marry my best friend.” Could I marry her? Would I go to her wedding?

These are some of the questions in this culture, in this age we face.

III. Guidelines for Who to Marry

Let’s start with some guidelines for who to marry. Here is what I have learned and I have learned kind of in a painful way.

A. Go through the premarital counseling far enough that you can be confident that it is God’s will

Never commit to marry anyone with whom who you have not gone through the premarital process where you can come to a place of saying, “I really think this is the will of God.”

I used to fall into the trap of people saying, “Pastor, are you available the third week of August, we would like to get married.” The answer is, let’s see, I have to look at my calendar and say yes or no. I have learned over the years to say, “I never commit to marry anyone until we have sat down and I have gotten to know you” even if I know them individually, but to know them as a couple. Only then can I feel certain that I can marry them. That has helped avoid very difficult, awkward situations where as I go through the process, I realize I should not marry these people, but I already committed. My best counsel is never commit to marrying anyone until you have gone through a fairly exhaustive premarital process. Only then, even along the way is to say, “We still need to do some work here before I am comfortable with this.” I fear that a lot of the divorce statistics could have been altered in our culture if pastors had the courage to say, “You should not do this.”

So, never commit to marrying anyone with whom you have not gone through a process.

B. Don’t commit to marrying a believer and an unbeliever

Never commit to marrying an unbeliever and a believer because I think scripture is clear, 2 Corinthians 6:14-18. I think statistics bear this out as well. Most do not end up well. There comes a place, longer and longer in the marriage where if there is not a commonality of spirit and soul, something deeply is missing in the relationship. I have had to painfully say to people, “I remember a process where we went through premarital counseling, taking opportunity at times to persuade the man, in this case, of the Gospel, but he could just never make the decision.” In this case they went ahead and got married, but they knew I could not do the service. So they went to another pastor. What was difficult, in fact, is this is the daughter of one of my closest friends. But I said, “I’m really sorry, but scripture does not give me the freedom to do this.” Nor did my conscience. Tragically, not to say this always happens, but about four or five years into the marriage he was abusive, alcoholic, it ended in a very bad way. So never commit to marrying a believer and an unbeliever.

C. Is it okay to marry two unbelievers?

I have married unbelievers, though that has been largely because I had a personal relationship. Would I be inclined to? Probably not. I would probably say, “If you want to get married, there is a judge that can do this legally. Being married by a pastor is not going to give some spiritual sanction to your relationship if you both have no interest in pursuing God.” I would not marry them in this case in the church because I believe the church is sacred space for those who want the blessing of God. That is what makes it difficult, too, because it is hard for me to ask for the blessing of God on two people who don’t want God. It also limits things you can say.

I remember a couple that I did marry, two unbelievers. I married them because I knew them well. He became a really close friend I hiked with a lot. I remember, he said, “Make sure in the ceremony to keep certain things out of the ceremony, like God, and please not this idea of submission and headship.” I understood that and I preached from 1 Corinthians 13 on love. It was rather benign. We kind of got out of touch and about four years later I was walking through the mall and I saw him with another woman. I kind of pulled him aside and said, “Terry, what happened?” He said, “You know, we often would have conflict and we could never resolve who should make the decision.”

Be careful to determine who you are going to marry .

IV. Guidelines for Preparing for the Wedding

Let’s talk about preparing for the wedding itself. I want to give you five things to think about in preparation.

A. Have a good plan for premarital counseling

I have alluded to this already, but have a good plan for premarital counseling. It is essential to insist upon this and it is essential to use really good material. I have used material like “prepare-enrich.com” that I have found really good . It is kind of exhaustive. It reveals a lot of things. It is kind of a diagnostic. You get a print-out of where people are on a multitude of subjects that then you use as a reference point to talk about the issues you want to talk about in marriage. Take advantage of good resources. I don’t think you can really truly marry someone until you have had at least three or four, maybe five sessions, maybe even six sessions. A lot of it depends upon their age and the relationship and all, but I generally insist on around four sessions.

