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…


1 comment:

Ken said...

I've been thinking about this since it was "assigned." Initially I agreed with the author even though his comment about liking the Superbowl ads more than the game seem contradictory. We should be open to and moved by the spirit as the basis of our actions. Our evangelism should be genuine acts of the Spirit. I think where I ended up on this subject is best summed up by Paul in Colossians 2:8 - See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. We are flawed, broken humans and we will be exposed to many things that are not of Christ and despite our best efforts we will commit acts that are not of Christ. The best we can do is to not let those acts make us captives! If we err in some way trying to spread Gods word, isn't that what Grace is about? I hope I have completed my assignment with acceptable marks.

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