Crafting Better Wedding Sermons
We’ve all been there. A gorgeous wedding. Perfect day. Bride and groom look sparkling and splendid. Guests are enthusiastic. Wedding service goes off without a hitch. Then… the wedding sermon ruins everything.
It’s too long. It’s too preachy. It’s too generic. It’s too vague. It’s too specific. It’s too cringe-inducing. It’s frankly just soooo boring.
Now it is a wedding so out of politeness, people will put up with it. But chances are there are a large number of unchurched in the congregation as well. And their impressions of the church, your church, and especially the preached Word can be seriously damaged by that one bad wedding sermon.
So what do we do as preachers?
Well, I don’t have all the solutions. But I did have an excellent mentor when it came to teaching me how to craft better wedding sermons. My MTS trainer Dominic Steele of Village Church Annandale and Christians in the Media preached at our wedding in 2000, and since my very first wedding sermon in 2005 (I’m now up to sermon #24 this weekend), I’ve been rigorously applying his ‘formula’.
So maybe it’s time to share what I’ve learnt in the hope that it would improve this very important public ministry of our churches.
- Keep it short. A wedding sermon should be no more than 15 mins (Dominic went for under 10 mins at my wedding!). No matter how accommodating the bride and groom are (or even if they request a full 30 min sermon), resist the temptation to go for more than 15 mins. No matter what you tell yourself, no one’s interested in anything longer.
- Be realistic about your aims. Your aim is not to exegete a passage or lay-out Two Ways To Live. A more realistic aim would be to plant a gospel-seed in the hearts of unbelievers there, or perhaps give a glimpse of God’s wonderful blueprint for marriage, or maybe even both. But whatever it is, be modest in your aims.
- Be winsome, humorous, and don’t be preachy. Treat it like an evangelistic sermon that you’ve been invited to speak at. Don’t take audience interest for granted. Help them ‘get aboard’ the train before you go on your sermonic journey.
- Try and steer clear of Ephesians 5 and 1 Peter 3 Biblical submission passages. It’s not that we don’t believe them or are shy about standing up for male-headship in the home. However with a 15 min wedding sermon with lots of unbelievers and believers from all walks of life present, you have to cover a lot of ground to make sure people see these passages as God intends. You are fighting a defensive battle from the get-go from the moment these passages are read aloud. I’ve preached wedding sermons on them, but I strongly prefer not to.
- Choose instead a passage that highlights marriage themes such as love, grace, commitment etc. It’ll also be easy to then take that nugget of an idea and relate it to the gospel. And of course it means that we must…
- Preach the gospel. Regardless of what your other aims are, the wedding is an excellent opportunity to speak about Jesus and plant that ‘gospel-seed’ in people’s hearts.
- Personalise the wedding sermon around the couple’s courtship and relationship. This is the most important thing I learnt from Dominic. I find out as much about the couple’s courtship as I can, especially details like first impressions, how they first starting dating, funny stories, engagement stories, how they’re different etc. Then I weave their story into the main idea of the Bible passage and use their story as an extended introduction to the idea of the passage. This is quite a lot of work, especially initially. I do it via email. I ask the couple the same set of questions and get them to email me back detailed answers separately (it’s more fun if they don’t show one another). Then I do the hard work of integrating the relevant bits into the sermon. Sure it’s more time and effort, but I see it as my personalised gift to the newlyweds. Also be assured that you’ll have all of the congregation still with you when you bring their attention to how this story (of the couple) relates to a bigger story (of the gospel).
- Did I mention, keep it short?