7 Issues to Address in Pre-Marital Counseling

As with most pastors, I’ve performed a fair number of weddings. Part of being in ministry is helping couples enter the most important of relationships…marriage. It’s a daunting task and responsibility. Prior to a wedding, however, a minister has access to speak into a couple’s life in a way unique to any other time in their life.

I feel it’s important to help couples, as much as I can, be prepared for marriage. With time always at a premium, I frequently suggest couples walk through the book “Preparing for Marriage“. I’ve found it a helpful tool in thinking through many of the issues a marriage will encounter. I also try to make sure, as a minimum, the couple understands a few key principles prior to their wedding day.

Here are 7 issues I try to teach in pre-marital counseling:

You are different – Opposites do tend to attract. Each spouse is not only differently physically, but there are differences in backgrounds, outlook on life and the way to approach a situation. This is not intended as a curse against marriage. God designed those differences for a reason. The more a couple learns to celebrate those differences, the stronger a marriage will become. (I address this issue in previous posts HERE and HERE.)

Leave and cleave – Don’t let either set of in-laws dictate how you lead your new family. Decide in advance that no one, related or otherwise, is going to be a wedge between you two. Every couple has lots of other relationships, including perhaps children someday, but none of them should be allowed to interfere with the oneness God intends to create with the marriage. (I address these interferences more in THIS POST.)

Expect surprises – Life won’t always be as blissful as it is today. There will be hard days, whether self-induced or life-induced. Life brings changes and those times have the ability to catch even the best marriages off guard if not prepared for them. We can never be fully prepared for what might come, but we can prepare ourselves that when something comes, whatever it is and no matter how hard it is, that we will handle it . Couples should use these times to improve the strength of their marriage rather than allow them to pull the marriage apart. (I talk about this issue in a post on keeping the marriage fun. Find it HERE.)

Make a commitment to the marriage no matter what – Couples usually assume they are doing this by standing at the altar together, but statistics would say otherwise. Many times these days a person is saying “I’m committed until it becomes difficult or until the love we have today fades.” That’s not the Biblical picture of marriage God designed. Marriage is more than simply a feeling of love, it is a commitment to love…for better or worse…from this day forward. Verbalizing and agreeing to that on the front end, and continuing to remind yourself of that through the difficult days, will help the marriage last. Couples who should ask for help soon, not letting problems in the marriage linger too long without asking for help. Remove the fear of asking for professional counseling if necessary. It would be better to get help early than to see the marriage disintegrate beyond repair. (I preached a message on the commitment of marriage HERE.)

Model after the right couples – I encourage couples to find a couple whose marriage they admire and follow them closely. Most likely they have some stories to share. Things may not have been as wonderful throughout their marriage as they are today. No doubt they have learned some practices to having a strong marriage. I challenge couples to learn all they can from the couple they want to be like. (I did a post about this issue HERE.)

Evaluate often – Couples should ask  themselves often, are we growing together as a couple or further apart? Is the marriage growing stronger or are there holes that need addressing? Don’t assume your spouse feels as you do. (I’ve learned this is especially true for men who often don’t know there is a problem until it’s a big problem.) Establish the understanding early in the relationship that you have the right to periodically check on the state of your marriage. (Read a post about questions to assess the health of a marriage HERE.)

Put Christ first – This is the one most couples expect the pastor to say, but it’s not just the preacher answer, it’s the best secret to a lasting marriage. “A chord of three strands is not easily broken.” A couple’s individual and collective relationship with Christ will ensure they can endure the hardest days of a marriage. When the relationship with Christ suffers, the marriage will often suffer. Satan looks for any excuse to destroy the marriage. Pour your heart and life into Christ and let Him strengthen and sustain your marriage. (I preached on Christ’s standard for marriage HERE.)

That’s my list. I’m not sure they apply simply to premarital couples. These are good principles for couples regardless of how long they have been married.

Just so you know, I have, at times, simply shared with them this list. Sometimes I weave them into the discussion. Regardless of how you choose to do it, make sure you are strategic in helping couples begin their married life together.

Pastors, how do you do premarital counseling? What would you add to my list?

