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Pre-Marital Mentoring FAQs: What if we learn the couple is living together?

This post is one in a series of frequently asked questions by those who use the Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage seminar series as part of their church’s pre-marital program. The responses are written as we use them at the Summit Church. Your church may need to tweak the responses in order to better fit your ministry context.

The principles from question #2 apply to this situation. Our church policy is that a Summit pastor will not perform the wedding for a couple who are living together before marriage. So if this issue arises and a Summit pastor is unaware, please let that pastor know.

However, we want this subject to start a conversation rather than end it, so we have created a video to address this common issue (www.bradhambrick.com/cohabitation). If your couple is living together and doesn’t understand or agree with Summit’s policy, there are two advisements we would make:

  1. Continue to meet with the couple. We want the opportunity to influence them with biblical, gospel-centered teaching as much as they will allow. You, as mentors, are one of the churches primary means of doing so.
  2. Encourage them to watch the video (script below) and consider acting on the recommendations made at the end.

Cohabitation: A Conversation Starter by Brad Hambrick from The Summit Institute on Vimeo.

Cohabitation: A Conversation Starter

When dating or engaged couples are preparing for marriage they often ask questions like this one:

My fiancé and I are getting married in a few months, but have been living together for a while. When we were doing our pre-marital counseling we were told living together before marriage was wrong and that we should live separately until we’re married. We want to honor God, but don’t understand why this is a big deal if we love each other and will be married in a few months anyway. We’re not trying to be rebellious, but we want to understand why a change like this would be necessary.

That’s a good, honest question. Let me start by saying if you’re thinking about marriage, that’s a good thing. Marriage can be one of God’s greatest earthly blessings. Our goal at The Summit Church is to help you lay the best possible foundation for a lasting and satisfying marriage.

But both statistics and the Bible indicate that living together before marriage decreases the quality and longevity of marriage. We don’t think we would be a good friend to you, your relationship, or future marriage if we didn’t raise this concern for you to consider.

Secular studies (meaning those without a “Christian bias”) consistently show several things.

  • The divorce rate is higher among couples who live together before they marry. Consider these statistics…
    • … about 50% of all marriages end in divorce.
    • … but 67% of couples who cohabit before marriage divorce.
    • … while only 30-40% of first marriages who don’t cohabit before marriage end in divorce.
    • That means living together before marriage makes divorce twice as likely for a first marriage.
  • Even the health and financial benefits commonly associated with marriage are less for couples who cohabit before marriage.
  • And the sex life of couples who cohabit before marriage is not as strong as those who don’t.
  • Actually, the only “benefit” from cohabiting found in secular studies is that live-in boyfriends do more housework, on average, than married men.

I’ll let you make sense of the last point and make that a point of emphasis at our next men’s event.

There are many sociological reasons for these statistics, that could be discussed but that would come across as “piling on.” We do believe these statistics point to a deeper spiritual reality – God created marriage and assigned living together and sex as special privileges that come with marriage. From the very beginning of creation God gave the pattern for marriage:

When doing the first marriage ceremony in Genesis 2:24 God says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

In John 4:18 when Jesus was having one of His more famous conversations with the woman at the well one of the things He pointed out to call her to repentance is that the man she was living with was not her husband.

Hebrews 13:4 says, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled.”

The Bible is clear that God made marriage to be a covenant between one man and one woman for life. God created marriage and it is when we follow His pattern that we experience the blessing God intended marriage to be.

If the idea of marriage-as-covenant is new or confusing to you, I would recommend the video at bradhambrick.com/covenant. This video will help you see the significance of the marriage ceremony as a covenant making ceremony.

There are many reasons why couples believe it is necessary or “more practical” to live together before marriage:

  • Financial benefit of one rent or mortgage payment
  • “Try out” marriage to make sure you’re compatible
  • Thinking it would damage your relationship to split up before marriage

But if these perceived benefits were actually helpful, then the statistics would not be what they are. My goal here isn’t to debate you through a computer screen. We’re not trying to “win an argument.” Instead, we (as a church) want to come alongside you and help you honor God in your marital preparation.

