Saturday, January 31, 2009

What's your sign?

Church reader-boards are fascinating things, no? Virtually every church building has a reader-board somewhere ... out front, on the building ... somewhere! Any every church body wants to put that silly thing to some meaningful purpose, right? But let's be honest - how many of them really are meaningful? Not many; I know.

There are a few basic tactics that local churches seem to employ on these contraptions...

Theory A: Use the board for informational purposes. These are the reader-boards that simply list times of service or some upcoming event. Safe play, for sure. But is that really effective? I have my doubts. How many people are going to see that sign and think, "You know, I've always wanted to visit that church but didn't know when they met - now I think I'll go"? In this day and age? - zero.

Theory B: Use the board to be funny. Everyone wants others to think they're witty or funny, right? [I certainly do!] So use the board to say something clever, like "C H _ _ C H; what's missing? U R". Cute, but like most of the witty signs, they pretty much play to the home crowd. In other words, it's pretty much just other followers of Jesus that are going to "get it" and laugh. Not that there's anything bad about knowing you're brightening the day of some Christian that happens to be driving by ... but is that the best use of the reader-board? I don't know.

Theory C: Be attractional. These are the signs that attempt to invite people in with some tempting message. The most generic (and pathetic) would be the classic "Everyone Welcome". Those passing by are surely glad to know that - I'm sure they thought you needed a special invitation and a secret handshake to come visit this Sunday, right? One I particularly hate: "We have something for everyone". What's the implicit message here? That local churches exist for you. In other words, you should choose a church based upon what you get, what's in it for you, what goods and services they can provide. Sound consumerist? That's because it is consumerist, kids. To all reading this with the power of a reader-board: please stop using them to promote consumption of "Christian" stuff. Please.

Theory D: Be controversial. These signs will get you noticed in the marketplace, for good or for ill. A local church in our area had the audacity to put something on their reader-board just before the last presidential election claiming that Barack Obama was a Muslim. Absolute nonsense, but it made them infamous for about a week. Not a good plan, if you ask me. Another classic? "We still use the KJV!" - about a sure a way to keep all but the most hardened Pharisee from coming to your assembly... Or my personal favourites [and, incidentally, the reason I should never be given the power over a reader-board]: controversial signs that make you think! For example, what if your reader-board said something like, "Why the hell weren't you here Sunday?!" ... Reminiscent of Tony Campolo's famous rant/sermon, and definitely worthy of a double-take, it'd have the community talking!

Theory E: Tear it down! Why not? Why not get rid of that big, unsightly thing and plant a tree or some flowers? If you aren't putting it to good use (and admit it, you're most likely not) do the community a favour and take down an internally lit florescent eye-sore, eh?

I'm not saying any of these are necessarily wrong uses of a reader-board, nor that any are necessarily the best. Let's just stick to basic Biblical principles and attempt to be wise in how we use these things, or turn to Theory E.

What say you?


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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Book Review: Addicted to Mediocrity

When a man you respect tells you that three books have most impacted his life (aside from the Bible), then suggests you read one of them ... you read it!

My senior pastor asked me to read Franky Schaeffer's Addicted to Mediocrity. [Yes, that's Francis Schaeffer's son.] He apparently read it in the mid-80s and found it revolutionary. Knowing that I was going to be preaching on the subject of Christians and the arts, he recommended it to me. He even lent me his copy; how could I not read it?!

I think I understand why he found the book such a challenge to his thinking...

I remember what the late 1980s were like in the bubble of evangelical Christianity: anything not explicitly "Christian" was often deemed bad. "Christian" as an adjective ... !!! Another post, someday soon...

Anyway, in that climate any art that didn't portray overt, explicit imagery of Jesus was frowned upon. Sad. Silly. Ridiculous, to be honest.

In that climate, I can understand why this book we be revolutionary. In today's, I'm happy to report that it's not so outstanding. This is a good thing! Schaeffer would - I think - be happy with the progress we've made in this area. [Franky Schaeffer's personal journey is a whole different matter ... ]

If you grew up - like me - in an evangelical world that belittled anything not "Christian" than you should read this book. If that's never been a struggle of yours, pass on this one.

One specific quote I liked: "When our Christianity is allowed to become merely spiritual and inward without the incarnational and outward expressions of God's presence in the world, our faith is no longer meaningful in all areas of life. This indeed is what happened to Christianity during the twentieth century." (p.28)

I'll leave you with this - arguably the funniest endnote I've ever read: "In looking at the diversity of the Scripture in its content and form, one can hardly imagine that the Bible has anything to do with the present narrow theological sloganeering aspects of evangelical Christianity. It seems to me that if the Bible had been written along the lines of what much of evangelical Christianity represents today, instead of being the full comprehensive wonderful Book of diversity, beauty, knowledge, truth, wisdom, it would be a three-page pamphlet printed probably in words of one syllable, preferably on pink paper (because pink sells), possibly with a scratch and sniff section on the back to stimulate some spiritual experience while reading it. In contrast, the real Bible, the Word of God, is solid, human, verifiable, divine indeed." (p.20, endnote 1).


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