Author Joshua Harris "Kissed Dating Goodbye." In "Why Church Matters (Waterbrook Multnomah, 2011)," he now is calling on everyone to "Stop Dating the Church" - the title under which this book was originally released in 2004. (The new version has small group discussion questions in the back). No matter your perspective on young men and women dating (when/if it should start; what is its purpose; how it should be done; etc.), every follower of Christ who takes the church seriously should acknowledge that a "dating" relationship with the local church is neither what Christ intended nor what the Bible prescribes. Yet, in many cases in contemporary church life, a "dating" relationship is an accurate description.
What does it mean to be "dating" the church? It might look something like: "attending on the weekends" and enjoying "the social benefits of 'church'" while seeking to avoid "the responsibility that [comes] with real commitment" (4). In more extreme cases, it might mean attending one church on Sunday morning because you like the music or the message and attending another church on Sunday nights because you like their topical Bible studies. It might mean going to a third church on another weeknight because you like the program they have for children. Overall, it makes church participation much like the practice of the thrifty shopper: going to Wal-Mart or Sam's for bulk items; Fresh Market for produce; and Harris Teeter for meats - any of which is subject to change weekly based upon the coupons/ads in Sunday's paper. There is no sense of real commitment or life investment, simply a consumerism approach borne out of a "what's in it for me" mentality. He says those who take this approach to the church tend to be "me-centered" (going for what I can get); "independent" (not wanting to get too involved); and "critical" (being short on allegiance and quick to find fault) (6-7).
Harris takes this kind of practice head-on: "Every Christian is called to be passionately committed to a specific local church. Why? Because the local church is the key to spiritual health and growth for a Christian. And because as the visible 'body of Christ' in the world, the local church is central to God's plan for every generation" (5). In order to address this situation, Harris offers this book to "share with other sincere followers of Christ the profound blessings that come with living a life committed to the church," "to show that the church matters to God and it should matter to us," and to help Christ-followers "catch a glimpse of the beauty of God's plan for the church in each believer's life and the unimaginable power that could be unleashed through even one generation embracing that plan" (8).
The rest of the book contains biblical, theological and practical content describing everything from the church's make up and her mission, to meaningful church membership, etc. Harris also gives simple, practical advice for those who are looking for a local church with which they can unite their lives, offering "the Ten Things That Matter Most" when looking for a local church. Toward the end of the book, he helps the reader understand the importance of gathering corporately for Sunday worship. Finally, there is an admonition to commit to a local church and to worship and serve there faithfully.
In a day when church attendance/participation is so often viewed from the perspective of consumerism, this book provides a biblical and timely challenge and corrective. This book should certainly be read by anyone who is currently looking for a local church home. Far beyond that, any church member would benefit greatly from taking the time to read this book, being reminded of the necessity of the local church in the life of the believer and for the advancement of the mission of God. At only 120 pages, taking the time to read this valuable book is indeed a small sacrifice. As a pastor, I will encourage our church to require (or at least strongly recommend) that all potential membership candidates read this book. It really is that important.
(FTC Disclaimer: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.)