Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Marketing Jesus

I do not see myself as an argumentative sort.  I am generally a peace-maker, a unifier and collaborator – not a divider.  I am also quite tired of the endless haranguing that happens among Christ-followers about things that, at the end of the day, don’t matter.

So, it is with some reluctance that I take on the article that I gave as a homework assignment last week.  My willingness to press past my hesitations is based on the fact that I think this article is representative of a growing sentiment in certain Christian circles that I find disturbing.  And, if people with an opposing view don’t share their concerns about what is missing or incomplete in the argument, then it can be assumed that there is nothing more to be said on the subject.

That is why I want to offer a tweak to Mr. Galli’s article entitled “Super Bowl Evangelism” http://ht.ly/3RnEa. 

First, let me start by pointing out where I agree with what he writes.  If his most fundamental message is that the church needs to be more loving in its evangelistic efforts, I am his biggest cheerleader.  I say, “AMEN!”  Too much of what is passed off as “evangelism” has little to do with what Jesus had in mind in Matthew 28:18-21.

My sticking point has to do with making marketing the mortal enemy of this kind of love.  I have an MBA from a Christian graduate school.  When we studied marketing, we talked about the activity of connecting real human needs/desires with effective products and services.  Is this a legitimate activity?  Did Jesus do this?

One of the more fascinating parts of Jesus teaching ministry is the degree to which he appealed to desire.  He would say, “Aren’t you hungry?  Learn from me.” (Matthew 5:6) 

Was Jesus using marketing tactics?  Well, you might say, “Jesus was appealing to the more noble side of ourselves and our desires.”  Perhaps, but sometimes he left his appeals unqualified. 

In Luke 6, Jesus is talking about the importance of sacrifice and love (even for the sake of one’s enemies), and I find it interesting that he justifies his appeal by promising a “great reward” in heaven.  Is he marketing heaven?  Why not say, “Be loving and sacrificial, because it is just the right thing to do?”  Why the appeal to reward?  That could be interpreted as appealing to the flesh…employing those dark-side marketing techniques.

I sincerely believe that if we didn’t know that Jesus said something like this and the church picked it as a slogan or a series title, the outcry would be momentous: “Just another pitiful example of MBA-trained pastor-types trying to market heaven!”

Perhaps part of why I get so agitated about the outcry is that it almost makes it sound like Madison Avenue “discovered” marketing when, in fact, the reason Super Bowl ads work is because they are based in certain truths and principles that God himself ordained.  Even Mr. Galli admitted he prefers the ads to the game itself.  To be consistent, it would seem that he would find the ads appalling and offensive to his Christian sensibilities.  Now, can marketing approaches be tainted, twisted and deranged?  Certainly!  But, does that make marketing the enemy?  No!  Rather, let’s critique the approach or the application, because the core assumptions may actually have their roots in something God himself created and endorsed.  All truth is always God’s truth.

But, what makes this discussion more then theoretically offensive (for me) is that there are real (and I would say harmful) implications associated with trying to do what Mr. Galli is suggesting when it comes to teaching on any matter of gospel significance. 

He insinuates that in order to motivate and encourage people to be more loving (in their evangelistic efforts) we should simply tell them to do so and count on the Spirit to prompt some mysterious work within them.  But, later he states that we should actually be (proactively) more like Jesus and not “market our neighbors but love them.” 

OK.  But, can we consider that if it is desirable to be like Jesus on the activity-side, might we legitimately consider trying to be like Jesus on the teaching-side too?  Because far from just “telling” them what to do, Jesus seemed extremely interested in making it compelling to do what he commanded.  He used analogies they would understand.  He appealed to desires that were naturally inspiring and based in human want and need.

I don’t think we want more “telling” in American pulpits.  I don’t think we want pastors being less prepared or less persuasive under the guise of “making room” for God’s Spirit.  It would seem to me, that there is already quite enough of that.  In fact, perhaps a case could be made that it is the lack of “marketing understanding” that has contributed to the anemic zeal for authentic evangelism in the church today.

It would be my contention that it is an act of great compassion to work hard at making the ways of Christ understandable and compelling.  And, if a little understanding of the marketing mix might make one more effective in that assignment, might I suggest that we all stop by Amazon and pick up the book Marketing Gurus and learn all we can.

Respectfully submitted for your consideration…


Thursday, February 17, 2011


This week's blog post is a request.  Your assignment, if you will, is to read this article from Christianity Today. 


