It’s time to scrap Marriage preparation courses

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If you are married, did you have marriage preparation classes?  What were they like? Any good?  I know of some people that were given a very intensive programme of instruction with lots of reading homework in between each meet up. We on the other hand were given two compulsory sessions, one where we watched a 1970s Anglican video about the wedding service and one where we talked about communication. We then were allowed to choose an additional session from a smorgasbord of options. I’m glad we were not ultimately dependent on those sessions for being prepared for life ahead.

Out of interest, those of you who are still single, what were your preparation classes like?  Were there videos? How was the discussion? Was it led by an experienced, mature single Christian? Were there lots of books to read? What’s that?  No such preparation course exists?

I was thinking about this recently prompted by a discussion among pastors about when was the right time to offer marriage preparation counselling.  A few people were observing that by the time couples are seriously preparing for the wedding day, in the final months and weeks before the event, all of their focus is on the practicalities.  It’s difficult to get their interest or to carve out time. Suggestions varied between postponing such a course until after the big day or going early. Should we catch young couples as soon as they start courting?

I have a far more radical proposal. Why don’t we give up on the idea of marriage preparation courses and counselling altogether?

Why do I say that? Well, first of all my observation, having been both sides of the counselling couch is that such sessions tend to be artificial and a little uncomfortable.  Secondly, we don’t tend to prepare for the rest of life like that do we?  I’ve already noted that we don’t as a matter of course offer such things for singles, people going to work, retirees or widows. We don’t even run such sessions for parents and children.   Why, specifically for marriage.

Thirdly, the risk of such sessions is that it puts specific content, the people who produce it and the people running the sessions on a pedestal. The couple are being told “this is what your marriage must look like.” We end up with a one size fits all. And given that a lot of marriage preparation material is at best loosely tied to the Bible, I’m not convinced that we are particularly offering them a Biblical approach to marriage.

Fourthly because I think there’s a better way of doing things and it should play into our strengths as an extended spiritual family. What if instead of waiting until people were coupled up and had formally announced their intention to get married, we ensured that the whole church was involved in the discipleship of young people coming through? Instead of formal courses and counselling sessions, we would expect people to be learning about life as part of God’s family constantly over the long haul.

What would this look like? Well, first of all, it would mean that we would be teaching practically on all aspects of life, work, marriage, children, singleness, retirement, bereavement, neighbourliness, childlessness, recreation, adoption etc from the front and in our small groups.

Secondly, it would mean that pastors and elders would proactively be talking to members of the church regularly about aspects of their life and how God’s word helps us to know how to live.

Thirdly, it would mean that we would be encouraging young Christians to spend lots of time with other Christians, giving and receiving hospitality.  They would seen different expressions of life from large families to single elderly believers, they’d experience different cultures and different approaches. They’d discover that not one marriage is alike and that there are different ways in which Christian homes can function. But they’d also be seeing how godliness and faithfulness is possible within all of that variety.

So let’s drop our courses and commit to whole body discipleship.

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