The Tattoo Litmus Test

Posted: December 12, 2008 in Crosspoint, Perspective

It seems that everyone once in a while there are “moments” that define your existence.  This past Sunday I believe we had 0ne of those moments that defined (or re-affirmed) our existence as a church.  Actually, nothing “new” happened, and that’s what makes this weird.  Sure, we had a guy tattooed live onstage shown from multiple camera angles and we’d never done anything that in the history of our church.  But in our long church history which has included things like live foot washing, a goat pooping onstage, a preacher in a hula skirt and coconut bra, Guitar Hero onstage, a NASCAR race car parked out front, and the band performing “Your Body Is a Wonderland” a few of years ago, I’d say the the whole tattoo thing was not anything radically new – but something already consistent with our vision and mission to do whatever it takes to reach people for Christ.

But what makes this a defining moment is that it’s times like these that serve as litmus tests of our commitment to the vision and our resolve to actually get in and get our hands dirty in mission.  It’s easy to say “I’m in!” when you first get involved in a ministry like ours.  It’s new!  It’s exciting!  You can wear shorts!  However, our short church history has proven that the resolve of our people can be seriously tested when we actually begin doing the things necessary to reach the unchurched and they actually start showing up.

This is a test far too easy to fail.  Think about these examples:  (1) You can be the person so resistant to change and committed to your tradition, that you’re the one raising your hymnal up so high that you deliberately cannot see the new screens your church just installed to make it easier for people to read the words to hymns.  (2) You can be the person who likes the idea of starting a “contemporary” evening service to reach the lost, but you start freaking out when people with messy, screwed up lives (and the outward appearance to match) start showing up to the same church where your grandmother and your children go to church.  (3) You can be the person who listens to Lynard Skynard at work all day long, but freak out when the band plays one of their songs at church.

Anything new and daring can be uncomfortable and awkward…because it’s different.  But we only fail the litmus test when we let that discomfort evolve into resentment and maybe even anger that leads to naysaying and division.

I know the tattoo-thing made people uncomfortable this Sunday.  I talked to someone in the lobby between services who had guests there who were “freaking out” at what we were doing.  I know there are more people out there who were probably clinging to the arms of their theater seats just waiting for lightning to strike Dave, the tattoo guys, and the bass player for having a Gators sticker on his bass amp.

But where does our discomfort in situations like this come from? 

(1) Is it because we think the church is somehow sinning in what it’s doing?  This discomfort is certainly a valid one, and I think we’d all never want to  do anything onstage that would be just a public display of sin.  (Well, duh…).  So, I think it was tactful that Dave discussed the Scriptural aspect of it first in his sermon.  I won’t recap what he said (you can listen to the message by clicking here).  The only thing I will say is that often – even after hearing the word of God preached and clarified about things like this – we still cling to our exisiting beliefs and preconceptions, unwilling to admit that maybe – just maybe – we were wrong about our interpretation of something.  So our discomfort remains in spite of finding understanding in the Word of God.  So we  fail the litmus test because we cling to our own ideas rather than open up our minds to  a deeper understanding of God’s Word.

(2) Is it a discomfort because you “just don’t do things like that in a church?”  This one’s the most common, and it’s worthy of its own post.  But I’ll say this much:  In my opinion, the most controversial thing we’ve ever done in church was play John Mayer’s “Your Body is a Wonderland” as part of a series about sex and marriage.  Having to sing that song in front of the crowd at church on a Sunday morning made ME uncomforable.  But I did it anyway.  Why?  Because of what Dave said:  “If you’re uncomfortable with the lyrics to this song, then you’re going to have a BIG problem withe the Song of Solomon, ’cause it makes the John Mayer song look like a children’s book.”  We simply took a popular song, and leveraged it – put it in its appropriate context – to talk about a topic that few churches are willing to talk about in church.  But there were people who were very disturbed that we took a secular song like that and played it in a church (In fact, another local preacher said that that song was “Satan talking to teenagers”).  Maybe these uncomfortable people missed the point that this song -when leveraged for Christ – is about what a marriage should be like.  Maybe they missed the point that when the people we’re trying to connect with listen to music they are more likely to tune to John Mayer than to Chris Tomlin.  We used the song to grab their attention so the Word of God could be preached.  We just did the same thing with a tattoo…  We fail the litmus test when we reject the incredible means at our disposal to captivate people for one hour with the hopes we can lead them to life change in Christ.

(3) Is it the people we attract that make us uncomfortable?  I served under a pastor a few years ago, who – prior to when I knew him – worked in a traditional church that was starting a contemporary service to reach “the lost.”  That service became a very successful Sunday evening service that was drawing in about 100 people.  But the “church” people became uncomfortable as they saw an increasingly steady stream of  unchurched people show up:  People with tattoos, pregant teenagers, drug addicts, etc.  So they rose such an objection to the “class” of people showing up that the church was forced to shut the service down.

I’ll conclude on this one.  At Crosspoint, we are about reaching the lost.  And lost people (not so diffeent from “saved” people) can have very messy lives.  Interestingly, after Dave’s sermon Sunday and his emphasis on getting over our discomfort to reach people in situations that make us uncomfortable, we had a guest show up at small group Wednesday night who embodied the kind of person we desperately want to reach in church.  This guy had apparently been in a fight (fisticuffs) with a family member just moments before he showed up.  He has served time in a correctional facility.  He’s got many problems, and there’s a high probability he was a bit inebriated when he showed up.

But here’s the thing:  He showed up.  He spoke up.  He shared.  He fought back tears as he asked us to pray for him to basically find new life.  We were stunned.  We’d had this comfy, easy life group planned, and it was shattered (in a good way).  We were facing our own litmus test – a test of our resolve, a test to see whether or not we would welcome this man into or midst…or just sit there in our discomfort.  I hope we passed, because our discomfort quickly faded and we welcomed him as he was and got to know another one of God’s children.  I hope – I believe – that he will be coming back, because I want to know him better.

So this is how I see it.  We can worry about the things that make us uncomfortable.  Or we can worry about the souls out there who do not know Christ.  That is the test.  What’s your answer?

  1. Faye says:

    A ton of things to think about here. A timely message of confirmation for me. Thank you for sharing.

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