One Spouse, Two Churches

Dear Pastor Jay,

My husband and I are Christians. We love the Lord and we love his church. Yet, throughout our marriage there has been one pretty big challenge. He and I have very different experiences and values when it comes to church, and thus we tend to be drawn to different kinds of churches. We both want a church with strong evangelical beliefs, that takes preaching seriously, is warm and welcoming, and that wants to reach non-Christians. But he grew up in a solid Christian home in a very traditional Presbyterian church in the suburbs and I became a Christian as a college student at a small charismatic church in the city. In grad school we did find a church that satisfied both of us, but now we are just not finding a church that seems to fit us both. For the past six months my husband has been attending a church he really likes and I have been attending another that I really like. We feel ministered to and are thriving at our respective churches, but something about this does not feel right. We are thinking of starting a family soon, and my gut sense is that we do not want to have our children raised in this type of situation. How important is it that we attend the same church?  If it is important, how do we decide on which one to attend?

Sincerely,

One Spouse, Two Churches

Dear One Spouse, Two Churches,

This is an important question, and I am so glad you are asking for wisdom from a pastor. Most people kinda know there is something not quite right with this arrangement but keep their heads down and keep doing it, hoping for the best. Here is my honest advice, followed up by the reasons for it. I think you should do everything within your power to attend the same church. 

Now, I do not think this is an issue of sin, at least I don’t know your hearts well enough to say that. Sin always has some involvement in our wisdom decisions, but you will have to seek God and match your heart with Scripture to determine that. I do think this is an issue of wisdom. Put another way, what is the best decision to make?

I guess there are reasons to attend different churches, but having racked my brain for some, I came up with scant few. Here are some:

– Transition. You are leaving a church (for Biblical reasons) and one of you feels that you need to finish out a certain commitment, like teaching Sunday school, before you both  uproot and leave. One spouse goes ahead and starts to attend the new church, while the other ties off loose ends before joining the first spouse.

– Separation. Unfortunately, in devastating marital situations, separation might be a wise solution for a time of healing, counseling, and restoration. During this time it might be wise for one spouse to attend another church. But hopefully this is a short term solution, and once the marriage begins to heal both spouses should gladly worship together again.

– Extenuating missional reasons. I know of one couple who lived in a Muslim country that forbid its own people to openly worship as Christians. The wife was a foreign westerner, and so she worshiped openly at an ex-patriot church. The husband had to worship in an underground church. But, once they came to the U.S. for grad school, they gladly worshiped together for the first time in their whole married lives, prizing their ability to do so.

That is all I came up with. In other words, while there are other reasons, I think they are preferential and I think the greater good of worshiping together trumps them. I take this strong stand because of what I believe about the local church. The local church is not just a Sunday experience of getting good music and Bible teaching. The local church is an extension of our families. In fact, in places like Mark 10.29-30 Jesus says that our new family in Christ is as important, if not more important, than our biological family. So think about that. You are dividing your marriage relationship over a community that is comprised of people sewn together by the blood of Jesus, a blood that runs thicker than family. A bit ironic, don’t you think? I know it may seem like you are preserving unity by doing it this way, but I would argue you are causing subtle form of disunity that will come back and bite you because you are not living within the integrity that God has designed for you and your relationship to the local church. I cannot see how choosing to attend different churches is a faithful and accurate testimony of the covenant community of the local church. In fact, I feel like you are betraying the beauty of the church by doing so. Given my examples above, you are choosing to do something reserved for marriages in dire straights, not a marriage that is healthy and wants to fight for ever more unity, even if great sacrifice is the cost.

Sacrifice. I guess that is the operative word. If the church is all about Jesus, and Jesus is the Savior who sacrificed himself for us, then part of you getting on the same page with a church is sacrifice. If both of your churches really are evangelical, have good teaching, good community, and are committed to outreach, then the sacrifices you will make are pretty small in the big picture. That couple I mentioned, who lived in a Muslim country, I think would be amazed at how we Americans view church. We have so many good churches to choose from that we tend to be like people shopping for a car, rather than those hungry for Jesus and completely committed to his body, the church. His body! It is one. You two are one! I divided marriage for a unified church? No sense, if you do indeed have a healthy, growing marriage, as you say.

Consumerism. That is the other word. Please look at your hearts and see if you are being led by consumerism. Yes, both of you have different experiences of church. While those aren’t totally irrelevant, in no way has God given those to you to divide you, especially with regard to something as important as the local church. What if he gave you those experiences to unify you as a couple in finding and serving in a good local church?

By the way, you brought up children. Indeed. How you relate to the local church is teaching your children ecclesiology. You know this is not ideal. So, do what it takes and do the right thing, not only for your marriage, but also to set your kids up to be able to love and participate well in Jesus’ body, the local church. 

