Does your commitment to church parallel The Runaway Bride?
A 1999 romantic comedy, The Runaway Bride brought back together the couple we fell in love with in Pretty Woman (1990) – Richard Gere and Julia Roberts. In The Runaway Bride Julia Roberts plays Maggie Carpenter an attractive young woman who is nervous of being married and, as a result, has left three men waiting for her at the altar on their wedding day (all of which are caught on tape), receiving tabloid fame and the dubious nickname “The Runaway Bride.” Maggie is scared of commitment and conflict and consequently has become a consumer of relationships.
One of the metaphors for the church in the Bible is that of a “bride” with all of the beauty and depth of meaning that is reflected in such a relationship. But over the past few years I’ve noticed an increasing amount of the same “qualities” in some parts of Christ’s bride as we see in the runaway bride – and it’s not a pretty sight.
Maggie Carpenter wants to be in a satisfying, happy marriage but she fears commitment and thus runs away at the last moment. I’ve noticed this increasingly amongst some Christians, although I must say that right now at Bayside Church we’re reversing this trend. I totally understand that some people have been overly committed to serving in their church and have become exhausted as a result. Sometimes they’re fearful of committing again. If that’s the case they need to be able to sit and soak in God’s presence for a season to be healed and restored.
There are others though who are just afraid to commit. They’re happy to receive but not to give and they miss out on all the benefits that commitment brings. The Dead Sea is dead because it only takes in water (from the Jordan River) but has no outflow. The salt content is very high and so no plants or animals can live in the sea. Apart from bacteria and a few microorganisms the Dead Sea is well … dead! A person who fears commitment experiences the same deadness because they are good receivers but they have no flow out. They don’t commit, they don’t connect and they eventually runaway often to repeat the same process in another part of Jesus’ Bride.
The second fear of the runaway bride is conflict. There is no such thing as a committed relationship without conflict – just ask any couple who have been together for any length of time. The way to a deeper and more fulfilling relationship is learning to work through conflict in a mature, rational and caring way. Over the years at Bayside Church I’ve seen many people do this and the results have been wonderful. Sadly I’ve watched others become part of the runaway bride. Conflict happens and they run – either to another part of the bride (often to repeat the process) or they walk away from the bride completely. Such people are on an endless search for the perfect church and they are constantly disappointed.
All of this leads to consumerism. Julia Robert’s character became a consumer of relationships who ran from commitment and conflict and left a trail of broken hearts behind her. Consumerism is a stain on the modern-day Bride of Christ – and it’s getting worse. I am so grateful to the committed people at Bayside Church, many of whom have stood strong with us for one or two decades – some for 25 years. But during this time I’ve also watched an increasing number of Christians driven by consumerism. I know that the Holy Spirit strategically moves people to various parts of Christ’s Bride. People move house, change jobs, shift to a different part of a city, a country or even overseas and they will find a new local church as a result. But others are motivated by consumerism to make sure all “their” needs are met. They often leave behind them bewildered friends.
Maggie finally meets Ike (Richard Gere) who she also initially runs away from. “Maggie then explains that she had been running because every other guy she was engaged to was only engaged to the idea she had created for them rather than the real her, but with Ike she ran because, even though he truly understood her, she didn’t understand herself. She “turns in” her running shoes just before proposing to Ike.”  Christians who are constantly “running away” need to face up to the reasons why they’re running. Like Maggie they need to do some healthy introspection and learn to understand themselves. Whether it’s consumerism or a fear of commitment and conflict, it’s time to stop being part of The Runaway Bride. Put down roots, commit to serving and not just receiving, and make a decision to work through conflict. You’ll be so glad you did – and so will everyone else!
Rob Buckingham is the senior minister of Bayside Church, Melbourne Australia
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