Question: Disagreements about church are becoming a real sore spot in our marriage. I’m attracted to a more upbeat expression of praise, but my spouse is a traditionalist and wants nothing to do with "contemporary" worship. How do we get beyond this difference in taste?


If, as your question seems to suggest, your differences are mainly centred around preferences for contrasting styles of worship, your problem may be easier to solve than you suppose. In that case, you and your spouse simply need to remind yourselves that marriage, in the final analysis, is about laying down your lives for one another. Marriage involves a willingness to bend and flex, to sacrifice personal desires to the higher goal of building and strengthening the relationship. If your disagreements about church are purely a matter of taste and style, then they’re essentially the same as any other disagreement you may have – about a new refrigerator, for instance, or what colour to paint the living room. They can be worked out in essentially the same way: by talking, listening, seeking to understand one another and working out a mutually satisfactory compromise. 

Identify the differences

Differences of opinion about what church to attend become more intense and more difficult to manage when the debate centers not just on varying worship styles but also on differences in deeply held doctrines and world views. Sometimes conflicts of this nature arise when one spouse suddenly discovers a desire to return to the traditions in which he or she was raised. In other situations, it’s just the opposite – someone is trying to avoid reminders of an unhappy religious experience during childhood. 

Seek counselling as needed

If the dilemma you’re facing is of this second type, you may want to think about getting some serious spiritual and psychological counselling. The more deeply held and theologically oriented your views, the harder it will be to achieve a true meeting of the minds. Focus on the Family Canada’s counselling staff can help you find ways to overcome an impasse of this nature. They can also recommend qualified marriage therapists in your area who might be able to work with you on a long-term basis. If you’d like to speak with one of our counsellors, feel free to give us a call Monday through Friday, between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Pacific time, at 1.800.661.9800. Our staff would be more than happy to discuss your situation with you over the phone. 

Principles to bear in mind

In the meantime, there are a few principles you should bear in mind as you and your partner attempt to work through your differences. In the first place, remember that, within limits, husbands have been given the role of spiritual leader in the home. Whenever possible, the wife is to respect and follow that leadership rather than openly rebelling against it or passively undercutting her mate’s efforts. The husband also is to love his wife "as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her" (Ephesians 5:25). He has a sacred duty not to trample on or ignore his wife’s needs, preferences and feelings. If a husband is "leading" his wife and family into churches or spiritual practices that are heretical or cultic, it should be obvious that the wife has to put her spiritual foot down and refuse to participate. Her first allegiance is to God and His Truth. (Fortunately, differences in church choices are rarely this extreme.)

Second, it’s crucial to give your relationship priority. God doesn’t want a dispute over church choice to tear your marriage apart. Do everything you can to devise a compromise both of you can live with. Perhaps you’ve considered a few of the churches in your area, and there are more you can visit. Keep looking for a place of worship that provides for the spiritual growth of both spouses – and your children, if you have any. 

Third, don’t be afraid to experiment with creative alternatives. For example, you might try the "mix and match" approach. Many churches provide both "traditional" and "contemporary" services. Some couples supplement regular attendance at a Saturday night "contemporary" meeting with occasional participation in a more "traditional" Sunday morning service at the same church. 

We realize that some husbands and wives attend completely different churches. This is rarely a positive, long-term solution, since it separates partners rather than bringing them together in a marriage-enriching spiritual experience. Others decide to "solve" the problem by skipping church altogether. We don’t recommend this approach; Scripture states clearly that Christians are not to abandon fellowship with other believers (Hebrews 10:25). 

Don't give up!

Whatever you do, don’t give up in despair. Examine your own motives, asking yourself why you find it so hard to accommodate your spouse. You may discover that this argument is merely a symptom of deeper problems in your relationship. Once you’ve addressed those issues, perhaps in the context of Christian counselling, it’s possible that the church attendance issue will simply evaporate of its own accord. If not, keep praying that God will grant you the answers you’re seeking. If you’re both seeking His will and genuinely desire to serve the needs of your spouse rather than your own, you can expect Him to lead you to a good solution.

Excerpted from The Complete Guide to the First Five Years of Marriage, a Focus on the Family book published by Tyndale House Publishers. © 2006 Focus on the Family.

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