With all due respect to the late Lady Bird Johnson - who tried to ban them in her crusade to beautify our nation's highways - people really do read billboards.
More's the pity.
Not just for those interested in freeway aesthetics, but for Pastor Frank Moore of McElroy Road Church of Christ in Mansfield, Ohio.
Don't Believe Everything You See
Seems that Moore had the idea to purchase a billboard emblazoned with "There is No God" followed by, in a smaller font, "Don't believe everything you hear."
Turns out, an organization in Mansfield called Mid Ohio Atheists has fielded several calls of support from people who think the group sponsored the sign.
Not a church.
Handing free advertisement to your opponent is what I think kids today call an "epic fail."
Church Marketing 101
Now, if Moore had read my essay last year on Wolves in Shepherds Clothing, about two other pastors who also tried whipping up some attention for their respective churches with half-baked - and therefore, bad-tasting and possibly lethal - marketing slogans, he'd have understood how wildly such a stunt can backfire.
But sometimes, like the rest of us, preachers have to learn these lessons the hard way.
According to the church's website, their rationale behind this particular billboard seems noble enough:
"The design of this sign is (to) get people to stop and think! We took a common statement that is being said in our culture: "There is no God." We added this thought: "Don't believe everything you hear." It is similar to telling someone, "To break a mirror means 7 years of bad luck." To which the response would come, "Don't believe everything you hear." Because someone says something does not mean it is true! The Apostle Paul says the equivalent in 1 Thessalonians 5:21."
Actually, in context, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 says this:
16 Be joyful always; 17 pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Do not put out the Spirit's fire; 20 do not treat prophecies with contempt. 21 Test everything. Hold on to the good. 22 Avoid every kind of evil. 23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.
OK? So, let's test this idea of Moore's.
First, should we risk the appearance of blaspheming the very God we claim to adore by prioritizing a false statement denying His existence on a billboard? Of course not: God will not be mocked. (Galatians 6:7) The fact that people have called an atheist organization congratulating them on the billboard proves how off-base this idea was.
Second, since we're risking the appearance of blaspheming God, we're not "avoiding every kind of evil," are we?
Third, Whose is the process of sanctification anyway - ours, or God's? According to verses 23 and 24, it's God. That means that we don't have any authority to go outside the teachings of scripture to try and accomplish discipleship, which includes evangelism (ostensibly the purpose of this billboard).
Are believers ever instructed to casually deny our Creator in the process of discipleship? Assuming he's happily married, would Moore use a billboard to deny the existence of his wife? Then why would he do so regarding His Lord?
Christ even provides a parable which proves my point: bad soil does not yield good fruit, does it?
What Does This Road Sign Tell Us?
It's not even like the billboard was well-executed, and simply the target of anti-religious journalists.
If you're going to put up a billboard, you're going to want it to look professional, in addition to communicating what you intend for it to communicate. So in this instance, if there was any merit in putting up a billboard with this particular message, you'd want to put quotes around the first phrase about God (I can't even bring my self to keep typing out that sentence) to indicate that it's a phrase that people say. Using quotes indicates, among other things, that the phrase may or may not be fact, so it needs to be proven.
You also need to evaluate your text to ensure readers get your point. Particularly when readers of billboards are usually in vehicles zooming by, which doesn't afford too much time for pondering tricky wording. Obviously, Moore thought he knew what he wanted to say, but his audience didn't. As proven by the kudos atheists are receiving.
I'd also get a better logo than that confection of layered clipart and wording nobody can see, but that's just me. This church is the one seeking to market itself, after all. The public isn't asking for that bad artwork to be inflicted upon them.
Meanwhile, McElroy Road Church of Christ has spent several thousand dollars to send a message endorsing atheism. To not only the Mansfield, Ohio community, but to readers of websites based from California to Connecticut, where news organizations have picked up the story and run with it.
Yeah, I think "epic fail" pretty much sums it up. At least in terms of how productive we can fail to be when we try to get clever with the Gospel.
We're to "preach the Word," right? Not a catch-phrase, or what we think looks good on a billboard. Especially not a viewpoint endorsed by our culture. Especially since the inverse of the Gospel is, uh, NOT the Gospel.
Why even play around with false claims? Why rely on how the world does things to market your church? Why not rely on the truth in God's Word instead?
"There IS a God" should be what our lives shout out to those around us.
If we believe it, people in our spheres of influence won't need a billboard to know it's true.