It is important to ask the right questions. I always like to meet with a couple before I introduce them to prepare-enrich. I just want to get some data myself and I like to ask people basic questions. Why do you want to marry this person? Sometimes I get a little bolder and I will say, “If you could change anything in this person, what would you change?” The reason I ask this is because I want people to understand that in marriage, they may not change, and can you live with that? Someone says, “I’m assuming his anger will change.” I think you have to ask the question, “But what if it doesn’t? Can you live with that the rest of your life?”

One of my more memorable moments was, I had this wonderful young couple. Actually, they were meeting in my home. I asked him the question, “If you could change anything in your bride-to-be, what would you change?” He looked into her eyes and she held his hand and she was looking into his, and he was looking into hers, and he said, “If I could change anything in her, it would be her looks.” I thought, this is probably a joke, but really it is kind of a bad joke. But he was serious. What was ironic is, she is a very beautiful person. I said, “Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here. I just graduated from University and there are a lot of beautiful women.” I was thinking, this guy is digging the hole deeper and deeper and deeper. Suddenly, holding hands and all of that moved to stepping back and part of me was going, “I don’t think I should have asked this question” because obviously this is one where it is not going to change. An irony out of this is that they kind of worked some things through. They ended up getting married. As far as I know, to this day they have a wonderful, happy marriage. Maybe my counsel is to be really careful what you ask when you are probing to get to know people. Have a good plan for premarital counseling.

B. Ask people who are living together to separate

Have the guts maybe to ask people who are living together to separate. This is really hard. You probably will find, more often than not, that people who have come to you in this day to get married are already living together. I think we are remiss if we just accept that and say, “Why upset things, they are already all settled and asking someone to move out would be just a huge inconvenience.” I wonder if there is more wisdom to saying, “If you want to be married in the church and you want something of God’s blessing on your life and if you are going to declare publicly that God is the center of your lives, then there is going to be a real disconnect if people know you are living together.” I have had to ask people who want a church-centered wedding, “You have to get out of your housing arrangement right now.” Some have said, “Thank you, I will go to another pastor.” Frankly, that has relieved me of a certain burden. If their lifestyle runs counter, you need to say something like this: “There needs to be a clear break with the past. There are habits you need to disassociate from. You have been living together at least up to now without a commitment to permanence and that is unhealthy. You have been living together probably with a certain amount of guilt. You have been living together perhaps with an undue emphasis on the physical. You have been living together with self-centered boundaries. Because you weren’t able to make the commitment at least to now, it has been my checkbook and your checkbook, my car and your car, my sofa and your chair.”

Making a break is a healthy way of saying, “You are going to have to really rethink things.” Plus you are teaching them that the physical act itself is a consummation, a crowning point of a natural progression that moves from vows to commitments to public declaration; that then moves to covenant; and only in the covenant can a sexual relationship make any sense. Otherwise, over time it just becomes a sort of meaningless event, something tiresome and maybe even boring because it is devoid of meaning and devoid of fulfillment.

So asking people to separate is underscoring that I need to keep myself at least from this point on, pure until I get married, so that when we do enter into a sexual union, we are celebrating something. There is in the sexual act the closest intimacy of two bodies and in marriage it is celebrating the intimacy of two people who come together so close that it is more than contract. I like how one put it: “If it is merely contract, then it’s not intimacy. But if it is intimacy, then the contract like a ring, just slides over with a lot of space because it is deeper than contract, deeper than legality.” This all comes into part of the definition.

C. Be aware of legalities

Here is something else. Have a good plan is the first point. The second is, be aware of legalities, licensure. If you are going to marry someone, realize that depending upon where you live, there are certain legalities you need to be aware of, things you can do and not do.

Back when I first entered into ministry, here is something God did in a wonderful way, a grace way. I’m going to tell you a story. I was an associate pastor and my pastor came to me and said, ”I want you to marry this couple.” I did not know them at all. Being a young guy right out of seminary, I was ready to do my first wedding. So I said thoughtlessly, “Yes, I will be happy to marry them.” I sat down with them in premarital counseling and discovered they had each been married four times. They spent most of their time talking about their former spouses. I was thinking, “I’ve got to get out of this.” But I had already made the commitment. I was young and youthful and not very smart as a pastor at that time.

