Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. Eph 5:25-27
A church in transition is never an easy thing. Of the three churches I’ve attended in my life, two out three went through a major change while I was attending, the first resulting in the doors being permanently closed. One thing I can attest to from those, is that transition hurts. I’m not talking about the little minor changes a church goes through, I’m talking leadership transitions, congregational splits, financial crisis type transitions. The ones that force the issue: should I stay or go?
It’s easy to think about going to a different “healthy” church. One that doesn’t have people who have offended and hurt you. One that seemingly has their finances together. One that has a great preacher who’s been there since they began digging the foundation. But God may have different words for those of us considering “church shopping”.
First of all, let me be clear that bible does speak of times when we must leave. In fact Jesus says in Matthew 10 that if we enter a city that isn’t worthy to shake the dust off our feet and keep moving (v. 13-14). There are all kinds of reasons that we could move on, but one major reason to stay: what is God’s will for me in this transition?
When we look at the above Ephesians passage, we see Jesus and the church being referred to as a marriage, a holy union. Remember those famous marriage vows?
for better or worse
for richer or poorer
in sickness and in health
We are not physically joined to our spouses, thus making it impossible to leave. We are joined by choice, and stay because of love. We chose our spouse, and we choose to stay even when it’s worse, sick or poor (and let’s be honest, sometimes those moments are pretty ugly, and far worse then we could’ve ever imagined when we first uttered those vows!). It’s not easy to stay in our marriages when we go through those periods of time, but love isn’t easy. It’s bleak in those moments, and often hope goes missing. But, when we choose to stay regardless of the sacrifices we must make, and come out on the other side, we see blessing. We develop a deeper love and understanding of each other. We become more intimately knitted together and our marriage is strengthened.
Much like marriage, staying at church when it hurts requires sacrifice on our parts. To stay in union with the church body through the worse, the sick, and the financial crisis isn’t easy. But Jesus took the first sacrifice in our union when he hung on the cross for our sins, our imperfections, and our failures. When we entered in to a life with him, we chose to be bonded in a Holy union with him, and thus joining in with the rest of the His Body (the church). We chose to join the church we attend, and we stay out of love, just like our marriage. It’s that deep love that stays even when it hurts, to work through it, to see it the other side, that causes a deeper bond with the very ones that may have hurt us most. It causes us to see that deep kind of love that God has for us, a love that surpasses hurt, complications, and frustrations.
So, may I encourage you, if you’re dreading Sunday mornings. Before you bolt for the door to find a new church (and let me just say, no church is perfect), to seriously consider asking if God wants you to stay through the current hardship. If so, then stay. There will be blessing for you on the other side of the hurt. Forgive the ones who’ve hurt you, ask for forgiveness where you’ve wronged others, and stay focused on God’s perfect will, not on the mess and transition that’s occurring at ground level. When we act in obedience, even when it’s hard, it’s then that we learn new things about our relationship with Christ, and his loving character.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails… 1 Cor 13:4-8a