Here is what we would ask you to consider doing next:

  • Commit to honor God and give your marriage the best opportunity to flourish by choosing to live separately and abstain from sex until you are married.
  • If you think this is not possible for financial reasons, let your small group leader or a Summit pastor know so we can help you with living arrangements. You don’t have to follow God alone. You have a church family to help you in this journey.
  • Continue or begin in our church’s Preparing for Marriage ministry. Information about this program can be found at summitrdu.com/pfm. The more you learn about God’s design for marriage the more the principles of this conversation will make sense to you.

Last of all, I want to say “thank you” for taking these few minutes to consider how to put your marriage in the best position to succeed. That is a sign of humility and maturity which should be a blessing to your marriage for years to come. We want The Summit to be a safe place for the two of you to follow God together and experience the joy of life together as God designed.

Pre-Marital Mentoring FAQs: Are there articles or books I need to be reading?

This post is one in a series of frequently asked questions by those who use the Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage seminar series as part of their church’s pre-marital program. The responses are written as we use them at the Summit Church. Your church may need to tweak the responses in order to better fit your ministry context.

We would recommend beginning with the reading the five seminar manuals in the Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage seminar series. These will expose you to those materials that we believe are most consistent with the preaching and teaching of The Summit Church. In the process you will identity those books, subjects, or authors that would best enrich your marriage.

We would also recommend the marriage conferences presented by Family Life Today (www.familylife.com/events). These events are frequently hosted in or near RDU and are excellent.

Pre-Marital Mentoring FAQs: What should we know about pre-marital couples (just in case we forgot what this season of life was like)?

This post is one in a series of frequently asked questions by those who use the Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage seminar series as part of their church’s pre-marital program. The responses are written as we use them at the Summit Church. Your church may need to tweak the responses in order to better fit your ministry context.

The following seven points are taken from Preparing for Marriage: Leader’s Guide edited by Dennis Rainey (p. 24-25).

  • Many engaged couples are wearing blinders. An engaged person is often aware of negative characteristics in the one he or she loves, but figures, “It won’t be like than when we’re married.” In their excitement, they often fail to think rationally about potential problems that could sabotage the relationship believing instead that “love conquers all.” They are setting up themselves for disappointment when reality sets in.
  • Because of the hectic schedule leading up to the wedding and honeymoon, engaged couples are experiencing one of the most stressful times of their lives. Often couples will get less sleep during this time which naturally adds stress to the relationship.
  • This stress can cause couples to experience extremes in emotions as well. Be ready to talk through their sudden doubts about marriage if they arise. Those who begin to have doubts about whether this marriage is right will feel tremendous pressure to go ahead with the wedding anyway.
  • In this time, those who are not already having intercourse are struggling with keeping their desires in check. They are physically charged yet fatigued, making it hard to draw boundaries. Couple often sacrifice some biblical values for the sake of the relationship.
  • Often couples have had very little time to discuss normal financial habits and expenses. They may need to discuss the ever-growing expenses of a wedding as well.
  • Often couples will need to discuss differences of opinion in wedding plans (i.e., expenses, in-laws expectations, alcohol, etc…).
  • A significant number of couples have discussed only in part how their past has affected them. Many don’t know about serious relational baggage they are bringing in the marriage.

Pre-Marital Mentoring FAQs: What if we’re uncomfortable talking about [blank] or don’t feel like we do a good job with [blank]?

his post is one in a series of frequently asked questions by those who use the Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage seminar series as part of their church’s pre-marital program. The responses are written as we use them at the Summit Church. Your church may need to tweak the responses in order to better fit your ministry context.

Mentors are not expected to be excellent or expects at every area of marriage. That would be an unrealistic expectation to put on any couple. One of the greatest facets of the mentoring relationship will be for the engaged couple to learn how to talk about their strengths and weaknesses in a grace-based environment. You will teach this by modeling how to talk about your own strengths and weaknesses as a couple.