So, One Spouse, Two Churches, here is what I would do. I would sit down and pray for wisdom. I would then talk with both of your pastors. If one of you goes to my church, I would actually tell you to go to the other church rather than remain at the Bible Church with your divided communities. Remember, almost every church records its sermons now. If you love your current pastor’s preaching, just listen to it online during the week. Which of you should sacrifice for the other? I don’t know for your situation, but given my view of a husband’s leadership role, I think he should hand over his rights and go to your church – at least as a starting point. That is sacrificial leadership. His desire should be for you to be blessed and he should try to take the lead in protecting the integrity of your holistic participation in Christ’s body.

God will lead you. I believe he wants you at the same church, given what he says about the church in His Word. The church is a place that is a load bearing wall, it is meant to be very influential in our lives, and so the most important people in our lives should share that with us.

By the way, if you follow my logic all the way, I would make it a regular habit to literally worship together at the same service. Try and find places to serve on Sunday mornings that allow for you to be at the same service, as much as possible. AND, for those of you dating or engaged, now is the time to talk about this! But, I guess that is another topic.

Blessings,

Pastor Jay

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “One Spouse, Two Churches

  1. JP

    You say that it’s better for the couple and/or the family to all go to the same church. Say each spouse tries each others church only to find out that he/she can not fit in and won’t grow and develop despite best efforts. What then? Does one of them just sacrifice their own development so everyone can be under the same church? I would be concerned that the person who makes the sacrifice would eventually become bitter or resentful. Even though that spouse may understand that what he/she is doing is for the overall/greater good, I would think that a person can only go on like that for so long before it completely wears him/her down. That would make for an ineffective spouse which would affect the whole household. So instead of a happy couple going to different churches, you have an unhappy couple going to the same church. Taking that into account, is it really worth risking a functional family just so they can be under the same church family?

    • Sorry for the delayed reply, but in case you find this here is my quick thought. If you follow my argument in the post, I quite literally do not believe the Lord would put you in a situation like the one you spoke of. I don’t. I think the Word of God would be contradicted if that were so, and I categorically believe that cannot and will not happen.
      If you feel like you are in one of those situations, then we are left with the option that your feelings and experience, while powerful, are not determinative. If you are local to the Triangle, there are so many good churches, with strong evangelical beliefs, preaching, music, and family ministries, that I think you would be hard pressed to make the case there is not a church for both of you. I think there is something deeper going on than a necessarily dividing context. If you are at the Bible Church, I would love to talk with you two more about this to get the details.
      I have taken a hard line, but it comes from Biblical conviction and love. I promise.

      • Ellen Porter

        I realize I am commenting on a 4 year old post but I just cannot let the comment here ve dismissed, although I hope at this point the one who posted it has found peace at church. However, I myself now find myself in that situation that you, Jay, say God would never allow to happen. My pastor has sinned against my husband and I. It is serious enough that I would prefer to find a new church. My husband says we should stay, deal with the consequences of our pastor’s sin because of the relationships we have with others in the church. But, in the four weekends since this happened, I have received nothing from going to this church. I have leaned harder on reading my Bible and praying and started wathcing a more experienced pastor online. That is how God speaks to me, and I also attend the church but leave it in God’s hands if that will ever again be more than a place to socialize. I will note that this appears to be one of those things where a wife should submit to her husband. Clearly God knows in a case like this, whether it is wife choosing to submit, or husband going with his wife’s wishes, the disappointed spouse has the better ability to connect with God outside of the church setting.

  2. perla pedraza

    I need prayer. My husband won’t leave our old church. He thinks I am trying to take him out of church which I am not. Our old church was great, but then things got out of hand and I just do not feel comfortable at all. I attend a new church with my four little children all under the age of 6. I so feel like a single mother still. What can I do? It really hurts me that my husband will not attend church with us. Especially with it being such a big part of our lives.

    • Hey Friend,

      My biggest encouragement to you is to talk with your pastor, or another leader, at your former church and get counsel from them. And then I would encourage you two to talk with the pastor of the church you are hoping to attend to get counsel from him as well. I think the Lord will use that process to unify you two and bring about a sense of his will.

  3. Pingback: When Spouses Attend Different Churches - Marriage Missions International

  4. Susan

    Dear Pastor Jay – My son married the pastor’s daughter and now finds himself needing to attend a different church. He has many valid reasons –
    1. He believes the Lord wants him to attend a different Christian church.
    2. His father-in-law uses his position to steer my son’s wife’s (pastor’s daughter’s) decisions.
    3. The wife is the praise and worship leader and feels that is what defines her and thinks my son is tearing her away from her identity and calling.
    4. If he stays, this gives his wife leadership over the spiritual decisions of the household.

    Currently, my son attends both churches on an “every-other-week” basis.
    They want to start a family but this situation is hindering that from happening.
    When she did conceive, the baby’s heart stopped beating in the 1st 12 weeks.

    You mentioned the husband should submit to the wife but that does not sound biblical. How is surrendering to his wife’s desires in this case help her grow spiritually. She is disrespecting her husbands leadership to refuse to yield to change. He attended 4 years before needing to leave while she has not made any compromise by attending the new church on a biweekly basis.

    Please give me insight you your point of view.

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