A Letter I Gave to Couples Who Wanted Me to Perform Their Wedding Ceremony

When I was a pastor, I had many couples asked me to perform their wedding ceremonies. In fact, one year I officiated at 40 weddings. In case you are wondering, I was really stupid to accept so many invitations.

I am pretty conservative about doing weddings. I see the role of the Christian minister to be narrowly defined regarding when he says “yes” to such opportunities. As a result, I often found myself in some awkward positions when I had to decline to perform the ceremony.

The dilemma became much more palatable when I sent a letter to the prospective wedding couple who inquired about my availability. A lot of the awkwardness dissipated, and a good number of the couples never came to see me. When my assistant received a request from a couple inquiring about my performing a ceremony, she told the couple that she would send them a letter. They were welcome to make an appointment with me after they read the letter shown below.

Dear Prospective Newlyweds,

Congratulations on your engagement and upcoming marriage! I am honored you asked me to perform the wedding ceremony.

Please understand that I perform weddings for couples where both the man and woman are Christians. My role is that of a Christian minister. I am unable to be a part of a wedding where either the husband or the wife will not be fully committed to Christ. The most important foundation of a marriage is the faith commitment of the couple. Both the husband and wife must demonstrate when they meet with me that they profess Christ as their Lord and Savior; and they must share with me the specifics of their Christian testimony. If you are not certain about your faith, I would be happy to share with you what it means to be a Christian.

The Bible also teaches that intimate or sexual relations must be limited to the marriage relationship between a man and a woman. Any other sexual relationship is sinful. If you are currently sexually active, you must indicate your desire to repent of your sin. If you are living together, you must be willing to live apart from one another until you are married.

Finally, I must require any couple planning to marry to receive premarital counseling. I have several choices I can recommend to you.

If you are willing to abide by the issues I state in this letter, please feel free to make an appointment with me, so we can determine next steps. Marriage is a God-given institution. It is something to be honored and celebrated. It is a commitment for life. I pray that your marriage will honor our Lord in all that you do and say.

In His service,

Thom S. Rainer

Let me know what you think of my letter. And let me know what your experiences are in weddings and premarital considerations. I bet it could be a lively discussion!

Posted on April 26, 2014

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
More from Thom

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  • Great article Tom. Question, would you limit marriage only to Christians?

  • My practice has been quite different. I recall one Sunday when a young lady from my congregation came to me with a man she had known only 2 months and who was not a Christian. They wanted me to perform their wedding – the next Friday. I did my best to talk them into waiting longer, to no avail. I asked them what they would do if I refused to marry them. They said they’d go to a justice of the peace. I then agreed to marry them on one condition – that he study the Bible with me. He agreed, I married them, studied with him, and he became a Christian.

    That was more than 35 years ago. Today they are still happily married, and he serves as an elder in the congregation.

    Granted, this is not a typical outcome for a marriage begun in those circumstances. Yet I highly doubt there would have been this result had I refused to marry them and they had gone to the JP. My attitude has been that I want to open doors to reaching the lost without cheapening the teachings of Christ.

    I have not always been successful in doing that, and I respect those who take a different approach than I. I try to remember that I, too, am a sinner saved by grace. I want to extend the same grace that saves me to the imperfect souls who have sought me out to help them in one of life’s most important events.

    • I can understand your choice, but I would absolutely refuse to perform a wedding between a Christian and a non-Christian. I would ask the Christian “how can you expect God to bless your marriage when you know that you are disobeying him by marrying a non-Christian?”.

      Certainly I would also offerto study the Bible with the non-Christian, but I believe that one of the most important messages a Pastor has to transmit is that being a Christian means submitting to God’s authority in every aspect of life. Christ is not only Savior, he is also Lord.

  • Thank you for this post. As a new Pastor I am working on laying out my expectations/requirements for marraige. I have actually been asked to do 2 weddings this summer. I have a question about the living apart requirements of your letter. While I agree with everything you said I have a question specifc to one of the weddings I was asked to perform. The couple is currently living together and have for a number of years. They have a young child (6 months old I believe) and both profess to be believers but both were saved fairly recently. Would you stil counsel them to live apart until the wedding knowing that there are financial and child rearing implications?
    Thank you for your time and help to pastors/church planters like myself. I enjoy reading your blog and have gained valuable wisdom and information from your experiences.
    God Bless You
    Billy Morrison

    • Thom Rainer says on

      You might consider an early private ceremony that would be followed by the public ceremony. It could be done in the privacy of their home.

      • Mark Dance says on

        That is a good idea Dr Rainer. Unfortunately, I suspect pastors will be put into this awkward situation more often in the future.

  • I started out firm on issues such as these. I know every pastor seeks the Lord’s leading here. Over time I have come to see, weddings provide the pastor a unique opportunity to speak the hope of Christ into the life of people who are actually seeking me out. Who are coming to me. If I am gentle and loving I have found that they will listen. I have had some who have become believers and then brought their whole and extended families into the church. Others have not. Naturally I cannot take all comers but I do not want to stand before the Lord and have to give an account for not sharing the gospel with those he sent to me. I like the letter idea especially so that people know what they are walking into. But I would not want to be deliberately off putting and miss a divine opportunity. They are going to marry. If it’s a non believing young man and woman who some how in their depravity are moving in the right direction and God sends them to me I am here to help. They get the whole spiel about godly Christian marriage and if they will do the homework we move forward.