7 Random Pieces of Advice for the Younger Leader

I love working with younger leaders. It keeps me young and it helps to know I’m investing in something and someone who will likely last beyond my lifetime. I want to share some things I’ve learned from experience. Some of it hard experiences.

Here’s a random list of practical advice for young leaders.

If you can learn and practice these early in your career it will help you avoid having to learn them by experience.

Never attend a meeting without some way to take notes – It helps you remember but it also communicates you care about what is being discussed. If you take notes on your electronic device (phone), be sure to tell people that’s what you are doing.

Respect your elders – The fact is, you may not always feel respected by them, but that’s their fault not yours. Showing respect to people older than you now will ensure you receive natural respect from others when you’re the elder in the relationship.

Learn all you can from everyone you meet – This includes the awkward, even difficult people that you encounter. (You may actually learn more from them if you’re willing.)

Keep a resume handy and keep revising it – You may never use a resume again in today’s work world, but the discipline of gathering your experience as you gain it forces you to think through your worth to a future employer. You’ll likely be asked to defend this someday and need to be prepared.

Never burn a bridge– You’ll be surprised how many times relationships come back around. Don’t be caught by surprise.

Be an encourager in the organization – Encouragers win the approval of others and are rewarded because they are liked. Be a genuinely positive influence on your team.

Never underestimate a connection – When someone introduces you to someone, consider it a high compliment. Follow through on the opportunity to know someone new. You’ll be surprised how often these relationships will work for good.

Drop the defensiveness – Young people often get defensive when a person with more experience shares something they do not yet know. This is especially true when being corrected by a leader. Remember you don’t know what you don’t yet know. It’s okay. Learn from your mistakes. Grow from your correction. Be patient with those who are trying to teach you. Get the chip off your shoulder and allow feedback to make you better. Over time you’ll win over those who see you as inexperienced.

There are 7 random suggestions. Elders, what other suggestions would you advise?

Does Your Church Value Your Family?

Ben Reed is community groups pastor at Grace Community Church where I serve. Ben is an excellent leader; truly becoming one of the sharpest minds on small groups in the country. If he’s not on your radar he should be. You can learn from him and he loves helping other churches. Recently Ben had a family situation that took him out of the office. Our email and text exchanges through that time prompted this guest post.

Here is a guest post from Ben Reed:

As a church, we say that we value the family. Now I can personally vouch that we do.

I know that older generations accuse my generation of not working hard. But if you spend much time around me, you’ll realize that I don’t fit that mold. (and, in fact, I’d submit that my generation isn’t lazy…we just work differently)

I really enjoy hard work. And when I have to be out of the office for an extended amount of time, it drives me nuts. Not because I’m being pressured  from other team members or not living up to perceived expectations. It’s simply because I love what I do, and I love working hard at it.

When Family Calls

So when I had to be out of the office for 10 days, it was tough. I felt torn: I wanted to be at the office, but I desperately didn’t. See, my wife’s grandfather was rushed to ICU, then transported to hospice care, and I was at his side with my wife’s family for the better part of 10 days. And I wanted to be there, at his side, the entire 10 days.

But I texted Ron, saying this:
I hate being out of the office so long. It is not my style. Sorry I’ve been so absent the last week and a half. I know it’s ‘excusable’ but I also know me being out isn’t ideal.

His response:
It’s ok Ben. It’s one of our values as a church. Family first.

I tell people all of the time that we are a church that truly values family. By the way we’re structured (very simply), we get the chance to tell people, “Gather with us on Sunday, join a small group, and the rest of the week invest in your family!”

But this time, I got to experience this. I was given the freedom to be present with my family when I needed to be present with my family. And I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that my church staff supported me being absent.

We put our money where our mouth is.

When push comes to shove, we value family. Even if that means that things have to slow down. Even if that means that a team member is absent. Even if that means a team member’s voice isn’t present at the table.

We know that if our team members don’t do a good job at home, they can’t do a good job leading their ministries (1 Timothy 3:4). And intellectually, I get that. I’ve even said that to people.

But it was an entirely different matter when I needed to apply that to myself.

My church values my family. Which makes me even more proud to serve her.

Does your church value your family?

7 Personal Development Benefits of Saying No

The more experience I get in life the more I learn the importance of personal development. And, one of the most important aspects of personal development I have learned is the unique and rare skill of being able to say “No”.

