It would be better for everybody if we could be honest about tattoos.
Truth is, not all tattoos are beautiful and they are not all created equal but we have to pretend they are. I’ve learned that tattoos are very personal and each person is blindly in love with their own.
“Want to see my new tattoo?”
“Sure, I’d love to see it!”
“Here it is … on the inside of my (random body part).”
(You think to yourself, Eeeww, that’s ugly. And what the heck is it, anyway?’ But of course that’s not socially acceptable, so…)
“Oh, that’s so nice! Yeah, that’s really something. But tell me, why did you get a tattoo of a toilet brush?”
“It’s not a toilet brush, it’s my grandmother.”
See what I mean? That
was could be awkward.
At any rate it reminds me of a trait that often occurs in our worship communities. We think we are beautiful: welcoming, interesting, loving places but what are we really? In the same way a person subjectively admires their own tattoo, we can be blind to how others actually see us.
For every church that is growing these days there are probably ten that are diminishing and so Christian leaders are constantly scouring the landscape for new ways to grow, new ways to manage, new ways to keep on existing.
Even ‘the Circus’ has to keep generating new material to maintain interest. As most of you know, I love to make fun of the Circus – the right-wing fringe of Christianity whose obvious goals are power, money, craziness, or all of the above.
Take Jim Bakker for example. He spends most of his time proclaiming conspiracy theories on his television program – particularly the ones that he considers anti-christian. Right on cue, he recently told his audience that saying Merry Christmas was illegal a couple of years ago but, praise God, we can now legally say it again! (Presumably the rest of the world didn’t know about this at the time and presumably it was Trump who rescued us.)
Then Kanye West made an appearance at Joel Osteen’s mega church last weekend for the Sunday service. (Yes, he was paid well, yes he sold merchandise, yes he called himself ‘the greatest artist that God had ever created’, and yes he is trying to copyright the term ‘Sunday Service’).
But wait, it’s not just the crackpots who have to market themselves, it’s everyday churches too. Most of our church activities are like a bad tattoo that looks good to us but is odd and unattractive to others.
I sometimes wonder if church leaders feel they need to add new activities, programs, and stresses rather than to simply feed and help people. Most Christians are taught that these things are normal, If we do this we or that will be successful. We will look good to the community. In fact, our programs rarely make the difference we hope for.
The result is that we are in a time of severe decline in most religious organizations and insiders are bewildered as to why people go elsewhere to feed their spiritual and social hunger. One of this week’s Lectionary readings tackles wrongly motivated leaders.
“What sorrow awaits the leaders of my people—the shepherds of my sheep—for they have destroyed and scattered the very ones they were expected to care for,” says the Lord.
Therefore, this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to these shepherds: “Instead of caring for my flock and leading them to safety, you have deserted them and driven them to destruction. Now I will pour out judgment on you for the evil you have done to them. But I will gather together the remnant of my flock from the countries where I have driven them. I will bring them back to their own sheepfold, and they will be fruitful and increase in number. Then I will appoint responsible shepherds who will care for them, and they will never be afraid again. Not a single one will be lost or missing. I, the Lord, have spoken!
“For the time is coming,”
says the Lord,
“when I will raise up a righteous descendant
from King David’s line.
He will be a King who rules with wisdom.
He will do what is just and right throughout the land.
And this will be his name:
‘The Lord Is Our Righteousness.’
In that day Judah will be saved,
and Israel will live in safety.
Jeremiah 23:1-6 (NLT)
See that? Shepherds busily operating with a different agenda than the people under their care. God’s answer to the inevitable starvation and scattering was to send Jesus to show us another way.
I spend an abnormal amount of time online reading about theology, church, and culture issues. There are two unfortunate consequences to that: first, I’m a narrow and boring person; second, I get targeted with social media ads for church leaders.
Among the numerous benefits marketed to pastors and other church leaders:
- techniques to preach better;
- the secret of growing a church from someone whose church grew 1000% in 3 years;
- ways to grow your church naturally into its next phase – without burning out;
- a system that increases the likelihood that guests will return;
- how to get get more volunteers and ensure they continue volunteering;
- ‘mic techniques’ for worship leaders;
- a salary guide for church workers;
- ways to avoid all those bank fees;
- a guy who has worked for churches for four decades ‘to raise money God’s way’ has put all his knowledge into a book and it can be yours for only $29.99.
Religious marketers selling other religious marketers cheap marketing trinkets in order to sell them to other religious marketers still again.
I am simply reminding you that pastors and denominational types are imperfect people, just like you are. Treat them well, pray for them, love them fully, work with them – they have incredibly challenging work to do.
Just also know that professionals see the world through a different lens than we ‘civilians’ do. Often what seems reasonable and normal at that level is irrelevant and unattractive to others. That’s why you and I are so important as you live every day in the world. We are the church that will make a difference if a difference is to be made.
One of the revolutions that Jesus brought with him was empowering everyday people to be his Church: fishermen, housewives, tax collectors, doctors, freedom fighters, prostitutes, etc. In many ways this new kingdom of believers bypassed the religious leadership and became a collection of Spirit-filled people whose only marketing tool was loving God and loving their neighbour.
Today is the last Sunday in the Christian calendar: Reign of Christ Sunday. By definition his kingdom must have Jesus at its core. We would do well to remember that it’s not the ‘production’ that draws people to God – rather it is his Spirit, plus Jesus through us.
The church’s best tattoo is still a picture of Jesus.