Today is the first of a series that is going to go about a year that I introduced a little last week. I’m excited about this series, but it’s going to be a bit different than what I normally write. Most of the time people who are just entering into ministry, or a different season of ministry have these great ideas about what the future holds. We’ve got dreams and ideals, we’ve gone to school, we’ve read our Bible and we’ve been inspired. And then we run into the reality of day-to-day ministry. And a lot of times churches, because of this, take in young preachers and spit out insurance agents.
But I’d like to help that if I can.
So I’m calling this longer series Inspire(ality). Because I think one of the great blessings of ministering in a church is that people often invite us into difficult places in their live, or that we get to help shape a group of people toward God’s purposes in the world. It’s all very inspiring. But then we hit reality. And it can be daunting for those of us who are just being thrown in without any help.
So this series is going to be for other preachers and ministers and local church volunteers who are just learning the ropes of day-to-day ministry, as well as those who have done it for a while and want to share and learn other tools people are using in different places. I want to write about some of the things that I’ve learned and am learning. And I want to kick this off by talking about how to write a wedding. I was a Young Singles Minister for several years. I’ve done a ton of weddings, and it’s one of my favorite parts of ministry.
There is nothing quite like doing a wedding. It seems like every time I do a wedding, hundreds of verses in the Bible start to make more sense. All the time God talks about covenants in the Old Testament, or all the wedding stories in the New Testament begins to come into focus when we perform these kinds of ceremonies.
The truth is we live in a pretty superficial culture that doesn’t often like to step back and think about things that deeply matter.
But when it comes to a wedding, people who never pause to think about God, stop and watch a modern day parable. Weddings are different than most any other part of your ministry,
So how do we do weddings?
The first step, hopefully, is to do or make sure that the couple has had pre-marital counseling done. I’ll write more in a few months about this part, and I’m going to try to video interview a great counselor for some tips, but for now, just make sure that some preliminary work is done before the wedding. With a divorce rate of about 50/50, it’s scary to think that couples spend 10x the amount of time on the wedding that they do on preparation for actually being married.
So I start writing a Wedding with a list of questions. I’m attaching the document of questions I ask each couple to this blog, but the big idea here is to find out two things: 1) Their story, and 2)the format and tone of the service. Do they want special things, like a sand ceremony/communion? Do they have the music picked out yet, if so what is it? How many Groosmen and Bridesmaids? When do these people come in, and to what song?
Then I write out a format for the service and let them see it. Unless they’ve hired a Wedding Coordinator, chances are this may be the first time they’ve thought about the actual order of the wedding. It helps them to see the flow and think through aspects they may have missed.
A couple of tricky things that might help in preparing for the interview.
1. Vows. Do they want to write their own or do traditional vows? Unless they have very strong feelings on this, I try to steer them toward traditional vows. Because chances are these are the vows that the majority of the married couples who will be guests at the wedding said at their own weddings. And it’s good for every attending married couple to be reminded of the promises we made to each other as often as possible. It’s also good for the marrying couple to be reminded that this day is more than just about them. It’s about a community that they called together.
2. Who gives the bride away? And what will they say when I ask that in the Wedding? I always get crystal clear on this one. Because so many families are blended or have different dynamics, I want to make sure that I know precisely what to say here. And I want to encourage the couple to think through how they want to handle this. Most of the time, if it’s a blended family, whoever hands the Bride over will have a response like “the family and I”
Writing the Sermon
Now when it comes to writing the wedding, the first thing I do is go over the conversation I had with the couple, hopefully you’ve already gotten to know them and their story, and the majority of the time for me visiting with the couple helps write the wedding more than anything else. I ‘ve learned how they met, how he proposed, funny stories from their relationship, because I’ve asked those questions. For the most part during the wedding, you’ll be the only one talking, but if you do your job well, people won’t even notice your there.
Did you ever notice in movies, how small the part of the minister usually is? The movie pans out and the couple ends happily ever after, and most of the time all they show is the kiss. If the minister is lucky you get to hear the pronouncement. But that’s it, and rightfully so. Because this isn’t about us. I’ve been taught to approach weddings like I am the picture frame and the couple is the picture. So my job is just to try and tell their story well. That means, if all goes as plans, the couple writes about a third of the wedding sermon by just telling me their story.
One of my favorite things to do is to ask the couple to describe each other in a few words, and tell me what they like about each other. But I ask them not to tell each other what they said, I want them to hear what the other said first on their wedding day, in front of God and their friends and family.
Now there are a lot of ways to do this. One of the keys is to be yourself, they asked you to do this. And each minister has a different style. Rick Atchley’s weddings tend to be more linear, well spoken and funny. Chris Hatchett is very relational. Some people have a format that they use each time, some people use humor and some don’t. Ben Siburt has the couple write a letter to each other independently, telling the other why they wanted to marry them, and he mails it to them on their first anniversary. I love that. There’s no one way to do a wedding. So get creative. Chances are there’s a way of doing a wedding that only you could pull off.
Doing the Wedding
What works best for me is to print off two copies of the wedding, one to give the couple after the wedding (with a handwritten note telling them that this is the vow they made to each other) and the other one I use black paper clips to put into my Bible.
I’ve attached a wedding that I have done in the past as an example, along with a couple from other ministers that have different approaches that I appreciate.
I love humor in weddings, but I personally don’t want to be funny during the vows. This is the most important part of the ceremony, I often try to be funny in weddings, but I will not be funny here. I want them to have a sense of solemnity here. I want this to communicate to them and everyone else, “We know this is very important. We are pledging ourselves before God to someone forever.”
Assuming you’ve already done a rehearsal (which I’ll talk about next week), you already know when you are supposed to be on stage and how the service will go. The difference between the Rehearsal and the actual wedding is that, you may need to announce after the wedding any reception or meal that is coming up next. You may need to ask guests not to interfere with the pictures of the wedding party so that they can get out to the reception quicker. And the best part…you will do a Pronouncement, like “By the power vested in me as a minister of the Gospel I pronounce you husband and wife”
Think about that. It’s the one time that you get to say something and it actually changes reality. Before they were dating, now because of your words, they’re married.
All of us know that a wedding is really just a bunch of people in a room with music and someone speaking words.
But all of us also know that in some profound sense that is beyond explanation it is so much more than that. It’s where this couple’s story intersects with God’s story.
You know the truth is that sometimes inspiration leads us into some messy reality. But in my experience, the best inspiration comes after actually stepping into the real world. Where people die and get married and sick, and where Sunday comes every 7 days. We find ourselves in over our heads and hopelessly beyond ourselves. That happens all the time in ministry. But almost every time, when reflecting on it later I realize how God had met me there.