How does a pastor approach pre-marital counseling?

I begin pre-marital counseling with a young couple in our church this evening.  I often receive questions about pre-marital counseling.  Yet, counseling those preparing for marriage can be very complex and involved to a level that makes it hard to know how to address it through a format.  Nevertheless, the amount of questions that have come to me as of late has pushed me to write about it, in the form of a template.  That is all these 3 suggestions are…a template that I hope could be applied to the various contexts that are represented by those who read this blog.

In light of the tendency to oversimply, or bog down your young engaged couple with too much to do, here are 3 areas I find very helpful and thorough, whether you have a few weeks or as “many weeks as needed” before the big day.

Read and study God’s Word

Always start here.  Ignore all the materials that sell you the ”10 steps to a happy marriage” study guides and show this couple preparing for marriage what God says marriage is and what He expects of them in it.  Use all the Bible, not just Ephesians 5 and 1 Peter 3.  Use Genesis 1-3, Proverbs 5, Song of Songs, Hosea, and other books and passages of the Old Testament that clearly speak to God’s design and purpose in Christian marriage.  I find it most helpful to give them passages to read together on their own, then to discuss as part of your counseling time.

Use a questionnaire to evaluate the essential areas of married life

There are a ton of options from personality tests to massive pages of evaluations to use.  Be wise in what you use to make sure this tool opens the right doors of conversation in the areas that need to be discussed:  spiritual growth, family life, finances, children, communication style, in-laws, and other areas that should be discussed in a counseling setting prior to marriage.  Different kinds of questionnaires can act as a tool to accomplish this if used properly.

Read a marriage book

Pick one great book to have the couple read together and come ready to discuss with you.  The book I like to use most is When Sinners Say I Do, written by Dave Harvey.  It gets to the sin issues of the heart that often make marriages struggle.  It also has a study guide you can buy with the book to help lead your time with them.  Check my Recommended Resource page for further suggestions.

Remember this is just a template with hopes it will help you think through what will be best for the couples in your church preparing for marriage.  I try to schedule six sessions with the couple.

Pastors, what resources have you found helpful?

Posted in Oversight of Souls, Weddings

New Book: Caring for Widows now available for pre-order

widows bookExcited to announce that Care for Widows: Ministering God’s Grace written by Brian Croft and Austin Walker is now available for pre-order on Amazon.  Crossway has just announced its release for April 2015.  Very excited about this needed and important book!

Pre-order it here

Posted in Book Recommendation

Pastors, if you knew you would die tomorrow, what final words would you speak to your congregation?

Pastors, if you had one last word to give your congregation before you died, what would it be?  Most congregations do not get that final word, but Dayspring Fellowship was given such a gift.  Many of you know that my dear friend and pastoral mentor, Jackson Boyett was killed with his wife in a car crash two and a half years ago.  You can read my tribute and what I learned from him here.

Jackson was a faithful shepherd and was always thinking of his flock, proven in a letter written many years ago that was found in his desk a few days after he died.  It was in a sealed envelop with the heading,

Read to Dayspring in the event of my untimely death.

Jackson’s final words to his flock were these and were read to the church at his funeral:

Tell everyone at Dayspring how much we love them.  Don’t let them abandon the gospel.  Make sure that whoever succeeds me loves people and will constantly remind them of our loving, gracious, and invincible God.

I can testify those of us who knew him so well know these words say so much about Jackson, who he was and what he was all about.  It also reveals the kind of faithful shepherd he was to his people.

Pastors, I challenge you to consider this week what your final words would be to your flock.  If you only had a few sentences as Jackson took, what would you say and how would those important words define your years of ministry to them and even exhort them to faithfulness after you are gone.

Serve your church well while they have you, but pastor your flock in such a way that they will remain steadfast once you are gone.  I have great confidence that Dayspring will heed these final, moving words from their faithful shepherd now with the Chief Shepherd.

Posted in Oversight of Souls, The Pastor's Soul

Should a pastor be discouraged if his church is in decline?

I am amazed at how much material has been released recently about church revitalization.  I just heard a statistic that 80% of churches in America have either plateaued or are in decline.  I am grateful for the efforts of those who seek to bring life to these struggling churches.  I am one of them.  Yet, I have a growing concern the more I learn about many of the materials out there addressing this problem.  If we are going to characterize local churches as “declining” then we are basing a church’s health on how many people attend.

How many people now attend a church versus ten years ago and why, does give us some helpful insight into why a church is struggling, but that does not always tell the full story.  This way of evaluation can also be an unnecessary source of discouragement to a pastor.  The more I hear the push to overcome the “plateau or decline” the more I begin to think of scenarios where a church’s decline in numbers is not necessarily a sign of trouble, but maybe even a sign of health.  There are many, but here are 5 reasons that came to my mind, several of which I even experienced in my own church:

1)  Unconverted people leave because the gospel is being preached

If there are many unconverted members in local churches (I believe there are) they will not want to hear a new pastor come in and replace the typical feel good, better yourself message from the pulpit with the true gospel of Jesus Christ that is the only source to bring true spiritual life to a dying church.  Unconverted church members will either leave or stay and cause problems, especially if they are in leadership.  Preaching the gospel is the right thing to do and is the only thing that can give life to a church.  No pastor should ever be discouraged if he lose people over declaring the gospel.

2)  Church members pass away and go to be with Christ

We had a year where we lost several dear elderly saints and the amount of those who died was more than the new members we brought in that year.  A pastor should celebrate faithfully taking sweet saints of Christ to their eternal home and not fret about “replacing them” all at the same time.

3)  Pastors and missionaries are tested, trained, affirmed, and sent out into the ministry

That same year we experienced a decline in numbers not only because of the amount of deaths, but because we sent two families out into the ministry that we had invested in and trained to do so.  I can remember someone coming to me concerned about the sliding numbers and I replied with, “Really, in God’s eyes this may have been our most fruitful year.”  That was received well and we were both encouraged in the reason for our declining numbers and struggling finances that year, both of which were recovered the following year.

4)  An intentional process to take in new members is established

Raising the standard for membership and protecting the front door a bit might cause you to have fewer members join the church in the beginning, but God is honored in pastors making sure believers in Jesus Christ are the only ones that become members of the church, even if the church numbers do not boom like you hoped.  Membership meaning something has actually been the eventual cause of numeric growth for us, not the other way around.

5)  A new pastor takes a long-time declining church

If you take a church as I did with decades of decline, it is a challenge to change that pattern.  It takes time, even years.  I talk to so many young pastors who inside of two years are discouraged because they have not be able to changed the patterns that brought much of the decline.  Remember what you have inherited and if it took 30 years of decline to get your church where you find it today, it might take 30 years to change the pattern.  But God’s gospel and word is powerful enough to do just that over time.

Therefore, dear brothers and fellow pastors, press on.  You may be the cause of the decline and if that is the case, you need to take a good hard look at yourself before God and ask for those blind spots to be revealed.  However, in many cases, imperfect pastors, especially those new to their congregations, are still bearing too much of the responsibility of the decline.  Sometimes God takes us through ups and downs and there is so much more to evaluate on a church’s health than whether your numbers are “higher” this year than last.  Decline can reveal many problems, but it can also be a source of encouragement to a pastor.

Pastors, preach the word, love those people, stay a while, and may God give you grace to determine what your “decline” should say.

Posted in Preaching, The Pastor's Soul
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