Everywhere I look, I see tattoos popping up – on arms, necks, faces, ankles, and who knows where else? Even TV is overrun with shows featuring tattoos; I’ve run across at least 25 different programs, from Bad Ink to Best Ink to Epic Ink to Tattoo You. There are shows based on where the tattoos are created: NY Ink, London Ink, Miami Ink. (I noticed there was no Indianapolis Ink; apparently, cities have to reach a certain size and notoriety before they get their own tattoo show.)
There are shows based on tattoos gone bad, such as America’s Worst Tattoos and Tattoo Nightmares. And if there is lingering hope for a tattoo gone bad, there is Tattoo Rescue. I suppose if it gets bad enough, someone will eventually create Tattoo Hospital.
Tattoos have always been around, particularly for sailors, prisoners, and edgy youth ministers. But today they seem to have taken over pop culture, with one out of three millennials claiming at least one tattoo, and 40 percent of Gen Xers displaying some ink on their bodies.
And, for good or ill, the church is seeing its own share of ink. (Hey, there’s another show idea: Church Ink!) It appears that to be a prominent church planter on the speaker circuit these days, you are required to have a shaved head, soul patch, and at least one tattoo (preferably worded in Greek or Hebrew, apparently as a way to blend one’s ink and theological education). Just today I was talking to a ministerial student who has some Latin phrase etched over about 8 inches of his left arm – I suggested that he be sure to wear long sleeves when visiting with future pastor search committees.
So, like it or not, ink is everywhere. Given that churches are inclined to adopt the latest cultural trends just about the time they are no longer popular in the wider culture, it’s inevitable that any day now preachers will start feeling the necessity to add some ink to show their level of cultural engagement.
I don’t plan to add any tattoos to my own body, given that they are likely to start sagging in all the wrong places and that I have an inordinate fear of sharp objects cutting into my skin. But I’m sure some of you are already sitting there right now wondering, “What phrase should I have permanently etched into my body by a burly ex-con?” So here’s a helpful guide to the best tattoos for preachers (with due credit to my colleague Channing Crisler, a New Testament professor who I am sure has the entire book of Romans inked on his back):
Best Tattoos for Preachers
“Stay Evangelistic my Friends”
“Momma Didn’t Raise No Proof-Texter”
These are not the sermon illustrations you are looking for
Hair is overrated
I’d rather be exegeting
If you decide to go with one of these for your own personal tattoo, be sure to send us a photo. I’m sure we’ll be looking for material for a future episode of our new TV show, Preacher Ink.