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Monday, January 31, 2011

Looking For Perfection? Iook To Jesus

I should mention, right off, one or two things as we begin down this road.  First and foremost, the whole "Church Sign Bashing" will go much better if there are some comments shared by someone other than me.  The fantastic people of r/Christianity always have some insightful things to share in regards to most anything I've ever posted there, and so far, they've not disappointed me with their thoughts on this blog.  I'll try and keep some of their suggestions in mind.  But I'd also love to invite ANYONE to leave a comment below or, if you'd rather to verbally assault me more personally, send me an e-mail.

The second thing that I'd like to have you make note of is that not all of these signs are going to be the worst things ever placed on a Church Sign.  Some of the signs that I write about aren't going to be that bad.  Most of the signs are going to be ones that I see personally (unless you send me some pictures... pleeeeeze) close to where I live or wherever I happen to be travelling.  But all of them are going to have some issues with language and/or theology that imply bad practice or short-sightedness on the part of the respective congregations, and even on the part of the whole of American Christianity.

So, with that being said, I took this picture today as I was driving through Ft. Meade, FL (Actually... I stopped, and then took the picture).  I'd actually taken a few more earlier in the day, but as soon as I saw it, I thought, "This is definitely going to be the worst sign I see all day."  I mean, aside from a shortage of L's, it just stood out to me.

On the surface, the message doesn't seem so bad.  Jesus is perfect, and he's exactly the example of God's grace and love that we all need.  But I found myself almost immediately asking the question, "Who do I know that is looking for perfection?"  I mean, most of the people I know are looking just to get by.  Most of the people I know seem too exasperated from years of trying to impress their parents or their boss or even their friends, and they're just tired of thinking about that unattainable perfection.  And it's not all that helpful to think about some guy who apparently had it all together.  At least it's not all that helpful to me.

This makes me think of the Apostle Paul.  One of the things that I really admire about Paul is that he seemed to put himself in the struggles of the people to whom he was writing.  And in that way, the people to whom he wrote knew him, and knew him to be trustworthy (even if he had to defend himself initially).  So it's no surprise that in 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul tells the people of Corinth to imitate him.  In fact, Paul doesn't say, "Imitate Christ," because the people of Corinth didn't know Jesus.  They did know Paul.

So, coming back to the fine people at Peaceful Believers' Baptist Church, there are loads of people in your town who are probably looking for peace, rather than perfection.  And with a name like that, you should be able to deliver, right?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

My First Sign

Just to kind of get started here, I took this from the Grundy County Historical Society website, in what is presumably Grundy County, Tennessee.  For most of my future church signs, I'll be using either photos submitted by readers, or photos taken by me.

I just Googled "Church Signs" and this is one of the ones that caught my attention, and I'd like to dwell on it for a couple of different reasons.  First, though, I'd like to point out that in the heart of the Bible Belt, the same rules don't seem to apply.  I don't want to make this a Red vs. Blue (no, not that kind... a Red vs. Blue) thing, but it's pretty clear the moral and political conservatism is at its strongest in this region of the country.  Where I live, in rural Florida, things aren't terribly different.  But my intention is to get people to think about their language as a pathway to their ideologies, and so yes, wonderful people of Tennessee (and the rest of the Bible Belt), we're going to take a look at this.

So, when I see a church sign, I often pretend to be a non-Christian; either someone who has never been introduced to Christianity, or someone who has been jaded and disenchanted by Christianity.  If I were the latter, my initial reaction would have been, "Oh great, more war hawk Christianity propaganda."  I bring this up because this might be my first rule of church signs: consider your intended audience.  If your intended audience is people who have the exact same ideologies as you, then congratulations, you've made your job much easier.  But, assuming you find this statement to be crucial to the overall message of your church, if you're looking for the "lost", and you put up this somewhat bold political statement, you're probably not going to attract anything but some hate.  I'm not saying the message is good or bad at this point.  I'm simply suggesting that if you want to form a brute squad or team, this is a good way to alienate people, perhaps to be on the other team.

