So We’re Unmarried but Living Together—What’s the Big Deal?

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How do we counsel those for whom cohabitation is the expected norm?

Cohabitation is increasing and becoming more widely accepted as an alternative to marriage, with the result that marriage is being delayed or disregarded altogether.

Cohabitation is here to stay. How do we counsel those for whom cohabitation is the expected norm?

If you are a pastor, counselor or church leader, you will increasingly encounter unmarried couples who are living together.

Many cohabiting couples are not actively part of a church community. They might attend church service, but have minimal involvement outside of that.

Counseling such couples is an important opportunity to help get them involved in church community and service. As they begin to make friends and receive support in preparing for life and marriage now, it prepares them for helping others in the future.

Counsel each couple on an individual basis instead of trying a one-size-fits-all approach. All cohabiting couples have unique situations they are facing.

However, most will fall into one of three general categories:

1. Willful couples care little about what pastors say because they have a low view of Scripture and the authority of the church. They usually claim to be Christians and will tell us their Christian parents and friends are fine with their lifestyle. They often ask to be shown a verse that says they can’t live together. They need to be taught about God’s design for marriage in Scripture.

2. Stuck couples know it is sinful and wrong to be living together, but feel trapped and ashamed. Most of these couples want to make changes, but need support, encouragement and a plan to act upon.

3. Unaware couples have never heard the biblical view and once they do, they want to change. They are soft to Scripture and want to be led. They are quite often either not yet Christians or very young in the faith. Often, they are in difficult living situations in which separation won’t be helpful or practical (for example, they own a house together, are raising kids together, or are new to the city with no family or friends). They need prayerful help crafting a plan, ongoing counseling and care from the church.

A Biblical Approach.

As church leaders, it is easy to fall into one of two extremes. We either ignore the fact that couples are living together and do nothing, or we heavy-handedly refuse to serve them at all, imposing rules upon them that don’t lead to conviction or changed hearts.

We must fight the temptation of these extremes and instead stay on the road of grace and truth.

Phil Smidt Pastor Phil Smidt is the Biblical Living Pastor at Mars Hill Church Ballard, just outside of Seattle, WA. His particular area of focus is teaching and counseling engaged and married couples, however he has the privilege of leading the counseling and Redemption Group ministry at the Ballard church. Phil and his wife Nancy have been members at Mars Hill Church since its inception in 1996. They have 3 children together.

More from Phil Smidt or visit Phil at http://marshill.com/pastors/phil-smidt

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