We’ve all seen those messages on church signs and billboards. “Where will you spend eternity? Smoking or non?” “Try our Sundays. They are better than Baskin-Robbins.” “Welcome to CH CH. What’s missing? UR.” “You have one new friend request, from Jesus. Confirm? Ignore?” “Walmart isn’t the only saving place.” “God answers knee-mail.” “Santa Clause never died for anyone.” “What happens in Vegas is forgiven here.” Or my personal favorite, “Don’t let worries kill you, let the church help.”
Though they are funny, charming, often sincere, and sometimes even terrifying, many churches use these pithy sayings to serve as an invitation to join them in worship. But I have to wonder how many of them work? How many people actually decide to come to a church because of what their front sign says? Maybe more than I give them credit for, but I doubt it’s a lot.
The struggle our congregation, and many churches like ours have, is that we can’t fully fit our rich, deep, awe-filled, and wrestling faith on a billboard; not because we don’t have funny or insightful things to say, but because it’s hard for us to find the words in which to say them with honesty. If we did, what would it look like?
“Finally found Jesus? Come tell us where he was hiding.” “Don’t know what to believe? Perfect, sometimes we don’t either.” “Do you enjoy praise bands and projector screens in worship? Keep driving. Nothing to see here.” Or how about, "Think there’s only one way to read the Bible? Worship is at noon."
One of the reasons I love our Reformed tradition is precisely because we couldn’t fit our understanding of the Christian faith on a church sign if we tried; for it is shrouded in mystery and continuing revelation. We are called to approach God with a humility that acknowledges our own limitations. We will always have more questions than answers.
As Frederick Buechner writes, “To say that God is mystery is to say that you can never nail him down. Even on Christ the nails proved ineffective.” That’s too many words to put on a sign, and that’s the point.