Here is something wonderful that happened. I did not have the licensure, the legality to do this. Actually, by I think the grace of God, I was turned down by Multnomah County for not having the proper credentials to marry someone. It was not until my church later on sent with the church letterhead that I was on staff, that I was then credentialed to marry. In the interim between that, I had to go back to this couple and tell them, I can’t marry you, I’m not legally able to marry you. They quickly went to another clergy person in the area. It is almost as if, if you’ve ever had one of these where God said, “Okay, did you learn your lesson? I gave you a pass.” It was from that point on, I started to learn to never say yes, to never make a commitment to anyone until I know them.

So be aware of the legalities. Maybe you are marrying someone out of state, so it is important to know, what do I need to do to be someone legally recognized as performing a service?

D. Have a set of procedures and policies in place

So have a good plan, be aware of legalities. Here is a third. Have a set of procedures and policies. If you become a pastor of a church, it is important to have some policy when it comes to weddings. Over time you will probably have enough bad experiences to make sure that you have these in place.

I am going to give you some questions that need to be answered. Here they are: Are weddings done for nonbelievers? Does the church have a position? What is the fee schedule? This is an awkward one, is there a cost to do a wedding in the church? Is there a cost for the sound technician? Is there a cost for the pastor? What are those? Is the wedding coordinator provided? Does the church provide for this? Guidelines for music: Who can play? Who can’t play? What kind of music? What facilities are available? What are the guidelines for flowers? That’s easy, but what are the guidelines for candles? Alcoholic beverages, are they allowed? What about smoking? Custodial, sound tech charges, opening and closing of buildings? Must our pastor be involved in every wedding done in the church, or can a visiting pastor?

These are questions that have to be answered. My encouragement to you as a pastor is to make sure you have procedures and policies in place way before you do any weddings.

E. Gather the initial wedding information

Thinking of the plan and the legalities, procedures, a fourth issue here is gathering the initial wedding information. It is really important that you take some time to say, “What are the components here? How many people are going to be involved? How many are in the wedding party? What is the theme? Is there going to be a theme? What are the vows? Are they going to be the traditional vows? Are they going to be vows that they write themselves? Are they going to look to you to write the vows? What scripture should be shared? Should scripture be shared?

It has been my conviction because I am a pastor, that in a wedding there should be a passage, something defining that relates to this couple. Let me talk about this for a moment. I have been to some weddings where pastors almost start from Genesis to go to Revelation. Here is what I have done with couples. I’ve said, “I’m going to give you four or five passages of scripture. I want you to go home and read them, think through them, tell me which one you believe really defines your relationship, what is most meaningful and I will speak from that passage.” A few examples I give: Colossians 3:12-14, which is a beautiful passage that talks about what we put off and put on. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, that is a predictable one. We are talking about how you define love and to give a lot of room to talk about again, what is in a relationship. Philippians 2:1-4. Have this attitude that was in Christ of not being self-centered, but other-centered. Genesis 2:24,25, “It is not good that a man be alone.” That there is something about marriage that allows us to experience something God intends. Ecclesiastes 4:10-13, “Better where there is two rather than one.”

Here is what I like to do. I like to have a couple say, “This passage, we really love Colossians 3.” And I will speak from Colossians 3. Then, what I encourage them to do and almost in all cases, couples have done this. I have said, “Let that passage be your vows.” So what happens is, then a couple turns and says, “As your husband I commit myself to put on a heart of compassion” and the other things that passage says. What it does in the whole experience is, for them and for the guests who have come, this ceremony was about this. It has been my practice for 33 years. I love doing weddings this way. However, you as a servant always needs to start by saying, “It is your service, not mine, so you tell me what is important.” I have found in most cases couples defer because they are really not sure, at least when it comes to the spiritual part, what should be said.

F. Give careful thought to the rehearsal

Here is another aspect, giving careful thought to the rehearsal. I can’t stress enough, it is really important to think clearly about the rehearsal because the rehearsal can be chaotic, it often is. It is like herding cats. It is one of the greatest pastoral challenges. Getting people focused on a night where everybody is going a million different directions.

Here is some counsel. First of all, try to have a pre-rehearsal. Maybe it is done an hour before where the couple and the coordinator and you get together and you talk through everything, so that everybody is on the same page. It is really beneficial to do that. It is really beneficial to not try to decide things in the rehearsal itself. Everybody will start weighing in on their positions or their opinions.

