Friday, 25 March 2011

How can we be culturally relevant?

I have been thinking a lot about the expressions of Christianity that seek explicitly to be culturally relevant to the people around us, but I am uneasy about how some describe how they have adapted themselves to become culturally relevant, and here’s why.

We’re supposed to be different. 

  • Matthew 5 says we are salt and light. That means we shine light on situations and leave our saltiness wherever we go. 

We’re supposed to be loving, not selfish.

  • The culture I see around me relates more to what can I get, rather than what can I give.  If we emulate that, how are we different?

We’re supposed to stand for righteousness, not abandon it

  • If our contemporaries and neighbours are pursuing hedonistic activities, don’t we need to redeem them not join them?

We’re supposed to be instantly recognisable

  • I have some sympathy with the ‘dress like those you want to reach’  and ‘use lingo your hearer will understand’ argument, but no-one will look more ‘out of place’ than me wearing a pair of Nike’s and a hoodie and talking slang. I’m not afraid of doing odd things or feeling uncomfortable, but surely better to be ‘myself’, genuine, passionate, interested and loving than attempt to pass myself off as ‘one of them’?  Doesn’t it look too ‘try hard’ to attempt to emulate them?


My Wonderings:

All things to all men

  • So what on earth do I do with Paul’s comments in 1 Corinthians 9??
    • To reach the Jews he became like the Jew. – Does that mean to reach a muslim I need to be like them? live like they do, act like they do?
    • To reach those under the law, he became like one under the law – Do I need to keep ceremonial activities? be ‘religious’ to the point of bondage?
    • To those not having the law, he became like one not having he law – Did he become lawless other than Christ’s law?  Did he break the law of the land to uphold the higher law of Christ?
    • To the weak he became weak.  Did he starve his body? Did he not use his intellect? Did he speak differently?
  • I think this is more about going where they go, doing what they do (to an extent) to show openness to understanding their life.


Isn’t it about relationship?

My grandparents were culturally relevant to me, not because they dressed like me, drove like me, used technology or spoke like me (other than mother tongue) no, it was mainly because I was important to them and they were important to me. We were connected relationally. They loved me because they chose to, and I spent time with them because I loved them… I wonder then isn’t that how to be culturally relevant?  Finding things in people who are different to you that are similar enough that you can connect with them?   Isn’t that how we show them we love them?

When we need people, don’t they feel good?  We can love endlessly, but if we don’t actually care about the needs of the people we are loving, if we don’t need their love and care and interest in return, then it’s NOT a relationship, its a project or a work.  It always bugs me when I see people in caring professions talk intimately to their other colleagues over the person in their care.  It always makes me feel desperately sorry for the ignored PERSON that is right there.  I understand that it’s easier to talk to those you have relationships with, but that’s exactly my point… if we build relationships with people, not just ‘ministries’, aren’t we then able to meet that other side of wanting in us (and them) to be needed?  I wonder how much easier it is to minister to someone’s lack of self worth when they see that we need them?  How much more loved someone feels when we seek out their friendship to support us?  How much more part of the kingdom of God they feel when we include them in shaping our plans and dreams?

So what Culture is important?

I don’t yet know then whether the extremes of inexclusivity of some of the emergent folks or the ultra tolerance and inclusiveness of the Shane Clairbourne’s of this world demonstrate is something I can identify with, though there’s a massive way to go from where I am today towards their world/kingdom view that I’m somewhat embarrassed by the faltering steps I’ve taken so far… But I’m reasonably certain that our task is to bring the culture of heaven, the kingdom of heaven down to man.  I don’t think this means counting people who have not chosen Christ as ‘included in His book of life’, but it does mean expressing Christ’s love to them, loving them with my heart and actions, because their life depends on it.

