Pastor Clement Okusi has presided at over 40 successful marriages at his church, and shares how he helps couples to build strong marriages before and after their weddings
I got married in my early twenties, and this year marks our eighteenth wedding anniversary. During my ministry, I have officiated in over 40 weddings. Every couple that I have married is still (by the grace of God) married. So, when I hear statistics that say the divorce rate is the same outside of the Church as inside the Church, I am troubled.
I am not sure that it is actually true. I have been a growing Christian for the last twenty years, and have been a guest at over 60 Christian weddings. I can only think of three Christian couples that have been divorced in the last twenty years! Of the three couples I know who got divorced, in every instance one spouse left (backslid) the Christian faith.
It is important for the Church to be a witness when it comes to marriage. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:13-16), Jesus teaches us that, as His disciples, we are ‘the salt of the earth’ and that, if we lose our flavour, we become ‘good for nothing’. Jesus further teaches us that we are ‘the light of the world’, and that we should let this ‘light shine’ so that others may ‘glorify God’. Jesus also clearly teaches us, in Matthew 19:1-12, that divorce is wrong and happens because of a hardness of the human heart.
There exists a lot of spiritual darkness surrounding marriage at the moment. We see the nuclear family almost disappearing, especially from the Black community (70% of children born out of wedlock with an absent father). We see the redefinition of marriage by politicians and pressure groups. So it is in this ‘darkened’ climate that the Christian light should shine brightest.
Within our church (PHCCC), we do a number of things to facilitate marriages.
We do not marry people we do not know – Some denominations are happy to hire out their minister and premises to anybody. In fact, for many struggling churches this is a much-needed source of income! But we see this as part of the problem. Many people getting married in a Christian church by a Christian minister may wrongly assume they are a Christian, even though they are not members of that (or any) Christian church.
Marrying people that you, as a pastor, know, has at least two benefits:
(i) You can testify to their Christian conduct. This does not mean they are perfect, but you can be a witness to their personality and character up until that point.
(ii) Allows you to more effectively speak into their lives. If you are married by a minister, whom you do not know, where do you go for marriage counselling?
We carry out several classes of pre-marital counselling – Many people have a ‘make it up as you go along’ approach to marriage. Would you allow yourself to be driven by a person who had no experience of driving, but would reassure you they would ‘make it up as they go along’? Would you buy a car without first being taught how to drive?
In pre-marital counselling, we deliberately divert attention away from the wedding day, to the married life. Unfortunately, many (especially women) are so focused (intoxicated) on their wedding day, they give little or no thought to their marriage. I always ask the couple what does it take to be a good husband or wife, and am often met with quizzical expressions which reveal this is the first time they have given thought to the question!
“It is important for the Church to be a witness when it comes to marriage.”
How many couples have read their Bible (from Genesis to Revelation), marriage books or attended pre-marital seminars before getting married?
In pre-marital counselling we cover issues such as:
- Pre-marital sexual behaviour (false notions of intimacy, sexual sin, etc.)
- Blood testing (HIV, Sickle Cell, etc.)
- The Man’s status/role in the home (Provider, Protector, Priest, etc.)
- The Woman’s status/role in the home (Helper, Homemaker, Honourer, etc.)
- Finances (transparency, joint accounts, existing debt, budgeting, etc.)
- Family (Do they already have kids? Do they want kids? etc.)
- Communication (conflict resolution, tone of voice, timing, temper, etc.)
- Potential baggage from the past (past events of life, violations, hurts, etc.)
- Immigration issues, if any
We also host annual marriage seminars – Annually, all married couples (no children allowed) go away (out of town) to a relaxing 4* hotel for two nights’ bed, breakfast and dinner. We typically have four teaching sessions on marriage per day, with Q&A and prayer following. We also have an anonymous question box, where questions of a sensitive nature may be addressed.
This is a critical ingredient to help us build strong marriages. Often, just being away from the daily pressures of life, being waited on hand and foot, without children, allows married couples to invest in their relationship, and to be reminded as to why they got married in the first place.
We also offer marital help through pastoral counselling and preaching. My encouragement to pastors would be that strong marriages help build strong families, strong churches and strong communities. Therefore, devote a lot of time and energy in prayerfully preparing people for the reality of marriage. This may even lead to you temporarily refusing to perform some weddings until certain things are in order.
May we, as the Church of the living God, through our marital witness show that God really does make a difference in marriage.
Pastor Clement Okusi is Senior Pastor of Potter’s House Christian Centre in Thornton Heath, Surrey. Visit www.phccc.com for more details.