Getting married can be scary! I remember the weeks leading up to my own marriage. There were a lot of plans to execute (though not many by me). My fiancé called me one night, crying and overwhelmed. In less than a week we were going to commit to each other before God and man, ‘til death do us part. We were trusting that God was making us one. I was making a promise to love her unconditionally. I was going to love her because I chose her and committed to love her, and she was going to choose to love me.
Then the day finally came, and we committed to love each other even when we are unlovely (which in my case is quite often). In this type of love the Bible tells us that we get to see a glimpse of who Jesus is and how much he loves his bride, the Church (Eph. 5:25-33).
What if I had not made that commitment to my wife, but instead decided to “love” her conditionally (which isn’t really love at all)? What if my love for her was based upon whether or not I thought she was worthy or deserving of my love? What if her love for me depended on my deserving it? We would be constantly attempting to earn each other’s love. This, no doubt, would lead to utter exhaustion and result in a separation. Wouldn’t it have been better to just cohabitate with someone and not make such a demanding promise? Wouldn’t it be wiser to spare myself and whoever else the pain of being constantly disappointed and let down?
I believe the second scenario is how many Christians view their participation within a local church body. Many Christians have a great fear of commitment to one local church. Most of these same believers would never view their marriage as healthy if they were focused on constantly judging each other’s performance, but for some reason we drift to this type of mentality with regard to our commitment to the local body of Christ. Our choice to love our local church unconditionally directly affects us, those around us, and our children, in the same way that our choice to love our spouse unconditionally affects us, those around us, and our children.
When it comes to being a committed member of a local church, many American churchgoers choose to “cohabitate” rather than commit. In the same way that many in our culture cannot commit to one spouse because of all the other attractive options out there, churchgoers often participate in a church as long as the congregation suits their “felt” needs. As Christians we would never argue that this line of thinking would lead to a healthy marriage, but for some reason we think it will yield a healthy church experience for us and our families. This results in a lot of church hopping, and I mean A LOT. In his book Radically Unchurched Alvin Read states that, “of the 350,000 churches in the U.S… less than 1 percent is growing by conversion growth.” Church growth (meaning only numerical growth) in America happens solely from Christians hopping to different churches. One serious consequence: a lot of teens and young adults are leaving the church in droves.
Yes, you will find out shortly after committing to a church that that congregation is not as great as you thought it was. I remember thinking, is my wife really going to love me after she has to live with me? This is why marriage and the church show Jesus to the watching world; both marriage and the church are meant to exemplify love that is not conditioned upon performance. This is the same love that our Savior has shown us.
Find a local church near your house that is solid in the Gospel and commit to it, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, ‘til death do you part.
See Radically Unchurched by Alvin Read, 23. Also see research done by Xenos Christian Fellowship demonstrating that over 90% of all growth in the American church is by transfer growth. Find this research in Dennis McCallum’s book Satan and His Kingdom: What the Bible Says and Why It Matters to You, 271-272.