If you have thoughts or comments about this, PLEASE COMMENT, because I’m thinking this through.  If you’re going to be at the everything conference tomorrow and you bump into me, say hi and tell me what you think BECAUSE I WANT TO KNOW.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Effect of Budget on church giving


  • All donations up to £5000 can be eligible for gift aid without forms being completed.
  • Gift aid forms will be moved to being done ‘online’ in the future..


Details to follow from the budget report…

Charitable Giving:

1.137 The Government wants to encourage charitable giving and philanthropy and to support the voluntary sector.

1.138 Building on the 10 point action plan for philanthropy, the Government will encourage giving by the wealthiest by:

  • reducing the rate of inheritance tax by 10% for those estates leaving 10% or more to charity, from a rate of 40per cent to 36 per cent. This will reduce the cost of giving to charity through bequests. The relief is designed to that the benefit of the tax saving is reflected in the bequests received by charities and not in payments to other beneficiaries;
  • increasing the Gift Aid benefit limit from £500 – to £2500 from April 2011 to enable charities to give ‘thank you’ gifts to recognise the generosity of significant donors; and
  • consulting on proposals to encourage donations of pre-eminent works of art or historical objects to the nation in return for a tax reduction.

1.139 Building on the Giving Green Paper, this budget will support the voluntary sector by:

  • reducing bureaucracy for charities through the introduction of a new system of online filing which will bring Gift Aid into the 21st Century; and
  • introducing a Gift Aid small donations scheme. This will allow charities to claim Gift Aid on up to £5,000 of small donations per year without the need for Gift Aid declarations.

1.140  The Government will also explore how to increase the take up of Payroll Giving, which allows individuals to five through their pay and reduce their income tax bills.

How do you read controversial books?

Thomas Stanley’s blog post has been twittered in the #lovewins stream because he suggests 5 tips for reading controversial books, and Rob Bell’s Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived specifically.  You can read his post here.

His five points are:
  1. Chew the meat, spit the bones
  2. Don’t discount the 2000 years of thought
  3. Don’t believe it just because it’s Rob Bell. Don’t ignore it just because it’s Rob Bell
  4. Use this book as an opportunity to deepen your perspective on this issue
  5. Consider the larger perspective
I read the list yesterday and felt uneasy about it… but couldn’t quite figure out why… having had time to sleep and reflect, here’s some thoughts…
Assume for a moment that there was no controversy surrounding Bell's book, should the advice be the same?  I think it wouldn’t be and here’s why.

1) It’s the Holy Spirit’s Job to illuminate truth

What is the role of the Holy Spirit here?  If we approach a book simply with a subjective 'take what is good' approach, aren't we in danger of doing that with the Bible too?  wouldn’t the net effect be that the things we find difficult to understand/apply we would simply reject?
And how is someone to know what is good and what isn't?  Imagine for a moment that we're talking about a book on occultic practices. Now imagine that as part of that book there was a chapter on meditation and centering, which got you to breathe in a certain way, and open your mind to the possibility that what you know is real, isn't and that the consequence of spending time in this state would be a greater appreciation for your fellow man. Now image that book had been given to everyone in your christian community. Can you still take what is good?

2) Major Doctrines have been debated and decided already

Church history is littered with theological branches right back to 4AD.  There is some academic interest in reviewing the what and why's of these arguments, but isn't it preferable to start from a thorough knowledge of what is established doctine/statement of faith now?  Since Bell doesn't paint one, it's difficult to reflect backwards.  What the church suffers from is clarity of belief expressed in communicable action.

3) It’s the narrow gate that leads to life

I mainly agree here, but what concerns me isn’t that Rob Bell wrote this, it’s what it says or doesn’t say.    We don’t need more skeptics, we need more believers.. who can clearly communicate the loving Gospel.

4) Perspective isn’t it… it’s what you believe that matters.

