One of my friends sent me this article on a Michigan pastor who opened a tattoo shop in his church. I hate to disappoint, but my response to this is not going to be about whether or not it is okay to get a tattoo. Rather, I thought that this pastor’s rationale for opening a tattoo parlor is far more interesting than the parlor itself. According to the article, the pastor is “doing everything he can to reach out to people who have never felt comfortable at a traditional house of worship.” Think about that for a moment. Do you really think that people have been avoiding traditional church because they were previously unable to obtain a tattoo in the same place where they hear sermons?
I find that highly unlikely. But to be fair to Pastor Bentley, evangelicals do this sort of thing quite often. They may not actually put tattoo parlors on the grounds, but they will change the dress code, change the music, and change the decorum of the auditorium in order to make the place a bit more culturally appealing. Am I saying that the pastor who dons cool glasses, sports a soul-patch, and wears avant-garde t-shirts is doing the same thing as Pastor Bentley? Yes, I am saying that. They share the same motivation even if they do not share the same method. Isn’t that what the Cowboy Church does? They make cowboys comfortable by singing songs country/western style, and they have rodeos and such to make cowboys comfy. What’s the difference? Is it simply that the culture finds tattoos more distasteful than barrel racing?
In the interest of not becoming a total curmudgeon, I want to say that every church ought to concern themselves with making folks feel welcome. The church ought not despise tattoos, cowboy hats, or beatniks of any sort. But they should not be overly self-conscious of the fact that they don’t have a lot of those types in their midst, and they ought to consider the possibility that it isn’t their lack of cultural conformity to a certain group that is making them uncomfortable: It could actually be the gospel that is freaking people out.
Let me give an example. Suppose there is a mostly middle-class white church out there who realizes that they are not doing a very good job of reaching the young urban community. These mostly middle-aged folks astutely observe that the younger urbanites dress different, talk different, and listen to different music. In order to reach them, all these church people, even the grandpas, decide to wear hipper clothing, grow whispy goatees, and start listening to hip-hop music. Do you think that will make young urbanites feel more comfortable, or do you think it will simply make the church look ridiculous?
That’s what happens when the church forgets herself. We are not called to conform ourselves to every fashion that pop culture cooks up. We can’t, and we look foolish when we try. Instead of trying to cloak ourselves in the latest trend, we ought to be busy putting on the garb of holiness. That would include loving people who are different than we are, not necessarily looking like they do. I believe that love will draw more broken people than a tattoo parlor, don’t you?