Church Membership—Like a Marriage

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It seems like far too many people treat relationships of all sorts as being disposable. As soon as they hit a rough patch of any sort they decide to pull up stakes, move on, and find a new relationship. This is especially the case, I believe, when it comes to church membership.

Rather than viewing one’s church membership as something closer to a marriage, they treat their membership like a health club. When the church does not meet their expectations, they start looking for the door. In this vein I think many in the church look at their membership with a product consumer’s mentality. The membership is all about receiving benefits and service.

Our attitude towards church membership should be closer to what we find in a marriage relationship rather than a health club membership.

A marriage is supposed to be nearly unbreakable. The Bible gives very few legitimate reasons for breaking a marriage vow. The words, “till death do us part,” captures the nearly unbreakable bonds of marriage. Now, while church membership is not a marriage, we should nevertheless treat our membership vows like a marriage vow. In other words, just because we hit a rough patch should not mean that we immediately look for the door.

When we find ourselves in difficult circumstances, the first question we should ask is, “Does my church still exhibit the three marks?” In other words, does it still preach the gospel, rightly administer the sacraments, and perform church discipline? If our answer is yes, then chances are we don’t have a really good reason for leaving. Intra-personal conflicts, for example, might make us uncomfortable, but they don’t rise to the level of legitimate biblical grounds for leaving a church.

When we find ourselves in a difficult spot, our first response should be prayer.

We should pray that the Lord would help us figure things out and bring reconciliation. If we always leave a church the moment we have conflicts, then we’ll never give ourselves the relational space to mend broken relationships. Mending broken relationships, I believe, is like mending a broken bone—the relationship will often come out stronger.

Do you feel like your church is no longer serving you? It might be that it’s not time to leave but time for you to roll up your sleeves, look around, and find out how you can serve others in your church. All too often people think that the church is for their own benefit rather than an opportunity for them to serve others. In other words, how can you make your church a better place through your own sacrificial service?

Our hope should be to strengthen our friendships in spite of whatever challenges we face.

How much does the world shape the church? How does the mentality of disposability affect our attitudes? In one egregious example I remember listening to someone list more than a dozen churches where she had been a member over the course of forty years despite the fact that she had lived in the same home for that same period of time. It was a very sad testimony, to say the least.

It is my hope and prayer that we would think twice before we leave a church. Instead of running for the door, we should drop to our knees in prayer and figure out how we might serve our brothers and sisters around us. Instead of leaving because of difficult relationships, our hope should be to strengthen our friendships in spite of whatever challenges we face. In the end, this all amounts to seeking to show the love of Christ to the church.


This article by J. V. Fesko is adapted from "A Pastor’s Reflections: Like a Marriage" at Westminster Seminary California's Valiant For Truth blog. For more helpful content by Dr. Fesko, please visit jvfesko.com.

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J. V. Fesko is Academic Dean and Professor of Systematic Theology and Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary California. He has written numerous books on the Christian faith, including Word, Water, and Spirit: A Reformed Perspective on BaptismJustification: Understanding the Classic Reformed DoctrineThe Theology of the Westminster Standards: Historical Context and Theological Insights and the newly released commentary, Romans (Lectio Continua).

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