beyond dating the church?
I had an epiphany the other day. I realized that I feel like I’m dating my church.
I know all communities are messy, including organic little churches like mine that are very community-oriented, but I realized for the first time today that I am dating my church.
I’ve had two exceptional relationships in my life. One was my friendship with one of my roommates in college and the other one was to my husband. I have had other amazing friends and boyfriends, but these two are something special. And I realized with both of them that the thing that made these relationships exceptional was commitment, loyalty, and trust.
Relationships can only be really amazing when you are both committed to each other long term, when you know what your relationship is, and when there is trust and loyalty.
Dating is different. You are still trying to figure the other person out. There isn’t tons of trust yet. There are always possible surprises about the other person that catch you off guard. There is a lot of possibility for hurt and breakups. The two people often end up having different expectations, desires, or ideas that still need to be worked out. The commitment isn’t there and people can be fickle. It’s dangerous and difficult to invest yourself fully. And you’re often asking the question, “what are we? where are we? where are we going?” with the realization that just asking those questions can take you two and a half steps back.
I feel like I’m dating my church.
But the bigger question is, is there anything else?
A church is a community of real people living in the real world. People are always (hopefully) becoming part of that community, so the community is constantly changing. The church is full of people who are broken, sinful, and messy. We live in America where individualism grips us and true community is often beyond our grasp. We’re not very good at sacrifice and our busyness often leads us to being too overwhelmed in just getting ourselves by. We are unfaithful to God, our mission, and each other way more than we’d like to admit.
I love the church. I think the church is beautiful. A body of God’s people on earth entrusted to participate in God’s mission by God’s amazing grace. I love the idea of the church, I love the church in reality, I love the people of the church. Heck, I’m going to seminary and planning on devoting my life to serving the church because I love it so much. I am the church. I think the church is a gorgeous mess. I even love the messy gritty imperfect humanness of the church. And I love my church, the little local community of believers I think of as family, so much so that my heart often breaks for them.
So, is the church worth dating? Oh yes, it is. When you love something enough, it’s worth sticking around and trying to figure things out. It’s worth dating.
But, no matter how much we love the church, is there anything beyond dating it? Is anything else really possible?
The greatest piece of marriage advice I ever got was from the pastor who married us. He told us, “when you are in conflict, move towards each other, not away from each other.” I remember that every time I feel like running away or ignoring an issue. Instead, I try to turn around and run straight into it until it is resolved. It’s worked so far.
And maybe that’s all we can do with the church. Keep running straight into the mess.