In his sermon last Sunday, a pastor in Texas challenged cohabiting couples to choose one of three options: break up, get married, or date without living together. Bryan Carter, who is the senior pastor of Concord Church in Dallas, said that the church will pay for the weddings of those who want to get married and also pay one month’s rent for those who decide not to marry.
“The Gospel is redemptive,” said Carter, according to Faithwire. “The Gospel never leaves us where we are; the Gospel brings about restoration and change in our lives and we believe that, as the church, that’s what we do.”
The Carters’ Story
The issue of cohabitation is one that is personal to Pastor Carter and his wife, Lady Stephanie Carter. Before Pastor Carter began his sermon, he and his wife shared that they lived together for a period of time while they were engaged. They didn’t deliberately set out to cohabit, but ended up in that situation when Pastor Carter got kicked out of his house. When that happened, he showed up on his future wife’s doorstep and simply stayed. At the time, he was a preacher and an assistant pastor. How did she feel about him moving in?
Lady Carter knew it was wrong, but admitted, “I’d be lying in church if I said I was not super excited.” The Carters didn’t say how long they lived together, but the pastor said there were two reasons why he finally moved out. One was they had struggled with purity while dating and were trying to do better. But the second reason was that Pastor Carter’s brother offered to pay the first month’s rent when Pastor Carter moved out. Said the pastor, “That really was a game changer for us.” They were in a tough situation, and having help enabled them to get out of it.
The sermon on cohabitation is actually one Pastor Carter gives every few years. Since he began challenging people to stop living together, close to 60 couples have gotten married. He began his sermon by defining cohabiting as, “Two unmarried adults living together having a sexual relationship for a period of at least one day.” “One day” is in the definition, explained Pastor Carter, because most people don’t intentionally decide to live together. They just sort of “slide” into it. Living together might last a while, Pastor Carter said, but it starts with one day.
He then elaborated on five myths people use to justify cohabitation, after which he issued his call to action. You can see an outline of the sermon below:
— Bryan Carter (@mrbryanlcarter) May 23, 2019
How People Are Responding
Pastor Carter told Faithwire that cohabitation has “been an ongoing issue at the church and in the community.” If couples choose to get married, the church will not only pay for everything that a wedding entails, such as the dress, tuxedos, rings, etc., but will also provide 90 days of marriage counseling. Pastor Carter says he’s aware that marriage might not be the best decision for all couples, which is part of the reason why the church requires marriage-minded couples to take premarital counseling.
So far 25 couples have taken the church up on the offer of a free wedding, some have moved out, and some have even accepted Jesus.
Thanks for your encouragement in our work with cohabiting couples. So far, 25 couples have accepted the opportunity for a free wedding, 4 desire to move out and 4 accepted Christ. Each receives 11 weeks of counseling. We believe the church is a place for restoration!!
— Bryan Carter (@mrbryanlcarter) May 22, 2019
People’s response to the challenge has been positive, with many saying how encouraging it is to see a church not only asking people to meet a higher standard but also walking alongside them as they do.
— T Douglas Sherman (@TDougSherman) May 20, 2019
One woman said, “Just found it so inspiring as often people are told how they should live but you are showing such generosity to support couples in making these changes.”
Some commented that their churches couldn’t do something similar because they don’t have the resources to offer free weddings or pay for people’s rent. Pastor Carter responded, “Definitely understand but members often sponsor couples to cover costs and local businesses have also partnered.” He added that church members can help in various ways, such as with wedding planning or by doing makeup.
Pastor Carter also noted that his church is not trying to force anyone to do anything: “It wasn’t an ultimatum but we hosted a meeting after service for anyone that wanted to take one of these paths. It was completely voluntary. We’ve discovered people need help and we just wanted to be available.”
The whole point, said Pastor Carter in his sermon, is to help people honor the Lord and experience the flourishing that comes when they obey Him:
“Our goal is to give you a pathway into honoring God in your relationship. The church is not just about calling up where we’re short. The church is also a place where you can find hope and healing and restoration and redemption for wherever you might be in your life.”