We occasionally have people come to us who have been living together (outside of marriage) and they want us to perform a wedding ceremony for them. What should a pastor do in that kind of situation, and what kind of policies do churches have regarding this?
Pastor Dave Williams Lansing, MI
We, too, have faced the situation of couples coming that are living together, and want us to marry them. My posture has always been to congratulate them when they want to get married. For example, we had a couple that came to the altar one Sunday giving their lives to Jesus Christ. They both realized then that they were living in sin and asked if they could be married right away. Of course, the answer was "yes." In that situation, they had two children already and they were living as husband and wife. So we performed the ceremony right away and then put them through pre-marital counseling after the wedding, giving them encouragement and a congratulations for doing the right thing.
However, there are other situations where people are living together. They are not saved. They are just kind of hanging out at the church. We tell them that if they are really serious about each other and serious about God, they need to live apart for a season and do what is right. Otherwise, we will not perform a wedding ceremony for them. They can go somewhere else. Often times, there will be members that have children who are living together, and they cannot have their wedding in our church.
Most people appreciate this policy and stand for holiness in this mixed day of compromise. The real thing to look for is the attitude of the couple. Are they sincere in their repentance and wanting to be married? Or are they simply trying to appease parents who have a touch with the church?
In any case, use good discernment.
Pastor Joe Cameneti Warren, Ohio
We’re always game to help someone stop sinning! We have many new couples in our church that have just accepted Christ or recommitted their lives. In most cases, they are still very connected to the world. Many of them come to us having already lived together for some time and now realizing that it’s a sin. Usually, these couples are ready to marry. We recommend premarital counseling, and we’ve never had them turn us down!
I would even go so far as to recommend that my associates perform the ceremony whether the couple wanted to go through premarital counseling or not. If we are given the opportunity, why not help them stop sinning at whatever level they’re ready to respond?
I’ve discovered that if we don’t perform the ceremony they go to a judge and get married anyway. I look at it as an opportunity to speak into their lives and to connect with their families. We’ve had many people join our church as a result of attending a wedding ceremony.
When it comes to members and regular attendees, we do have a policy in place. They are required to complete our premarital counseling course before we perform a wedding ceremony. It takes about 3 to 4 weeks depending on the couple. We walk them through the book “How Can I Be Sure” by Norman Wright, and we let God do the rest!
Pastor Mike Cameneti Canton, Ohio
We look at each situation and try to evaluate it as an individual case. When we first started the church I took a really hard stance on this and would tell the couple they need to stop living together and come in for counseling and if we felt right we would marry them. Now we encourage the couple to come in and we consider their individual situation.
We have had cases where we strongly encourage them to separate their living arrangements and walk through the pre-marital counseling process; and others we have married in a quicker manner, encouraging them to follow up with the marriage counseling after they are married. Many times the folks living together have such guilt and we can release them from the guilt by marrying them (if we feel after meeting with them that that is the right step). But again, I emphasize that we look at each situation and evaluate how it would best be handled.
Pastor Matt Beemer Manchester, England
I’ve personally become too busy to do weddings for those who I don’t know. If they are a couple who goes to our church and are living together we are very happy to marry them. If not, I may suggest they go get married at the civic authority, and start coming to church at the same time. If they start attending church having been legally married, then we will gladly perform a church wedding for them. The reason I suggest they get married legally first is it deals with the condemnation AND the possibility that they may be using the church and me to perform a wedding, and then we never see them again. I do not have the time for such things. If they get married legally and then still come to church it shows they are truly open in their hearts to God.
Dr. Dan Beller Tulsa, OK
A pastor should give this couple his regular pre-marriage sessions and do their ceremony. The counsel session can include a compassionate & loving witness but the ceremony should be done even if they do not accept Christ at that time. To deny them the ceremony would not be showing them the love of God & may hinder them from ever accepting Christ as their Savior. Our witness is as a seed planted and will bring forth fruit in due time.
Remember that we do not minister only to perfect people but we must reach out to people no matter what their situation may be. We should reach out to the "outsiders" here in the U.S.A. just as we would on the mission field. The compassion of Jesus should take precedence over "religiosity."
Pastor Gary Hoffman Rocky Mount, VA
If they want to get married, I view that as them trying to make things right. In many cases it is too hard for them to separate and then come back together and get married. I try to minister to them “as I get them.” Assuming that the couple are attendees, and not just off the street. We do not allow couples living together to join the church as members, or allow them to serve in the church. I do not expect sinners and even baby Christians to act like mature believers.
Pastor John White Decatur, AL
My policy is not to perform marriages for anyone outside my congregation, unless it is an immediate family member such as a child of one of our members. Then they have to go through extensive counseling before the marriage takes place. This method usually weeds out the problem situations. I have had people who started attending our church and got saved while living with someone outside of marriage. The convicting power of God would bring them to a place that they knew they had to make things right. I advise them that one has to move out until the wedding takes place. On one occasion a couple was planning a large wedding in another state while living together and working here. They started coming to church, got saved and came to me for advice. One moved out for a few days until the marriage could be arranged. I performed a small ceremony in my office. That summer they went home and still had their large wedding. After 20 years they are still married and joke about having two anniversary dates.
