Occasionally people ask my opinion on various personal or church issues. A question I received recently is relevant to pastors and church leaders everywhere. If you haven’t faced this kind of situation yet, you are likely to in the future.
A pastor wrote to relate maintaining certain policies regarding conducting weddings. Policies that—as the culture continues to turn away from biblical morality—are often considered extreme, legalistic, judgmental, and worse.
For example, he declines to weddings for couples living together, which has become culturally acceptable and even practiced by professing Christians. He explains if they will repent, live separately, and refrain from sexual relations until after the wedding, he will do the ceremony, provided there are no other reasons that would prohibit that.
Difficulty of remaining true
Still, he finds it increasingly difficult to remain true to his principles. At present, he is struggling with how to lovingly inform his great-niece of his policy, since she has requested his services for her wedding a year from now.
A single mother, she has been living with her fiancé for over a year; he also has a child from a previous marriage. Not only is there a possibility of causing hurt feelings for the couple, but other family members.
“Am I too extreme?” he asked. “I am aware of some ministers who perform just about any wedding and contend they are doing so as a secular matter . . . I believe that since I am a minister of Christ, I cannot make such a distinction in my participation.”
Challenges of ministry
I told this pastor his dilemma is another demonstration of how ministry is getting more difficult, especially as our society is numbed to moral truth. Like prophets of old, authentic ministers are regarded as enemies of “the good life.”
As ministers, we must remember our primary calling is not to please people but to honor God and His Word. Sometimes we can’t do both. I commended him for standing firm on his convictions, even if they make some people angry. If the church doesn’t communicate basic biblical values to our culture, no one else will.
“I don’t see your marriage policy as extreme,” I said. “It’s similar to the one I followed during my 40 years as a pastor of a local church. To casually perform a wedding of couples who are living together sends a message to the youth of the church that cohabiting doesn’t matter. On the other hand, to stubbornly refuse to perform their wedding under any circumstance leaves the impression that the couple shouldn’t get married at all . . . but they should!”
Speaking in love
The challenge for ministers is to speak the truth in love. In the past, I found myself sometimes getting tense or defensive about my position, when I would have been more effective if I had been more positive and loving.
For example, instead of telling his great-niece: “I have a serious problem with your situation,” it might be wiser to begin, “I’m really glad to hear you are getting married. That’s good! I’m thankful you have found someone you love and want to spend the rest of your life with. I’m really happy for you, and I’m honored to be asked to perform your wedding.”
However, he can follow up by outlining basic principles he’s always followed, which he hopes they will respect. If there is anything about his policy they can’t follow and decide to get someone else to perform the wedding, he will be disappointed, but will understand.
Following an explanation of his policy and its rationale, he can offer a pre-marital counseling course that will help them and relate how following these guidelines will enhance their wedding, honeymoon, and marriage. After expressing the hope that God will richly bless both of them, give the couple a week or two to think it over.
This kind of approach will put the ball in her court and take some of the pressure off him as he stands for God’s truth. Galatians 6:1 says if a fellow believer is overtaken in a fault we are to “restore them GENTLY.” That’s our goal, and it’s always a challenge.
Yet, if more ministers will accept the challenge instead of “going along to get along,” the church’s witness will be enhanced.
Photo by Gianni Scognamiglio on Unsplash
At just twenty-two years of age, Bob became the pastor of Southeast Christian Church. That small congregation of 120 members became one of the largest churches in America, with 18,000 people attending the four worship services every weekend in 2006 when Bob retired. Now through Bob Russell Ministries, Bob continues to preach at churches & conferences throughout the United States, provide guidance for church leadership, mentor other ministers and author Bible study videos for use in small groups.www