What follows is a humble word of wisdom, as I survey my own and other churches of like and larger size.
It’s a word of wisdom for couples.
The apostle Paul has a lot to say about a lot of things, and one of those things is marriage. In 1 Corinthians 7, he addresses married couples, exhorting them to stay sexually active. Believers married to unbelievers are encouraged to stay married, unless the unbeliever leaves, because, who knows? The unbeliever might be saved by the spouse. Later in 2 Corinthians, though, in instructions traditionally understood to describe marriage, he famously encourages, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14).
But, it’s not these “unequally yoked” partners in whom I see the most common strain. Most couples I’ve known would both describe themselves as believers. They’ve both stood before the church and professed their faith in Jesus Christ as Savior. Both are typically baptized.
The challenge comes for these couples in figuring out exactly what that means for each of them and what they can expect of each other.
Wifey grew up in a marginally churched family. Christmas and Easter are sufficient with an occasional appearance when the kids are singing, right? But Hubby wants to go more often where he sees his friends and feels closer to Christ. Wifey wants Sunday morning to get the house clean. Hubby signed up to usher. Wifey wants to sleep in. Hubby wakes up by 6 a.m. anyway, so why not go?
Unequally yoked? Maybe, but probably not. Unequally active? You betcha, and it puts strain on the marriage and frustrates both partners.
Here’s my simple word of wisdom: Normalize conversations with your spouse about your commitment to the church.
- Talk through what you expect and why you expect it.
- Be honest about the frustrations.
- Make it okay (really okay) for one spouse to go without the other.
- Compromise, make a plan, and stick to it.
A dear woman I know attended worship most Sunday mornings by herself for years. Was she happy about it? No, but she and her husband had talked it through. There were no false expectations. When her husband started attending later in life, the pastor (not me) nearly fell over in the pulpit, but managed to keep a straight face. No one gasped (not audibly at least), so he came back. And he kept coming back. He would not have come back if he’d been guilt tripped by either his wife or the congregation. She could not have kept coming without him if he’d not understood her needs. Mercy must abound on all sides.
“Follow my example,” wrote Paul, “as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Follow the example of this couple, I suggest, as they (finally…together) followed the example of Christ.