A key component to the personal preference sin so prevalent in the United States evangelical church is a lack of respect for the word, longsuffering.
Now, there are plenty of proponents of the idea of short-suffering. In other words, if a church or ministry or job or anything in your life doesn’t meet your exacting specifications you need to bail on it immediately. Their argument is that life is too short to longsuffer and the church shouldn’t be patient enough to pay you while you longsuffer. They somehow tie personal preferences into integrity… so if you stick it out at a job or a church because you believe you need to stay, you are somehow violating your integrity because you are not working or attending that church with a 100% joyful heart. They deny that there is anything spiritual in enduring something unpleasant if there is a pleasant alternative.
An Example for Relationships
Friends, this lack of longsuffering as a spiritual discipline is also a major lie that has led to the elongation of adolescence in America. If you’ve done student ministry in the last decade you’ve seen it first hand. God gives Christians a single requirement for getting married, that person must be a believer in Jesus.
Yet, over and over, I see perfectly eligible men and women elongate singleness (and in many cases adolescent dependency on parents) because they don’t trust God beyond their personal preferences. They need someone a certain height, weight, and cultural background. They need someone driven towards certain goals or career aspirations, who want a certain number of children, and want to live in a certain location.
In fact, we’ve all seen our friends bend God’s single requirement for us in order to get what we want! So they will find “Mr. Right” and completely decimate their walk with Christ in the process only to later discover that he was “Mr. Wrong.” Or, they let their personal preferences get in the way of finding the man or woman God has made for them or allowing that relationship to get to the altar. It’s sad to see personal preferences get in the way of fulfillment in finding a spouse. Kristen and I have joked about this for a long time, but I think it is true. If we just randomly assigned people to one another based solely on “Do you love Jesus more than anything else” we think we could pair up about anyone. We are all imperfect. We are all unloveable. None of us are ideal. When we chose to love someone because they love Jesus… then you will experience what true love and romance really are. Surfacey stuff is ultimately just crap that won’t lead to happiness, anyway. Learning to love someone despite your own personal preferences is what leads to true love!
Those of us who have been married a few years know that long suffering and marriage go hand in hand. (Heard an Amen! coming from Kristen‘s direction when I wrote that.) In other words, if what you like about your spouse is that they meet your personal preferences, your marriage is doomed! Here’s a hint, the more you trust God that He provided a spouse who completes your weaknesses the happier you’ll be in marriage. (It’s about trusting God more than you trust yourself.) When I see couples whose sole connection is wrapped around a personal preference... I can only hope that their marriage will last beyond that. One of the most powerful and loving things a spouse can ever do for the other is to love you despite your inability to meet their personal preferences.
If we think of ourselves as the Bride of Christ, we immediately see the stupidity of personal preferences in the church dividing us. We, singular and corporately, are the Bride. In our towns there is a sole bride, not brides. And yet Jesus has to love us all how we want to be loved? Who is long suffering now? Who is having 2,000 communions on Sunday morning instead of one? Whose name is lifted up in a thousand styles instead of one?
I look at belonging to a church a lot like a marriage.
1. Let’s say, right now, you go to a church which is fine doctrinally but you hate the music. If this were a marriage would you leave? You would feel pretty childish telling a divorce attorney that you can’t stay married to your husband because he likes rap music. Now, country music, I’ll give you that… But no one would leave a spouse because of a musical preference. But people do it in church every day.
2. Let’s say you go to a church who killed a program you loved. If this were a marriage and your spouse changed date night from Wednesday to Sunday, would you leave him? I doubt it. But people leave churches for stupid stuff like that every day.
3. Let’s say you go to a church who mismanaged some money. If every marriage in America were in divorce court because of this, we’d be a in a heap of mess.
4. Let’s say you go to a church where you didn’t like the liturgy. Would you divorce a person because they didn’t read the same Bible translation as you?
5. One commenter said she couldn’t go to a church because she disagreed with how the church practiced communion. If that were a marriage and your spouse wanted “communion” in a way you didn’t like… you’d probably head to counseling before divorce court.
Think of all the personal preference reasons people leave a church! There are hundreds of them. Church leaders are going bald trying to figure out how to keep everyone happy instead of trying to lead people in worship! I’ve been in dozens of staff meetings where the leaders were more worried about keeping congregants pleased than taking the worship service a direction we felt God was calling it to. In other words, we repeatedly compromised our convictions for the High Holy Calling of the personal preference god so many worship on Sunday mornings.
What am I asking “the evangelical church” to do?
Time to cut to the chase. I’m not naive. I know that there are divisions in place today and it is silly to say we should all come together as a single body. I know it is insane to dream of a united church community who worships together on Sunday mornings, in Spirit and Truth, despite the fact that some like rock music and some like choir. I know it is impossible to dream of a church who worshiped together despite the fact that some are white or black or Hispanic. I know it is ludicrous to think that churches could bundle their buildings together for Kingdom work beyond the realm of what they want their buildings to be used for. I know it is preposterous to think that churches could start talking about reaching communities instead of birthing more baptists or presenting more Presbyterians. I know it is arrogant to think that one church leader should willfully submit his congregation to another. I know it is crazy to dream of one church in one city reaching the 95% of lost souls despite tiny doctrinal differences.
But my hope is that it can happen.
And I dream and think these things because followers of Jesus are overpowered with a silly, insane, impossible, ludicrous, preposterous, arrogant, and crazy love that comes from a Risen Savior. He came to unite. He came to break down barriers. And he wants us to long suffer with one another as an act of worship of Him.
That’s my hope. That’s my dream. And that’s what I think the evangelical church should be about in America.
I’m nailing this thesis to my wall. Thoughts?