The Apostle Paul develops a theology of lay ministry. This is most clearly seen in three specific passages. In Ephesians four verses ten through sixteen he lays out the foundation for the building of lay ministry. The apostles and prophets are (laid) the footers (doctrine) upon which the church stands. Evangelists are the materials gatherers (they ingather the people). The pastor-teachers are the superintendents (shepherds) and the journeymen who instruct the apprentices. In Romans twelve and I Corinthians twelve, Paul lists the distributive gift mix with which God has blessed the church. Scholars disagree as to whether these lists are exhaustive or illustrative. For our purposes here deciding which view is correct is not important. What is important is that God has put in place a system for the edification (building up) of the church. Into this system, good premarital preparation should tap.
What are the implications of Paul’s theology? Drawing upon some additional passages of Scripture, we can conclude at least three things: modeling, training, and discipleship.
The first is modeling. The importance of the marriage relationship of the prospective lay counselor/mentor couple cannot be under estimated. I was reading a book (which for our purposes can remain anonymous) in which the author used her working through her third divorce as an illustration with a couple with whom she was counseling. While a divorce in the history of a mentor couple does not necessarily disqualify them, their life in the current marriage must be an example of a godly marriage over a reasonable period of time. Mentor couples are ideally people whose lives are transparent, who have demonstrated their Christian faith in the manner in which they have conducted their relationship. Two passages of Scripture remind us of this reality. In Matthew 7:3-5 the Lord Jesus instructs us to remove the log from our own eye before attempting to remove the splinter from another’s eye. Paul, in I Timothy 3:4-5, stresses the fact that a leader who cannot properly manage his own home forfeits his authority to lead others.
The second is training. The need for a basic course in biblical counseling is primary. In our church we encourage but do not require the premarital counselors complete two semesters of basic training. One semester is the content framework and the second is a practicum. I have developed a program utilized in our church. However, we do recruit some couples for specialized training consisting of four two hour sessions. There are several organizations that today that produce useful training materials. Why is the type training essential? If you read through Three to Get Ready, it will become evident to you that many counseling issues may well arise in the process of premarital preparation. With this basic training in hand, the lay counselor/mentor couples will be able to lead the prospective couple through a biblical solution process.
Obviously, I would recommend using the program outlined in Three to Get Ready. The trainer will need to be become an expert on the instruments recommended in this program. He/she will need to train the lay counselor/mentor couples to properly use these instruments. Some of them may not become comfortable with one or more of these instruments. The trainer may need to see the couples for one or two sessions to accommodate these counselors. However, in such cases he/she should invite (encourage or require) the mentor couples to join in these sessions. Even if they do not become comfortable conducting these sessions, they will gain a greater understanding of the couple as well as the process that will deepen their understanding and broaden their abilities.