Having said all of that, I want to be really sensitive to the bride’s preferences. I do not know where that comes from, but I think it is good. I think it is good to constantly ask the bride, “Is this what you want in your ceremony?” It is okay to ask the groom, but I think it is really important to ask the bride. Here is a really important thing, work out who is in charge of the rehearsal. Is it the pastor? Is it the coordinator? Is it a combination? I always advise having a coordinator. I will come in and say, “How would you like to do this tonight? Do you want me to lead this? Do you want to lead this?” I have had a lot of coordinators say, “I would be really happy if you would lead it.” I have had a number say, “I have it all down. I know exactly what the bride wants and the groom wants.” I’m happy to say, great. But sort that out. You don’t want people to feel like in the rehearsal itself there is a butting of heads going on and nobody is clear who is taking charge here. So have a pre-rehearsal to work things through.

In the service itself there is a certain authority the pastor has. In the rehearsal there is a certain authority the coordinator has. It is important to respect that.

Let me talk about the rehearsal itself. Again, this can be a bit chaotic. What can help again is to have a handout that you give everyone that says, Here is the order of things, that says how we are going to do things, so people can see this, so they are not guessing. Then generally I will start with, “Let’s start with a walk-through, so everyone take your place and let’s walk through this. Then we will come back together and convene and say, ‘Any questions?’ Are you sure you want…..? or, Am I supposed to stand over here?’” You work that all through, then it is always good to say, “Let’s do this one more time.”

Hopefully, in most cases, about two times. Sometimes, if it’s too chaotic, it might require a third time. Keep it paced, remembering dinner is often afterwards.

G. Guidelines for the wedding

So, the wedding itself. A few guidelines I have learned. It is important to set the tone again. Having a certain levity, celebration and seriousness. Some weddings can be all seriousness and almost feel like a funeral. It can almost feel like the two people were forced into this thing. On the other hand, you don’t want it to be more than celebration, so much hilarity that it misses a certain dignity. Sometimes it is just nice to start with something of humor because people are tense, especially the bride and groom can be very tense, they are sweating. Everyone is wondering, Am I in the right place? Am I doing the right thing? Am I saying the right thing? Sometimes just starting with a little bit of levity. “You know, in Genesis it says that it’s not good that a man and a woman be alone. In Hebrew there are two ways to say ‘not good.’ One is to say, ‘It’s not good, it’s not bad.’ The other is to say, ‘this would be a disaster, this would be really bad’ and that is the language of Genesis 2. It’s a really bad thing to be alone, it is not good.”

Let me illustrate. One time my wife and I were working out in the garden, it was really a hot day. It was Saturday afternoon. We hadn’t taken showers. My wife, as I recall, her hair was still in curlers. It was one of those Saturdays that we weren’t prepared for anybody, so it didn’t really matter because no-one came until I walked into the house and heard a noise and I looked out and I saw this van full of kids, like 15 kids. Then I realized, that’s right, I had committed our house to be part of the youth pastor’s progressive dinner, but I had forgotten all about it. I remember running back up to the hill behind us where my wife was and I said, “You can kill me later but right now we have to put on our best front. You have to feed 15 people in just a few minutes.” Somehow, by the grace of God we pulled it off. I think it is because I spent time going around to say, “Remind me again your name and tell me a little bit about your life.” Stalling. In that moment I can say it was definitely not good. That is the force here in Genesis.

So you have made an introductory point, you have relaxed people. Everybody can identify with something they did that was stupid or something they forgot. So what happens when people relax, it’s like Hey, this is going to be fun. But it also sets up where you can talk about some serious issues in a marriage. So set the tone. You are declaring that we are talking about something common. This is not a trial, this is not, we hope it works. You have worked that out in premarital to say, Unless you can make a lifelong commitment, we’re not going to do a ceremony because this is lifelong. This is a promise. This is a covenant.

