Mar 262014 20 Responses

Never Call a Pastor for Premarital Counseling

It happened three times last week. A couple called, the date is quickly approaching, and they wanted to know if I could do premarital counseling.

There has been a clear shift over the last decade where more and more couples expect to do premarital counseling. It is a wonderful transition. I prefer pre-engagement counseling to premarital counseling, but the latter is far better than nothing.

As a pastor, I’m thrilled couples are asking for help before they discover the difficulties of marriage. Any form of counseling before and during marriage can have positive impacts on a relationship. (See: You Aren’t the Perfect Couple)

Yet I told every couple last week what I tell every couple who calls for counseling, “No.”

I do not do premarital counseling. I don’t do it because I’m not a counselor.

I’m a pastor. As a pastor, I have some training in counseling, but not enough to be a licensed professional. While I can listen, offer pastoral advice, and often help people in a variety of situations, I cannot offer a level of service which I believe is most beneficial to couples considering marriage.

Why call a pastor for premarital counseling when you can call a professional? While I might be better than nothing, I’m not as good as you need. (See: Love Your Friends, Don’t Listen to Them)

It hasn’t always been this way. When I first graduated seminary, I did what I was told to do—I offered premarital counseling to couples. But over my first few years of ministry, I realized how out of place I was. While I had a good marriage, a broad overview of Biblical teaching, and a general knowledge of what makes most marriages work, I did not have a key skill which is necessary for effective counseling.

My relationship with marriage is much like my relationship with golf.

I don’t give golf lessons. While my handicap puts me in the top percent of golfers and while I can see what is wrong with the swing of many golfers, I’m not the person someone should turn to when trying to improve their game. I can give advice, but nearly all advice is based on what I think makes my game work. Why would someone call me when they can call a pro?

A golf professional has the ability to take a person’s personal swing and make it better. They can take who you are and make it better. I only have the ability to compare your swing with mine and tell you how they are different.

The same is true with marriage. A pastor has an ability to give advice, to give Biblical direction, and to point out obvious problems. But a professional counselor has the training and education to delve into deeper issues. While a pastor sees symptoms, a professional counselor can often unearth causes.

As a pastor, I see myself like a triage nurse. I’m often the first call couples make when trouble occurs. My job is to evaluate them and get them with the right specialist to solve their problem. When it comes to counseling before marriage, couples do not need a pastor. They need a licensed marriage therapist. (See: The Number One Cause of Divorce)

It’s good to talk with a pastor in addition to marital counseling. We can help formulate a Biblical foundation for the relationship and can encourage important steps to a healthy spiritual life. But meeting with a pastor should never replace true counseling.

Most pastors are great. They are knowledgeable and passionate about relationships. They can give good advice, put on wonderful conferences, and write good books. We provide a great service to couples in order to get them the help that the need. However, we are rarely the help they need.

If you don’t want me to perform your surgery or be your advocate in a court of law, why would you want me to do your premarital counseling? You don’t. I’ll talk to you, pray with you, perform the wedding, and write about ideas which can help your marriage. I don’t have the training or education to be your counselor.

For more, see:

What to do if Your Spouse Refuses Counseling

13 Questions to Gauge if You Need Counseling

20 Responses to Never Call a Pastor for Premarital Counseling
  1. […] Yet I don’t encourage premarital counseling. I don’t believe counseling is best suited b...
  2. […] 5. You trust that your spouse has your best interest at heart and you feel free to reveal anything t...
  3. […] but instead, believe in pre-engagement counseling. (See: Do This Before You Put a Ring on It and Ne...

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