When my daughter got married, I performed the ceremony, and people have often asked what that was like. I usually say, “It was emotionally and financially devastating.” Don’t get me wrong, it was one of the highlights of my life and one I will always treasure deeply. There was no question my daughter (as she should have been) was the center of attention. I have the photos and bills to prove it.
In contemporary Western culture, the bride is the centerpiece of every wedding ceremony. She wears the long flowing dress, she enters to a “bridal march,” she parades down the center aisle with the pomp and circumstance reserved for kings, and people stand as she enters. It’s clearly all about the bride.
The lowly groom, on the other hand, is an afterthought. He’s filler, the warm-up act for the main attraction. Unlike the bride, he usually enters from a side door. He wears a tux that some other groom will be wearing next weekend. And, for him, there is no grand march—he often enters to what strikingly resembles elevator music.
The way we do weddings today is quite different from the weddings of the Bible, especially the relationship between Christ and his bride, the church.
The book of Revelation describes the mother of all wedding scenes. But here it is the groom who gets all the attention.
Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.
Revelation 19:7 (NIV)
It is the wedding of the Lamb, not the wedding of the bride.
A couple of verses later, the apostle John writes, Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb. The spotlight is fixed firmly on the groom, Jesus.
When John the Baptist settles an argument about his position in relationship to Jesus, he uses wedding imagery to set the record straight. In no uncertain terms, he declares he is simply a friend of the groom, that Jesus is the center of attention.
But he also makes an interesting statement about the bride.
The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. John 3:29 (NIV)
The bride belongs to the groom. That’s not only a statement about ancient marriage ritual, it’s also a great picture of the relationship between the church and Jesus.
This has huge implications for how we view the church in our generation and how we view our roles as leaders in it.
In the last thirty years within the church world, there has been a subtle shifting of the spotlight. Inadvertently, in many places, it has become all about the bride (the church) rather than the groom (Jesus). But, as John reminds us, the bride belongs to the bridegroom. Or to say it another way, the bride exists for the groom.
As a pastor, then, my job is to watch after the bride on behalf of the groom. I am like a spiritual wedding coordinator. The coordinator’s job is to assist and serve the bride and groom, behind the scenes, in making their wedding day a meaningful event.
No wedding coordinator worth their salt would ever steal the spotlight from the bride and groom.
There should never be anything blocking the bride’s view of the Groom’s glory. My constant challenge as a leader in the church is to get myself out of the way so that the bride will be awestruck by his incomparable majesty of her groom.
One of the indicators of spiritual disease in a church leader is a possessive spirit about the bride. You can hear it in their words, you can feel it in their attitude, and you can read it in their decisions. The church is “theirs.”
It’s helpful for me to remind myself regularly that the church is not “mine.” I am a steward . . . Yes! I am a shepherd . . . Yes! I am a leader . . . Yes! But, I am not the owner, CEO, title-holder or groom of the church.
The bride belongs to the bridegroom. Thus, the church is not my personal trophy or sandbox or project. I hold it as a sacred trust to steward on behalf of the groom, who’s asked me to look after his bride until he comes for her.
Your church is not your personal business venture. You are an undershepherd called to care for the sheep on behalf of the owner.”
In a healthy church Jesus is the most famous person. He gets the most airtime, he is the most talked about, and he is clearly center stage. He is seen as the head of the church, and the leadership does their best to spread his fame.
Is your place in ministry blocking the spotlight from hitting squarely on Jesus? When the leader’s role or importance is overemphasized, a subtle shift can take place in our minds and spirits. We can start to play the role of owner rather than steward.
When things get really unhealthy, we can step in front of the groom and put the spotlight on us.
Like John Piper says, “Christ does not exist to make much of us. We exist in order to enjoy making much of Him.”