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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  • People who want to get married, get married. Turning them away doesn’t change anything except washing your hands of feeling guilty when they don’t perform perfectly in marriage. So much of the Christian church nowadays is just like the Pharisees were in Jesus’ time, so concerned with purity and loftiness that they forget how to be humble and welcoming. The Jesus I read about in the Bible sounds so different than so many of his followers.

  • Jocelyn Wreede says on

    Brilliant letter
    Gotta change with times. Divorce is too “easy” these days to get accomplished. Social media and online temptations destroy marriages and save children without one parent. This is serious and the screening for marriages SHOULD be stiffer in order to bring back the sanctity of the covenant, and convict those who are not living as they should be when they wish to enter into marriage. If they don’t want Christ in their lives and refuse to hear his gospel, then they should remain single and live as a sinner, but if they want to know the truth and be set free from it all, yes we have an obligation to tell them Abt what they are missing but also warn them of the consequences of marrying and not living by the vows you take, and or talking the talk but not walking the walk. Then we are witnessing to them and planting the seed as well as holding them accountable for assuming marriage is just a piece of paper and everyone does it so why not them attitude.

  • Shania Flores says on

    If there was a christian women who was to marry a muslim man and she had asked you to premarital counsel them, (not marry them) would you accept to premarital counsel them or would you say no. Why or why not?

  • Well, actually the position has several logical and Scriptural flaws:
    1) assuming that it is better to encourage a couple to marry than to live in sin the pastor should really expedite their marriage. After all, is it better to give them a protection of marriage or send them away? What would Christ do: preach first or help and heal first? From what I see the harshest criticism Christ had actually was against the religious leaders of that time not regular sinners. You don’t see a lot of condemnation from Christ in John 4:4-26 beyond stating “What you have just said is quite true.” Pastor Rainer, are you holier than Christ?
    2) If I recall NOWHERE in the Gospel it says that a requirements to get married include “must demonstrate” or “they must share” or ” receive premarital counseling” etc. Pastor Rainer, if Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 never required these things beyond “If they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry” then perhaps you could explain why you should be requiring it. Do you feel that Paul’s instructions are lacking something and/or you need to compliment Paul’s “let them marry” part?
    Though I do not expect you responding to me I would be glad if you do.

  • While I respect and appreciate your stance, don’t you think it’s a bit cowardly to hide behind a letter? You’re reaction is basically – it’s awkward to have standards so I’d rather not be a loving presence for the sake of my own comfort (I mean, Christ didn’t send a letter to the woman at the well you know). You’re hiding under that tree, Jonah. You’re a shepherd and God needs you to go find his sheep and bring them back, not send them a letter from the isolated comfort of your secure little kingdom and never bother with them again….

  • Praise the Lord for sharing this.
    I stand with you, there should be nothing to harm the perfect plan of our Lord.

  • Thom,

    Honesty time (if I may). Using this letter as a guide after reading this back in April, I have begun to do the very same process with a young couple who has asked me to marry them recently. Honestly, this (marrying couples who may not be 100% right with Christ) is something that has been eating away at me for a while now and I have had to really examine the kind of pastor and Christian I want to be. It is my heart’s desire to please Christ, and I thank you for your boldness to share this with this forum. God bless you.


  • Thank you! An important topic. Oh, the expectations placed upon us as clergy!! I’ve got stories, good and bad; took your same approach. Thank you for this resource and conversation!

  • In five years as an associate pastor, I have only performed two weddings, both of which were for couples just looking for a pastor to marry them. Before the first one, I talked with a wise, old friend about my struggle with doing that. My friend—who had been going to the local jail every week for 25 years to conduct Bible studies for the inmates—offered a perspective of grace. Essentially, she said this: “They’re going to get married, whether you do it or not. They’ve invited you into their marriage; you have the opportunity to bring Jesus into that.”

    I agree with the theology of your letter and I’ll always be up front with couples about my beliefs; I will always speak about Jesus, our responsibilities before God and to each other; I will never suggest that marriage should be entered into lightly or with the “out” of divorce. And I’d love to have a track record of only marrying couples who share my faith, but at least with my friend’s perspective I am invited to share my faith. And I have God’s promise that his Word will not return empty.

  • Great letter. We are in the process of rewriting our current wedding policies and I think that a letter like this would be a great first contact. I am sure there are many thoughts and feelings that come with being that direct upfront, but I think it brings even more value/ weight to the ceremony. Thanks for the post.