This is part 2 of my sporadic blog series titled “Venting.” As I stated in a previous post, please realize that as I vent that I am not speaking against some ambiguous group of evangelical Christian leaders. I am venting about my own struggles as a follower of Jesus and a leader of other followers- struggles which I am confident are not limited to just me…
When I left for college in the fall of 1990 my ambition was to get my degree in Business Marketing, find a job with a cutting edge marketing firm in Manhattan, and become a voice of Christian integrity in the business world. This was a noble goal, but like many other college students my career goals and college major shifted with me receiving a degree in Educational Psychology and becoming a Student Minister. Despite the shift, my interest in marketing has remained. I see the need for churches and other mission oriented nonprofits to brand themselves accurately and effectively- they should have a voice in their communities and culture.
That being said, I sometimes wonder if we (spiritual leaders, churches, Christian organizations) spend too much time marketing ourselves rather than allowing the ripple effects of our ministry to those around us to in effect serve as our marketing. We have come up with all kinds of “Christianese” cutting edge terms and catch phrases as we attempt to brand ourselves- we all want to become missional churches, experiencing organic community, serving through incarnational ministry, so that we’ll experience exponential growth (and yes I’ve used all these terms in the past year).
BIG SIDE-NOTE: One big lesson for me was when I moved to NJ to start the Point Church. I remember inviting unchurched people to come check out our church, and they’d look at me like I was asking if they wanted a rash. They were unchurched for a reason- THEY DON’T LIKE CHURCH! I compare this to my aversion to yogurt. I hate yogurt. I don’t care if it’s Greek yogurt, fruity yogurt, yogurt with nuts, or expensive fancy yogurt. It’s still yogurt. I imagine that’s how my unchurched friends (and I mean real nonChristians) feel about me inviting them to church. They don’t care if it’s contemporary, postmodern, incarnational, organic… No matter how we market it or package it, it’s still church. SO rather than marketing something that nonChristians are not interested in, why don’t we focus on what does matter.
Back on point.
Think about it…
Do our people really understand what our catchy terms mean?
Does the world around us know what we’re talking about (and do they care)?
Even if they did understand, what terms would they use to describe us?
Do they think our labels, branding, and marketing match what we’re delivering?
We made the mission of Jesus our focus and really put our time, energy and resources towards living that out?
We allowed our ministry and investment in people to speak for itself?
We stepped back and allowed our community to say who we are and what we’re about?
I know this sounds risky- actually allowing our community, the people we serve and invest in, to declare who we are and what we’re about. I have several ideas on why we should take the risk:
#1) We often over promise and under deliver. Some of us are big picture kind of people who like to dream about what God could do. We love talking vision, mission, and strategy. Sometimes this can lead to talking big to people in the community about what we’re going to do then struggling big-time to do it. Instead of this leading to strong community partnerships this can lead to a skeptical and even calloused response to our efforts.
#2) It’s always better when someone else rings your bell. Just to be clear: getting others to ring our bell should NEVER be our motivation. Let’s be honest, though, nothing is more annoying than someone who tells you how good they are. The more someone brags, the more you want to find the cracks (and show the cracks to others). When a third party does the bragging, everyone receives the information in a completely different manner.
#3) When our community and culture label us, they understand what they mean.This does not mean they always get it right. BUT if we do an effective job of connecting who Jesus is and what scripture says, with what we do, they just might get the idea. Also, if what we what we do matches what we say, we’ll usually earn the opportunity to clarify who we are and what we’re about.
#4) I really believe this makes good scriptural sense. Check out these scriptures:
1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. 2 “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
(notice that the disciples were identified as “like Christ” by the people of Antioch)