As a pastor that has worked primarily with high school and college aged students throughout my ministry, I have had the extreme privilege of marrying a lot of couples. During one wedding, I looked at the groomsmen and bridesmaids in the wedding party and realized I had officiated the wedding ceremonies of almost all of them.
I love the whole process that went into prepping and planning a wedding service. From walking with them through premarital counseling, to running an efficient rehearsal, to being up front with them on their wedding day, I treasure so many fantastic memories with these couples. All that said, our modern wedding machine with its deadlines, financial commitments, and social pressures can be overwhelming (is a wedding without a good hashtag even a wedding at all?). I’ve seen stressed brides and grooms induced to fits of tears and doubt because planning a wedding is super stressful!
But I’ve also had the opportunity to walk with couples through the process of planning a wedding, and, much more importantly, preparing for married life together. In fact, marriage preparation was always the best part for me. Wedding days can be stressful, but are often forgotten quickly afterwards. It's one day. But the relational foundations on which the wedding and marriage are planned endure for a long time, hopefully forever. So focusing the wedding itself on long-term foundations is a great place to start. Whether you’re a couple planning a wedding, a pastor walking with a couple as they plan, or an outside observer hoping to lend a helping hand when needed, there are a few things that can help focus plans to create a God-centered wedding.
One of the things that I require of the couples I marry is Christ-centered premarital counseling. I offer to walk through this process with couples myself, but they might choose other options, which is fine. But I always hope that they will choose to spend this time with me. These sessions allow me to speak Christ into their marriage and wedding preparations.
All throughout our conversations we talk about God and his plan for us as his people and how that plays out in every aspect of a marriage. And our conversations influence the planning. These ideas always find their way into the wedding service, which is what we will talk about shortly.
Let me be very clear though, I am a pastor by education and trade and not a licensed counselor. While I am a certified premarital counselor, I know my limits. If anything arises throughout our conversations that I think might require a professional counselor, I refer immediately.
One of the things that always flows from our Christ-centered premarital counseling is a God-centered wedding ceremony. But to be honest, it isn’t always an easy transition. There are a lot of cultural expectations and examples for a wedding ceremony. Not all of those are Christ centered. Popular culture finds its way into almost every wedding ceremony through songs, readings, images, and expectations. Don’t get me wrong, not all of those are bad and most of them can be redeemed in creative and fun ways. But they can serve as distractions for couples and guests alike. These things need to be navigated and discussed so as not to distract from Christ and his message for the couple.
There are lots of elements that go into a wedding ceremony. The scripture that is read often flows either from favorites that the couple has had for a long time or from something that the couple found meaningful during some of our premarital conversations. Favorites include 1 Corinthians 13, Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, and Colossians 3:12-14. Whatever message I share often brings up Christ-centered themes that we have already talked about as well as personal examples that the couple will find meaningful and memorable. Songs share similar themes. And any acts of unity that couples share, including the exchanging of rings, are centered on God and his love for the marrying couple. Everything throughout the ceremony is a reminder of a couple’s love for each other, but also a reminder of God’s love for the couple (and the guests). Careful planning might be needed to make this true, but it is both possible and preferable.
There is one reality that is often overlooked in both the planning and implementation of any wedding day or ceremony. The details of the wedding day are often forgotten relatively quickly. Far more important than a Christ-centered wedding ceremony is a Christ-centered marriage. While some of the things that we have talked about are good foundations for a Christ-centered marriage, a few other things are worth mentioning.
Being a part of a Christ-centered community is very important. As a couple, get involved in a church or a small group that will help you connect with Christ and with other people (not necessarily all people your age - you can learn a lot from people older and younger than you!). Make sure that whatever group you become a part of is a safe place where you can ask questions and receive wise counsel (in the Bible, the book of Proverbs speaks often of seeking and listening to wise counsel). You will run into things as a couple that you never imagined, and having a safe, Christ-centered place to talk through those issues is very important.
As a couple it is also beneficial to study God’s word together and pray together. You will learn about who God is and who he created you to be both as individuals and as a couple as you study the Bible together. Praying for each other together gives you an opportunity to express needs, fears, doubts, and joys for each other. It invites God into the conversations that you are having. Prayer can be a very intimate act of connection for a couple.
Planning a wedding and preparing for married life together can be very stressful. While keeping all of the planning and implementation centered on Christ won’t take away all of the stress, it will provide a strong foundation on which to build a life together. Jesus talks about building our lives on a strong foundation of his words in Matthew 7:24. Building a marriage relationship on the wisdom of Christ helps provide that strong foundation that every relationship needs.