By Jack Wilkie
When does the cross become a symbol for a misunderstanding of Jesus? I think it’s happening at this very moment.
The story I’m referencing has been in the news recently as a Corpus Christi, TX church is looking to build a 230′ tall cross. They give their reasoning for the project on their site:
We are raising the TALLEST CROSS in the Western Hemisphere, the second tallest cross in the world to proclaim with the loudest voice possible, that Jesus died to redeem you from your sin and to give you eternal life. …that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.
In the process, they’re spending at least $2.5 million to complete the project. They recently signed a $189,000 contract for the foundation, marking the beginning of construction.
Aside from the obvious point that such a massive amount of money could have been given to those in need and works all around the globe, what strikes me is how backward an understanding of outreach this cross symbolizes. The old Field of Dreams church plan (“If you build it, they will come”) never really worked that great, and it’s especially ineffective in today’s secular-humanist-dominated culture. How many non-Christians do you know who would give their lives to Jesus by seeing a giant cross next to the highway?
However, if we’re not careful, we can fall into the same line of thinking. I think it’s pretty safe to say that most of us aren’t part of congregations that are spending two and a half million dollars on what is essentially a massive billboard, but the way we view our outreach can often fall into the same trap. The giant cross is a great metaphor for the mistaken line of thinking that I’ve had through much of my ministry,* that if we just make a good outward showing, people will come. With enough events, a well-located building, a catchy sign, good advertising, etc., then people will come. And if we try all of that and they don’t come in, then people just don’t love the truth anymore.
But that’s not what Jesus called us to do, is it? “Go into all the world and make disciples” is pretty much the polar opposite of “Use the latest business strategies to try to lure people into your buildings.” Just as I have no expectation that droves of people are going to be giving their lives to Christ based on a tall cross, I shouldn’t expect the people in my community to drop everything and make their way to the building on Sunday because I came up with a cool sermon series title and posted it on Facebook. As Steve Timmis and Tim Chester point out in their book Everyday Church, “Our persistent ‘come to us’ mind-set suggests that we really believe that people who refuse to come in the front door are beyond the reach of Christ… We cannot assume people will come to us. We must go to them.”
I want to make it clear that none of the things mentioned above are bad things in and of themselves. But often we make the events and the marketing and all of those things the ultimate goal, when they should ultimately be viewed as small contributions toward the real ultimate goal of making disciples of Jesus. Because of that misplaced goal, we define success by our visibility and busyness and numbers rather than hearts won for Him. Just like the cross builders truly believe they’re accomplishing something great while doing very little actual investing time, love, and energy in people, so we too have to guard against aiming to be noticed rather than aiming to make a difference.
*Please don’t take this article as “bashing the church” or looking down on others. This is exactly what I mentioned above – a reexamination of my own flawed views of ministry. It’s my hope that I can help others avoid the same mistakes I’ve made and misunderstandings I’ve had as I learn along the way.