I didn’t grow up going to church. My family was agnostic at best, and we rarely talked about religion. I don’t think I had so much as an idea of what a Sunday morning in a church building would look like. I walked into one of my first church services at around the age of 13, wearing one of my favorite t-shirts–an oversized black one that said, “Who’s Your Daddy?” on the front.
I remember this because Pastor Moody walked up after service and said, “Who’s your daddy?”
I didn’t know the lingo or the behavior. I was a fish out of water and no one offered to throw me into the lake. I just floundered along as I went, trying to learn how to breath in this new world.
I was certainly never taught about church membership. I finally walked down to the front, filled out the card, and was baptized the next week. Signed, sealed, delivered. It was the first time I felt part of the club.
But as I grew older, I realized that other churches were out there, that I had an opinion about what a local church should be. The amount of churches in the DFW suburbs is like speed dating, and I began to hop from seat to seat.
I began dating Jesus’s wife.
Dating Jesus’s Wife
I felt “a call” to ministry at 22, and within a few months I was teaching the Bible to middle and high school students. I don’t begrudge that opportunity. In fact, I’m grateful and always will be. It was a blessing–whether or not my students would look back and agree.
But even after becoming a pastor, I didn’t know how to be a church member. I wasn’t immersed in a church culture of committing my life to a covenant community. I was faithful to that church for a time because I was thankful for the opportunity and because it paid a little. I was committed to the job, the responsibility–I wasn’t truly committed to God’s world-renewing mission through his ministers of reconciliation.
I left that local church primarily to go back to college, and I couldn’t wait to find a “better” church since I had become a free agent. I visited churches here and there, going some places when I felt like hearing a certain type of music, others when I wanted to hear a good sermon. I treated the gathering together of Christ’s bride like I treated girls–no matter what I had, I was willing to move on to something better if the opportunity presented itself.
To make a long post short, it took about 5 years of ministry to finally understand what it meant to commit to the gospel’s work in a particular congregation. Thankfully, I began a church planting internship at a church that made me take a step back and be a church member. No staff position or title. No flow chart responsibility. No pay. Just radical commitment to other people.
Committing to Her
Jesus told his disciples, “Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another” (John 13:34, HCSB). He didn’t simply mean, “Be nice to one another; encourage one another; sacrifice for one another.” That was part of it, but not all of it. He continued, “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (v.35).
His disciples, his Church and bride (Eph. 5:22-30; Rev. 19:7-9), are to love one another so that the world would know whose bride they are. Commitment to a community of gospel-driven people mirrors the commitment a husband and wife have–a commitment perfectly imaged by Christ and his Church in eternity.
You cannot have Jesus without his bride.
But on this side of eternity, his bride is messy. She’s embarrassing and hypocritical and belligerent. She doesn’t live up to her husband’s character. She’s Aunt Edna at a family reunion after too many cocktails, and you’re expecting Uncle Bob to apologize for her behavior. You’re sure he’ll join in on the dirty looks and hidden laughs at her expense.
But he doesn’t. He holds her hand. He asks her to dance. He tells her he loves her. You get the impression that if he saw you laughing at her, he might punch you in the mouth. This is Uncle Bob’s wife, after all. He sees the woman he’s loved all his life, not the “poor Bob, he really got stuck with a train wreck” mistake whispered about by those around him. He’s not dating around. He doesn’t have wandering eyes.
In the same way but infinitely better, Jesus is not ashamed of his bride. He wants better for her. In fact, he asks her to dance and woos her with his unconditional love, even when she treats him like Rodney Dangerfield’s wife.
It’s time to stop dating Jesus’s wife, to stop looking around for something better. “The church is full of hypocrites!” Indeed! “This faith and that faith have a better public image!” Yup! But look at her–at you!–as a redeemed wretch who will one day appear like a bride adorned for her wedding day.
Commit to Jesus’s bride, as a member of her, and give all you have to her service. It is difficult now, but it will one day be the most natural thing you’ve ever done. Love Jesus’s bride like he does–warts and all.