The most read New York Times article from 2016 had nothing to do with politics, culture wars, or comic book movies. Instead, the most-read article of 2016 was all about commitment.
The piece, titled “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person,” was written by Alain de Botton. In it, de Botton takes shots at our culture’s idea that the ultimate foundation for commitment in marriage is romantic affection—that feeling of compatibility that means the other person will finally fulfill my needs and make me truly happy.
We all know this is misguided, so much so that de Botton predicts all married person will eventually find inadequacies so severe in their spouse that it will prompt them to ask, Did I marry the wrong person? As he humorously notes, the relational arc of a marriage leans away from idealistic romantic sizzle as “maddening children . . . kill the passion from which they emerged.”
‘Did I Join the Wrong Church?’
As I read de Botton’s article, I couldn’t help but see how much of our culture’s view of love and commitment mirrors how many Christians view church membership. Many Christians’ broken relationships with their churches resemble patterns of the divorce culture and its attendant assumptions about authority, love, and compatibility.
Almost all Christians know what it’s like to question whether they joined the “right church.” After an initial “honeymoon stage,” we begin to see our church’s problems with greater clarity than we see its strengths. The sermons start to seem too intellectual, or not intellectual enough. The church begins budgeting for ministries that don’t seem deserving of the dollar figure on the spreadsheet. The small groups don’t meet our needs in ways we’d hoped.
More personally, the needs of other church members begin to encroach increasingly on our own personal freedoms. Some members sin against us—even without knowing just how deeply we’ve been wounded. Without even realizing it’s happening, we begin to wonder whether our local assembly is the “right” place for us. Of course, we remind ourselves there’s no such thing as a perfect church—something we’ve even told fellow church members. And yet, we can’t help but grapple with the nagging question: Did I join the wrong church?
The problem with this question is it assumes church life shouldn’t be hard. It assumes that the “honeymoon stage” should continue in perpetuity, or that something has gone awry if we experience significant disappointment or hurt from relationships with other members or leaders.