One of those tasks assigned to a pastor is "to give counsel to those about to be married." It is not my favorite task. (In my ranking of likes and dislikes, it comes way down on the list, between "write a lengthy report that your bishop won't bother to read," and "try to keep your members happy so they won't abandon you for the cool church across town.")
I'm all in favor of people getting married and living happily ever after. But premarital counseling has little to do with eternal happiness. Engaged couples are boring to be around. Give me a squabbling silver anniversary couple any time: much more interesting!
And just as I am not interested in being around engaged couples, they hardly want to be around me. "Spend quality time with your pastor" is not on their "to do" list. And before you scold me, answer this: when was the last time YOU tried wedge yourself into a relationship with a couple who were lustily in love?
The idea of "pre-marital" counseling originated in an age when couples supposedly had nowhere to turn if they wanted to learn about sex, finances, in-laws, communication, and conflict resolution. But this need is no longer pressing. With such inventions as the internet...books...and the back of the school bus, well..., couples are no longer in the dark about these marital matters. The pastor/teacher is superfluous. Plus, we all know that you can only teach people who are in a "teachable moment." Couples in starry-eyed love with each other are hardly in what we call "a teachable moment."
I performed my first weddings when I was 19, five years before I got married myself. What did I know? As a teacher of engaged couples, I was a joke. Even now, as my wife watches me head off for the church to give pre-marital counseling to engaged couples, she is wondering,
"What does he know?"
my pre-marital counselling is totally devoid of advice. I spend the time, instead, helping the happy couple explore their own personalities. Most of us don't thoroughly analyze our personalities...or the personalities of those closest to us. We have some ideas, some theories, or some generalizations. And maybe we've taken a test or two (like the Myers-Briggs,) but most have seldom gained understanding about how personalities mix and match, especially in a marriage.
I do a self-designed seminar with couples based on a theory I learned 20 years ago, "The Thomas Concept." According to this theory, a person can have one of eight personality types. When I took the original seminar, it turned out that I am a type 4. The leader said that a type 4 makes for a terrible pastor. Churches never want a type 4; too aloof, individualistic and weird. In order to be successful as a pastor, a #4 has to NOT be himself (or herself.)
By the time I took this workshop, in order to survive as a pastor, I had been "not being myself" for 25 years. No wonder I spent every week looking at the job ads in the newspaper.
The leader of the seminar suggested I start spending only
half my time "not being myself" and the other half of my time actually "being myself." That was when I started writing this Sunday letter, and other stuff. And I've been much happier in the ministry the past two decades.
I've taken other personality tests as well. My Chinese friends exposed me to the "four color" personality test. It was decided that I am a "yellow." This is because I am optimistic, verbally articulate (in English, not Chinese,) and most happy when helping others (albeit not being controlled by them.) Jie, on the other hand, is a "red," a personality "most happy when controlling others." Someone should have told us that before we got married, but as pointed out above, we were not open to a teachable moment, at that time.
My daughters gave me another color test, and in that one I was "indigo." I had to open a box of 96 crayons to see what indigo looked like. According to this test, I am extremely inquisitive; enjoy spending time alone; am creative, independent, aloof and observant. I am supposedly aware of things about others that they often don't notice themselves. Unfortunately, indigo also indicates a personality that is stubborn, self-righteous, and eccentric.
My friends at Holy Wisdom Monastery exposed me to the Enneagram. They reckoned me to be an eight on the Enneagram circle. I'm not sure yet if that means they think I'm direct, loyal, protective, and earthy...or if they think of me as rebellious, arrogant, and combative. Probably "all of the above": the monastery is a truthful and merciful place.
And in the world of Myers-Briggs, I'm an I-N-T-P. (Introvert, Intuitive, Thinking, Perceiving.) Humor, intellectual stimulation, and mutuality are a part of this personality. So is impatience with that imperceptible sliver of the population that is a stupid. I think the book also mentioned sarcasm as a possible trait of INTP.
Or...we could just go back to the ancient Greek approach to personality: fluids in the body. The old Greeks believed that personality stemmed from the amount and type of body fluids one possessed. I haven't studied this theory much, but it might just be the one that could capture the attention of those engaged couples. --Mike