The Blog of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

July 09, 2012

Marry Your Church

Lisa Liou

When a couple takes marriage vows, they are reminded that such promises are not to be entered into lightly. This is a life-long commitment. As such, when a couple reaches their 50th anniversary, we celebrate the union they have kept, especially because this is not our cultural norm.

That marriage has not been an easy road. It has not been about fairytale romance. It has been about a long-standing, unwavering commitment to one another.

It’s a shadow of Jesus’s commitment to us, a reminder of lasting love and fidelity. It’s a prophetic picture in our culture where giving up, getting out, and starting fresh are normal.

Commitment That Lasts

I long that we would tackle our commitment to the local church with the same sense of importance with which we address marital commitment. Recently, a student asked me if she should leave her church because the sermons covered topics she had already learned and she wasn’t growing anymore. I appreciated her honest inquiry and happily debunked the myth that we graduate from our church when it gets boring or repetitive. 

Instead of leaving her church, I encouraged her to ask God what he could teach her through the struggle of staying committed. How could she serve and love the church? How could she reexamine her heart under the preaching of old lessons? How could she take a risk to go deeper in relationships and become more intertwined with the family of God? When the sermons seem boring and repetitive, it is a reminder that God calls us into the life of the people of God beyond sitting as a passive participant in the pew. 

How Married Do We Want to Be?

There is a book by Jim and Sarah Sumner called Just How Married Do You Want to Be? The thought behind the title could be said of our relationship to the local church as well. The scripture tells us we belong with our church family. It’s our choice to live into that relationship. We have the opportunity to become members of our local congregations by making promises to participate through loving, serving, giving, and committing—for better or worse. Unfortunately, disagreements in our churches can quickly lead to membership transfers and our commitment to our local church can become dependent on its compliance with our desires. Many regular attenders do not even consider church membership. It seems too formal or permanent. We are content to date our church or multiple churches, without ever considering commitment. College students, in particular, wonder about the need to settle at a church when college is just four years, but I encourage students to choose early, stick with the same church for all four years, and practice church membership, if possible. 

There are plenty of important reasons to consider leaving a church, but if the church you attend is just as good as any, minus a few things that get on your nerves, then I encourage you to “love the one you’re with.” Imagine how radical a commitment to loving and serving one another in the local church over the long haul would look in a non-committal culture. Imagine how it could shape our hearts away from our self-centered concerns. Imagine if we celebrated 50th anniversaries for church membership the way we celebrate wedding anniversaries.   

Lisa Liou has served on InterVarsity staff for ten years. She is married to Jeff who has been serving as college ministries pastor for three years at their church in Pasadena, CA. Together with their two kids, they hope to model commitment to the local church for the long haul.      


Hi folks, Just to chip in on the discussion, I have a short series of blog posts on the topic of leaving one's church. I agree with Lisa's cautionary approach: (hit "newer post" at the bottom to see the next posts in the series)
This is beautiful. A great call for Christians to take church life more seriously. We are supposed to be like the tree planted by the waters, and trees don't grow very well when they are constantly uprooted.
Unlike marriages, it's quite ironic to stay at or commit to a "church" for the long haul when pastors themselves come and go, just like a job, except they use spiritual terms to explain their departure.
It is a job. Like many employers, Churches won't grant raises beyond 3%; only to find that after their pastor left after 5 years that another one won't accept their call for anything less that 25% above the previous pastor's salary. They will pay you to get you; but they won't pay you to keep you. -A Pastor's Son
I take church commitment very seriously, but for some reason, the commitment to learn how to spell "commitment" has been lacking. I always wanna put 2 T's... It was a very difficult decision for our family to leave our church home of 10+ years. It was hard, because I always found myself wondering if I was giving in to the sort of discontent you spoke of in the post. When we first attended, the experience was so exciting - oh, what we could do with this visionary community! And when that community folded under various outside pressures, there was nothing equally exciting in the church to replace it. Now, did I let the emotional component get the better of me, so that I didn't *look* for the replacement? Or was the replacement really missing? Was I supposed to "be the change I wanted to see"? Whatever the case, I eventually felt that the community I was being presented with as a replacement was disappointing by comparison. Plus, I had let some bitterness cultivate, and that was definitely my part of the problem. But the failures of church leadership are so much harder to overlook than personal failures. Maybe *there* is the problem. Church leaders are broken people too. But we still hold them to a higher standard... I don't think we do this consciously. Even if we decided to kick against this instinct, I'm not sure how long we really could. And that's a problem for believers *and* non-believers. In such a committed (AH! "committed" = 2 T's... hahaha...) commiTTed relationship, we understandably let our emotions drive our reactions - after all, we've gone "all in". And without the same commitment as marriage, it *is* possible to end that relationship when it becomes difficult. I don't know if this is a bad thing. I can see the alternative of staying *really* doing damage. Very thought provoking, Lisa. Thanks.
"commitment" DOES have 2 t's ;)
I'm not sure my first reply worked so I'm trying again. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It's certainly not easy to figure out when it is a time that you must leave a church. I think this post is more to speak into our casual culture regarding how some of us see our church participation. If you are the type to commit, then the fine details of how and when to leave and how to recover from leaving are not answered in this post and are left for wise counselors and prayer!
There are no easy answers to when to leave a church and what is doing damage vs. helping us live like a family. All families have some level of dysfunction and, in some cases that requires healthy space, which is why I said that I do think there are good reasons to leave a church. It sounds like you have wrestled on a deep level with these issues, which is a good thing. Thanks for sharing those thoughts! Despite all the uncertainty of where this type of commitment could lead someone, I hoped to at least give us a new vision of what church membership could look like in a lifetime, the same way a 50 year wedding anniversary gives us a vision for our own marriages. A healthy, long-term membership in a church is, at the very least, something to long for.
thanks for sharing this, lisa! instead of thinking selfishly "what can i get out of this church?" maybe we should be asking "how can i serve this church?" (just like marriage!)

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