How do you display your faith? Is it obvious to everyone around you that you follow Jesus? Or is that something that only those close to you can see? And is one better than the other?
How should we demonstrate our faith in Jesus? What impact does this decision make?
My feelings about this subject have changed significantly over the last couple decades.
Let me explain.
When I was in college, I wanted everyone and their mom to know I was a Christian. I thought the mere fact that people knew I was a Christian would be enough for them to consider going to church too.
I should give you some insight into my thinking.
By the time I graduated from high school, the youth group at our church had about 200 students showing up every week. And I was one of the cool kids in that youth group (for whatever being "cool in youth group" is worth in the real world).
But, I noticed the majority of people I met didn't connect the words "Christian" and "cool" in the same sentence. Which I determined must be the main reason the really cool kids never showed up to any church events.
So I devised a plan
I decided it would be my job to show everyone that Christians can be cool too. Because, if they realized Christianity was cool, then of course they'd change their mind and get baptized right on the spot. Right? So here was the plan (please don't follow these steps!!):
Step 1: Look cool
I already had this one pretty well figured out. I mean, I was one of the cool kids in my youth group. Remember?
Spiked hair with bleached tips. Tight t-shirts and baggy pants. Or board shorts with knee-high socks. Skater shoes (even though I was never a skater). Sunglasses on the back of my head (even when it was raining). And a dangling cross earring like Billy Idol.
You might not realize this now, but 15-20 years ago this was cool...in my youth group.
Step 2: Christianize my look
Just looking cool wasn't going to make people think Christianity was cool. I also had to mix my faith into that cool look.
So I bought clothing from Christian skate companies. I bought shirts and hats from Christian bands. I bought shirts with crosses on them. Cool looking ones of course. I even had a shirt that said "Satan Sucks" on the front. Because I was cool and edgy.
Everyone who saw me was going to know I was a Christian. And they were going to see that Christianity is cool...
Step 3: Get a cool car
I couldn't drive around in my grey 1987 Subaru sedan anymore. It was my first car, and it served me well. But, if I was going to attract people to Jesus through my coolness, I was going to need something a little more flashy.
So I bought a red 1994 Mitsubishi Eclipse with a hatchback. Red sports car? How could they not want to be just like me?
Step 4: Christianize my car
I still had a problem. When I was in my car, nobody could see my cool Christian shirts. And they couldn't read my hat to know I was promoting the coolest Christian band that sounded just like 311 or Limp Bizkit.
So I went out and bought some stickers. Again, I bought stickers from Christian skate companies and Christian bands. But, I went one step further. I had stickers custom made for my car.
Across my windshield I put the words "Jesus Christ Hardcore." On my back window was a fish. You know, like those little chrome ones you see on minivan bumpers? Except mine took up the entire back window...on my hatchback. That's a lot of space to cover.
And, remember. I said I was edgy. So, I had a sticker in one of my side windows of Calvin. Not John Calvin. The kid from Calvin & Hobbs. And I know you've seen the stickers of Calvin peeing on something, right? Usually a rival sports team or political party. Well, on my car Calvin was peeing on the devil. That's right. People were going to know I was a cool Christian.
Step 5: Make some noise
Now that I had the look and the car, it was obvious that I was cool. And I was using that coolness to make Christianity look cool by Christianizing everything. But, what if people didn't notice me? I couldn't have that.
So, I put two 12-inch sub-woofers in a band-pass box in my hatchback. And I hooked them up to a 1500 watt amplifier. I even had to install an extra battery, because my new stereo system sucked too much power.
Then, I installed a 50-disc CD player in the car, and I filled it with - you guessed it - Christian CD's. Christian punk rock, Christian rap, Christian metal, Christian ska, Christian alternative. Basically, If it broke the mold of your typical K-LOVE Christian music, I had it in there. Check out my old workout playlist on Spotify if you wanna get a feel for what you might have heard rolling down the street in those days.
I lost some hearing for Jesus during those years. I shook the other cars at stoplights. I shook the other cars in the gas station. I shook the houses in my neighborhood. I shook the windows of the church youth building.
Everything was exactly as I planned. Nobody could possibly deny my coolness. And, if they did, then it was because they were predestined for hell anyway.
Did it work?
This is actually a very difficult question to answer with certainty. But, I have a pretty good idea of what the answer probably is.
Since I never actually interacted with 95% of the people who were subjected to my Christianized coolness, I don't really know how it impacted them. My assumption at the time was that they were being moved one step closer to accepting Jesus because they saw a good looking guy cruising down the street blaring rebellious sounding music with a giant "Jesus fish" on his back window. Probably speeding and/or running a stop sign.
But, now that I'm older, I have a different opinion. I think if I were to see 21-year old Joe today, I would fall over laughing. Then, when I got up, I would feel sad for him. Sad that he misunderstood people's rejection of Jesus so much that he thought some cool hair and edgy stickers would change their minds.
I would be surprised if a single person follows Jesus today as a result of all my "coolness outreach." It lacked substance. I never tried to get to know these people. I never even asked them what kept them away from church. Maybe they were simply repelled by people just like me.
Don't be like 21-year old Joe
You've seen those DirecTV commercials with Rob Lowe in them, right? Featuring "Painfully Awkward Rob Lowe." And "Super Creepy Rob Lowe." And "Peaked in High School Rob Lowe." With the tagline, "Don't be like this me." I think they're hilarious. Take a minute to watch them below.
Or click here to see them
That's what I would say to Christians today. "Don't be like 21-year old me." There are so many better ways to help people see value in following Jesus.
I'd love to have some dialogue in the comments about this. Feel free to make fun of me if you'd like. Sarah does it all the time. And, as you just saw, I deserve it.
Do you have a story like mine? Or better? Or worse? Let's chat!