Values

Is your church bending the truth?

FILE -- In this Sept. 2010 photo, the sign outside Cornerstone Baptist Church displays its message to drivers in Farmington Hills, Mich.

FILE -- In this Sept. 2010 photo, the sign outside Cornerstone Baptist Church displays its message to drivers in Farmington Hills, Mich.  (AP Photo/Detroit News, Neal Rubin)

Recently I attended church in Romney, West Virginia. It's a cozy quiet town where even the church mice whisper.

The beautiful trip to Romney from my home in Woodstock, Virginia isn't a drive. It's a painting. Embedded in the scenery are roadside church signs announcing service times, special guests and both inspiring and quirky quotes.

I thought of the many church signs I’ve passed through my years on five-lane highways and rural roads barely big enough for the squirrels and me. Are all those signs really telling the truth?

Whether they spell it out in plastic letters or not, these signs also suggest what to expect when you enter.

I thought of the many church signs I’ve passed through my years on five-lane highways and rural roads barely big enough for the squirrels and me. Are all those signs really telling the truth?

One sign said: “All Christians Have The Same Boss.”

I nodded, smiled, pulled to the side of the sleepy street and took a picture. The photo quickly disappeared into my iPhone, but the message lingered all day long.

I thought of the many church signs I’ve passed through my years on five-lane highways and rural roads barely big enough for the squirrels and me. Are all those signs really telling the truth?

Perhaps your church, like mine, doesn’t have a sign 15 feet from the road. But if it did, what would it say?

“Join us! We'll save you a seat.”

“Come in. We'll love you!”

“Welcome! Our family isn't complete without you.”

Maybe. But would it be true? Have you ever been a member of a congregation where other signs might be more accurate and painfully honest?

“Join us! But don't sit in my pew.”

“Come in! We'll judge you!”

“Come in! But leave your screaming baby at home.”

“We're glad you’re here, but just today. We've been a small church for a long time and we’re a family. We welcome you, but don't let the chapel door hit you on the way out.”

Fine, so that last one might not fit on the sign, but the spirit of it sure would.

Those are the exceptions, right?

Certainly at the humble church I attended in West Virginia, which also didn’t have a sign, none of those negative hypotheticals would have fit. Theirs could have said any of these.

“Welcome! We will serve you.”

“Come in. But don't sit anywhere except next to me!”

“Join us! We're not a family without you.”

At the end of the day I pulled into my driveway and thought of the many signs I’ve passed during my lifetime. All of them, I choose to believe, were warm, inviting, kind and accurate.

I looked at my soggy yard and wondered – what if my home had a sign? What would it say? Would it fairly promote what to expect inside?

“Come in! But if you stain the carpet, we're sending you the bill.”

“Welcome. But don't stay long, our favorite show is on.”

“Join us! We’ll love you! But only if you look like us and believe precisely what we believe.”

I certainly hope none of those are true. But I fear on some days, they might be. Thank heaven the letters are changeable, especially on the imaginary signs.

If your church has a sign, consider whether it accurately reflects your church family. And if you don’t have a sign, consider what it might say if you did.

As for me, if I could design a sign in front of my local chapel, I would want it to say that we know God lives and we know that he loves you.

It better be a big sign, because there’s more.

This isn’t our house. It’s his. The pews, principles and even the words we speak belong to him.

We’re imperfect. We’ll stick our feet in our mouths and sometimes we’ll fumble around as children of God are meant to. But no matter what you look like, where you're from, or whether you have a PhD or dreams of a GED, we will love you.  In fact, we already do.

Now that’s a church sign worth aspiring for. Come to think of it, I want that one in my front yard, too.

Guess I’ve got some work to do.

Jason F. Wright is a New York Times bestselling author, columnist and speaker. His newest book “A Letter to Mary: The Savior's Loving Letter to His Mother” is available on Amazon. Subscribe to his weekly columns, join him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

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