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These Signs Point in The Wrong Direction

I’ll just get it out there: I hate church signs.

You know the ones: plastic letters spelling out sage sayings that plunge the depths of mystery and divinity and bring us to a greater sense of awe of our creator. “Our church is prayer-conditioned.” What does that even mean? Or wait, how about, “Rapture: the only way to fly.” I saw one recently that said, “A blessing, if ye obey the commands of the LORD your God … a curse, if ye will not.” Why do Christians sometimes talk like pirates? Does anyone say “ye” anymore? I found myself wanting to use words like “Forsooth” and “Avast maties!”

The problem I have with these signs is that they deeply misrepresent the church and the Jesus that I love. From reading my Bible, I understand church to be a place of truth, community and transformation. It’s supposed to be an intriguing place where people can engage the divine and lives are changed. These small snippets on signs give an incomplete message that is often theologically wrong and completely misinterpreted. They’re not all completely untrue, but I question the motivation behind them and the effectiveness of the communication. They’re more like verbal jabs or corny attempts at inspiration rather than an invitation to something greater.

Sometimes churches try to be funny. In reality, these signs serve to be more obnoxious than humorous. Did anyone ever come to a passionate relationship with God because they saw “Git R Done for God” on a church sign? Has anyone ever embraced the teachings of Jesus because they read, “Get out of Facebook and into MyBook?” I find myself rubbing my temples more than slapping my knee.

Churches often try to legislate morality with their plastic signs: “You must turn from your wicked behavior.” As Christians, we’re supposed to believe that it’s through the transformational power of Christ that we’re forgiven and receive a changed heart. Out of that transformed heart comes a new sense of morality, not the other way around. How does that sign portray an intriguing Jesus that people would want to explore for life abundant? Personally, it turns me away from both God and the church. It shows God to be the angry old man waiting to pounce on sin rather than the compassionate Christ who died to take it away. It shows a church without appreciation that we are all in process. It presents a different message than that of Christianity.

Another reason these signs bother me is that they take deep truths and turn them into flippant sayings which wind up mocking the truth and the people. A popular one says, “You think it’s hot here? –God” Come on, man! The Christian doctrine of hell says that some people are in eternal torment – are we allowed to be so trite about that? If we believe this is true, shouldn’t our hearts break and tears come to our eyes? Are we so arrogant that we can make a joke of something so horrific? Even for those who do not believe in hell, what does it say to them when the people who do talk about it with a smirk and an elbow in the ribs? Where in the Bible does God think hell is funny?

What are churches really saying with their signs? I think most church signs are designed to justify and puff up the people inside rather than speak to the people outside. I think they speak with contempt toward the world they’re supposed to serve and love. Perhaps we should spend less time and money on vinyl letters and more on living out what we say we believe.

So, I’m bitter. I hope it’s for good reason. The church where I serve is building a new facility just off Interstate 95 in Gray’s Creek. Someone asked me recently if we were going to put one of these signs in front of our building. I almost threw up on their shoes.

The Rev. Dan Alger is pastor of The Church of the Apostles in Hope Mills. He can be reached at ecs@tcota.org.