In fact, learning to say no may be the most important personal, professional or leadership development tool one can have.

We have lots of opportunities to say yes. The old saying, whether it’s doctrinally true or not is fully practically true. “If Satan can’t make you bad he’ll make you busy”. I’ve seen throughout my life, especially with my personality wiring for achievement, that if I’m not careful I will say yes to things God has never planned for me to do and often I’m not capable or the best person to do them. Does that ever happen to you?

Saying no, as hard as it is for some of us, comes with great reward:

  • Saying no is the power to help resist temptation…
  • Saying no keeps you from the stress of overcommitting…
  • Saying no protects family life…
  • Saying no provides adequate time for what matters most…
  • Saying no preserves energy levels for prioritized work…
  • Saying no allows others opportunities they wouldn’t have if you always say yes…
  • Saying no permits you to control your schedule for an ultimate good…

The value of learning when to say no, and actually practicing it, is immeasurable. (I’m sure you could add even more values to my list., but I’m kind of stuck on the number 7 :) )

I highly encourage learning the power of “No”.

In what area of your life do you most need to personally develop in your ability to say no?

I’m Off Today…Here’s Why

I’m off today…

My “Type A” personality says I probably should be working…

I’ve been traveling a great deal lately…

I have work to do…

It’s called catching up…

But I’m off today…

Why?

Because my wife is off today…

And I love my wife…

Here’s the reality I try to live everyday…

If I don’t protect my marriage I can’t help yours…

If I don’t invest in my marriage, I can’t invest in your marriage…

If my marriage is struggling, so will my other work…

In fact, so will every part of my life…

I’m a better pastor when my marriage is strong…

So, don’t work too hard today…

I scheduled myself off…

BTW, be honest: What’s the state of your marriage today?

My Advice: Don’t Always Give People an Answer

multicultural mentor

I have a theory I practice often.

I’ve been using it for many years — as a leader, father, a friend, and a pastor. It’s not always what people come looking to me for, but I think it’s the best practice.

I don’t always give people answers.

  • As a pastor, people come to me for answers.
  • As a dad, my boys come to me for answers.
  • As a friend, people come to me for answers.
  • As a leader of a team, people come to me for answers.

In either case, I don’t always give people answers.

I don’t try to solve their problems for them.

Now, please understand, if there is a clear Biblical answer for their problem or issue, I give it to them. I’m talking about the issues more difficult to discern. Things such as career choice decisions, the calling in life decisions, who to marry, etc. — the unwritten answer type decisions.

For those type issues, I probably have an opinion, but I never “have” the answer.

Instead…

I help people discover a paradigm through which to make the decision.

  • I become an objective listener.
  • I help them see all sides of the issue.
  • I share Scriptures that may speak to both sides of the decision.
  • I serve as an outside voice.
  • I may diagram the problem, as I hear it, so they can see the issue on paper.
  • I help them learn to pray and listen to God.

And then I release them to make a decision.

Here is my reasoning…

If I solve the problem:

  • I’m just another opinion — and I may be wrong.
  • They’ll resent me if it proves to be a wrong decision.
  • They’ll never take ownership of the issue.
  • They’ll likely do what they want anyway.
  • They won’t learn the valuable skills of listening to the voice of God.
  • They won’t learn from experience.

My advice:

Don’t always have an answer.

Help people form a paradigm through which to to solve their problems or make decisions.

Are you too quick to have an answer sometimes?

2 Words that Always Motivate Me

“You Can’t”

Oh yea?…we’ll see about that…

Cheryl and I hang out together on Saturdays. It’s our favorite time of the week. We do whatever we want to do…together. Many times that involves eating. Our boys say when they are old and boring, they want to be like us…often driving miles just to eat somewhere new or unique.

On a recent Saturday we found a new breakfast place. It was good…not as good as we hoped for…but not bad. We had plans that evening to drive an hour away to an Italian restaurant we had heard about, but never been. In the middle of the day, I told her I was going to eat something…I don’t remember what. She said, “You can’t eat that now. You won’t eat any supper.”

Oh yea?…we’ll see about that…

I didn’t want something to eat as much as I wanted to show her I could eat whatever it was and still eat a full supper.

