Avoiding the Awkward Wedding Question

Sam Rainer

October 19, 2009


Perhaps nothing is both joyous and awkward like being asked to perform the wedding ceremony of a couple you do not know well. If you’re a pastor and like me, you want to rejoice with the couple, but you can’t commit on the spot without asking personal questions. In order to prevent the inevitable uncomfortable questions, I’ve written a form letter to give to every couple that asks me to perform the ceremony. The purpose of the letter is to provide a filter for me and also to keep me consistent with which ceremonies I will perform. I’ve provided a modified version of the letter below – I also require the couple to sign a statement of agreement with it. Feel free to modify and use it if you like.

First let me congratulate you on your upcoming marriage. The family unit is the foundational institution of human society. The ties between a husband and wife are strong as they mirror the union between Christ and the church. As a pastor who takes seriously the covenant commitment between a man and a woman, I am honored that you have asked me to perform the ceremony.

Before I commit to performing the ceremony, I ask that you affirm the following details about yourselves:

  • In this marriage, you are both affirming that you have accepted Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, you have made a confession of this faith to a local church body, and you have been baptized as a public announcement of your faith. If you have any doubts or questions about a relationship with Christ, I will be happy to discuss this with you.
  • In this marriage, you are affirming the covenant commitment to each other for a lifetime. Breaking this promise to each other means you are also breaking your promise to God.
  • In this marriage, you affirm that you will model the way in which God relates to His people. A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church, sacrificing everything for her. A wife is to submit herself graciously to her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ.
  • If blessed with children, you will both teach your children spiritual and moral values founded upon biblical Truth.
  • In order to help the marriage start well, you both commit to marriage counseling with me or someone approved by me.
  • In order to keep the sanctity of marriage complete, you affirm that you are not currently nor will participate in sexual immorality with each other or someone else. If you have been sexually active with each other, you commit from this point forward to repent of this sin, and to refrain from sexual activity and living together until you are married.
  • In order to keep the marriage biblical, you are both affirming that neither of you have been previously divorced, with the exception of a few limited cases. If needed, I will be happy to discuss with you the biblical details of these exceptions.

I will be praying for you. The gift of marriage is an amazing blessing from our Lord. It is an incredible joy for which we should be eternally grateful to God. Once you sign and return the attached sheet, we can discuss the details of your wedding ceremony.

13 comments on “Avoiding the Awkward Wedding Question”

  1. Rob says:

    I’m curious. While it is a good form letter, does this mean you would not perform a wedding ceremony for unbelievers? I ask, because over 80% of the weddings I do are for those outside the church. I’ve built some wonderful relationships with unchurched people because of pre-marriage counselling and wedding preparation. Most come to me for other things, and a few even started attending church because of that connection.

    Do you use a different form for them, or do you simply choose not to do weddings for those outside the church?

    Again, just curious.

  2. Brandon says:

    Rob, good question.

    I have actually heard of churches who offer their building and ministry staff as a sort of “wedding chapel” for anyone wanting to be married.

    Simply, they do this to create relationships with all kinds of people in hopes of introducing them to the church and, ultimately, to Jesus.

  3. I agree with the above. I get where you are coming from, Sam, but I have also developed some good friendships and church members because I did not do this very thing.

    I still require premarital counseling and regular church attendance leading up to the wedding. We discuss all of those topics. And many I never see again after the ceremony.

    I won’t marry just anyone, but I also don’t want to shut the door before it’s even open.

    Just my process.


  4. Jordan says:

    Sam – I like your line of thinking. I think more damage has been done to the family for lack of this kind of scrutiny. Better to ask the hard questions beforehand. See ya brother!


  5. Franklin Montgomery says:

    If I am reading the blog and letter correctly, Sam is willing to meet with anyone as opportunity to build bridges and share Christ. But, as a minister of the gospel, it is his responsibility to be as certain as possible that the marriage is under the authority of Christ. Ephesians 5 seems to leave little doubt that the biblical expectation is for two to unite as Christians under the Lordship of Christ. Great blog with a great biblical foundation!

  6. Terry Gibson says:

    While Ephesians 5 is addressed to Christians, it does not rule out marriage for unbelievers. We certainly must encourage unbelievers to be married rather than to cohabit, not in a moral sense alone, but because the marriage covenant itself is a picture (though incomplete and flawed) of the Gospel.

    That picture is something that I point out in marriage counseling to both believing couples and unbelieving couples. The union that I will not participate in is where one member is a believer and the other is not.

  7. Sam Rainer says:

    Good discussion! Let me clarify my position. I use this letter for all people who ask me to perform the wedding ceremony, including church members I know well. The point is to let people know that I place a high value on marriage, and also to be consistent.

    Franklin is correct – I want to meet with everyone to build bridges, and I have had many opportunities to do so. This letter seems to help the process of reaching out, not hinder it. It’s a non-confrontational way to get people asking the right questions. Of course, much of ministry has to do with your tone when talking with people.

    My approach with two unbelievers, or an unequally yoked couple, is to discuss the most important decision of their lives first (accepting Christ) and then discuss the second most important decision of their lives (who will I marry?). I am very clear about which relationship needs to be in order first.

    I struggle with the issue of marrying two unbelievers, but I can see the benefit of some of the suggestions above.

  8. Franklin Montgomery says:

    You are correct that Paul’s letter was to the church at Ephesus; therefore it is intended for a Christian audience. Ephesians 5, though, is God’s plan for marriage regardless of the audience reading the letter. As a Christian minister, I would feel bound to perform those marriage ceremonies that I know do not violate the premises of Ephesians 5.

  9. Thanks for sharing this as a resource and guide to others. I appreciate your forthrightness and concerns in marrying non-Christians and only in limited cases of divorce. I think churches and pastors have done marriages damage by not holding to a high-view of marriage and being more cautious in remarriages.

    In terms of non-Christians being married in the church or by a pastor, my question is why would they even want to (apart from appearances and tradition)? If they have not put Christ in charge of their life what recognition of authority does the church or pastor have in their life? I am not a fan of the “bridging-wedding” or “evangelism-wedding” line of reasoning.

    The fact that you are cautious/limited remarrying divorcees is 1) biblical 2) not blessing something God does not bless 3) a caution/warning to those getting married that their vows “till death do us part” mean just that, and 4) a caution/warning to the already-married to perserve through the low-points/difficulty of marriage and not think that “i can always get remarried” if they get divorced

    Thanks for your willingness to share your thoughts, insights, experiences, and wisdom with others!

  10. Lindsay says:

    Hi. I came across this while I was searching for wedding cake toppers. I just wanted to point out that in this you compare the role of the husband to that of Christ and the role of the wife to that of the church. As an engaged Christian and feminist, I am disturbed.

    1. Jonathan Carl says:

      Ephesians 5:22-33 “22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. 25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and(BH) the two shall become one flesh.” 32This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”

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