I am consistently asked about the circumstances surrounding weddings. What makes it permissible or not to conduct a wedding in ”this or that” situation? I am very aware that there are strong opinions and lively disagreements about whether an evangelical pastor should marry Christians, non-Christians, and everything in between. The debate does not end there. Then you have to determine if it is wise to marry two Christians in “this particular circumstance” as opposed to “that particular circumstance.”
Here is my effort to serve in this discussion and try to answer the regular calls and emails I receive that have piled up on this matter. It comes in the form of these suggested boundaries I set within these 3 common templates:
1) A Christian marrying a Non-Christian. Most are in agreement, as I am, that this is not permitted in Scripture, nor is it wise. Although, many of us know of examples of this where the other spouse is eventually converted, I would never encourage a Christian to marry an unbeliever, thus would never encourage a pastor to conduct a wedding where a Christian marries a non-Christian. Yet, if you find yourself shepherding a Christian spouse married to an unbeliever (as I do), 1 Peter 3:1-6 is a powerful word on that subject for them.
2) A Christian marrying a Christian. The ideal scenario is for a pastor to marry 2 Christians within their church, those whom he knows well, is able to do adequate pre-marital counseling with them, and can then shepherd them through the first years of their marriage. I am conducting a wedding this weekend under this scenario. Where it gets tricky and wisdom and discernment is required is when two Christians ask you to marry them, but they are not plugged into a local church, nor connected to a pastor who has taken responsibility for them.
Regardless the scenario, if you marry two Christians the ceremony needs to be seen as a worship service where the gospel is preached and you know the lives of this man and woman well enough that you can point to them in that public moment and exhort them to display Christ’s love for his church through the way they relate to one another (Eph. 5:22-33). If a couple is living in open, habitual, and unrepentant sin (such as living together and being physically intimate) that would be one reason to prohibit doing the ceremony, for in that instance, I cannot stand and commend these public witnesses to watch their life as professing Christians.
3) A Non-Christian marrying another Non-Christian. This is the one that many love to debate. All I will say is that if you decide to marry two Non-Christians, I think the biblical warrant comes from Genesis 2 as marriage being an institution of creation of which God is glorified when it is according to his design (one man and one woman), even though it does not fulfill God’s ultimate redemptive purpose (Eph. 5:22-33).
If your conscience allows you to marry two Non-Christians, make sure it is not conducted as a worship service, but simply a ceremony that allows you, a pastor, to join this man and woman together with these witnesses present. This can also be a strategic opportunity to preach the gospel, but I would make that part of the agreement with the bride and groom before committing to marrying them.
OK, there you go. Do not hate. These are simply some general boundaries I have used in the past that have helped me discern so many unique case by case situations to determine whether my conscience could marry a couple, or if it was even wise to do so.
Just remember, you should not feel forced to do any wedding, regardless the pressure you may be feeling from family or church members. If you have concerns whether two people should be married, listen to your conscience, allow the Scriptures to guide you, and seek counsel from other pastors who have possibly walked in the same place you dare to tread… an unclear, complicated wedding decision.
Brian Croft is Senior Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church. To find out more, please visit Practical Shepherding.
The best way to care for those in our church who may be alone on Thanksgiving is to invite them to your family gathering, or find others in your church who would be willing to take them in. This takes some effort by the pastor, or someone else in the church who has the time and desire to ask around, find out who is in town, and put people together. Yet, I would argue this effort is worth it.
Just this morning I recieved word that a young single and a widow in our church were staying in town and had no where to go. Because I had already asked around to see who was having people over within our church, I was able to graciously impose on these folks in our church who were more than willing to set one more place setting at the table for these alone for the holidays.
I also have fond memories of my father bringing surprise guests over for Thanksgiving. Do not underestimate the impact this has on your children and other family present as they see you reach out to care for your brother or sister in Christ with no family to spend Thanksgiving with them.
