Both of them are fully tatted up with almost all exposed skin real estate below the neck covered in ink.
As someone who thinks almost constantly about how the church can reach out to new generations of people, the tattoo culture has intrigued me for a while. How does the local church, not the hip, niche ones in urban centers around the country, reach out to people who have made their bodies a work in progress art project?
This is not an issue that is going away any time soon, and it impacts more than just the local church.
Let’s leave behind the local question and think globally... to the “ends of the earth” if you will.
In my role as a missionary in Mexico, I get a number of chances to speak to churches and groups around the US. Receiving short-term teams and providing mission direction for churches is a big part of what I do. One of the first things that hits me when I meet a group for the first time is how many people have tattoos.
Years ago, tattoos were the exception, sported by only a few people, and rarely exposed in public. Now, they are everywhere and we are confronted with them daily. With this reality has come a new issue for those of us in the field serving people who might not share US sensibilities about freedom in Christ.
The apostle Paul famously said, and I’m paraphrasing here, “all things are lawful, but not everything is beneficial.” Sadly, I think many are only taking the first part of his statement to heart.
I get asked all the time whether or not a Christian can get a tattoo. To me, it almost seems like a trick question. Sometimes a youth pastor has told his or her charges to ask the missionary, as if I have some sort of divine knowledge that they do not have access to. Even parents send their kids to me, hoping I guess that I will deliver the bad news so they don’t have to say no themselves.
But for me, there is no easy answer on this. Tattoos are not a black and white, or even a color issue in spite of the desire by many conservatives to stand on a specific line in Levitican Law.
So what do we do?
I have no answers for how our church culture welcomes people covered in tattoos. Just look around at your members and you’ll understand what I mean. If your church is like a majority of churches in America today, I am guessing when that person walks in covered in tattoos, he going to get a few stares. Okay a lot of stares. Yet unless we are willing to write off an entire generation of young people, we must address this issue.
On the mission front I can only look back 19 years to a young man named Brian who served with me in Guadalajara for two weeks. Brian came to know Jesus after he had been tatted up. So as we talked about his options to serve, Brian came to realize that he should keep his tattoos covered while he was in Mexico. That became part of Brian’s mission, or his offering to us and our partners in Mexico. Fortunately, Brian was able to cover all of his tattoos. Many people today are unable to do that.
So here’s my answer to all of you who have asked me whether a Christian can have a tattoo. Sure you can. But understand this... getting a tattoo may forever make it impossible for you to fulfill God’s calling on your life to go to the “ends of the earth.”
Let me put it another way.
Your body is not your own once you give your life to Jesus and your decision on whether or not to get a tattoo could profoundly affect your ability to serve God on the mission field.
I fear that even as we are seeing increased interest from young people in the mission field, whether it be long or short term, we may have to leave some of our most talented people at home. Many of the places the church is serving, and the places with the biggest need of a Gospel witness are going to struggle with, or outright ban missionaries with tattoos.
Why would someone choose to do something that could limit their ability to serve God in these areas?
Thinking about it like this, doesn’t it just seem a little selfish?
I’m just askin...