  • Scientific research suggests you start with a hypothesis which you rigorously try to disprove. Only when you can't disprove it do you consider it can be true and try to confirm it.  If you can both not disprove it, and reproducibly prove it, the probability of it being true increases.  
  • Christian research however starts with a belief. That belief is by faith, built on your understanding of the bible, illuminated by the spirit, and experienced through relationship with the risen Christ.  
While we can approach some validations of scriptural truth scientifically, the key element required for ‘belief’ is faith. Faith needs to be built on what is dependable.  Perspective isn’t faith.

5) Perspective of what?

We can change the actions of christian culture where we have become lax in applying sound biblical doctrine. Certainly I could agree [with Bell] that we should be more loving and more serving in our dealings with people, and certainly less closed off to the world..  But when we’re talking about christian culture aren’t we really talking about ‘what the kingdom of God looks like?’  In that regard, shouldn’t that be based on dependable truth?  Such as we all have sinned, we all deserve punishment, that punishment is total permanent separation from God, But Christ who was fully God, fully perfect, took on himself the penalty of sin for us all as the sacrificial, substitutionary, atonement. In taking the punishment, He defeated death and enabled a restoration of relationship with God which, if we respond to his forgiveness, justice and mercy, enables us to enjoy that relationship with Him forever?  Isn’t that the Gospel that nearly all of us subscribe to who call ourselves part of the kingdom of God?  And isn’t it from that understanding that our hearts and our actions are compelled to live differently (if imperfectly)?  
Finally, I would not encourage new Christians to read any book that is not consistent with mainstream christianity and to be read ‘within’ the context of membership within a church community. There is a place and time for debate around issues and it's important to have that debate, but movement leaders need to be clear to be giving direction, straight answers to questions and being crystal clear on beliefs and conclusions.   The apostle Paul encourages us to 'have a reason for the hope we profess' and this reason shouldn't come from what you've read from Bell, McClaren, Piper, Keller, or the Daily Planet but should come from the Bible, illuminated by the Spirit.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Growing old and growing up

My eldest daughter recently turned 17, and with it came an appeal to learn to drive a 4 wheeled motor vehicle instead of the two wheeled one which has served valiantly for the last 6 months.

Several things struck me instantly with this request which for her sake I won’t elaborate here, but along with the now substantial cost, the increase in my grey hair and the peril I might be unleashing on the unsuspecting motorist I have to consider what the overiding principle is.

What I mean is…    Parents have to be faithful with the small, so that they may be entrusted with the large. 

In many ways our families are the first small God entrusts us with. He’s looking to see that we are responsive, pre-emptive, forgiving, restoring, nurturing, compassionate, instructive, supportive, enriching, encouraging, consistent, loving, trusting, resourcing, valuing and sacrificial for those in our care… and that means today I’ve added her to our insurance policy for our Nissan Micra.  I’ll skip over the moan about the insurance now costing 4x what the car is worth, and the secondary moan about the EU removing the benefit to my three daughters insurance (which may have offset some of the cost their eventual weddings may have cost me, !!) and just enjoy that I am coming towards the end of the sustained input into one of my fledglings. 

Perhaps then as I watch my daughter grow up, maybe I too am doing more than just growing old?

Friday, 18 March 2011

Which Supermarket is the most ‘ethical’


Last Sunday I was in Southampton and I heard a compelling argument for why Christians needed to be concerned with ethical practices of the stores they used.  Now I’m not hippie (though it’s true I drive a 73 VW camper van), and considerations of where we buy our food, clothes and products for a family of 6 has usually come down to ‘where is the cheapest’. 

On that Sunday, I heard the suggestion that Tesco and Asda (Walmart) were amongst the least ethical, and in my own internet research I’ve had to look hard to find ethical claims or policies for other supermarkets. (even before you get into looking at the issue of large supermarkets killing off town centres, reducing overall employment and pricing little local guys and convenience stores out of business.)

