One of the great delights that a pastor has is to prepare young couples for marriage. It is always an honor to participate in the solemn and joyful exchanging of vows. And the solemnity is not just for the bride and groom. The responsibility for a pastor to provide counsel to the couple is a weighty one indeed.
Thankfully there is a wealth of great books on marriage available today. The problem is not so much finding a resource as selecting one. After using various books (Preparing for Marriage God’s Way by Wayne Mack and This Momentary Marriage by John Piper among them), I’ve settled on Gary & Betsy Ricucci’s Love That Lasts: When Marriage Meets Grace.
After an introductory chapter (which has a great emphasis on the importance of the local church in marriage), there are three main sections: the roles of husband and wife (chs. 2 and 3), communication (chs. 4-6), and marital intimacy (chs. 7-8). Here’s how I set up the premarital counseling based on the book:
- Session 1. Get acquainted, hear their stories (individual conversion accounts and how the Lord led them to each other), talk about parents/families, discuss wedding details, introduce book. Participating parties: bride, groom, my wife, and me. Homework: read chapter 1.
- Session 2. Review chapter 1, ask what struck them, hit high points from the chapter, discuss Genesis 2. Participating parties: bride, groom, my wife (if she can), and me. Homework: read chs. 2-3.
- Session 3. First split session, normally at different times and places. The groom and I meet to discuss the role of the husband, while the bride and my wife meet to discuss the role of the wife. Ephesians 5 and 1 Peter 3 play an important part in this conversation. (Another book on marriage that we really like is Bryan Chapell’s Each for the Other. The book focuses on the roles of husband and wife as described in Ephesians 5. I’d like to figure out a way to include it in our counseling.) Homework: read chs. 4-6 and bring a copy of proposed budget to next meeting.
- Session 4. Review chs. 4-6, ask what struck them, hit high points, esp. conflict resolution and seeking forgiveness. Also discuss proposed budget. Participating parties: bride, groom, my wife (if she can), and me. Homework: read chs. 7-8.
- Session 5. Second split session. Discuss the purposes for sex in marriage, ways that sexual desires can be sinful (e.g., manipulation of one’s spouse, lust outside of marriage), and past sexual sin. Key Scriptures include Proverbs 5 and 7, the Song of Solomon, and 1 Corinthians 7.
- Session 6. Finalize wedding details, talk about the ceremony, answer any other questions, talk about sex (esp. making sure any past sexual sin has been confessed).
Though I did not do so at first, I’ve found it extraordinarily helpful to include my wife as outlined above. It always seemed a bit strange to me that premarital counseling was typically done by a guy without the input of a godly wife. I think the couples we have served this way have greatly profited from her counsel; I know I have. Another added benefit: by working together in premarital counseling, it keeps us talking about our marriage and how the gospel continues to shape our life together.
A word about one other resource: we love Dave Harvey’s When Sinners Say “I Do”: Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage. Our sense, though, was that this book is more beneficial to its readers if they are already married. So we decided to give it to couples towards the end of their first year of marriage, encouraging them to take it with them on their anniversary getaway and spend time reading it together.