If there is a specific subject you prefer not to address, hopefully you can find a facet of the broader subject to address. For instance, if you are uncomfortable talking about debt, then within the “finances” section you could direct the conversation towards budgeting.

If you are uncomfortable with an entire subject, then you might enlist a couple from your small group to take that meeting. In that case you would want to explain to your couple that you want them to have someone more skilled or consistent in that area to discuss that subject with them.

More often than not (unless this is a point of active division between you and your spouse), then the seminar will cover the “how to” and provide the tools for each subject. The role of the mentor is to provide testimony to the content of each seminar and be a relational resource who gets to know the couple well enough to guide them through the trail-and-error process of implementation.

Pre-Marital Mentoring FAQs: What if we think they need to meet with a more experienced counselor?

This post is one in a series of frequently asked questions by those who use the Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage seminar series as part of their church’s pre-marital program. The responses are written as we use them at the Summit Church. Your church may need to tweak the responses in order to better fit your ministry context.

This is the minority experience for marriage mentors. So as we examine this question do not assume this will be something that you will wrestle with in most of your mentoring relationships.

First, you need to remember that you are an advisor. There are limits to this role. You can make wise, well-informed advisements with clear practical next steps. After that, there is not much control. That is often the hardest part for compassionate people want to be involved in a counseling-related ministry.

Second, as a church, we may decide that the issue is problematic enough that our one of our pastors cannot, in good conscience, perform the wedding ceremony. Even in this, we do not have the level of influence that can require a couple to delay or reconsider their decision to marry.

The advisements below are detailed in an intentional order which we ask our mentors to follow when addressing these kinds of concerns:

  1. Listen. A great rule of thumb for all things counseling-related is, “If you don’t know what to say, ask more questions.” Rest in the reality you will not be making a decision for the couple, but only a recommendation.
  2. If the concern is minor, you may begin by recommending the couple study that seminar with their small group in their first year of marriage. If they are not in a small group, invite them to yours and ask your small group to study that seminar to allow the newlywed couple to benefit from the experience of many couples in that area.
  3. If the concern is moderate to severe, you should connect them with the formal counseling ministries of the Summit (www.summitrdu.com/counseling). The link provided will connect the couple with the various options for personal and marital counseling that we offer.
  4. If the couple does not adhere to your concern and is being married by a Summit pastor, then let the couple know that you feel the concern is significant enough that you should share it with the Summit pastor performing the ceremony so that he can help assess if your concerns warrant further attention.
  5. Unless your concerns involve something illegal or a safety consideration, continue to care for the couple as their mentor. Relationship is influence and, if the couple is engaging with the GCM materials, your concerns may begin to take on greater weight with the couple as they learn more of what God designed marriage to be.

Pre-Marital Mentoring FAQs: What if the couple comes into the program late (close to their wedding)?

This post is one in a series of frequently asked questions by those who use the Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage seminar series as part of their church’s pre-marital program. The responses are written as we use them at the Summit Church. Your church may need to tweak the responses in order to better fit your ministry context.

Honestly, this is unfortunately common. This is why we put the “red flag” screening in the evaluation discussed at the end of the first session (more will be said about this in the next question). We cannot be a social engineer; forcing couples to do things in an ideal fashion. We can provide excellent comprehensive (both in term of content and relationship) pre-marital preparation. We can make this resource known throughout our church and community so that more couples enter our pre-marital program early in their engagement. Our advisement to you with couples who enter the mentoring relationship late in their engagement is:

  1. Remain positive and upbeat about being a part of this season in their life.
  2. Screen for red flags in the first meeting (if significant problems are found, see the next question).
  3. If no red flags are found, stay on the normal schedule (meeting on somewhere between a 2-5 week interval).
  4. Allow the post-wedding meetings to cover the subjects that were not addressed before the wedding.

