By Glenn Kreun, Executive Pastor Emeritus at Saddleback Church
We often hear about weddings that are memorable for all the wrong reasons – the best man faints, the bride trips over her dress, or the pastor calls the groom the wrong name. It’s only occasionally that you hear about a wedding that was truly unique for all the right reasons, because it celebrated Christ and the unique way he brought two people together.
While on staff at Saddleback Church, I performed over 200 weddings. Here is what I’ve learned about what works well and what doesn’t – to both make a memorable wedding for the families and to honor Christ.
Require all couples to have premarital counseling.
Ultimately, the wedding is not about the ceremony; it’s about the marriage. Because of that, we require all couples married by one of our Saddleback pastors to complete eight weeks of premarital counseling. The prospective bride and groom meet with a husband-and-wife couple trained in premarital counseling. Our counselors deal with spiritual values, then family background, finances, and other issues.
Occasionally, it becomes clear during premarital counseling that a couple is not ready to marry. When that happens, we help the couple find counseling to work through problem areas.
Do your research before the wedding.
In the ceremony planning, I want to know as much about the couple as possible. So once I receive a report on the couple from our volunteer premarital counselors, I set up a two-hour meeting with the bride and groom. This is the only time I meet with them before the wedding.
First, the couple completes a wedding planner sheet, with details including their names, the wedding date and time, phone numbers (including cell phones, for wedding-day emergencies), information about the music, and whether the groom is wearing a suit or tuxedo (so I’ll know which to wear). They also list the names of the wedding coordinator, parents, step-parents, attendants, and children, if it’s a second marriage. I want to have those names in mind so I recognize the parents and other important people by name on the wedding day. If this is a second marriage and the couple has children, I’ll always ask if they want to include children in the service. If the kids are young, I’ll typically suggest the new step-parent give the children a gift during the ceremony. This is a good way to build a bond between them.
Next, the couple shares about their premarital counseling and then the Cliff notes version of their life story. Then I ask them to share their dating lives together – how they met, their first date, what they did on their dates, and how he proposed. Then I ask: “What are the qualities that cause you to think this is the person God has put into your life?” Sometimes the answer draws a tear because they’ve never verbalized those things before. They’ve said, “I love you,” but they’ve never gotten down to the nitty-gritty of why they love each other.
I also ask the couple to have their parents send me an e-mail, both giving their blessing on the wedding and telling what they love about their future son- or daughter-in-law.
After I get the personal stuff, then we talk about the ceremony itself. I ask the bride about every detail, from whether they want to write their own vows to asking who will give the bride away. I remind them about details couples often forget, like the fact that the groom should help the bride if they need to walk up stairs during the ceremony.
Make the ceremony very personal.
The people sitting in the pews at the wedding should think, “Wow, this pastor has known this couple all their lives.” I also want the wedding ceremony to be a celebration everyone will remember with joy and talk about for years in the future. So, I take the personal information the couple has shared with me and write a story about their lives and their love for each other. I share that story at the beginning of the ceremony, just after I’ve welcomed everyone to the wedding.
Also, if the couple approves, I ask the parents to stand and affirm their blessing of the marriage. I also share with the bride and groom what their future in-laws have e-mailed me about why they’re pleased with the marriage.
With the bride and groom’s approval, I also will share that they spent time in premarital counseling. If the counselors are at the wedding, I will publicly name them and express gratitude. It’s a teaching opportunity that puts a value on premarital counseling.
Throughout this personal part of the ceremony, I try to include humor, but I end with the serious stuff – why each wants the other person to be his or her spouse.
Center the wedding around Christ.
To keep the wedding Christ-centered, I ask the couple to make a public commitment to dedicate their home to God and commit themselves to ministry within the church.
Next, I talk about love in a secular way, looking at what our culture says it is; then I read 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 to see what God says it is. I read it slowly and let it sink in. When couples use traditional vows, I talk about the rings, with their unending circles and pure gold, representing the pure and unending love God has given them. I talk about both the bride’s and the groom’s relationships with Christ, including when they committed their lives to Christ.
I read from Matthew 6:31-33, which tells people to seek God’s Kingdom first. I talk about living out God’s Word in their marriage and in their lives – not just talking about it. If the couple has other Scriptures they want read or shared, we incorporate those.
Avoid a pastor’s #1 wedding mistake.
At many weddings I attend, I see a lot of pastors keep the bride and groom’s backs to the audience until they exchange rings – which is halfway through the ceremony!
Instead, I have the bride and groom face each other and hold hands as soon as they get on the platform. This is their moment that God has made just for them. I want them to look at each other and feel this moment with all their senses. This also allows family and friends to see their profile. Then they can see the teardrops and emotions. Those are meaningful moments, both for the bride and groom and the family.
For the first five to 10 years of my ministry, I followed the same very formal approach I had seen so many other pastors use when officiating a wedding. But as I’ve begun incorporating these particular principles into weddings, it has made these very special days much more personal for the bride, groom, and all the family and friends involved. When I hear the positive feedback from the couple and their families – and see their tears – it’s so gratifying to know I’m touching their hearts.
But the bottom line in every wedding is that it’s all about Christ. Though it’s important to honor the bride and groom and their relationship, Christ is the guest of honor.