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When the Church is a Mistress

It’s become hip to rip on the church. People like to blame their problems on “the church.”

You can hear these criticisms in popular culture. Take, for instance, Arcade Fire’s song “Intervention”:

“Working for the Church while your family dies You take what they give you and you keep it inside Every spark of friendship & love will die without a home Hear the soldier groan, ‘We’ll go at it alone'”

The song paints the church as a militant institution, driven by discipline and an over-bearing work ethic. The central character sacrifices his family on the altar of “church” or ministry.

This is often true.

Churches sometimes have more in common with Wall Street than they do with Scripture. They enforce a merciless work ethic in the name of “mercy” or “gospel” ministry. All work no play.

There’s a Mistress in the House

My first year of church planting I started a new, full-time job, in a new city, with a new daughter, in a new church.

Guess which one got the least attention? Family.

As all these new things filled our lives, they began to crowd out conversation with my wife. What was once natural—inquiring about my wife’s hopes, fears, and joys—became unnatural, even absent from our conversation. She patiently continued to ask how I was doing, but I was “working for the church while my family died.”

As my wife began to wither without the invigorating love of her husband, she revealed the affair.

I’ll never forget her crushing comment: “I feel like there’s a mistress in the house.”

I was alarmed and frustrated. How dare she make such a comparison! After all, I made a point of being home by 5:30 and on weekends. I made sure we had good family rhythms—breakfast and devotions, dinner and downtime. How could she say there was a “mistress”in our home?

Then it dawned on me—you can be home without being home. I was present but absent. My thoughts, emotions and concerns were with another Bride while I was home, not with my bride.

“What our relationships need is a home, a place where families can laugh, play, cry and talk deeply together.”

I had felt the gradual distance growing between us but chalked it up to two kids under 2 and the important demands of church.

I was wrong, and Arcade Fire was right.