Video: Overcoming Addiction (Step Nine)

Below is a video from the presentation of “Overcoming Addiction.” For the various counseling options available from this material visit www.summitrdu.com/counseling.

NOTE: Many people have asked how they can get a copy of the seminar notebook referenced in this verbal presentation. You can request a copy from Summit’s admin over counseling at counseling@summitrdu.com (please note this is an administrative account; no individual or family counsel is provided through e-mail).

“Living Free to Enjoy the Life God Intended”
STEWARD all of my life for God’s glory.

Overcoming Addiction, Step 9 from The Sam James Institute on Vimeo.

Memorize: I Corinthians 6:12, 19-20 (ESV), “’All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything… Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” As you memorize this passage reflect upon these key points:

  • “All things are lawful” – You shouldn’t need a “rule” that says don’t drink any longer.
  • “I will not be dominated” – Those things that dominate you should be voluntarily avoided.
  • “Your body is a temple” – Your motivation is not shame, because God has given you the highest honor, his presence.
  • “You are not your own” – When you declare Christ “Lord” you surrender the right to make destructive choices.
  • “Glorify God in your body” – Bringing glory to God is now the ultimate replacement for the pleasure or escape of AoD.

Teaching Notes

“The absence of the addictive behavior is not sufficient to successfully maintain the change and become andex-addict. In order to sustain recovery, new behaviors and reinforcing experiences must become part of a new way of living in the world (p. 190)… Taking away an addiction leaves a void that must be filled by alternative satisfying reinforcers for the economics of recovery to work (p. 193).” Carlo DiClemente in Addictions and Change

“At the outset, most of us tackle an addiction simply because it is giving us trouble, and our only conscious desire is to be rid of it…If my primary desire, as best I know it, is simply to change a troublesome addictive behavior, I will hardly be interested in giving my life to God in order to do so (p. 146).” Gerald May in Addiction & Grace

“The exodus is the end of captivity, but it is only the beginning of freedom (p. 117).” Graeme Goldsworthy in According to Plan

“The world is full of two kinds of people – givers and takers. The takers eat well and the givers sleep well (p. 211).” John Baker in Celebrate Recovery: Leader’s Guide

“We are not set free to serve ourselves (p. 238).” Ed Welch in Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave

6 New Church-Based Counseling Resources in 2016

One of the blessings of serving at a church that allows me to focus my attention on developing a robust counseling ministry is the opportunity to create resources that can be duplicated in our church plants and churches across the country/world.

This year we were able to create two programmatic seminars and four other resources to equip church members to care for one another and their community.

  1. Overcoming Addiction (9 step seminar)
  2. Overcoming Codependency (9 step seminar)
  3. SJI Forum & Panel: Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk
  4. Gospel Wheel Evaluations (6 evaluation series)
  5. Summit Counseling FAQ’s
  6. Parent Equip: Talking to Our Children about Purity

Video: Overcoming Addiction (Step Eight)

Below is a video from the presentation of “Overcoming Addiction.” For the various counseling options available from this material visit www.summitrdu.com/counseling.

NOTE: Many people have asked how they can get a copy of the seminar notebook referenced in this verbal presentation. You can request a copy from Summit’s admin over counseling at counseling@summitrdu.com (please note this is an administrative account; no individual or family counsel is provided through e-mail).

“Embracing Sobriety as ‘The Good Life’”
PERSEVERE in the new life and identity to which God has called me.

Overcoming Addiction, Step 8 from The Sam James Institute on Vimeo.

Memorize: James 1:12-13 (ESV), “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.’” As you memorize this passage reflect upon these key points:

  • “Blessed” – The place where we experience the fullness of God’s blessing is with God more than outside trials.
  • “Remains steadfast” – We do not have to “overcome” or “conquer.” We are merely called to remain faithful.
  • “Under trial” – The temptations that call us back to our old addictive lifestyle would be among these trials.
  • “Crown of life” – The “life” promised by our addiction is already ours in Christ.
  • “Let no one say” – If addictive thinking convinces us to turn from God, it separates us from our source of hope.

