Dating the Church: Day One

For the next seven days, I will be going through the book, Stop Dating the Church: Fall in Love with the Family of God, by Joshua Harris.  This is my first experience reading Harris, and I understand that his books, I Kissed Dating Goodbye and Boy Meets Girl, can cause controversy.  In fact, the only reason I picked up this book is because it came recommended to me from a fellow seminary student that has a great track record on recommending books.  So with all of those disclaimers out there, I want to share a chapter a day from this book, which addresses an issue that we all have faced (or will face when we move, or we currently face right now): we tend to date the church.  

Chapter one is titled, “Can This Relationship Be Saved?” and starts out with a scenario between Jack and Grace.  The two meet through a mutual friend, and find that sparks fly right away.  But after three years, the sparks have died down, and there is still no set commitment.  You might be thinking, “Jack really needs to put a ring on that finger,” but the twist is that Grace is not a girl; she is a church.  How often do you think of your church through this relational mindset?  I know that I don’t, and I work at a church (either this makes me a terrible pastor, or the rest of you are just liars).  The point that Harris is trying to make in this first chapter is this: 

A wholehearted relationship with a local church is God’s loving plan for me and for every other follower of Christ.  It is not just what my parents want for me.  It is not just what some pastor thinks.  And it is not optional.

So are you dating the church?  Check yourself out against this criteria:

1. Your attitude towards church is me-centered.  You attend church for what you get out of it: social interaction, programs, and activities.  Here is an indicator that you are victim to this: your driving question is, “What can church do for me?”

2. You are independent.  You go to church because you are supposed to, but you don’t stick around after the service and actually experience fellowship with anyone.  You attend because it is something to check off your spiritual checklist for the week.  

3. You are critical of the church.  How often do you complain about the service, the pastors, the programs, and the people?  “We are short on allegiance and quick to find fault in our church.  We treat church with a consumer mentality-looking for the best product for the price of our Sunday morning. As a result, we’re fickle and not invested for the long-term, like a lover with a wandering eye, always on the hunt for something better.”

Chances are, you have (or will) committed all of the above.  The question you have to ask then is: Why should I change?  Why should I stop dating the church?  “The plain fact is, when we resist passion and commitment in our relationship with the church, everyone gets cheated out of God’s best.  You cheat yourself.  You cheat a church community.  You cheat your world.”

The reality is that being a part of the local church is how Jesus chose to spread the Gospel.  Yes, he sent out his disciples, like we do missionaries, but they went to establish churches.  Paul Tripp says this:

In reality, you are part of something immense, something that began before you were born, and will continue after you die.  God is rescuing fallen humanity, transporting them into his kingdom, and progressively shaping them into his likeness-and he wants you to be a part of it.

Being a member of a church community allows you to not only be a part of spreading the gospel to the ends of the earth, but it also allows you to grow and conform to the image of Jesus.  This is because you no longer are independently hopping from church to church until you find a place that meets your momentary itch (be it music, preaching, liturgy, programs), but you are part of a community.  

The church community is where we learn to love God and others; where we are strengthened and transformed by truth from the Word; where we’re taught to pray, to worship, and to serve; where we can be most certain that we’re investing our time and abilities for eternity; where we can grow in our roles as friends, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, father and mothers.  The church is earth’s single best place-God’s specially designed place-to start over, to grow and to change for the Glory of God.

So are you dating your church?  Are you involved in a committed relationship with your church?  I hope that we can learn to stop our critiques and learn to enjoy being a part of a community of believers that encourages and builds one another up in Christ.

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