Tuesday, November 30, 2004

No Shirt... No Service?

airJesusTshirts, originally uploaded by Run Steve Run.

We’ll admit it. We’ve been there right with you. We’re working on the budget for our next big event, outing, or mission trip. The line item that never leaves and stares us in the face is the “Trip T-Shirt”. What color this year? What should it say? Is the logo cool enough? And… Why are we spending so much time thinking about… a t-shirt?

Christian t-shirts are everywhere. Look around. We can’t walk through an airport without seeing a group with bright colored t-shirts saying something like “Taking South America for Jesus.” We smile at the youthful enthusiasm of the group passing by but might we leaders be perpetuating an expectation, even an addiction that renders any Christian activity meaningless without getting the sacred t-shirt??

At the risk of being accused of blowing what might appear as a small issue into Size XXL, we think it’s fair to stop for a moment and pay attention to that gnawing uncertainty that plagues our consciences. Who started this whole t-shirt phenomenon for the rest of us? How did we got sucked into the whole t-shirt craze? What’s really behind the t-shirts and the slogans on them? Does the t-shirt phenomenon in youth ministry help or hurt our cause?

Therefore, for the sake of the cause, we believe it’s time for the whole t-shirt phenomenon to shrink a bit, and we ask that you join us in considering the following…

First… can we start by rejecting all t-shirts that take the tremendous concepts of the Christian faith and reduce them to pithy sayings? No t-shirt is worth reducing the work of redemption to “His Pain, Your Gain,” or sanctification to “God’s Gym” or the cross to “Beating the devil with a big stick.” Is there not a cost with defining a life of submitting to the saving lordship of Jesus Christ to “Do the Jew”? Slogans are great when you’re trying to sell soda, but let’s resist turning God, his church, and redemption into a peppy commercial.

Second… what if we were to critically consider what t-shirts are saying and not tolerate ones that are theologically and missionally meaningless? Is there not a cost to promoting that “Satan Sucks” when not even the Archangel Michael would utter such a statement, leaving judgment to God? Is there not a cost in calling the Transcendent Savior of the universe “My Homeboy?” And can we be careful of our wording when we make our mission trips shirts? Are we really “Serving China” when we go for a week? Are we “Changing Mexico” when we spend 3 days building a small shed and then celebrate by going to the beach? Are we “Taking Jesus to Ecuador” as if the national church there isn’t already embodying Jesus in their context? There are kernels of truth in several of these statements but might it be emphasizing the wrong thing?

Third… Do we really need a t-shirt for every Christian event we do? What are we really teaching young, impressionable minds when we have to broadcast every time we serve, sacrifice, or attend a conference? What does a t-shirt say that we can’t better share from our heart? What does a t-shirt perpetuate that we can’t better demonstrate with our lives? More often than not, Christian t-shirts perpetuate a sub-culture that suggests that “I’m not like you,” or “You missed out.” Is there not a cost in what we communicate and a responsibility in what we say, to reflect the spirit of the Gospel and the posture of the follower of Jesus?

Some might argue that everyone else does it, so why not have “positive wear” out there, too? Maybe this is one small way we can declare that we will resist trying to follow the strategy of marketers and live more counter-culturally.

Which leads to our appeal. What if we were to all make a pact with each other? As a sign of solidarity, what if we were to place our hand on this article and promise for one year… to not make any t-shirts, buy them or wear them? And instead, after the event, seek for what we all desire… signs of impact, passion, excitement, worship and selfless love.

Think we’re making too big of a deal of this? Test the waters and propose that no t-shirt be offered for your next event. See what happens. Be open to the fact that t-shirts have cost our cause more than we ever imagined.

(The above was written with my friend Dave Livermore and excerpts were published in the Nov/Dec 2004 issue of Group Magazine)