Why You Will Join the Wrong Church

I recently came across an article written by Sam Emadi which brought home for me the issue of contentment within the local Church body. He reported that he had read a New York Times article from 2016 that had nothing to do with politics, culture wars, or comic book movies. Instead, the most-read article of 2016 was all about commitment. In this article titled “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person,” it 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.


As I reflected on the thrust of Emadi’s take away, 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 every Christian knows 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 “in your face”, or not “in your face” enough. The church begins questioning particular ministries. The small groups don’t meet our needs in the 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 that there’s no such thing as a perfect church—something we’ve even told our 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 that it assumes church life shouldn’t be hard. It assumes the “honeymoon stage” should continue in perpetuity or that something has gone awry if we experience significant disappointment or hurt from our relationships with other members or the church’s leadership.

But these assumptions reveal a deep and unthinking commitment to consumerism: only if the perks of membership outweigh its inconveniences will we think it’s worth it to stick it out. Regrettably, many Christians seem trapped in a perpetual cycle of this type of cost-benefit analysis.

I’ve found that Christians most often push eject on their membership not because they’re upset at the church’s budget or because they disagree on matters of polity. Instead, Christians leave their churches for the same reason people leave their marriages: a lack of relational depth and affection. In other words, many Christians leave their churches because they just don’t seem compatible with the church or because the relationships leave them feeling a little dry.

Personal relationships, however, were never meant to serve as the foundation for our sense of church commitment. If we pursue relationships as the foundation of our belonging, we’re more likely to be inescapably trapped in the consumerism and “met-needs” mentality at the heart of our divorce culture. However, instead of valuing consumerism, the Bible roots our membership in the idea of a covenant, which offers an infinitely superior alternative.


Tim Keller notes in his book on marriage that a covenant “creates a particular kind of bond . . . a relationship far more intimate and personal than a merely legal, business relationship. Yet at the same time, it is far more durable, binding, and unconditional than one based on mere feeling and affection. A covenant relationship is a stunning blend of law and love.”

When the Bible speaks about the church, it refers to it as a covenant community. Church members aren’t just part of a shared interest group. They’re covenanted to one another by a sacred promise to oversee one another’s membership in the kingdom and faithfulness to King Jesus (Matt. 18:15–20). The New Testament unfolds the details of that sacred promise: We regularly gather together (Heb. 10:24–25), bear one another’s burdens and sorrows (Gal. 6:2), encourage one another (Heb. 3:12–14), pray for one another (Jas. 5:16), and forgive one another (Col. 3:13). Many churches helpfully formalize these biblical instructions into a church covenant, a set of promises members make to one another when they enter into membership.

These covenant obligations are the foundations of our church commitment and should function as the backbone to church life. Covenant precedes community. We might even say covenant creates community. The covenant promises members make to one another blossom into the life-giving relationships our hearts crave.

Rooting commitment in our covenant promises doesn’t mean that church relationships are nothing but soulless duty. Instead, covenant commitments are the food that nourishes our relationships with other members. The more we hold ourselves to our covenant promises, the more our relationships blossom and endure through seasons of difficulty. Again, as Emadi perceptively notes in his article, “Compatibility is an achievement of love, it must not be its precondition.” The world argues that affection is pre-requisite to commitment. But the biblical picture is actually quite the opposite: commitment and service create affection.


The reason God roots the most important relationships in the world—like marriage and church membership—in covenants is to ensure they endure through fire. Have you ever noticed how traditional marriage vows were designed to ensure couples prepare to love one another well in the midst of suffering? Couples pledge themselves to one another even in “poverty” and “sickness” until parted by death.

This same expectation of future trials also marks the promises church members make to one another. We pledge to “bear one another’s burdens,” (Gal. 6:2) and patiently bear with and forgive the sins of our brothers and sisters who wrong us (Col. 3:13; Eph. 4:32). If we make our covenant commitments the ground of our life and relationships in the church, we come to expect the rough patches and prepare to face them with godliness.

While our affections for our church and its members can be fickle, easily dissipating as soon as circumstances shift unfavorably, our covenant commitments never fade. As Keller notes, covenants are by their very nature oriented toward the future. They “are not a declaration of present love but a mutually binding promise of future love.” In some sense, the whole point of a covenant is to pledge our love and fidelity for the rough times ahead. Thus, covenants carry us through suffering. Once more, Emadi notes, “Choosing whom to commit ourselves to is merely a case of identifying which particular variety of suffering we would most like to sacrifice ourselves for.”


Joining a church, like seeking a spouse, is daunting. Loving others makes us vulnerable and committing ourselves to a church immerses us in the needs of other sinners. Eventually, every congregation will find a way to get under our skin, frustrate us, or even wound us—and we will do the same to them.