For the preacher, the overriding principle (or golden rule) that we should look at when determining our purchasing is:  Matthew 7:12 (ESV)

12"So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

at first glance this doesn’t seem to be relevant to the discussion until you see what the effects are of shopping in a place known to use exploitative labour.  The net effect is that I’m saying it’s OK to exploit child labour, underpaid labour, stupidly long manual labour so that I can have produce at a cost I want to pay… and given the above, I therefore acknowledge that I want to be exploited so someone else can have what they want at the price they want…  - see the problem?

Three things have begun to concern me (and I must confess at this point, I’m at the beginning of a journey, not anywhere near to reaching fully actionable conclusions across the board)…

  1. Purchasing locally, from local producers ensures a local economy, local jobs, and fewer miles travelled (carbon footprint) why then do I (or any of us) need to purchase items that have travelled hundreds if not thousands of miles and have had to be covered in chemicals to keep them ‘fresh’.   But where I struggle here is that even though the conditions may be squallid and I wouldn’t ‘choose’ to work in them, in an environment where there is such mass poverty and very few jobs am I hurting them all the more by not buying the produce that is bought?  Certainly the effect on the ‘chain’ from UK is very likely to be nil by the inclusion or exclusion of my money, so I will also need to look at what I can do to work positively in the local regions of the food producers.  It really isn’t as simple as boycotting something and promoting something else.
  2. What I’ve NOT seen to date is Supermarkets INVESTING in production environments to enable reductions of production costs.  So for supermarkets to be able to undercut other providers either means they,
    • have to carry an item at a loss,
    • have to squeeze the producer for the lowest possible cost,
    • use unscrupulous methods to produce, transport and provision items for our consumption. 
  3. I am stinking rich compared to any folk in the developing world. I have stuff, far more stuff than I need and far more than I use. I am wasteful and materialistic, my surroundings are deferentially comfortable but not basic, I have more electronics than required to do my job.  I don’t turn things off to save power, I don’t consider walking much instead of driving and I’ve rarely thought about the effect on people other than those that I can see in the way I’ve chosen to live my life.

There may be all sorts of objections to what I’m concerned about, some legitimate, some just belly aching that perhaps we might have to examine another area of how we live… and it’s certainly easy for me to come up with objections of why this is not a current priority for me, and why it needn’t be for the church of God.

What struck me though in my own reflections on this, is the following 2 verses in Matthew 7

13 Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few”.

I don’t want to infer that because the doors of Tesco (say) are wide they are the route to destruction… but just because a lot of people travel through them, doesn’t make it right.

So what am I doing about it?

  • Food: Francine and I are discussing changing our food shopping habits.  This is painful for us because while there are two supermarkets that have ethical policies that seem very much on the right lines (co-op and Morrisons) neither deliver, which means that there is a cost right there to Francine in how we do shopping and how much time and effort it is going to make (Francine is not a woman that enjoys shopping!)  it is also going to mean that we will have to drive to a supermarket/town to get items that we would have had delivered and shared the cost of delivery with the other shoppers on our round… so there’s an actual cost…   and then there’s the inconvenience of having to get used to a whole new shopping place/items and costs… at best these will be opportunity costs, but I suspect there will also be some real cash costs to this too.
    • What I’m finding particularly hard to work out is if the situation for any supermarkets has actually changed.. – I’ve read articles like this one that suggest that Tesco is being forced to review it’s policies, but that was 2007. Connecting the dots and finding out what the position is now, is very hard.
    • At the moment I have no idea what this means to the budget for NEWDAY when we will be food shopping daily for around 80 people… Do I have a right or a responsibility to enforce ethical shopping on everyone else?  Especially when several of those people will be ones who can ill afford any increase in cost.  A thorny question indeed..
  • Clothing: With very few exceptions I’ve been happy to buy my shoes from ebay and my clothes from Tesco. I’ve even bought things from Primark. I have looked in charity shops and have bought the odd ‘for best’ item for weddings or events from more expensive shops.   I will have to review where I can shop, and make more ethical choices…   I’m not sure if there are resources I can find to help me..  seems to me I could be making more ‘expensive’ mistakes, and I’d hate for those to go to the hands of business leaders rather than to the hands of manufacturers labourers where families would be fed.
  • Banking: We’ve been making use of a one account.  This has enabled us to increase cash flow, which in turn has enabled us to be generous with giving.   I have no idea at this point how ethically each bank is run (and whether that ethicalness is limited to retail or investment sectors, or whether that should matter.  What I am certain of, is that if we need to move banks and ergo the mortgage that’s gonna cost us.
  • Environment:  How we treat the planet is not a hippie notion, and my current selfish view of ‘the effects are unlikely to be significant for hundreds of years – assuming there are effects that we control’ just isn’t gonna cut it.  I’m going to have to consider if it is justifiable to work 100 miles away from home and whether the transport I use to get to there is protecting the environment I would want to inherit if I was to be born in 300 years time.  I need to consider the damage I’m doing by what I consume and what I throw away.   This is a big area to think about, and it’s gonna take some time to research it.

