We live in a unique time in the United States, a time where church commitment is falling rapidly generation-by-generation. I was even told by my pastor that he was reading a newspaper article this past week that explained that this is the first time in American history that the predominant affiliation of religion in the United States is “none.” You heard that correctly: none. Generation X and Millennials continue to spiral downward in their faith in Jesus Christ. I believe a big part of this is because we, the Church, are so involved in everything else that church is a mere afterthought. The question I offer to you today is, “Are you married to the church or are you just merely dating?”
It’s our goal at Mount Pleasant to develop young people who, as they go into college or the work place, will have the DNA to be committed to the local church. The idea of dating the church often starts in college and then leads into their marriages and families years later.
Dating the church can be demonstrated in a few different ways. First, a person who dates the church may switch from one church to another, never satisfied or committed to any particular church. These individuals really are not members of any church; they like to move around when something does not go their way.
This is neither healthy nor biblical.
Part of the description we have in Ephesians 5 is of the relationship between husband and wife, giving us the example of the relationship of Christ and the Church. In thinking of our commitment to the local church, think of Ephesians 5:25-27:
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.”
When we understand that this letter is written to the local church, while using the Church as a metaphor to explain the relationship of a husband and wife, we better realize why our commitment to one local church is so important.
Individuals who are always moving around from one church to another are treating their relationship with the church as a dating relationship. Why does this often start with college-age students? If a college student goes away for college, they often either use a parachurch organization as their local church or stop attending church altogether. There are some really great campus ministries on college campuses, but they are not a replacement for the local church. Although we want our college students to be involved in these ministries, we believe it more important they find a local church they can be married to while they’re at college. By not being committed to a local church – even while away at college – you are cheating yourself, and cheating this world.
Another way people date the church is by being a member of a church, but not really being committed to that church. That may sound like an oxymoron, but it is ever so true. How can we gauge commitment? Think of the first Sunday it’s cold outside, or when we may have lost an hour of sleep, or maybe when we’re up late watching the Chicago Cubs in the World Series. Then we think we’ll just take a day off from church this Sunday morning. That day off becomes multiple days off throughout the year. A recent report by the Barna Group said the average church member misses twelve Sundays a year. That’s missing once a month, which comes up to about 3 months every year, which is only 75% attendance. I believe God expects better from us.
When we look at Ephesians 5:28-30 we read:
“So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body.”
If you are physically able to be with the body of Christ, but you only choose to be there 75% of the time, does that truly show you’re helping “nourish and cherish” it? Please do not get me wrong, I’m not trying to be a legalistic Pharisee, but rather seeking for us to have a clearer picture of what the relationship should be between Christ and His bride. Men, if we had a bride whose commitment to us was the same commitment we had to the local church, would we be satisfied? If not, let’s lead our families to be married to the church and not just dating the church.
My challenge to everyone is to be married to a local church. It shouldn’t matter if you’re in college, head of a young family, or a senior adult: do not treat your church commitment like a dating relationship. In a dating relationship, you’re not completely in covenant with another individual like you are within a marriage covenant. The relationship between you and the local church should be a covenant. As God’s chosen people, we must remember that we are the bride of Christ (Revelation 12:9-10). The church needs your commitment and you need the commitment of the church. Find a church that loves you and is committed to your growth in godliness. If you’re in college and away from your local church, do not use that as an excuse to date the church and be married to a ministry! Find a church that will show the importance of what it means to be the bride of Christ.
Many of my thoughts on this conversation have been formulated by seeing how much of the New Testament is written to the local church. Joshua Harris does a fantastic job of speaking to this conversation in a book called Stop Dating the Church. Let me leave you with what Joshua Harris says there: “The greatest motivation we could ever find for being passionate committed to the Church is that Jesus is passionately committed to the Church (31).”
May God bless you this week as you are committed to the Lord and His Church.
The preceding are my sermon notes from my May 6, 2012 sermon at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, entitled Stop Dating The Church. Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB).
Pastor Joe Mayes
Other great resources on this topic are:
Stop Dating the Church by Joshua Harirs
Church Membership by Jonathan Leeman
The Church: The Gospel Made Visible by Mark Dever
What is a Healthy Church Member by Thabiti Anyabwile
I Am A Church Member by Thom Rainer