But what about the message of the sign?  Well, to me, and this is just my humble opinion, there's nothing inherently bad about the sign EXCEPT that it's a dangerous game to start talking about political freedom in the same breath as we talk about our freedom in Christ.  It's no doubt that we are free, as a nation, because of the sacrifices of brave men and women throughout history, and not just our military (as I hear my mother's voice in my head) but also those civilians who made stands against injustice even within our borders.  People like Martin Luther King Jr., Gerrit Smith, Lucretia Mott, Rosa Parks, and many, many, many others, fought through various means to uphold freedom.  All of those men and women in the Revolutionary War fought so that we might have a better life, free from a government that had no part with us, yet still sought to govern us.  And hundreds of thousands of men and women have given their lives over the course of the last 225 years to protect that freedom.  And in those lives, we can clearly see bravery.

But when are the churches going to praise peace?  And when are they going to talk about the spiritual freedom we ALL have in Christ (not just Americans, but all Christians).  And so my beef with the sign has nothing to do with a lack of patriotism (I'll admit that I'm not the greatest patriot), but instead a desire to see the Church be unified across political borders, and that the Church would understand that there's a freedom that can't be taken away by the Nazis or the Commies or the people at MSNBC or Fox News or the current presidential Administration.  There's a freedom that outlives all of that.  And it doesn't mean we do nothing about our political beliefs.  It means that we have proper priority, where our spiritual lives, being healthy, live into our political lives, and give us power instead of fear.

So, if you'd like to take something away from this, be careful, when mixing politics and faith, to mix in proper proportion, and again, know your intended audience.

My First Post

Greetings, folks on the internets!

I've begun this blog as a sort of path.  It started a few years ago, not in a specific moment or memory, but likely soon after I'd passed my 3,000th lame church sign.  At the time, as a ministry major, I just never was able to quite understand how churches could be so short-sighted and naive. Did the great minds of these churches think that the messages on the signs were helping?  I'd begun to wonder if anyone had ever attended a church service because of what had been written on a church sign.

So anyway, a few years later, and here I am.  I'm not sure exactly where this will go, but I'm sure that there are alot of people who start blogs without a clear picture of where it's going to take them.  But I feel as though I should add some disclaimers initially (I might add a few more as we go along).  So my first post here is going to simply be my aim, purpose and a few little notes.

My aim and purpose in creating this blog is to show how the American church actually is working against itself in many ways.  I'm a recently married man, and so I've recently begun a little bit of an addiction with HGTV and House Hunters (and other shows of this type).  When trying to sell a house, the folks at HGTV talk consistently about "curb appeal", or how appealing the house is to the potential drive-by buyer.  And we all know those houses; the ones that just POP! out at us as we drive by and we say, "Ooooh... that looks like a really neat place to live."

I feel like churches are the same way.  I mean, not to mention that American Christians are almost naturally more consumeristic, but there are some churches you just drive by, and because of their name, their sign, the sheer size of it, or because of some fancy architecture (like a kickin playground), we think, "I wonder what that place is like."  And I know a lot of churches who have spent a lot of money to update their facilities and their websites in an attempt to up their curb appeal.

But it's amazing how a few simple, publicized words can completely affect the mindset of a church, or how a church is perceived from the outside.  And pastors and volunteers will just put out things that sound witty and clever, or seem to be hard-hitting, without really understanding the minds of the people that witness these signs.

So again, my aim is to help churches understand that, as Derek Webb sings, "turning God's words to cheap clich├ęs", is really not helping us out a whole bunch.  As you read, I hope you'll interact with me and provide some different perspectives as well.  I'm but one pair of eyes, filtering things through one cynical mind.  And I guess that's my first disclaimer.

My second disclaimer is that I am in fact a Christian.  I've been called into ministry.  My desire is to build up the Church, not to tear it down.  But I get angry with Christians before I get angry with anyone else (except Ohio drivers... you Christian Ohio drivers better watch yourselves).  I feel like people who aren't trying to follow Christ don't have to live by the same standards that I try (and fail) to live by.  And I feel like people who are trying to follow Christ should constantly be seeking to understand these standards that we're trying to live by... the life of Christ.

My third and final disclaimer of this entry goes out to parents.  I'm going to be try to be thoughtful in my usage of words.  But I'm not going to censor myself (too much).  Language, properly arranged, conveys thought, tone, and emotion.

More than anything, my hope is that anyone who reads this trifle of a blog will begin to think about some of the things we allow our churches to get attached to; not just words on a sign, but the buildings themselves, the programs we establish, and the image we bear in our communities.  How we're perceived is not the most important thing.  But how we're perceived can be incredibly harmful or helpful in the ministries of our local churches, and of the global Church.