I’m sure there are going to be other things I need to consider.. but it’s a start, no?

Here are some resources I’ve pulled together which might help anyone else thinking of starting off down this road

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Another battle of the mind

It can be frustrating attempting to lose weight especially when, like me, you have a lot to lose.  As an attempt to fix what seems like endless fatigue following unrefreshing sleep, I have embarked upon yet another diet and exercise regime [recommended by my medical practitioners] that is intended to bring my weight from “morbidly” obese into obese and increase my fitness from sedentary to mobile [and what I hope will be Marathon running ready before I’m 40!]

Having tried to comply with previous food regimes (and alcohol consumption) in the past without much gumption and then hardly surprisingly little success or change in my condition, I am finding that having attainable goals [London Marathon 2012] coupled with my desperation to fix this debilitation has produced an extraordinary level of commitment to the ‘program’ which has resulted in seeing a daily reduction of at least a Lb and sometimes two!

My overall calorie count is now between 1500 and 2000 a day and I am doing fat burning exercise which is reminding my body that I have legs, a stomach and arms, (all of which have slight aches and pains to remind me of effort undertaken in previous days).  My wife has joined me in the ‘plan’ (though I can’t imagine for a second the thought of running with me in the Marathon is anything she wants to entertain) and I have made my food, sleep, exercise and weight information fully accountable to her using a website ( tool.

All good stuff.

Then today, mysteriously, for no good reason that I can see, I haven’t lost any additional weight.  I can imagine that 2 weeks in, this is exactly the same sort of thing that happens to people on diets and when they throw all caution to the wind, get cross and go back to doing what they did before… I find myself getting cross at the lack of progress, but I KNOW that I’m making progress towards my goals. SO I MUST NOT GIVE IN.  Shortly I’m going for my second run (walk, run, walk, run a bit more, walk to near my house, run the last bit) with the hope that I run more of it and walk less.  It’s only a 1 mile circuit, yet for me it’s an enormous task, a long way from my teenage years where I ran a marathon a day to run from London to Lancaster for ActionAid.

It reminds me that the battle for the mind is a daily, sometimes hourly requirement. We must not give in to the temptations and fightback that occurs when we choose to follow the way.  There will be days when it is a delight to work hard and find ready success (losing weight) and days when you do the same things and success does not come so readily. (not losing any weight). 

Discernment is in knowing when you need to change what you’re doing to find success and when you need to persist in what you’re doing to find breakthrough

I also need to ensure that I do not give myself to worrying over what I did or didn’t do differently, but instead focus on living right today. Continuing to account for everything that goes into my mouth and everything that I do with my body.

I’m taking some leave today, so that I can go to a regional meeting on Social action. it’ll be sitting down most of the time either travelling or listening. There’s higher risk of eating biscuits or cake – just because it’s there – and less opportunity to be as active. 

Taking leave from your activity does not justify taking leave from the plan.