Our relationships will ebb and flow, as will our affection for the church. But the solution is not always looking for a better fit. Instead, we renew our passion and reignite our sense of belonging by holding ourselves to our membership covenant—sacred promises that bind even the “wrong” people together.


The Heresey of Worshiptainment

I often hear tidbits of people’s comments here and there that cause me to ponder where people’s priorities are in coming to a church. Often times the statements I hear are disconcerting. Things like… “You have to have young people coming to your church, or the church will die…” Really? A Church dies because of a demographic based on age…? Jesus said that He removes the “lampstand” of a Church when that Church stops being faithful to His Word and His direction for how His Church is run (Rev 2-3). Certainly young people are important as our future, and their involvement within the Church body…but NOT because of it! It is this kind of thinking that also carries over into the music of the church. If you believe that young people is what determines the health of a church, then you will also buy into the next line of thinking which is then…you MUST change the music to attract the young people. Here is the slippery slope; taking the focus off from God and the sufficiency of Scripture, to figuring out “what works” to attract a new demographic with aesthetics.

Mike Livingstone wrote an article on his concern for the “entertainment” motion that many churches are gravitating to these days.

The great heresy of the church today is that we think we’re in the entertainment business. A.W. Tozer believed this to be true back in the 1950s and 60s. Church members “want to be entertained while they are edified.” He said that in 1962. Tozer grieved, even then, that it was “scarcely possible in most places to get anyone to attend a meeting where the only attraction was God.”

More recently, David Platt has asked: “What if we take away the cool music and the cushioned chairs? What if the screens are gone and the stage is no longer decorated? What if the air conditioning is off and the comforts are removed? Would His Word still be enough for his people to come together?” (Radical)

Would it be enough?

Tozer got it right: “Heresy of method may be as deadly as heresy of message.”


Like Tozer, we should be concerned that so many people in our churches want to be entertained while they worship. We should be concerned when we no longer recognize the difference between the two. And we should be concerned by the growing belief that adding more entertainment value to worship is necessary for the church to accomplish its mission.

I may stand alone, but it grieves me when I see worship services characterized more by props, performances, and pep rally atmospheres than by any sense of divine sacredness; and hallowedness giving way to shallowness.

This is not about worship styles. The issue is not traditional versus contemporary versus blended worship. It’s not about organ versus worship band. That discussion misses the point completely. This is about the heart and focus and intent of worship. The real issues, for me, are these:

Who or what is the spotlight really on?

If the figurative spotlight in our church services is on anyone other than God, it is not worship. If the spotlight shines brighter on human performance than on the gospel of Christ, it is not worship. If anyone other than Jesus is receiving our adulation and applause, it is not God we worship.

What message are we communicating?

The message of the church—the message the world needs to hear from us—is not, “Come and have a good time,” “Come and be entertained,” or “Come and find your best life now.”

Tozer said: “Christ calls men to carry a cross; we call them to have fun in His name.” The message of the church is the message of the cross. Lest we forget, Jesus’ cross was a source of entertainment only for those who mocked Him as He hung on it.

How are lives changed?

“But our methods are attracting and winning people!” some will say. Tozer addressed that sentiment: “Winning them to what? To true discipleship? To cross-carrying? To self-denial? To separation from the world? To crucifixion of the flesh? To holy living? To nobility of character? To a despising of the world’s treasures? To hard self-discipline? To love for God? To total committal to Christ?”


David Platt and the church he pastored, The Church at Brook Hills, decided to try to answer the question, “Is His Word still enough for His people to come together?” They stripped away the entertainment value and invited people to come simply to study God’s Word. They called it Secret Church. They set a date—on a Friday night—when they would gather from 6:00 in the evening until midnight, and for six hours they would do nothing but study God’s Word and pray. People came. A thousand people came the first time and it grew from that. Soon, they had to start taking reservations because the church was packed full. Secret Church now draws tens of thousands of people via simulcast in over 50 countries around the world—with no entertainment, no bells and whistles or smoke machines.

Why do they come? Platt explained in an interview: “People are hungry for the Word. There’s really nothing special or creative about it. It’s just the study of the Word …. The Word itself does the work!”

People are hungry. They are hungry for a diet of substance, not candy. More of the Word. Deeper into the Word. Less of what Tozer called “religious toys and trifles.”

As we face this New Year…let’s try to remember to keep far away from these “religious toys and trifles” and keep the focus on what really makes for a healthy Church…God’s Word. Let’s leave the Church growth to God…let’s remember to keep our concerns for the health of this Body not on age or numbers…but on faithfulness.

Why Must There Be Factions In the Church?

In every church, there are individuals who can cause disunity within the church body. Often leadership can become overwhelmed by those who fight among themselves over even petty church affairs. Many times this is the result of our own sinful hearts and fallen conditions. At other times, it may be the result of the tares that are sown in with the wheat. Paul was well aware that division cannot be entirely avoided. Until the Lord returns, there will always be tares among the wheat, and disobedient believers as well.

