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Catch-Phrase Christians

Here's my up-front disclaimer: I'm not fond of Christian jokes and one-liners. I might be a terrible stick-in-the-mud, but when I pass a church marquee sign posting a "Christian" message, I wince. Although I fight the urge, I read it. And sometimes I need to seek God's forgiveness for the thoughts that enter my mind after my car has passed by.

I live in a small town where church marquee signs are prevalent. Before Election Day, one sign read, "To find God, turn right and go straight." A left-leaning friend was outraged by what she believed was a political message. Granted, the church was located on the right side of the road, but I wondered if the pastor realized that, if drivers decided to "go straight," they would eventually end up at the Davison Bacon & Sausage Works down the road. (Can God really be found between tubes of hanging salami?)

Another local church sign once read, "If God gave you the same priority you give Him, would you be saved?" My instinctive response was a low growl. I wasn't being convicted by the Holy Spirit; I simply have an adverse reaction to being smacked in the head while traveling down Main Street. It doesn't seem to reflect our Savior's style.

Several Christian websites are dedicated to help "spread the gospel rapidly" by posting catchy one-liners such as "God answers knee-mail," "God loves everyone, but probably prefers ?fruits of the spirit' over ?religious nuts'," and "Sitting in church doesn't make you a Christian any more than sitting in a garage makes you a car." My response is always the same: "Huh?"

Or consider the church sign I passed while jogging on a terrifically hot day. It read, "WARNING! Exposure to the Son may prevent burning." Sure, I get it. But why does it make me crazy?

I feel especially provoked by one-liners like, "Why do some people change churches? What difference does it make which one you stay home from?" and "Don't make me come down there–signed God." Statements like this are patronizing, condescending,, and place the reader on the defensive side of living.

Do we really want to guilt people into worshipping with us? When people read these messages and the out-loud response is, "See?THAT'S why I don't go to church!" we've failed our community–and our faith.

Before I gave my life to Christ, reading "Be ye fishers of men. You catch ?em; he'll clean ?em," would have never worked for me. If I believed, prior to my darkening the doors of the church, that some wanted to "catch" and "clean me," I would have swum for my life. I have always had a highly developed fight-or-flight instinct, and I had no interest in being caught or cleaned.

Instead, God gently moved in on me, seemed to sit beside me and softly spoke. Suddenly, I realized that he and I were in the same place at the same time. I learned, through relationship with others, that he had a genuine interest in my life and wanted in. I said yes to God and took those first wobbly steps of faith.

Are we really trying to reach out to those who are far from God? If the answer is "Yes," we need to speak the words that others understand and will respond to positively. Our audience is comprised of moms and dads, children and grandparents, friends and neighbors. They are overworked, tired and stretched to the limits emotionally, mentally and financially. They laugh too little and worry too much. They are searching for something meaningful in their lives and often look in the wrong places. And, once in a while, they timidly walk through the doors of our churches.

If we insist on using catch phrases to attract our community, perhaps we should run the quote-of-the-week by our unchurched friends before placing them on a sign. Ironically, we may need to have others tell us the truth about the Truth we're trying to share. Filtering language through those who will be honest with us might keep us from displaying critical or silly phrases about God to the community. And, it might result in an interesting one-on-one conversation about the most powerful words of all.

We have an incredible opportunity to invite people on a journey of faith. As for church marquee signs, perhaps we simply need to say, Sunday Services: 9:00 and 11:00 a.m. All Welcome!

With God's spirit, those words might be more than enough.

December26, 2008 at 1:49 PM

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