Teaching Notes

“No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down… That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means—the only complete realist (p. 142).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“The more time I spend in recovery, the worst each relapse gets (p. 136).” Jenni Schaeffer in Life Without Ed

“Lonely people make good addicts (p. 118).” Kent Dunnington in Addiction and Virtue: Beyond the Models of Disease and Choice

“Don’t forget to share your victories, no matter how small, with others in your group. Your growth will give others hope (p. 194)!” John Baker in Celebrate Recovery: Leader’s Guide

“The new behavior becomes fully maintained only when there is little or no energy or effort needed to continue it and the individual can terminate the cycle of change (p. 29)… Successful approximations are the way we learn most new behaviors or change old ones. It is clearly the way that most addicted individuals find their way to recovery (p. 182).” Carlo DiClemente in Addictions and Change

“Successful action also provides a new perspective on problems in other areas of the individual’s life. Problems that seemed trivial in light of the serious problems caused by the addiction look different in the light of abstinence. Once change of the addiction has begun, change of other problems becomes more feasible, and often more necessary, in order to sustain the change (p. 185).” Carlo DiClemente in Addictions and Change

“Whatever wins our affections will control our lives (p. 175).” Ed Welch in Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave

“When you are in an addictive trance, all you see is your addiction. When you come out of it, you begin to see God more clearly; you see other people more clearly too (p. 46).” Ed Welch in Crossroads: A Step-by-Step Guide Away from Addiction

Video: Overcoming Addiction (Step Seven)

Below is a video from the presentation of “Overcoming Addiction.” For the various counseling options available from this material visit www.summitrdu.com/counseling.

NOTE: Many people have asked how they can get a copy of the seminar notebook referenced in this verbal presentation. You can request a copy from Summit’s admin over counseling at counseling@summitrdu.com (please note this is an administrative account; no individual or family counsel is provided through e-mail).

“Learning to Enjoy Living Free”
IMPLEMENT the new structure pervasively with humility and flexibility.

Overcoming Addiction, Step 7 from The Sam James Institute on Vimeo.

Memorize: Romans 6:12-13 (ESV), “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments of righteousness.” As you memorize this passage reflect upon these key points:

  • “Let not” – Overcoming addiction requires a persistent commitment to oppose new forms of temptation.
  • “Reign” – You must remember that sin’s desire is to rule (Gen. 4:7). Its initial returns will seem innocent. Beware!
  • “Obey its passions” – In God’s design for life your passions/desires are made to obey you as you seek to honor Him.
  • “Members… yourselves” – Sin compartmentalizes and divides life. God wants your whole life to be whole and holy.
  • “As those” – Remember you fight as one who has already been brought back from the death of sin to life in Christ.

“When you want to change and don’t want to change, the truth is you don’t want to change (p. 15)… To succeed, you must learn how to fail… The difference between the wise and the foolish is that the wise learn from their failures (p. 82).” Ed Welch in Crossroads: A Step-by-Step Guide Away from Addiction

“Marital problems usually get worse soon after the addict begins walking a path of change (p. 124).” Ed Welch in Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave

“Less frequent events and intense stressors are two critical types of triggers that must be negotiated successfully to sustain change and manage the Maintenance stage of recovery (p. 195).” Carlo DiClemente in Addictions and Change

“The brain does not forget. From the standpoint of psychology, this means we can never become so well adjusted that we can stop being vigilant. From a neurological viewpoint, it means the cells of our best-intentioned systems can never eradicate the countless other systems that have been addicted. And from a spiritual perspective, it means that no matter how much grace God has blessed us with, we forever remain dependent upon its continuing flow (p. 90).” Gerald May in Addiction & Grace

“One’s ability to cope with stress – in particular, with anger, frustration, boredom, anxiety, and depression – has been identified as a critical deficit area in many theories or models of addiction (p. 13).” Carlo DiClemente in Addictions and Change