Road trips are a sketchy thing. Either they are a fantastic adventure where you create lifelong memories. Or they are hideous ordeals that are never to be spoken of again. There is no in-between. This realization came to me as I entered into the fourteenth hour of such a road trip. These odysseys take their toll not just physically, but mentally as well. In fact, I can divide my drive into phases of thought. The first ten hours consist of obscenely long phone calls to mom, off key renditions of Bohemian Rhapsody, meticulously planning the next decade of my life, and multiple role playing scenarios in which I am everything from a fugitive to the captain of an intergalactic fleet of starships. I keep occupied. At that ten-hour mark, though, any semblance of order is out the window. At this fourteenth hour I was feeling dangerously philosophical. And as I puttered down that overgrown, two lane highway in the armpit of rural Carolina, something caught my eye. “Hell is no joke… Turn to Jesus” the sign boldly proclaimed in all it’s faded glory as it hung brokenly on the side of a dilapidated old barn. My immediate thought was, “Gee, that’s really going to get them.” “Find me the nearest church.” I thought sarcastically. It occurred to me that the validity or power of a statement is somewhat diminished when haphazardly hammered on the side of a run-down barn. As I mused on this a dirty plastic sign staked by the side of the road arrested my gaze. “Touchdown Jesus” it cheered as it flapped wildly in the wake of the passing vehicles. Further down the road a rusted out billboard assured me, “Yes! Jesus Loves You.” I slammed my hand against the steering wheel, suddenly agitated with no clue as to why. I was frustrated. Frustrated at these people who thought a pithy statement on an antiquated billboard was actually going to have an effect on those passing by. Living under the label of Christianity all my life I have heard the arguments, but the one that keeps popping up is that religion is old-fashioned. The nickname “Bible-thumper” is one that I’ve had pinned on me many times. I just don’t understand when it became an insult rather than an honorific. At what point did Christianity become outdated? Who decided Truth was no longer concrete, but instead subject to interpretation? When did we become irrelevant? The answer is: it’s not. The Truth is just as solid now as it was when it was inspired and recorded thousands of years ago. The Message never changed. We did.
If your encounter with the Almighty didn’t transform you, you did it wrong.
We are a visual generation. Our most popular avenues of social media are ones that are graphically driven: Instagram, Pinterest, Buzzfeed, Reddit. Storehouse. A picture paints a thousand words and we no longer have the time nor the inclination to read what we can glance at. Companies like Apple and Starbucks have revolutionized their market by abandoning long winded textual descriptions in favor of stunning graphics and eye-catching visuals. Apple’s most recent software update, Mavericks, was recognizable not by the new features it offered or even the improvements it would boast, but by the picture of a majestic mountain range silhouetted against a lavender sky. Starbucks has quickly risen to become one of the most successful companies in the world. They haven’t simply branded their company; they’ve branded coffee. When someone says, “Let’s go grab a coffee” someone immediately searches the nearest Starbucks. They don’t just sell coffee. They embody it. Why? How has Starbucks succeeded where so may others have failed? They found an eye catching brand and then associated it with an atmosphere, a feeling. One that is characterized in every shop they open from rural Arkansas to the bustling metropolis of Xi’an, China. When you walk into a Starbucks you expect hardwood floors, green aprons, the clack of fingers on keyboards (probably Apple), some underground Indie band’s breakout single playing mutedly over the speakers, and Neptune’s daughter immortalized in the forest green symbol of the most successful coffee shop in the world. Both Starbucks and Apple have a slogan? Do you know what it is? If you do, count yourself among the few. We are a visual generation, and these companies have tailored their marketing strategies to that.
Way back when traveling salesmen were actually a thing, there was a general code of conduct. One of these codes was that salesmen must always be clean-shaven, well-dressed, and charismatic. Because companies understood, even back in the 50s and 60s, that to establish a lucrative connection the salesman first has to market himself before he markets his product. That’s why globally, employees are trained to be friendly, communicative, and engaging because people aren’t buying what you sell, they’re buying you. We are all a billboard. The question is; what are we advertising? Going to the mall with my mom is an ordeal. Because I know that we aren’t going to get out of there without being stopped at least four times by someone commenting on her hair, her clothes, her modesty, or her “luminous smile” (true story). My mom’s appearance is the ultimate draw in. She doesn’t have to approach people. They come to her. People so often argue that holiness isn’t a biblical requirement, but instead a bunch of dusty rules implemented by a bunch of crotchety, old sticklers. While there is scriptural support for holiness, more importantly it is a way for us to effectively “market” our Christianity. The older woman who stops me on my way out of T.G.I.F. says, “Oh your hair is so pretty, How long have you been growing it.” To which I cunningly respond, “All my life. I’ve never cut it.” She can’t help but take the bait as she inquires, “Oh wow, is it a religious thing?” Boom. When I slip on my skirt in the morning it comes equipped with a lifetime supply of “Insta-Witness”. When I run into Wal-Mart to restock on pop tarts, I stand out. Buying my gas at QT, I stand out. Sitting at Chipotle murdering a burrito, I stand out. This has nothing to do with it being a “heaven or hell” issue, this is about me utilizing every avenue God has provided for me to reach the lost.
People perceive our faith much the way they perceived those wretched road signs: outdated, broken-down, and irrelevant. In this age of instant gratification the only thing people want to commit to is the next season of their favorite TV show. Post-modernism says there is no truth, or that you define your own Truth. Pitting Christianity against that mentality is like throwing Larry King in the ring with a twenty-five year old Arnold Schwarzenegger. We are ill equipped for the fight. We struggle to be relevant without losing our consecration, or isolating ourselves from our world in effort to preserve our convictions. It’s time to take that thin line running between these two concerns and widen it into an eight lane highway accessible to all Christians. Take down that “Love Jesus” sign hanging drunkenly from your derelict barn and repaint that poor building. Don’t throw your faith at people, image it in your actions and your appearance. If the world can use the media to market their agenda, it is time we learned to do so as well. Get your church on social media. Keep your marketing clean, concise, interesting, and inviting. Utilize graphic design to advertise your church in a way that is visually engaging. We are a unique generation of technologically savvy, intellectuals who have the aptitude and know-how to be relevant to our culture. It is our responsibility to make our Message societally relevant. That doesn’t mean you change it. You don’t water it down or “re-interpret” it. John the Baptist didn’t change the Gospel, he just figured out how to preach it in a way that no one ever had before. People trekked to the middle of the desert from miles around to hear this locust eating, scraggly haired, camel skin wearing wild man talk about the coming of YHWH. It was his appearance that caught their attention, but it was his words that kept it.
Christianity is not outdated. The Message my grandpa preached is just as relevant now as it was fifty years ago. People desperately want to believe that there is something life-changing out there. It’s not a box office hit, a fancy new diet, or balancing your chakras. The thing about life-changing events is that they actually change you. If your encounter with the Almighty didn’t transform you, you did it wrong. Inward change evokes outward change. God calls us to covenant with Him, and a covenant always requires a sacrifice and a promise of obedience. But a covenant was also signified by something visible: a well, a mountain, an altar, even a pile of rocks. Where God performs a great change, He always leaves something as a visible reminder of the difference. Be a visible reminder of the incredible transformation that occurred in your life. Image Christ in a way that provokes people’s curiosity. You may be the only Jesus someone ever sees. Advertise Him well.