A church in my neighborhood has a tombstone for their church sign. The congregation is named for a famous Bible verse which is also engraved on the tombstone.
I’ve heard of new church plants that meet in funeral homes and it could work. But people cry a lot in funeral homes and an effective church probably has a healthy crying to laughing ratio. Church is for crying – yes – but not all the time. Most people do not laugh in funeral homes. (Note: my siblings and I tend to laugh quite a bit in funeral homes but we have an unusual sense of humor.)
New church venues in theaters, schools, and bars seem to convey a more positive ambiance than funeral homes – the resurrection notwithstanding.
I personally like a nice grave stone. I appreciate the history they share and the stories they perpetuate.
One of my favorite cemeteries is the one behind Thyatira Presbyterian Church not far from where I now live. There are three very old pirate graves among those ancient plots.
Legend has it that three men left their pirate lifestyle along the coast and settled in Rowan County, NC but they were later – somehow – outed by pirate hunters. (!) They were subsequently hanged and buried in unmarked graves – except for a skull and crossbones on each tombstone.
But I digress.
Here’s the thing about choosing a tombstone as your church sign: it’s disturbingly and unintentionally indicative of your church’s culture. Yes, it says sturdy and maintenance-free but the truth is that – while The Church is sturdy – the church must be flexible and wide open and changing to suit the ministry needs of the community. And “maintenance free” church requires further discussion.
Yes, maintaining ministry space is important. But many of our congregations call pastors who only know how to do maintenance.
Instead, the 21st Century Church needs to call culture shifters who will love the people out of old models into a new way of following Jesus for these days. We need visionaries and prophets and dreamers – along with those who know how to do enough management to keep the ministry thriving.
Following Jesus has very little to do with administrative management. Again, God bless the managers. But 21st Century Church Leadership actually has everything to do with training disciples who will proclaim the message of Jesus, offer community to God’s people, lead worship, speak the Truth, inspire people to work for justice, and show the neighbors what the love of God looks like out in the world.
When your church sign is a tombstone, resurrection is certainly possible. But I can’t help but wonder if somebody is secretly expecting death with no resurrection, even in their wildest imagination.
Images are of 1) a church sign in my neighborhood and 2) the pirate graves at the Thyatira Church cemetery.
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I went to Drew Theological School in Madison NJ. Every day of class I would pass St. Paul’s Within the Walls. I found it deeply disturbing. Sounded like a fortress to me.