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.
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  • This is great. I too have shared these thoughts in meetings with prospective couples but not in letter form. Can I have your permission to use this as a basis for my own letter?

    Thanks for your ministry to ministers.

  • What about your other Staff pastors? Did you allow them to make exceptions, or was this a Church policy that all staff pastors had to abide by?

  • Shimshon Chaddock says on

    Thank you for sharing a great idea which puts Jesus at the forefront of marriage. I agree with all points of your letter but would like add something that I require when asked to marry someone, and that is post marriage counseling. In my own marriage experience, I was married for first time at age of 39 and my wife was 34, we were two kingdoms crashing together. We sort of talked with other newlywed couples and either they were lying and everything was just great for them while we were left thinking what’s wrong with us, why are we having a hard go at it. Due to both of us loving Jesus more then we loved each other and we were able to overcome our challenges after six difficult years and now have been married for 12. We are very very much in love. So due to this experience I find that post marital counseling is more important then pre. So I require of any couple that wants me to marry them to agree to twice a month counseling/ phone call/ get together for coffee for a year , to give them an opportunity to discuss any challenges they may be going through as newly married couples usually do.

  • In the future I’m wondering if ministers will have to be even more restrictive in order to provide themselves a defense against same sex couples wanting to sue if they don’t get you to officiate their wedding: something like having a policy that at least one of the two must be a member of the church that you pastor.

  • To me, these standards are a given. But I might want to tell them in person, instead of sending a letter, in order to have an opportunity to engage them in a conversation about the gospel. Then again, you may have not had enough time on your hands for such an approach.

  • Charles Rambeau says on

    Excellent article. I have the couple sign a covenant document that outlines much of what you have here. Thanks for sharing this letter.

  • Great letter Thom. I never thought to do this beforehand but it is clear it would prevent some pretty awkward situations.

  • I too limit my amount of weddings. But I have found, I can use them as an evangelistic opportunity. I let them know I just don’t “do” weddings. Instead my goal is to develop a relationship with them. I’m a pastor – and the pastor part of me wants this so not only can I celebrate their wedding. I can celebrate other events of life with them as a friend.
    I ask why it is they would want to have their wedding in a church. Usually it’s some vague answer about it seems like God should be involved, Great – as part of our pre-marital I would like to explore that “God” seed with you. I also suggest as part of the pre-marital they come to church for four weeks to further explore some of this.
    It hasn’t always worked, but sometimes it does… after the four weeks, some just keep coming – find Christ- and become a part of us. Another one of those side doors into the church!

  • Randy Bowman says on

    I think this is a great idea. Perhaps the letter could be adopted by the church board in t its policies for conducting weddings in the churches facilities or by the pastors/staff of the church.

    It makes the policy less personal. It also precludes the possibility that if someone or their family is upset with the policy, it is not the pastor’s personal decision but a policy that has been discussed and adopted by the churches leadership.

    I would simply include in a packet of material given to anyone who inquires about having a wedding held at the church or officiated by a staff member of the church.

    • Mark Dance says on

      Good point Randy. Our staff recently updated our wedding policy manual because of our location change. We always give this to couples (and parents) who request our facilities or pastors involvement. These policies will be will be posted next week on our website: 2bcfamily.com (go to “ministries” tab, then “marriage”).

  • Thom, I’ve not ever sent a letter like this, but I like the idea. I cover pretty much everything you mention at our first meeting . . . and it is there that I lay out 10 session of pre-marital counseling that I require. I am interested in what you said about the pre-marital counseling, that you have “several choices” that you could recommend to them. What were those “choices?”

  • I communicate this same thing to prospective couples and it inevitably thins the ranks of those desiring me to do the wedding. My motivation is that, because marriage vows are the most intense vows we make as believers, those vows to one another and God cannot hold substance when they are made to God apart from a commitment to obeying Him. Church members wrongly assume that pastors are obligated to officiate weddings. Every time I have declined to do so it has been in an attempt to help the couple, not to condemn them.

    • Mark Dance says on

      That has been my experience as well Jeff (member’s assumptions about pastor’s obligations). Letter’s like Dr Rainer’s should help stave off criticism from the couple’s families, as well as other members.

  • Giving the nature of our societal view of marriage, I have included language in my “wedding contract” that ours is a church that agrees with and abides to the BFM 2000 concerning marriage. I guess many times that is assumed in a church, but with the changing climate, one can never assume.