Ugly Church


There’s about to be some construction around our church building. No, we aren’t getting a new gym. We’re not putting a pool on the roof. And we’re not putting in a gold plated parking space reserved just for the pastor complete with a conveyor belt that carries me directly to the pulpit. That’s in next year’s budget.

What we’re building won’t last very long. It will be up by the middle of June and, most likely, torn down by July 1.

We’re building a mountain.

In the sanctuary.

When I preach, I’ll probably have to find some other place to stand.

And it’s all for one simple reason.

Vacation Bible School.

I love the way that our church building looks when Vacation Bible School rolls around. The sanctuary always looks like a jungle or a beach or some other popular VBS theme. And every year, the person responsible for building it comes to me somewhat worried. The question is always the same.

“Is it alright if we put stuff on the stage for Vacation Bible School?”

The answer is always the same too.


I don’t have an eye for design but I love this kind of thing. I love fake animals all over the stage. I love it when we have cartoon clouds hanging from the ceiling and a cardboard sun on the wall or, as will be the case this year, a gigantic mountain dominating the platform where I usually preach.

I love it because it reminds me that Jesus didn’t just die for adults. No, he gave his life for the salvation of kids too. And he doesn’t just like to hear adults sing about him. He loves it when children sing his praises, even if it’s done around a giant paper mountain with those sandpaper blocks you only find at Vacation Bible School. I know that one week every summer isn’t all that it takes to pass the faith down to the next generation. It takes parents and other believers sharing and living out that faith in everyday life (Deuteronomy 6:7). But Vacation Bible School can be a big part of that.

I’m sure that there are some who don’t share my affection for VBS decorations. It looks tacky, they say. It doesn’t show proper reverence for God’s house. It’s just ugly.

Here’s what’s ugly.

A church where everything is in place is ugly. A church where there are no crayon marks on the wall because there are no kids there to do such a thing is ugly. A church where everything on the stage always looks like a picture from Southern Living: The Church Edition because appearances are what matters most is ugly.

Jesus died for the Church.

He did not die for a church building.

I’m all for showing proper respect. But could it be that what we think is just good taste and decency is really just idol worship? Idols can be tiny little statues. They can be giant monuments. And they can be that communion table at the front of the church building that hasn’t been moved in 35 years because if it is, someone will die. Or at least get yelled at.

If the decorations around your church building look a bit childish this summer, put your sense of style to the side, at least for a week or so. The cartoon cut outs of silly looking animals stuck to the wall right next to the stained glass picture of John the Baptist standing with Jesus isn’t tacky. It could very well be a reminder that God is doing something good in your church.

Of course, you could make a big deal out of it all. You could tell all of the appropriate people how terrible they are for their wicked decorations. You could pass by laws that prohibit the hanging of any piece of art not made out of stained glass. You could share your disgust with others in hopes that they’ll agree with you and that momentum will shift in your direction and away from the silly kid art.

And you just might get your way next year.

No clouds hanging from the ceiling.

No cardboard sun stuck to the wall.

No mountain on the stage.

No kids.

And no genuine work of the Holy Spirit.

Just you and your sense of how church decorating should be done.

But that will be okay with you. Finally, your church will look the way a dignified church is supposed to look.

And then it really will be an ugly church.

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