The church in Corinth was so divided that you might say it was diced. There were divisions over which apostle was superior, sexual morality, lawsuits, marriage, eating meat, head coverings for women, the Lord’s Supper, spiritual gifts, the resurrection of Jesus, the resurrection of believers, and I’m probably missing some. The paradox is that “it was necessary for there to be factions in the Corinthian church in order that those who are approved may have become evident among you (1 Corinthians 11: 18-22). The worldliness and fleshly disobedience of those who caused the divisions would expose and highlight the love, harmony, and spirituality of those who are approved (passed the test of being a genuine believer)

Paul, who really wanted these saints to “be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10), said something in chapter 11, verse 19 that is important for us to remember: “There must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized” Church division, ungodly and sinful as it is, nevertheless is used by the Lord to prove the worth of His faithful saints. In the midst of bickering and divisiveness they are separated out as pure gold is from the dross. Evil helps manifest good. Trouble in the church creates a situation in which true spiritual strength, wisdom, and leadership can be manifested.

Factions painfully serve the church. They provide opportunity to differentiate between real and unreal Christians. Does this mean that factions only occur between the genuine and the false? No. Paul wrote this book to help “brothers” (genuine believers) solve their divisions; “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”

But factions do reveal false Christians. How? Well, exposing an unwillingness to submit to the apostles’ teaching is certainly one thing (e.g.1 Corinthians 11:16). But a lack of love is the biggie (1 Corinthians 13). Paul said love is greater than faith (1 Corinthians 13:13). And if we have truth and not love, we’re nothing (1 Corinthians 13:2). Nothing.

There must be factions. Factions reveal hearts. So in our disagreements and divisions, Paul wants us to measure our motives, words, and actions by the gauge of chapter 13. The less they look or sound like biblically defined love, the more concerned he wants us to be about our genuineness.

How Skipping Church Affects Our Childre

In a Q&A, Carl Trueman was asked about why churches today are losing their young people. Typical answers to this question range from things like the temptations of this world or the irrelevance of the church…your typical answers. But Trueman makes a keen and convicting connection between our parenting and apostasy. Note his statement…

“The church is losing its young people because the parents never taught their children that it was important. I think that applies across the board. It applies to family worship, and it also applies to whether you are in church every Sunday and what priority you demonstrate to your children church has on a Sunday. If the sun shines out and their friends are going to the beach, do you decide to skip church and go to the beach? In which case, you send signals to your children that it is not important.” (Carl Trueman)

Now we know that artificially taking your kids to church neither bestows salvation nor guarantees it. God is obviously not honored by external religious acts without heart worship. This type of legalism is not the subject of this discussion. This is about parenting and the weight of the responsibility behind how they prioritize their time and lifestyle choices for their families. Salvation for our kids and extended family, and anyone else for that matter, are totally dependent on God’s work of grace in their life. Even the best examples shown to our kids is no guarantee that they will follow God in salvation. But we are responsible before God to be setting up the model for Christ-like character.

Parents make choices all the time for their families. As they decide on what takes priority in family, every choice is carefully observed and taken into the heart of their children. Yes, they are watching you, and they are learning from you. Maybe the reason why our children have no love for Christ is due in part to the fact that we as parents do not show any love or passion for Christ ourselves, evidenced by how we prioritize our time both on Sundays and during the week.

I have first-hand witnessed parents putting sports and other school activities on Sunday mornings in front of the priority of worship first. When television, sports, school, hobbies even family itself are elevated to a place of idolatry and replace the vital Christian responsibilities, then we tell our children that Christ is secondary to all these things. We tell our children that it is not necessary to take up your cross and die to yourself daily in order to follow Christ. We tell them that you only have to live for Christ when it’s convenient for you. We tell them it is okay to sacrifice time with all-satisfying Savior if something “more fun” or “more important” comes along. And this sounds like a clear path to apostasy if you ask me. It is no wonder we are losing our youth at church.

Let’s evaluate where our hearts are by observing our choices. Do you prioritize the local church? Do you prioritize the worship of Christ in your home and on Sundays? Do you prioritize serving Him and worshiping Him in the contexts of school and work?

This doesn’t mean that you can’t ever miss a Sunday or that you can’t have any extracurricular activities. Instead, it is a sobering reminder that we shouldn’t put the things of God at the bottom of the priority list, because it tells our children that Christ is at the bottom of our priority list. And the God of this universe does not belong there.

My prayer is that we all would improve in this area. But be aware, maybe we have not seen this before because Christ isn’t a priority in our lives. And if He isn’t a priority in our lives, then our children will know and follow suit.