No more than taking a holiday enables you to turn off being a Christian and please yourself. We are ALWAYS working for the kingdom of God even when we are rest, and we should still look to serve God and each other in what we call ‘our’ time off.

So I’m off now for my run, and whilst I pound the street I shall remind myself of possibly the best running song I know…

Be bold, be strong, for the Lord your God is with you.
Be bold, be strong, for the Lord your God is with you.
I am not afraid [No, NO!, NO!!]

I am not dismayed [Not me!]

Because I’m walking in faith and victory,
Come on and walk in faith and victory
For the Lord, your God, is with you.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Rob Bell says he isn’t a universalist, but….

If you haven’t yet checked out the Rob Bell interview on MSNBC with Martin Bashir, questioning just exactly what Rob is saying in his new book, please do check it out..


I’m not going to comment further, check out what he says for yourself.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Is there a problem with how we argue the sanctity of life?

"... [In their attempt] to thwart the abortion movement many well-meaning Christians unintentionally exalt man by declaring him to be of infinite worth. Abortion should not be fought on the basis that killing a human being is wrong because he or she is so valuable, but on the basis that, when a child bearing God's image is slaughtered, it is God who is attacked because that child bears His image. If you tear up a picture of my wife, you'll have me to answer to -- not because of the intrinsic worth or value of the paper and print that you destroyed, but because you have insulted my wife. An attack on the image of God is serious, not because of man's supposed great worth, but because of the One whose image he reflects" (Dr. Jay E. Adams, A Call to Discernment, pp. 18-19).

Dr Adams’ argument seems to be directed as an “offence to God” and I must admit I just never thought of it that way, but isn’t that the reason like murder that it’s so abhorent?

  • Does this, should this, affect how we determine to minister to women (and men!) who are faced with an unplanned pregnancy?
  • If we don’t discuss the impact of potential actions from a biblical perspective, won’t someone who later comes to faith say ‘when I had an abortion no-one told me I was offending the Father?
  • Are we perhaps guilty of only attempting to provide sympathy and understanding with no attempt to be biblical and direct?

I’m not sure I have any answers here… I’d be interested in peoples comments…

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Rob Bell, Theology & the battle for mindshare

I'm inclined to agree with Phil Whittle that trajectory isn't necessarily the best marker for indicating what most of us believe – given that far too many of us (me included) are far too influenced by the thoughts of others and not our own carefully thought out, researched position guided by the Holy Spirit?… but shouldn't leaders, particularly ones with lots of followers be especially careful to be consistent?

I think it's helpful for Rob Bell to ask questions about what we believe and why we believe it, as much as it is for all of us to have answers for the hope we profess, and if it drives our church leaders to be more explicit on areas of theology especially ones that we are generally quiet about, then it's net effect can only be good for our congregations too...

But I also have some regard to Matt Hosier’s understanding of trajectory. Mark Driscoll suggests that he wouldn't have some people in his pulpit, because he sees that a principle responsibility of a shepherd is to 'protect' the flock. In that regard I too don't encourage the use of Rob Bell material in our congregation and would be cautious in who I encourage to use or read his material because the conclusions that I draw from his teaching to date do lead to spirituality over relationship and ultimately universalism.

One final thought. There are hundreds of pages written everyday that tout theologies that are different to mine. We don’t generally come into contact with them regularly and neither do our congregations.  Perhaps, in giving media space to Rob Bell’s forthcoming book, we are giving it prominence that might give reason for some to select his book to see what the fuss is all about.  In that regard, maybe we are just as guilty of causing others to stumble?

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Big juggernauts or tacking ships

There’s a bit of a circular loop bumbling around my head about the optimal size for church bodies.

With a 100 people:

you can usually form all the core components of church life, have project ministries to your neighbourhoods, have enough finance to support one or two paid staff and have sufficient equipment and skilled personnel for bands, children’s work and preaching.