Pastor Rob Wynne Linden, AL
In the 90’s I worked in the New Believers class at Rhema Bible Church. We had a lot of couple to get saved and come to the class. We always knew when folks were living together and not married by their address and last names. We would never do anything but love them and preach the word. I can not remember any couples in the seven years that we worked in the class that did not get married. Most of the time people do not reveal whether or not they are living together. I feel that it is an opportunity to make sure they are saved and to speak into their lives. So I require folks to be believers and to let me talk to them about the importance of marriage as a covenant relationship before I will marry them. I am very frank about church attendance and a close relationship with the Lord.
Pastor Terry Scheel - Fenton, MO
I only perform marriage ceremonies for couples who are church members who have not been living together. I require them to undergo marriage counseling with my wife and me before I will perform their marriage ceremony. I want to know as best I can that the marriage I am performing is going to be a godly one. I believe that performing a marriage ceremony for just anyone who calls, without following the policy I've just described, is not really being fair to that couple.
Pastor Tim Kutz Bartlesville, OK
I well remember many years ago when a man and woman came to me and said that they would like to make this their church home, but wanted me to know that they were living together. Believe me, they were hanging on my response, not just verbally, but the way my facial expression reacted too. I smiled real big and told them that I would consider it an honor to be their pastor.
One of the verses that has really helped me impact people lives is Micah 6:8. God requires us to do what is right, to love mercy and to walk humbly before Him. We need to settle in our own thinking that if we turn those people away, they view it as us judging them, and we permanently shut the door to speak into their lives again.
If we are going to impact people’s lives long term, then we must be patient. Babies don't quit messing their diapers until they grow up. Give people time to work out their own salvation, and love them and bless them during the journey. They very well could end up being your most ardent supporters and greatest helpers.
If someone comes to you who is not a member of your church and they "just need a preacher," that is an opportunity to set yourself as one who can speak into their life in the future. Don't miss this opportunity by turning them away.
Pastor Rich Huston Arvada, CO
We always have had couples who are living together attending out church, and most of the time they have little conviction about it, at first. Most of the time it is because they want to be sexually active but sometimes it is a financial decision too, and sometimes they are just ignorant. We love them and teach them and help them understand they will not be allowed to join our church until they get married or live separately. They also learn they can’t become involved in anything that involves their home to be used for any church related activity. In time most of them choose to get married and know that they should, and then I am happy to perform their wedding ceremony. I do premarital counseling with them and they agree to abstain from sexual activity prior to their wedding as a condition of me doing the ceremony. Usually it is on a quicker timetable and a small private wedding. Some have turned out to become good faithful church people who have really become an asset to the kingdom of God.
Pastor Stan Saunders - Chillicothe, MO
We counsel and marry them. They are going to get married. We should rejoice in this! If the church turns them away, what kind of message is that? To me, this seems like the Jesus thing to do.
Pastor Larry Millis St. Joseph, IL
In response to performing a wedding ceremony for those living together, we tell them: "It makes no sense to marry two people who are going to burn in a devil's hell." Once they see our love and compassion for them, they become very receptive (Just kidding).
Seriously, we do explain to them that in spite of the social acceptance of living together, God still calls it "fornication," which is sin.
Our policy is to ask for at least a 6-month notice before we marry them.(this is our policy for any couple in our church wishing to be married.- Pam) During that 6-month time they will go through several (usually 8) counseling sessions. Early on (at their first session) we tell them that we will not perform a public ceremony unless they agree to separate and honor God for the duration of the "engagement" / waiting period. Even though they have already been living together, it would still honor God. We understand that it's difficult for them to stop once they have been in that lifestyle for awhile, and we know they are on the "honor system" to comply with our request, but those who have agreed to do so have always been glad they did it that way. (From Pam: as a side light: we ask every pre-married couple to sign a "purity covenant" at their 2nd session and they are asked directly at each subsequent session if they are honoring that covenant. Of course we always pray with them and encourage them to pray together each time they are together...to stay strong and pure.)
Pastor Dennis Cummins Puyallup, WA
If they are unsaved, I marry them. Since they are sinners, they are not bound by our doctrine. If they are living together while attending my church, I still marry them if they will go through our process of premarital guidance. I then lay out their requirements. I have them go through Marriage on the Rock, by Dr. Jimmy Evans, and Financial Peace, by Dave Ramsey. Then I have a follow up meeting with them to nail down the tough questions. I have known pastors that won’t marry people living together that go to church. All I can say is I certainly don’t want to be the stumbling block for a couple not being able to make things right.
Let’s face it though; this is all a matter of degree anyway…since the main issue is the “sex before marriage” part. At least they are being transparent about it. And if there are those that won’t marry people that are living together then they should only marry those that are confirmed virgins.