That’s a simple illustration, but it’s repeated throughout my life. Tell me I can’t and I want to prove that I can.

What is it about me?

Am I alone in this desire to prove those two words wrong?

(BTW, You can’t comment on this post and tell me you’re like me…or that I’m weird. YOU CAN’T!)

Remembering Those Who Serve

Most of my readers know by now that I live in a military town. Our church is full of modern-day heros who have sacrificed to keep us free as a nation. I’ve written 10 Reasons I Love Our Military Families previously. Today is a day to remember all that took place, honor the fallen. Hundreds of fire, police and medical personnel, along with hundreds from our nation and others died on 9/11. I heard today that 90 countries were represented in the deaths on 9/11.

In a military community, the remembrance takes on a deeper meaning, because that day changed how many in our community have lived these last 10 years. In our church alone, we have several widows, several parents who have lost children, and hundreds of families who have spent more time separated more than together, because of the events of 9/11. There have been 603 lives lost this far into the war on terror from our community.

This week, as we remembered the events of 911, three of our brave soldiers were interviewed. Here’s is the short interview we shared today.

Please pray for our military and families and for our nation! Please continue to remember those who serve, our military, as well as our police, fire and emergency personnel. Thanks for all you do!

10 Reasons I Love Our Military Families

I am honored to live in a military town. All my life I have known soldiers. Some of my best friends and family have been military-related. Our church has a large military population. I have heard people talk about the burden of military families on a church, because every three years they have to be replaced. The family in this picture was in our community group, but left our church for a reassignment. Cheryl and I could not love a family anymore than we love them and we’ve loved staying in touch with them.

I have always felt our church was stronger because of our military families, for as long as they might stay.  Therefore, as we celebrate military families, here are 10 Reasons why I love the military families in our church:

  • They are some of the most dedicated people I know
  • They bring experiences with them from around the world
  • They have great work ethics
  • They are expectant of great things from God
  • They are appreciative of any ministry
  • They make wonderful volunteers
  • They build friendships for life
  • They are sacrificial givers
  • They raise awesome families
  • They are brave soldiers, protecting my right to do what I do

God bless our military and God bless America!

(I previously posted this over 2 years ago, but thought it appropriate to re-post, slightly edited, in honor of this weekend.)

7 Ways for a Wife to Encourage a Husband

I previously wrote 7 Ways to Encourage Your Wife. Several wives (and some husbands) asked for the counterpart. How do you encourage your husband? Fair enough.

I have been guilty of assuming men are simple to encourage, so I had actually written previous posts

If a wife wants to encourage a husband

and

A secret a husband keeps but needs you to know

each involving just one thing to do. You should probably read those posts first, but to keep with the women’s post…

Here are 7 ways to encourage your husband:

Give him a break from sharing details or emotions – Unless the situation demands it or he wants to share them, let him share the basic facts and information in a non-emotional way. It may be all he knows, has observed or remembers. Give him times when “That’s nice” is enough for an answer.

Brag on him – Especially to your friends… Let them know your guy is the greatest! Be sincere, but do it often and make sure he hears you.

Appreciate his interests – If he likes golf…learn a little about the game…enough to encourage him on a good day. If it’s fishing, cars, or football…well…you get the idea… (Bonus points: Give him hobby time – Most men love knowing they have your permission to enjoy a hobby, without wondering if they should be doing something else.)

Understand his work – A man is often more defined by what he does than anything else in his life. Know enough about his work to recognize his accomplishments.

Be available to him – And occasionally without a lot of effort on his part… Remember…you asked…or at least some of you did. :)

Assure him you’re okay…and he’s okay – On this one, I have to be honest…many times we are left wondering if everything is okay. We can’t read emotions as well as you do, but we know when you’re NOT okay. You can encourage him by assuring him nothing is wrong, even if you can’t process at the time how you feel or “what’s wrong”.

Let him fix something – This is not just with his hands…unless he can do that sort of thing…(I can’t) but with his mind. He’s wired as a fixer. Give him an actual problem to solve…and let him solve it without your help.

I almost said “let him eat steak”, but decided some men may prefer ice cream…so I’ll let you decide that one… You know your husband better than I do! :)

Men, what would you add to my list? What are some ways your wife can encourage you?