Heather and I early on, by the grace of God, looked at each other and we said something like this: “You know what? There will be times we want to kill each other, but divorce is not an option. We may need to get in our car and go for a long drive. We may need to get away for a couple of days.” We have lived by that. We have never considered divorce, even in some of our hardest moments. That is something you want to get people to, and then you want to declare it in the ceremony. We are here because these people are making a covenant. It is more than a contract, it is a covenant. This covenant is lifelong. This covenant is unconditional. So there is great seriousness.

We are here to glorify God. We are here to declare, this is a metaphor of Christ and the Church, Ephesians 5. We are entering into the image of God. We are honoring parental recognition and support. We are celebrating a one-flesh union and there is something intensely mysterious about it. This is how scripture describes marriage, something happens in the act that is one-flesh, that means that if there ever is a severing of this relationship, it is like ripping scotch tape off of cardboard paper, there is something that gets taken, it’s never the same again. So this is a solemn moment that we are about to enter into. All of this should therefore guide the music, that should be joyful, but also worshipful, not giddy, not sloppy sentimentalism, not silliness.

Speaking of silliness, not that it is silly, but a lot of people like to have, both in memorial services and in weddings, a sort of video slide presentation of one’s life. I’ve been to many of them. They can be very beautiful and enhancing. But here I am going to give some pastoral counsel. Try to encourage the bride and groom to remember that a lot of these people are not your family. So it might be really cute and that 15-minute video might be something Mom is going to love, but a lot of other people are going to feel like, can we get on with it? Use some wisdom here. Some snapshots of your life growing up are great, some snapshots of your engagement, your relationship and your first date, maybe you have the picture of that and how that brought you to here, are great, but keep it in certain limits with emphasis on the couple’s journey.

Setting the tone is one thing. Maintaining a certain order, which means starting on time. It is a courtesy to guests. Maybe by starting on time, maybe you give three or four or five minutes, but don’t keep people waiting 15 minutes. It means that everyone is in place. It means you have instructed everyone to be there early. It means you are there early, which is really good because you need to relax. A wedding is not a place like a memorial service where you want to be in a rush and come in a few minutes late. You want to intentionally prepare to be there 15 minutes, a half-hour early.

You are the one who initiates the ceremony. You in a sense give the signal to start the processional. You need to again, sit down with the couple. How is this processional going to be? Are you coming in together? Are you coming in separate?

Here is a big issue, and that is, should a couple be out of sight until the ceremony? I go to some weddings where the groom and the bride are in wedding dress and in tux and they are greeting everybody, having a great time and it feels a little bit artificial to say, “Everybody take your places. We are going to do the ceremony.” I think there is wisdom in saying,”Stay out of sight. Let there be a certain suspense. Let there be a moment when the bride enters and everyone sees her for the firist time; or the groom and his party enter and there should be a certain anticipation.” Maybe I sound really old school but I think that really adds a lot of value to a ceremony.

The problem is, that often gets compromised by the photographer who wants to do all the wedding shots prior to the wedding, when everyone looks fresh and it is done without people in the way. You have to make a decision. I’ve told couples, “You tell the photographer,’you are here to serve them, they are not here to serve you.’” Some photographers – they will probably get upset for me saying this – often can feel like it is about serving them and the way they want to do things. I like to tell photographers, “You are here to serve this ceremony and serve the people., so do whatever it is they want you to do.” That is my take.

I think there is something wonderful about a bride who won’t let her groom see her or vice versa, that day. I can tell you by personal experience. I remember looking down the aisle when Heather entered, first time I saw her in her wedding dress. There was something magic, something powerful. Here is the great thing. One of the great benefits of ministry is, you get the front row seat in all of the most important events of life, whether it is death, or wedding, or baby dedications. For all the difficulties and challenges of ministry, you get to be in the front row. The processional is really important.

The ritual, what is involved here. It is always important to set the tone, to welcome people with a prayer. The giving away of the bride, that is, asking “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?” Again, in rehearsing, practicing, how it is said, how the handoff takes place. Then the sermon itself, which should be brief, 10 to 14 minutes, that gives careful thought, in which you include a statement of marriage’s meaning. It is warm, it is personal. This is why premarital counseling is so important, because then you can address the couple as people you have gotten to know. That comes out in the ceremony, versus someone that it feels like they were hired to do something perfunctory. Then it should incorporate a central text.

