This is the courthouse in Weatherford, Texas.
There are better pictures of it. This one is my favorite, though, because it puts this beautiful, historic building (129 years old) as the background scenery for a picture of a stoplight.
Around the courthouse is a road that can best be described as a roundabout. A roundabout (if you’re unaware and too lazy to read the provided wiki link) is a type of circular intersection in which road traffic is slowed and flows almost continuously in one direction around a central island to several exits onto the various intersecting roads (That’s straight from the Wikipedia article you were too lazy to read for yourself).
Roundabouts are much safer than regular intersections, because it greatly reduces (the wiki article says eliminates, but I think that’s a little bit optimistic) the possibility of perpendicular crashes (a.k.a. the T-Bone):
These happen to be the most deadly types of car crashes you can find yourself involved in, so anything that stops that from happening is ok with me.
Additionally, roundabouts keep traffic moving. Instead of forcing every vehicle to stop at a stop sign, or making people wait at a red light when there are no cars coming the other way, a roundabout allows all cars to safely enter the intersection relatively quickly. Roundabouts are also safer for pedestrians, who only have to look for traffic coming from one direction, and the vehicles are moving slower than they would be at any other intersection.
Now at this point, you may be thinking to yourself, Gee, Tyler, that’s wonderful and everything, but what does that have to do with the stoplights at the courthouse in Weatherford?
Well… there it is, isn’t it? There are stop lights in the roundabout.
Do you know what positive effects stoplights have in a roundabout?
Zero. None. Absolutely nothing.
Do you know what stoplights do accomplish at a roundabout?
They slow people down. They create long lines of people all trying to get into the roundabout at once. They force traffic in the roundabout to stop, which in turn can block off the entrances to the roundabout, which then creates longer lines outside the roundabout. Oh, and they really get in the way of what is otherwise a great picture of a beautiful historic building.
Here’s some free advice to the city planner in Weatherford – Get rid of the stoplights and install some yield signs. People may not like it at first, but it’s cheaper, safer, and faster than the arrangement you’ve currently got. Plus, public opinion has always swayed in favor of roundabouts once they’re actually installed. You’ll be a local hero. They’ll build you a statue. Songs will be written about you. They’ll celebrate your birthday as a local holiday. It’ll be bigger than the annual Peach Festival.
See, stoplights might seem like a great idea, but you’re only shooting yourself in the foot. You’re not helping your cause. You’re making things more difficult and less productive than they have to be.
And then it hit me like a ton of bricks (get ready for the Jesus Juke, cause here it comes), when it comes to church, there are stoplights in the roundabout.
Have you ever read the Bible and seen how easy it is to enter into a relationship with God?
Acts 16:30-31 –
[The Jailer] then brought [Paul & Silas] out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”
(For my Church of Christ friends, feel free to recite Acts 2:38 to yourself if you’re feeling uncomfortable right now)
The jailer’s question actually gets asked fairly frequently in the New Testament. The rich young ruler asks Jesus how to inherit eternal life in Mark 10. The crowd asks Peter the same question in Acts 2. The answers are always a bit different from each other, but always stem back to the same simple principle: Have Faith.
The reason this question gets asked a lot is because we’re dealing with a society that knew all about salvation. They knew all about being righteous. They knew all about finding favor with the gods. This required sacrifices. Lots of them. For the Jews it required keeping 613 commandments found in the Torah. Justification with your god(s) was a complex process, and one in which there was not often a lot of certainty.
So in this world, salvation was your typical intersection with a 4-way stop. You can enter the intersection, but only if you’ve followed all of the proper rules. It’s a slow, laborious process. It takes time, it can be frustrating, and in the end, you still might be creeping out into the intersection and silently praying that you don’t get hit.
Enter Jesus, who makes things so much simpler. “You know what you can do? Believe in me. Follow my leadership. Accept that I am all you need.”
All of a sudden, traffic started moving faster. When Jesus stepped in, the burden was lifted off of the shoulders of the people to follow the rules and appease the gods, and instead simply became a game of faith. All that needed to happen was for us to trust in God, and we can all move safely through the intersection.
But we have these really bad tendencies to overcomplicate things. So while traffic flowed smoothly for a while, eventually our human desire for order began to supplant the simplicity of the Gospel. Instead of merely trusting in God, churches started putting up a few stoplights here and there – maybe not intentionally, and certainly not verbally, but they started cropping up.
We make these unofficially official requirements (and some churches make them official) like:
- Not be involved in a lifestyle of sin (which is really just shorthand for “sexual sin” with an emphasis on homosexuality)
- Accept and advocate for a specific set of doctrines
- Behave in a way that is morally acceptable to your peers
- Become a member of a church.
- Be baptized to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and for the remission of your sins.
In and of themselves, these aren’t bad things. I’m a strong advocate for building up the Church. I think baptism is an incredibly important step for a believer to take in submitting to Christ. I think it is wise to seek and teach sound doctrine. I think being transformed by Christ to an image of perfect morality is an absolutely wonderful thing.
But they shouldn’t be barriers to relationship with God.
Perhaps our zeal to create good Christians has only led to complicate the process. Maybe people who need to know God are getting frustrated and leaving before we give them the chance to enter the intersection.
If that was the only issue, it would be enough to merit a change. But it isn’t. The thing about stoplights at traffic circles isn’t just that they’re frustrating. They’re expensive too.
We’ve got multimillion dollar buildings that get used two or three times a week. We’ve got churches that spend more on facilities than they do on ministry. We’ve got fancy programs to connect with people, and yet sometimes I think for all the flash, we’re not actually helping very many people move into the intersection. We may not actually be helping more people come to know God. Maybe we’re trying so hard to stay relevant that we’re actually preventing the Gospel from doing what it does best.
So here’s my proposal – let’s tear down all the barriers between us and the Gospel. Let’s let the simplicity of the Gospel do what it does best. That doesn’t mean that we can’t encourage people to live a holy lifestyle, or teach certain doctrines. It doesn’t mean we can’t have nice things or big church programs. But it does mean that we need to put our focus back into the pure and simple Gospel. It does mean that we have to stop trying to regulate traffic and let people meet Jesus exactly as they are. It’s safer, it’s quicker, and it’s simpler.
In churches, like roundabouts, the yield sign might just be better than the stoplight.