With 400+ people:

the resources gathered can do significantly more, meetings have a different feel, multiple projects can be established, maintained and (crucially) passed on to another continuing the work.  There’s finance for more paid staff (including administrative) and the reach of the church can be a great deal further than the more local 100.

With 1000+:

places to gather are very constrictive and relationally connected groups are needed to create oneness.  Communication and participation can become almost solely front led, or led by department heads but the ability to launch something, staff it, resource it and deliver it becomes easily attainable. Undoubtedly the reach is further than with 100 people, is it more or less than 10x? I don’t know.  When a church body approaches 1% to 2% of a geographic location’s population the church voice can start to be heard (along side it’s actions) and the ability to shape policy and highlight social change becomes dramatically easier.

Here’s the questions:

A church body aspiring to be 100 will rarely reach bigger than 100.  - Is that such a bad thing if the contribution on the ground is effective, localised and well regarded?  - Should a key metric of effectiveness ALWAYS be numerical growth?  Is it more likely that we can build many churches of 100 or so, and that we need to work more strategically together to accomplish more, rather than building mega churches?

Moving from 100 – 400 (via the inevitable 200) is a challenge.. the processes and communication methods that can work with 100, don’t work as successfully with 200, and worse with 400. Email discussions become a nightmare with more than 3 people in them, and planning meetings (and meetings in general) seem to need to increase to get anything done.   Does relationship suffer in this process? Does the output from church life become projectised rather than loving?  is there a propensity to carry more passengers than activists?  Are the 100+ leaders the same as 400+ leaders?

Foundationally, should our church communities have bigger numbers in mind than the next numerical growth target?  for instance, is it ludicrous to act like a church of 1000 when you only have 60 people? Does there need to be consensus in the minds of leadership teams and department heads that we’re going for numerical growth, and what that growth looks like?  How do we ensure that economics are geared around how we serve, not maintaining buildings or other assets?  How does vision change as size increases?

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Marriage prep

Mark Driscoll posted a very interesting tweet/Facebook post, which I’ll have to repeat here because I haven’t figured out how to link to it…   He said:

“You want to get married? You’re gonna have to go through a premarital process, declare all your sexual sin and history, submit to spiritual authority, and someone may tell you no. And you have to be okay with that because getting married is easy and fifty years of joy is hard.

Our understanding of what marriage is is formed from observation of our parents and tv.  For Christians it's important to look again at what marriage is from a biblical perspective. - so I'm in favour of some form of marriage prep here’s why…

Many who marry are barely honest with themselves, let alone with each other because insecurities prevent getting past 'if I tell them this, will they still love me'... marriages are stronger when hidden actions, addictions, baggage and sin is dealt with... because whatever is not dealt with is right there in the foundations of the relationship too and will have an effect until it is dealt with.

We are all discipled all the time in some way or another (either by intent or passively). The wise among us, seek out the guidance of those who are ahead of us (in the direction we want to travel) and follow it.  I see no reasons that marriage should be excluded from this, and in that regard I would assume support would be an ongoing process, not a course, checklist or exam to be passed. Evaluating if everyone is on the same page, can give a new marriage a really good supported start.  We must remember that we’re not called to private lives, but to public ones and I for one (having failed at my first marriage) am tired of the many reports of failed marriages in church/christian circles.  The tide has to change here, and being intentional about supporting this key stage of development and decision making may make a great deal of difference to it’s success.

One caveat is:

Leaders have to be careful not to (for all the right reasons) heavily shepherd people, but they should (like parents for their children) contend for the way which leads to righteousness.  They can help people to discover 'conviction' or 'calling' from 'idealism' or 'imagination', but the marriage threesome is Man, Woman and God, not Man, Woman and Church.  BUT the church family have the privilege to encourage and support any person, persons, couples and families in the context of journeying together, and being salt and light, and I would hope that would include lovingly asking questions and responsibly leading towards Christ.