[Life 201 is a weekly advice column headed by pastor, counselor and RELEVANT Podcast member Eddie Kaufholz. Eddie answers questions and gives advice on issues you want to hear about. Email your questions here.]
I’m in a relationship that my partner and I both feel is leading toward marriage. We’re compatible in pretty much every way—similar senses of humor, a strong commitment to Christ, and most importantly, compatible Netflix preferences. There’s just one thing we disagree on: where to spend our Sunday mornings.
My boyfriend was born and raised Catholic and loves liturgy, incense, and Gregorian chants. I grew up attending a large, non-denominational Protestant church, so contemporary worship tunes and a pastor that wears skinny jeans are more my style. We both respect each other’s backgrounds and are open to attending each other’s preferred worship services occasionally, but I think both of us feel most spiritually nourished by our own traditions.
How should we approach this in the long term?
Congratulations on moving towards marriage! As you know, it’s a big step that should not be entered into lightly. Which is why I’m so pleased that you’ve already realized that your Netflix queues are compatible. This is an important, nay, critical piece to making it work. I mean, how could you truly love someone who doesn’t see the brilliance of Friday Night Lights?
To your question, I believe it was the honorable G.I. Joe who said, “knowing is half the battle.” And Joe’s right, the fact that you’re even caring about this speaks volumes to the quality and intentionality of your relationship. A lot of mixed-church-style couples never ackowledge the tension they’re feeling in having different pathways toward connecting with God. And when couples don’t name this tension, they get resentful, or even worse, apathetic towards the church, God, and/or each other. Hopefully, you won’t have that problem, because you already realized the importance of finding a solution.
But what is the solution? The answer is three-fold:
I realize this is an obvious first step, but it’s a critical one. When you’re married, you face a dizzying array of dilemmas that have no discernable right or wrong conclusion. Marriage is about dancing through life together, even though each partner has learned a different set of steps. And to do this, you must pray for wisdom and discernment.
In your situation, Kailey, nobody’s wrong and everyone is right. It seems that both of you want great things: to engage in a church community, to worship God corporately and to be together as you do those things. Yet there’s disagreement, which is why we need a third party, or more accurately, The Third Party, to break the stalemate.
I’m going to shatter an illusion for you: There is no perfect church. Even if it was just you moving to a new city and trying to find the perfect place to call home, you’d never find it. Churches are living, breathing organisms that simply can’t be tailored to the desires of every person.
There are so many factors that make a church a church that it’s impossible to think that you’ll find one that’s 100 percent Kailey-Made. Which means you have to compromise. And to compromise, you have to ask yourself what is critical to you participating in the life of the community.
When I chose the great Summit Church in Orlando, Florida, I was looking for three things: active participation in local and global service, good teaching and thriving small groups. Summit had these things in spades, and I was home. Did it have everything imaginable that I could ever want in a church? Well, no (though to be honest, it’s pretty close), but I knew what was mission-critical and I knew what was flexible.
This is the conversation that you and Mr. Kailey need to have. What do you, as a couple, absolutely have to have in your new church? Clearly, there are preferences, but what’s absolute for the both of you, and is there space for compromise?
Then, once you’ve reached a shared conclusion on what you all must have in order to be able to engage in worship, community and mission—go church hunting. Don’t church shop, because walking in with a consumer mentality will fail you and the church. Rather, go out as a couple and find your home.
Because no church is everything to all people, I think the congregation has a responsibility to go outside of the church to seek additional opportunities to engage in worship. For example, I love liturgy. There’s something about ancient words steeped in the voices of generations that rings very true into my soul. However, my church doesn’t really do liturgy like my Catholic brothers and sisters do. So every now and again, I’ll drop into an early morning mass at my local parish and fill up the liturgy tank.
In the course of compromising and creating a couples “must have” list, create another list containing the aspects of church that aren’t critical to your health, but helpful helping you connect with God. And then, make seeking out those items a consistent part of your spiritual diet, encourage Mr. Kailey to do the same and help create space for each other to find those outlets.
In closing, you need to know that you have to go to a church together. You really can’t find two different awesome churches and live in some joint-custody agreement. You need to be in community together, sharing experiences, talking about sermons, serving, growing and deepening your relationship with God. And while this could happen, in some measure, at two different location, the difficulty of managing those worlds as a couple who’s supposed to be navigating one life together is not a recipe for success.
So pray, compromise, supplement, and for the love of all things holy watch Friday Night Lights if you haven’t already.
Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose,
Have a question? Good! All identifying information will be kept anonymous. Send an email to Life201@RELEVANTmagazine.com
Eddie Kaufholz is a writer, speaker and podcaster and serves as a director of church mobilization for International Justice Mission. He also hosts and produces "The New Activist" podcast. You can find on Twitter @EdwardorEddie.