Look carefully at the billboard above. I have not edited it in any way. Can you see what is wrong with it? Look closely. Something is very, very wrong here.
Perhaps I should have edited this picture to protect this congregation given that I am offering a criticism. Maybe I could have blanked out the name of the church or the pastor. Maybe it is not fair to pick on a billboard that obviously was created with much thought, trouble and expense. No doubt a committee worked with a marketing firm to develop this billboard for a very specific purpose. After all, it is quite an expensive billboard in a very public place (on I-45 just southeast of downtown Houston). And yet, it contains a terrible error. Have you spotted it yet?
Now, I am not saying that this is not a biblical congregation that provides encouragement and healing and hope to her thousands of members. I am not saying the congregation itself or the pastor doesn’t care about the Gospel or Jesus. I’m not saying they are apostate or unsafe for Christians. I really don’t know if they are a faithful church or not because I have never attended it. I’m only judging the billboard. And the billboard contains a terrible error. Have you seen it yet?
Well, it’s a bit of a trick question. There is not one error, per se. The whole thing is full of errors. The underlying assumptions behind the billboard are nothing but error. It assumes that within Christ’s church, there are ordinary churches (which are almost certainly to be avoided!) and extraordinary churches (which would naturally be everyone’s preference.) It assumes that churches that are like other churches have a terrible flaw: they are like other churches! It assumes that it would be in your worst interests to attend a congregation that too closely resembles the ordinary and it assumes that staying at an ordinary congregation would be like “settling” for something beneath you.
And why settle for second best when you can have the best? Why settle for ordinary when you can have extraordinary? These temptations to covet and to be unsatisfied with the “ordinary” congregation God has established are all over this billboard. And that’s why it is the most offensive billboard in Houston. (Yes, including those billboards, for at least they do not degrade Christ’s church in his very name.)
So, if you were busy looking for typos or some embarrassing gaffe, that wasn’t my point. (Although the grammar in the question “Looking for NOT just another church?” is rather awkward. Why not just ask, “Looking for an extraordinary church?”) My point was that this billboard demonstrates everything wrong with the church today: while we should be building one another up, we are openly declaring war on one another. Indeed, I can hardly imagine a more offensive or aggressive declaration of hostility than these words. There is nothing here if not pure contempt for “ordinary” churches and the desire to siphon you away from your ordinary church for an extraordinary experience. There is nothing but puffed up conceit here; the arrogance of this message just pours off the edifice of this sign. For it assumes it is even able to define extraordinary and place itself under such a banner.
Are the pastor and this marketing committee unaware that it is precisely “ordinary” means of grace that Jesus established? The Lord’s Supper, Baptism, the Word of God, these were what Jesus gave us to use to embark on the Great Commission. And it has been “extraordinary” means that have brought division and derision to the Church. False prophets, phony miracles, cults of personality, larger-than-life preachers brought down by scandal, enormous institutions rife with corruption…these “extraordinary” church enterprises through the years have proven to be the real disappointments. It is the “ordinary” churches that, while not perfect of course, have stood and will stand the test of time and the demands of change.
Show me a denomination or a congregation that defends the ordinary means of grace and I will show you a congregation with the best possible chance to survive and nurture faith in God’s people. Show me a denomination or a congregation built on the extraordinary vision of a man, the extraordinary charismatic gifts, or the extraordinary emotional highs of exciting preaching and trendy music, and I’ll show you a congregation ready to wither from a lack of roots.
The ordinary congregations are those solidly rooted in good soil, and because they are not committed to “the great man” or emotional exuberance, but are instead committed to the unchanging and perfect Word of God, have the best chance to thrive in this sinful world. They will continue to struggle against sin and have their conflicts, of course. And they may never be extraordinary or noticed by the world. But to deride them, all while trying to attract them to your “extraordinary” church smacks of open warfare for all the world to see. And it should offend “ordinary” Christians to the core.