There are a lot of things that seminary teaches you and a lot of things that it doesn’t. I loved my time in Dallas–wouldn’t trade it for much of anything. However, the longer I plod along at The Chapel the more I realize how woefully inadequate I am to do this thing called “full-time ministry.”
One inadequacy that rears its head often: premarital counseling.
I’m not talking about the weddings–that’s a whole ‘nuther issue all together. I just mean that time when you have this young, excited couple in your office and it is your job (your job) to walk them through issues related to marriage so that it doesn’t flop in the future.
For the record: I haven’t even been married a decade. I did my first premarital counseling sessions having been married five years and pretending like I knew what I was talking about. (Sorry, Josh and Joanna. Glad you guys are still together). But as time has gone on the issues have become more and more confounding (and I haven’t even done that many sessions). What I’ve run into:
- Cohabitation–All. The. Time. By all the time I mean that in my estimation about one-half of the couples that seek counseling either are living together or have been living together. I was so unprepared the first time that it happened that I let the couple leave without addressing it, only to call the groom-to-be moments later to talk about it. They decided not to have me do their wedding.
- Divorce/Remarriage–It seems that more and more people in their twenties are on their second marriage. I wish I could be naive and not think about how to address this. This gets it’s own topic on a later day.
- Sex–Couples are always having sex these days. I think it comes right after “first date.” Unfortunately, even couples that want to love Jesus with all they have find ways to muck things up and get sexually active early on (“I mean, we are going to get married”).
- Blended Families–This happens at all ages. Young couples with kids. Previous marriages with kids. Grandparents marrying someone else’s grandparents–and everything in between.
- Deep Wounds–This could be from an abusive family relationship growing up, a terrible previous marriage, sexual abuse, or anything else. I figured this would come up from time-to-time, but I underestimated the frequency.
What I wish seminary would’ve done: forced me to make a plan. Any young pastor needs a plan on how they are going to go through premarital counseling. Some can shoot from the hip. Those folks have been married 30 or 40 years. I haven’t. If you are young in ministry you need a plan, too.
Finally, after four years (and plagiarizing Steve Johnson, our former Executive Pastor), I got one. Here’s what it includes:
- A Questionnaire: I have the couples each fill out a biographical form before any session and send it back prior to our first meeting. This keeps me from getting surprised in session one and helps me set a bit of a trajectory.
- A Commitment: This commitment is what I expect from the couple regarding counseling and what they should expect regarding counseling. Both of these get read before the first session but address things such as: (1) cohabitation, (2) sex, (3) divorce and remarriage (4) duration of counseling, (5) other expectations. It is to be read before counseling gets started.
- A Book: I am using the book Catching Foxes as a guide for counseling. It is a lot longer than our sessions generally would be, but I want to give the couple a resource as well.
Now I know it may seem like overkill (especially if you read the commitment), and it might be. The plan is young and will likely change, but it gives me the freedom to work within a system that gets as much into the light as early as possible (assuming people don’t lie, and they do) so that the counseling sessions can be as beneficial as possible.
Sorry, Josh and Joanna. Do you want to do your counseling again?