Thanksgiving is tomorrow, but it may not be too late to connect young singles and widows to some hospitable folks in your church who desire to minister the gospel in this way. If you cannot reach anyone… take them home with you. This post was originally inspired by my father who almost every year brought some elderly widow home with him on Thanksgiving who he discovered at the last minute was alone.
A related post that also applies to this question as Christmas approaches is this previous post How can you serve widow during the holidays?
Make sure you are grateful tomorrow. There is much reason to hope in Christ regardless your circumstances!
For the last 18 months or so, the pastors of our church have been having a discussion about a sabbatical for me. What is it? Should I be given one? How long? How should it be spent? After spending a good bit of time doing research, seeking counsel from others, and discussing it among themselves numerous times, they included me in the discussions. They determined they would recommend a Sabbatical for me to the congregation for next summer as I approach my 10-year anniversary.
Here was a portion of that proposal they wrote and submitted to the church for discussion last month:
The intention of a pastoral sabbatical is to provide a time of rest, renewal, and refreshment of the pastor’s soul and his family with longevity of ministry in mind. The pastoral sabbatical includes deliberate efforts for the pastor to grow, learn, mature, and excel all the more in his ministry upon his return. The pastoral sabbatical is distinct from vacation time. When the pastor uses vacation time, he is not expected to fulfill ministry obligations. However, during the pastoral sabbatical, the pastor is charged to engage in devotional, theological, pastoral, and personal reflection and renewal.
I would love to hear from some pastors who have taken a sabbatical. What did you do? How long was it? What were the reasons for it? How did it benefit you and your congregation?
Thanks for your feedback!
There are many correct answers to this question: the power of the Word of God, the filling and movement of the Holy Spirit, the giftedness of the preacher, the eagerness of the people to hear; all could be mentioned when this question is asked. Yet, I want to mention one answer that is commonly overlooked when considering the power of preaching and what produces a moving sermon preached that brings spiritual fruit from God. I think this one overlooked aspect of powerful preaching is best summarized by the 19th century English pastor Archibald Brown:
Oh, brethren and sisters, I would to God I could speak to you this morning as I would. I only wish I could make this text blaze away before you eyes as it has before my own. I would that its tremendous force might be realized by you, as it has been felt in my own heart before coming here. Oh, how it would shake some of you out of your selfishness, out of your worldliness, out of your pandering to the maxims of this world.
Brown’s words capture well an essential element to a powerful sermon, that is, the preacher first be deeply affected by the word he steps into the pulpit to preach. Before the preacher can persuade any sinner to turn to Christ, he must first be persuaded himself. Before the preacher can convince any Christian to trust in the promises of God, he must first believe those promises.
Pastors, as you prepare to preach God’s word and feed the souls of your people this week, make sure that word you study has changed you. Make sure it is a part of you and that you truly believe what you are preparing to preach so that you are able to preach with an earnestness that only comes from someone who has met with God and experienced his help.
Brian Croft is Senior Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. He is the husband of Cara and adoring father of four children, son, Samuel and daughters, Abby, Isabelle, and Claire. He has served in pastoral ministry for over fifteen years and is currently in his eighth year as Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church. He was educated at both Belmont University and Indiana University receiving his B.A. in Sociology. He also undertook some graduate work at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
He is also the author of Visit the sick: Ministering God’s grace in times of illness (foreword by Mark Dever) and Test, train, affirm, and send into Ministry: Recovering the local church’s responsibility to the external call (foreword by R. Albert Mohler Jr.). Both of these volumes are published by Day One in their pastoral series designed to serve pastors, church leaders, and those training for local church ministry. Brian has also published Help! He’s Struggling with Pornography and Conduct Gospel-centered Funerals (co-written with Phil Newton).
A Faith That Endures: Meditations on Hebrews 11 is Brian’s newest book, released in fall of 2011. His next book on The Pastor’s Family, co-authored with his wife, is due to be released by Zondervan in Fall 2013.
To find out more, please visit Practical Shepherding.