    • Lori Goff says on

      My father took this same approach David Hemphill. I am now being asked instead of him (he recently passed away). The added issue for me is that I have been a high school teacher for 20 years and now my former students are coming to me. I spoke life into them while they were in the public school setting and it has laid a relational foundation that I feel like is a ministry opportunity. All we can do as humans and/or pastors is to speak the truth in love. What they choose to do with the truth is up to them. As a teacher that is what has helped me sleep at night. As a pastor it is the same. I agree that we need to be clear about what makes a successful marriage and what sinks a marriage. God alone is the glue that keeps it together everything else is a fraud.

  • Mark Dance says on

    I’m usually not a fan of plagiarism, unless it benefits me personally. This does, so I’m stealing it! You can send me the bill Dr Rainer. It will be worth it just to have the expectations clarified up front for the couples.

    Our staff all share the same wedding policies, which helps to reinforce these biblical standards, without making them seem personal or arbitrary. It might make the negative part of the policy seem less personal if the letter said, “I (We) require any couple planning to marry to receive premarital counseling.” Other options are “our staff” or “our church” (single staff).

  • This is a good letter. It is even easier when couples have to find a deacon (ie, duly ordained) who is not the pastor. Someone who knows them well enough to know the answers to your conditions. I only do weddings for close friends.

  • Thom, I fully understand the need to set a limit on the number of weddings a pastor performs. However, wouldn’t it be more effective to redirect them to another pastor who could mentor them toward faith and good conduct. I have taken the approach you outline in the past (though in person, not via letter). I realize now that it effectively said “Go away” to people who needed good news the most. Is there a way to both protect our time and meet people where they are to help them move forward?

  • This seems great, however, do you think that by sending it out ahead of time, and not ever meeting with the couple you’ve missed opportunities to share truth in love? If couples are living in sin, recieving this letter certainly could fuel a fire of anger.

    I completely respect where you’re coming from in sending this, I’m just concerned that you might be slamming doors closed to share.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      You have a good point, AJ. I saw the other side, however, where there would be both embarrassment and anger when I shared it in person. That is why I eventually took this path.

  • Thom, An exhilarating, clarifying letter. I love the simultaneous integration of the Lordship of Christ, the gospel, the encouragement to steer onto a healthy path, and the reduction of demand on your schedule. Simplicity is so attractive. Thanks for sharing this post.

  • I wish more pastors would take this stand. I hope that by you sharing this letters it encourages more pastors to follow your lead on this issue.

  • Stephen Feild says on

    Seems Biblical. I did the same, when planting a church among a postmodern-minded target group. I also added that they must consider divorce as a non-option except for marital infidelity. I always felt that it set the stage for premarital counseling that focused on forming a covenant and a marriage built to last.

    • Thom Rainer says on


    • My bride and I went to an Engaged Encounter weekend retreat (are those even done anymore?) approx 6 weeks before we married, only 38 years ago.

      The priest said to the group about 4 hours in that if divorce is even a part of your thoughts, a part of your dialogue, a consideration spoken or unspoken, to stop right now. Delay the wedding and get some serious counseling. It is better to be embarrassed with your family and friends now than commit the sin of divorce.

      Two couples began muttering to each other and a minute or two later got up and left.

      He went on to describe the biblical expectations of marriage and the Catholic Church’s expectations of marriage. Another couple got up and left.

      As you can tell, that retreat made a big impression on me even though I was and am a conservative protestant.

      • Well my youth pastor that became my pastor and known for 12 years denied me and my spouse because we lived for a few months together engaged for financial reasons but got prejudged that we were shacking up and all the presumptions of it. Yet I confessed all this before the pastor in pre marriage counseling and for telling the truth he rips me and was ugly and said some belittling comments and it caused me to leave the church because of his haughtiness and charisma of being a Demi-God character and I lost all respect for him and now I’m out of church and I’m away from the faith …it’s people like him that turn people off and hurt by arrogant holy rollers that act as if they don’t sin in life. So what I once enjoyed and loved a pastor ruined it all for me and made me angry and malice towards the church and him for his god like judge mental attitude. Guess I should of lied and I would of saved a lot of heartache and probably been in church still and not out and hurt and angry by it

    • David J D'Arcy says on

      … and abandonment.

  • Mike Ricks says on

    Though I’ve never sent this ahead of time in letter form this is close to what I say in the initial consult. Would you ever consider adding “and as a Christian married couple you promise to never divorce, no matter what may come”? I’ve wrestled with this but then I think about the pastor that married my wife and I. Five minutes before we walked into the worship center to begin the ceremony he said, “Mike, if there is any reason you think may cause you to divorce Angie, if there is any thought at all that she’s not your one and only wife, let’s go out there right now and call off the wedding. The heartbreak it would cause today is nothing compared to the pain divorce causes.” Talk about a gut check. 10 years later those words are the only ones I remember from my wedding.

1 2 3 5