It’s interesting how much weddings have changed over the course of my ministry. Among other changes, the marriage age is increasing, the cost-per-guest is increasing while the size of wedding is decreasing, fewer weddings are taking place over the summer, social media is a critical component of most weddings, and weddings are increasingly casual. However, the most noticeable change to me has been the shift toward all-in-one wedding venues rather than churches. I don’t really have a principled opposition to this move, but it has coincided with fewer weddings being officiated by clergy. A significant portion of my time early in ministry was spent counseling engaged couples and preparing them not only for their wedding day, but for their lives as married couples as well. While it occupied an inordinate amount of time, it was both gratifying and interesting (sometimes bordering on terrifying!) to help couples navigate some of the challenges and develop some of the skills that I believed they would need in order to craft healthy marriage relationships. I miss it!
I told almost every couple that I counseled that the most important session, if not the most interesting, would explore healthy communication. I can’t tell you where I picked it up, but I have long believed (and tried to practice) that two pillars are indispensable to healthy marital communication: active listing and assertiveness. It matters that we are able to speak clearly about our needs and desires (assertiveness) and it’s equally important that we listen clearly and carefully in order to fully understand what our partners are communicating (active listening). All of this, I told couples, would be tremendously important when conflict arose in their marriage. I never failed to tell them that conflict was not the enemy; conflict would arise whether we want it to or not. It could be either an invaluable source of growth and intimacy if done well (specifically by listening clearly and speaking clearly about our needs or desires), or it could become the enemy to marital bliss if we engage in conflict poorly, failing to communicate clearly or in unhealthy ways.
Who knows if the message sank in for any of those couples, but I can testify to the veracity of the approach in my own marriage, and I’ve seen the same in my ministry. More often than not, the martial relationship is an apt analogue for the church. Thus, as we traverse conflict-ridden topics in worship over the next few weeks, my prayer is that our disagreements will represent opportunities to grow closer together, not farther apart. As I said at the end of both services last Sunday, allow points of disagreement to be the beginning of conversation rather than the end! These are important topics for us to explore if we want to connect our neighbors with the hope of the gospel. If we can’t talk about them calmly and with civility inside the church, how can we hope to influence the world around us?!