I was a horrible dater.
I put my poor now-husband through the RINGER. I broke him with him at least 27 times, after a long, emotionally-draining analysis about what was wrong, how could we fix it, sob-sob-sob.
He was such a good sport. He would listen, and nod and then (bless him) show up the next day like nothing happened.
For my part, I was tormented. Literally, tormented.
Was this right? Was there something better? Did God want this, or something different? Would I be a better match to someone else? What was God’s will? and blah blah blah.
Fortunately, I somehow managed to stay un-broken-up long enough to make it down the aisle. (Though, a wedding guest said, “You were shaking up there! My husband asked me if you were always that nervous.”) Ha.
This side of the wedding vows, things are simpler. Oh, I had my moments of freaking out. But eventually the fact steadied itself like a deep relief.
This is permanent.
We are in this together, and we’re not going anywhere, and this is how things will be.
It’s terrifying, sure, but it’s comforting, too, you know? I could finally turn the analyzing off.
It struck me recently – how many of us relate to Church in the same way as dating Jessica did.
I say “many of us,” and I include myself…I dated my church for way longer than I should have. Years ago, our church was dying.
A dying church is quite possibly one of the most awkward and painful sociological events one can experience. It was the recession, the church’s income dwindled. Several families moved, some left on principle. Each Sunday you could count the families in your head, and if one was gone, it was painful. We could hear ourselves sing and wondered if each Sunday…would this be the last?
I was so done.
I asked Todd if we should leave, could leave. Mr. Faithful (are you noticing a theme?) wasn’t ready to jump ship. And so I was present, but I wasn’t.
I am grateful for my husband’s guidance, because in the last almost-decade since then, I have seen the powerful benefits of staying with a church when you want to leave.
It’s rewarding. The friendships are real. And it’s a gift to not be in the church-analyzing, church-shopping mentality, and be free to focus on worship, and serving.
When your mind is in “shopping,” mode (whether for a pair of jeans, a husband or a church), you’re essentially selfish. That word has a negative connotation, but it’s needed as a shopper, right? Do these pants fit me? Do I like them? Do I already have some like it? How much can I spend?
And certainly, a part of church shopping just has to happen. Your first few Sundays in church you’re probably analyzing more than worshipping. And this, I think, is okay. We need to be discerning. We need to ask serious questions, demand serious answers.
We need to be members of good churches, and not all churches are good. (Sad, but true.)
But here’s the problem.
The same generation (mine) that shops, analyzes, evaluates, expects, demands, wants, scrutinizes everything else in life – it’s doing the same to churches.
And it’s never buying.
We live in a perpetual mode of evaluation and critique with church. We stay engaged long enough to make friends and get comfortable, and then when we get disappointed, we leave.
AND LET ME BE CLEAR – I’m not just talking about petty disappointments over nursery wall color. Some of us have experienced profound disappointments, disagreements, hurts, let-downs…it’s almost as if (but if couldn’t be?) people in the church are actual, awful sinners. Almost like that.
As the children’s ministry director now, what a gift to me are the people who have stopped dating and have married the church. It’s not that they don’t see the bad. They do. But they’re reaching to help instead of reaching for the door. They’re not analyzing; they’re serving. Simply put, it’s not about them.
Before I go any further, let’s address the elephant in the room. WHAT IF YOU REALLY DO NEED TO LEAVE A CHURCH?
Certainly there are valid reasons for leaving a local church and finding another one. WHAT IF YOU REALLY DO NEED TO LEAVE A CHURCH?
Forgive me for being blunt, but here it is.
Then do it.
Stop talking about it, stop thinking about it. The “shopping” mentality, like yawning, is contagious. Leave and find a new one if you feel you should.
But I offer this. At some point, the following WILL happen at your new church.
- The pastors will disappoint you.
- You will disagree with a decision.
- You will not “feel” “fed.”
- Another church will seem more fun, more holy, a more reasonable option for your family.
And you will be back to square one. Which, while we’re spelling it out, is this.
- Church isn’t for you.
- All people are sinful.
My 88-year-old Grammy moved down to live with my mom. I asked her recently, “How was church? Do you like your new church?”
She looked at me and laughed. “Like it? Ha! I don’t imagine it matters much whether I like it! We go to worship God!”
Oh. Right. There’s that.
So, like a 22-year-old nervously looking for Mr. Right, you take church membership seriously and do your BEST to find a good one. You find one committed to the Gospel, which holds unswervingly to the Scriptures as the Word of Life.
And then you say your vows and dive in.
If there’s conflict (there will be conflict), you don’t address it with your hand on the door. You work through it. You forgive. You learn how to love people you aren’t like, you don’t like.
Before I end this post, a few words for those of you who are stuck in less-than-ideal churches. Whether there’s just not a good one around, whether you’re ready to leave but your spouse is not.
- If you’re not “fed” at your church, you are in luck. Never before have we lived in such a prolific age for spiritual growth and education! If Sunday morning’s not “doing it” for you, read, read, read. Read John Piper, Chuck Colson, Francis Schaeffer, C.S. Lewis. Listen to podcasts! Listen to Tim Keller or Matt Chandler. If you put effort into finding truth, you will surely find it.
- And finally, love God’s people where you are. Do not give up meeting together, but all the more as you see the day approaching.
For better or worse.
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