Then, we can’t forget, there should be vows, vows that are expressing covenant. It is really important that you stress to them that when it comes to vows, you are no longer looking at me, you are not making your vows to me, you are making them to each other, so turn and face each other. If they are repeating after you, make sure you keep the segments short. I think ideally they should come out of the message. Then there is the exchange of rings, the pronouncement, the brief charge. I like to give couples a brief charge now that they are married. So, now as the husband, here is what I want to exhort you to do, to be the rightful head of this home and all that Paul meant in that, to care for, protect. I like to again address now the wife and her responsibility. Then pray and present. Then there is the recessional and the signing, which all needs again to be sorted out and done carefully. Which leads to some concluding thoughts.

V. Concluding Thoughts

Try to keep the stress down, particularly at the rehearsal. As I have already said, getting to the wedding early so that you can be relaxed and be prepared. Try to smile. Be celebrative and enthusiastic. Realize that some things don’t always go smoothly and it is okay. If the ring gets dropped, remind the best man it is his responsibility to go find it and pick it up. Anticipate, think ahead. Try to think through all possibilities.

I did a wedding once. It was a really hot day and I began to sweat. I did not have a handkerchief. Then it got into my glasses and I could not see what I was doing. When you realize people are noticing that, then you sweat more. It was an awful moment until the groom thankfully reached into his pocket and handed me a handkerchief. I never forgot a handkerchief after that wedding. So you are anticipating. Try to think ahead. Rehearse issues again.

Be prepared to celebrate with people afterwards. Don’t get in your car and go home, but linger and stay with the people.

VI. Questions

Couple of questions about weddings before we conclude.

Question: I have a comment. When you talk about the process of the wedding and things you include, and you were talking about the slide show. I think one of the things that I have seen a friend of mine do who is a pastor is to give a short history of how each person grew up and what led them together and to solicit from the couple and sometimes even from the parents different things that would be appropriate for that. A lot of times a couple of short anecdotes or something that helps people get insight into the relationship and also who the two people are. And to start off with welcoming people there and doing something to draw the audience in a little bit. Then to include something to get them to know a little bit about the people. It really sets the stage for them to go through the vows and the different things because everybody now is invested.

Dr. Johnson: That is a really good point. Sometimes it is kind of fun to say, “If you knew this couple as I have known this couple, we are witnessing a miracle today.” Just how God changed their hearts and how God brought them together. That is good.

Question: I think having some sort of humor involved or something like that right at the first to kind of break the ice a little bit helps everybody.

Dr. Johnson: Yes, it does. Because people are often very nervous. If they stay nervous, it is then kind of hard to smile, for example. You can sit back there in the audience and feel like, it feels like people are forced into this, which they would never want to convey.

Question: If you are prepared for that and you have kind of a roadmap for what you are doing, that helps you to be relaxed, so if something comes up and you can make a comment in the moment, that helps. If something goes wrong, you can make it a little bit of a humorous moment instead of a disaster.

Dr. Johnson: It loosens you up as the one who is doing this. But as we know with humor, it should always be appropriate. We can say things that maybe are funny, but that was not the context.

Question: Speaking as an ex-wedding photographer, I was shooting 30 years ago and that was when a lot of these traditions started to change. I always liked to shoot the wedding pictures before, maybe not of the whole group, but the ones that really take a lot of time because otherwise, after they walk down the aisle, you don’t see them for an hour. Most brides and grooms don’t remember their weddings. All they are going to have is pictures, so you want to do a good job. You’re right. When I started shooting, the photographers really did run the show. Especially with digital cameras now, so much of the technology has changed that you are able to take pictures beforehand. It is nice if you can get the pictures done – and I shot hundreds of weddings - is put a half-hour in there where the pictures are done and then they are apart and they can kind of get their heads back into the game.

Dr. Johnson: I would not disagree with a lot of common sense wisdom about it, for sure. But I guess I am still maybe between functionality and sort of the magic and mystery, and I will go with the magic and mystery. Heather and I, we probably didn’t look as crisp and great after all of this, but I’m so glad that I did not witness her until that moment.

Again, these are not right or wrong issues. I think what I want to say to a bride and groom is that it is really your choice. Let it be driven by what you want, not what anyone else wants.