Relationships are hard and they are often messy. Many times, it’s easier to give up than to wrestle with and work through deep issues, but most people seem to know that a relationship with true commitment and substance will be able to make it past the honeymoon stage.
We seem to understand this general principle of good relationships. Although it’s still easier said than done, we know that good relationships take work and investment and that they are not always filled with pleasant, happy moments.
Somehow, though, we seem to forget this principle when it comes to joining a church. Too many of us become church connoisseurs and instead of investing in a church, we are only too ready to pick up and leave if something doesn’t please our personal preferences.
Samuel Emadi in his Gospel Coalition article “Think You Joined the Wrong Church?” addresses this issue and how we can seek to develop roots in a church even if it is an imperfect congregation of believers (and every church is).
Emadi compares choosing a church to choosing a partner in life. He references a New York Times article titled “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person.” The author of that article, Alain de Botton, reminds readers that a marriage commitment is not based on romantic affection. Ultimately, we all marry the wrong person because we are all sinners, saved by grace. The person you choose to marry will inevitably irk you at times, but your marriage commitment and covenant is more important than those times of annoyance, frustration, and argument. In fact, your marriage commitment and covenant is what can keep your marriage strong in those times, since it is a reminder of God’s unending covenant and lavish grace for us, even when we are imperfect and fail to live like his sons and daughters.
This principle is much the same for churches. It can be tempting to give up on a church for a myriad of reasons: the type of worship music they use in the service, an issue with the budget, feeling like you can’t make any true friends, or disagreeing with the way the church does outreach.
The list could go on, but the point is that, no matter the church and where it is located or the size of the congregation, there will always be something to dislike and disagree with. Now, also let me say that there may be times when God truly is calling you to leave a church, especially if the church is not clearly preaching and seeking to live out the gospel. In that case, leaving may be best, but in many cases, people tend to give up on a church for issues that truly only boil down to personal preference.
“Only if the perks of membership outweigh its inconveniences will we think it’s worth it to stick it out. Regrettably, many Christians seem trapped in a perpetual cycle of this type of cost-benefit analysis,” writes Emadi.
Instead, we must seek to extend God’s grace to our church family–that same grace that is extended so freely to us.
Any church is made up of flawed sinners saved by grace, so if you are asking “Did I join the wrong church?” the answer to that question, like the answer to “Did I marry the wrong person?” is a clear “yes.”
It is in this imperfect gathering of believers that Christ has chosen to work, but in order to see that work, we have to be willing to be vulnerable and invest in our church community. If you are always standing on the periphery, filled with a spirit of judgment and cynicism, it is little wonder you may feel disconnected from your church and its members.
Being a part of the Body of Christ requires sacrifice.
Emadi illustrates this by again referencing de Botton’s article on marriage: “Rooting commitment in our covenant promises doesn’t mean church relationships are nothing but soulless duty. Instead, covenant commitments are the food that nourishes our relationships with other members. The more we hold ourselves to our covenant promises, the more our relationships blossom and endure through seasons of difficulty. Again, as de Botton perceptively notes in his article, ‘Compatibility is an achievement of love; it must not be its precondition.’ The world argues affection is prerequisite to commitment. But the biblical picture is actually quite the opposite: commitment and service create affection.”
I didn’t absolutely love my church the first time I walked through the doors on Sunday. You probably didn’t either. It takes time and investment and commitment to love a church and its body of believers.
So, as Emadi admonishes us, “Stick with the ‘wrong’ church.” We can be sure that God is at work through his bride, the church, of which he has said, “the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
Emadi provides some final words of advice and encouragement:
“Our relationships will ebb and flow, as will our affection for the church. But the solution is not always looking for a better fit. Instead, we renew our passion and reignite our sense of belonging by holding ourselves to our membership covenant—sacred promises that bind even the ‘wrong’ people together.”