Based on a brief internet search, I can confidently say that there is no 3415 Bardston Road in the United States. There is a Bardston Drive in Dublin, Ohio, and a Bardston Ave in Orlando, Florida, but no Bardston Road and none with a number 3415 along its curb. And yet the 250 pens that I received in the mail proclaim proudly, in bold white letters set against four brilliant colors, that Grace Fellowship Church can be found at 3415 Bardston Road.
When I broke the tape and opened their small box, they looked lovely – a rainbow of writing utensils emblazoned with the vital statistics of our little community. The logo looked crisp, and everything was more legible than I had imagined when designing them on the company’s website. While the kids and I pulled them out to decide on our favorite color, my wife calmly picked up a green pen and stated simply, “They spelled Bardstown wrong.” A closer look at the red one in my hand revealed that indeed they had – it was as plain as day: “3415 Bardston Rd.” Yet what was not clear in my mind was the assertion that they had spelled it wrong.
A quick check of my email and a look at the proofs that had been sent confirmed the uncomfortable truth that I knew all along: they had not spelled Bardstown wrong – I had. As much as I had wanted to blame someone else for the missing “w,” I alone was guilty, and now I had a box of 250 witnesses that could click their proverbial tongues and remind me that I am not perfect.
Of course, I know I’m not perfect – who, besides a four year old has the audacity to claim they have never done anything wrong? I know my failures better than anyone else because I know my heart better than I know anyone else’s. In a conversation, I will gladly admit my shortcomings and sins. I’ll even, in guarded moments, announce on social media that my life is not always the smiley dream that my profile picture portrays.
But for all that knowledge and the occasional admission, I spend a good bit of time trying to play the part of a person and a pastor who has it (almost) all together. And if that is my brand, then I really have no interest in sending out an army of 250 representatives to proclaim in four-color stereo, “Come to Grace Fellowship Church: the church that can’t spell its street name correctly.” That’s what makes it even worse – I’ve dragged my church into the mess of my mediocrity.
The good thing is that I can easily admit my mistake to my church family. They watch me week after week stumble and trip on Sunday mornings, and they graciously continue to stand with me. We value honesty and transparency as a church; we want to foster a community where it’s ok to not be ok. Yet the thought that these imperfect pens would become for some who have never met us the sole representation of our church (and me), was hard to swallow. It tasted a lot like pride.
My wife, the unintentional bearer of the bad news, was the first to put the right spin on things and correct my conceit. “Maybe these pens can let people know that we’re not perfect, so they don’t have to be perfect to come to our church.” I’d like to say I agreed with her right away, but it took a minute for me to see that my slain vanity was something to rejoice in, and that imperfect pens could provide more truth in advertising than perfect ones. Still, I was slowly making peace with the pens.
The truth they spoke that had at first been wounding slowly became the thing that brought healing. Yes, I’m not perfect. Our church is not perfect. So maybe our pens shouldn’t be perfect, because none of God’s children are. Not once has he picked up a perfect church led by a perfect pastor to write his continuing story of redemption. Rather he chooses churches filled with misspellings who are despised and mocked by the world, so that he can make all the wise look foolish and show the world that he alone deserves the glory for all that he has composed.
All that said, the next time I order pens, I’ll make sure the address is right. But for now, you can find us at 3415 Bardston Road. I’ve got a pen waiting for you.