Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Here's Your Sign

My parents used to tell me that first impressions matter.  So my mom always kept a very clean house in the chance someone came to visit or if I or my sister brought a friend home unexpectedly from school.  My dad always keep the cars clean and the yard mowed.  We always had clean clothes and reasonable times between haircuts.  Probably not much different from your family.

Organizations also present "first impressions" with their buildings, employees who welcome, or the cleanliness of the facility.  The front door might be one of the most important features of these organizations.  Here are a few front doors I have come across in midwest stores recently.

Clearly this is an unwelcoming sign.  This is posted on a sliding door into a business. This store is a large chain and is located in the upper middle class section of town with low crime.  Nothing about this sign says to me I am welcome to shop there.  I have never seen a sign like this on any other business, that does not mean do not exist but I have never noticed one.  I just found it to be a weird notice and felt it to be unnecessarily hostile.

This sign is to a dance studio.  It clearly is sending a message to those who enter what is the most important thing to the owner.  Not the hours of operation, the types of classes offered, or genre of dance, but rather all who enter here must be paid up before they can dance.  I appreciate that they need their tuition to make budget, if this is the first impression one receives they might not want to go back.

These signs are a sort of analogy of churches.  Our churches often put up intentional or unintentional signs up with our actions.  Perhaps they act like the fist sign.  Your life will be scrutinized here.  We will judge you and use a filter process to decide if you are like us.  We will examine every aspect of your life until we are satisfied you look, sound, and act like we think you should.  If you do not agree to these terms you are free to leave the facility.  Now this is of course an exaggeration...I hope.  But we all know groups who unite around the concept of what they are against in order to gain their identity. We also know at times Christians can be unnecessarily harsh to outsiders and even to one another in the auspices of orthodoxy.

The second sign speaks to what is most important to a church. Some feel the church speaks of money to often.  The economy is poor and non-profits all around are suffering.  People don't give excess money to non-profits and churches when they don't have any or are afraid.  But this sign doesn't have to only represent financial needs.  Have you ever been to a church that seems to only focus on one or a few issues?  It could be sex, marriage, family values, abortion, inerrancy,  gay rights, poverty, politics, or anything else positive or negative.  The point is they have so narrowed the scope of the gospel that their message becomes a one trick pony...and it us usually an ugly pony.

Lets try one more sign...
This is a welcoming place. It has the clearly marked sign open, the door is open, and the hours are clearly marked.  What you cannot see is the variety of plant life that greet you from the parking lot to the door letting you know that this place holds a variety of plants, trees, flowers, porch/deck furniture, and other yard DYI things.  But what you see outside is only a small taste of what is on the inside.  A vast complex full of a variety of gardening elements.  The staff is friendly and knowledgeable. 

 What if our church families looked more like this last image?  What if we were more inviting and welcoming? What would it look like if we could find the balance between being welcoming to all and strong in our Christian identity?  What if we found a way to interpret and discern what God is doing in the world?  The staff in the garden center don't just grow plants in a bucket.  They are capable of listening to your home garden needs and demonstrate how to move their nursery plants into your real back yard garden.  They have figured out the balance between safe building and real world application because they live in both places.   They understand the Missional balance of sending and being sent.  Just like Christ who was sent and in turns sends us. God is at work in each of our lives (gardens) we simply need to be aware of his presence and celebrate.

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