I'll give my thoughts on this next week.

Enjoy...if you can. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

What do we do about our sisters?

My parents had five children.  I am the oldest.  My sister (Elsa) is the youngest.  I am very close to my sister.  She lived with us for a season while she was trying to pull things together after a painful divorce.  She eventually found a wonderful husband and now lives in Colorado Springs.  Elsa is a prolific writer and has been a constant source of encouragement while I have been trying to figure what is next for my own manuscript.  She will be in Columbia this week.  I can’t wait to see her.  Elsa’s smile is infectious, and I am sure we will have numerous talks late into the night that will be mutually uplifting.  I’m so glad she is coming!

Last week, I was in Redding California.  I spent most of my time with Sarah Sumner.  She and her husband (Jim) hosted me in their home, but much of my time was spent with Sarah.  She is the dean of the seminary that is creating the Master’s program we will be bringing to Woodcrest.  For three days, I went to various meetings with her.  I met some amazing people and marveled at her leadership.  She is wise, quick-witted and a person of high integrity.  We talked at length about my manuscript and often talked late into the night about matters of personal and spiritual significance.  How good and pleasant it is to have such a dear sister in the Lord.

OK, let me stop right there for a moment and ask you to take stock of what is happening in your thoughts as you process what you just read.  Do you feel nervous?  Are you worried about what might be really happening between Sarah and I?  Does this sound like fodder for juicy gossip?  Isn’t it interesting how often that is our first thought?  Did my story about my flesh and blood sister affect how you read about my time with Sarah?  What would you have thought had I just started this note talking about my time with Sarah?

Quite ironically, one of lunch meetings I had with Sarah last week was with another visible Christian leader in the community (who happened to be a male).  Part of our conversation was about a lunch the two of them had several weeks before.  It was a “problem” because he was a man and she was a woman.  And, because their lunch was just the two of them…people were “talking.”

In a day and age where Christian leaders regularly fail us (most notably on the matter of sexual purity), I can understand why this was a “problem” for my brother.  He is a young, handsome, prominent and highly-regarded Christian leader in the community.  I understand the complexity of what he was trying to navigate. 

That is why I adhere to a similar set of boundaries myself.  I never have lunch alone with a woman.  I avoid traveling in a car alone with a woman who is not a member of the family.  No extended counseling sessions with women.  I even wrote about the importance of these “necessary boundaries” in my first team-building book.  It is all about minimizing risk, protecting personal boundaries, and understanding the power of perceptions.  I get it!

But, I was challenged by Sarah’s response to my brother at the lunch we shared together.  I have been pondering it ever since. 

She said something to the affect of, “Why must we automatically sexualize male/female relating?  Why must every encounter between a man and a woman necessarily raise questions about sexual infidelity?  Certainly, in the scriptures we have numerous pictures and images of appropriate male/female relating.  In fact, the most common image is that of a brother/sister connection.  If we can’t model that in the church…who will?  Should we allow the excesses of the few circumvent the benefits to the many?”


This morning I did a brief Bible study on the times and places where we find a reference to the image of “brother/sister” in scripture.  There were seven pages of references in my on-line concordance (168 references to be exact).  Let me note a few of them:

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.”
                                                                                                            Matthew 18:15

“Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
                                                                                                           Matthew 18:21

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
                                                                                                            Matthew 25:40

“Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”
                                                                                                            Mark 3:35

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.”
                                                                                                            Mark 10:29-30

When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers and sisters encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. When he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed.
                                                                                                            Acts 18:27

I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.
                                                                                                            Romans 1:13

Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.
                                                                                                            II Corinthians 13:11

OK, I think you get the point.  Through out scripture there is a constant drum beat of brother/sister relating that is good and right…dare I say normal?  But, I believe my friend’s response to Sarah is the more common reality in Christian community today.  He said, “Sarah, I hear what you are saying.  But,  I have no idea what that actually looks like.” 

Perhaps I have an advantage that I have a “blood sister” whom I love and feel very close to.  My connection with her is all about her and who she is in her womanhood, but it isn’t sexual, or maybe better said: “It is not erotic.”  Therefore, I have a mental image and real-life experiences of what relating to a sister-in-the-Lord looks and feels like.  By saying that, I do not mean to suggest that I have it all figured out.  In fact, I’d like to get clearer on it.

Perhaps even this post can help start a new level of conversation. 

What do you think?