sign1Church signs can be fun. We’ve all got the email forwards with some doozies. Friend and colleague Mark Wolfe gave an excellent sermon I heard recently and he highlighted a few of them:

“A God of your understanding would be less than you”

“This is a Sign. Come to Church!”

“God desires spiritual fruits, not religious nuts”

“For God so loved the world… that he didn’t send a committee”

I recently used a quote from one of my brother’s songs: “Nails did not keep him on the cross, love did.” (Here’s the video from his first album.)

The picture to this blog has the words, “It’s not just about getting into heaven, but getting heaven into you,” inspired by language-artist Max Lucado.

When I started at Westminster I noticed my name on the sign. “Rev. Matthew Ruttan.” It was a very kind and welcoming gesture. The elders and congregation were so hospitable. I still remember walking into the church on that day to see people’s smiling faces. Even still.

Going through a time of figuring out what God wants for you, school, field placements, psychological testing, guidance conferences, conversations with loved ones and mentors, church approvals, prayer and more prayer… and then seeing your name on an official-looking sign with “Rev” as a title cements in you that the world of theory is in the past.

And most church signs have the minister/pastor’s name on them.

But why?

I would understand if your name was Bill Cosby, Madonna (no pun intended) or Bobby Orr. People would know them. But the general public doesn’t know who “Matthew Ruttan” is. Or any other seminary grad.

Here’s what I’m getting at:

The church, to use Calvin’s phrase, is a lacerated body. The lacerated body of Christ.  (See 1 Corinthians 12: 27 and elsewhere.) But too often the church is the body of pastor so-and-so. Maybe it’s not the pastor; maybe it’s a strong interest group within the church.

But the Head is Jesus. My prayer is that we’re not people running around suffering from decapitation.

The minister’s name on the church sign, in my view, might perpetuate an unhealthy priority on the person of pastor.

We all do it. It’s just what we do. It’s custom.

But maybe we need a re-think.

Churches need to be led, and ministers (in many denominations) have good training and a calling from God to do so in preaching and teaching (and other things, see Ephesians 4 and elsewhere) as they equip God’s people for Christian service and life.

But leader-ship isn’t Head-ship. There’s only room for one Head on God’s lacerated body and it ain’t mine.

So when we update the church sign, let’s think about taking my name off. It’s a reminder that the minister is a trained servant, yes—but one among many in a shared ministry that belongs to Jesus. Ministry together in a world of beautifully designed but twisted carnage.

We are all people nailed to a plot and Person, and that Person is on a cross not behind a pulpit.

In a perspective-shifting book called The End of Words, Lutheran Professor Richard Lischer writes that it’s “not better performances the church needs, but truer characters.”

May that be a good reminder for us all.

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