Thursday, August 12, 2004

Marketing and the Church

The following was sent out as a prayer for pastors (though perhaps meant for business men) and their efforts in the marketplace written by a Mr. Richard Kriegbaum.
My friend James Walden, Associate Pastor at Creekside Community Church in Gainesville responds below.

“Choose a good reputation over great riches.” Proverbs 22:1

“It is so frustrating, God! We work so hard, but being the best – or offering the best value – does not guarantee our success. We do all we can to be honest and creative in all our marketing messages, but that does not guarantee success either.

It is hard to succeed in this media-defined environment, where image is reality. The market acts only on its perceptions – not on how good we really are, only on how good it thinks we are. The lie can be big and brazen or small and subtle, but the lie often lasts long enough to beat the truth. Honor the truth, Lord.

The truth tends to win in the long run, I know, but too often there is no long run. Conditions don’t always last long enough for the truth to prevail. We are determined to market ourselves as skillfully as we possibly can, but, Lord, keep us honest. Don’t let us slip into exaggerating or misleading in any way. Give us a passion for making the truth convincing.

I don’t want to whine to you if we are losing fairly in the marketplace. But, Lord, if we do it right and tell the truth, then we are depending on you to protect our reputation and our place in the market from those who would destroy us unfairly. I ask you to let our image match reality.

Don’t let me mistake my own petty prejudices for the truth of what people really need, or mistake people’s felt needs for their real needs. Help me to know what people really need so I can serve them well.

Keep us true to your values, Lord, whether we seem to be succeeding or not. If you allow an undeserved image to be decisive, I will still do my best to honor you in everything we do as an organization. I would rather fail than dishonor your name.

Our good name matters only if it is under your great name. Lord, by your providence may we have the image in the market of being the best at what we are trying to do, and by your grace may that image be accurate.

Our image is all we have in the market, Lord. Keep us honest, and protect us.”

-- Richard Kriegbaum, Leadership Prayers

James Walden responds:
Though Mr. Kriegbaum's prayer ostensibly seeks to be faithful to the truth, and ultimately subject to God, it nevertheless seems confused, or at least confusing to me.

For Mr. Kriegbaum to employ the language of marketing in describing our ministry, I think, only muddles his expressed concerns to be authentic and true. It seems to me that the evangelical preoccupation with image and “selling” the church to the masses is our present “Babylonian captivity”. In our task of representing Christ to the world, we are not marketers. We are preachers. The language of preaching puts us in an entirely different ‘domain of discourse’ – one to which we badly need to return. In marketing, we seek to identify the ‘needs’ and/or wants of a target audience, and shape an advertising strategy accordingly. Our methodology is basically man-centered (i.e., consumer-driven). As evangelicals employing this model or approach to ministry, we feel that we can do this and still be true to the nature of the ‘product’. However, it has been well said that, especially in today’s image-driven culture, the medium is the message, or, to put it more accurately, the medium significantly shapes the message. If we ‘advertise’ the gospel as if it were a product, that is precisely how it will be regarded. Is it any surprise, then, that in our evangelism we treat the gospel (and the Lord Himself) as if it were a commodity at our disposal, to be acquired when it suits us, if it suits us? Is it surprising that we treat the church as though it were a commercial entity, existing to cater to our interests and personal tastes (and thus we ‘church shop’ until we find one that maximally ‘meets our needs’)?

Certainly, a good reputation is to be sought over great riches, and ministers especially are to have a good repute with ‘outsiders’ (1Tim.3:7). But in the New Testament this has everything to do with “good works” (i.e., personal integrity, righteousness, submissiveness to authorities, etc., cf. 1Pe.2:11-17), and nothing to do with ‘strategic marketing’. We do not do “good works” so that people will be impressed with us, whether as an organization or as individuals (as did the Pharisees, cf. Mt.6:1-5). God save us from the day when feeding the poor is yet another strategy of church-growth! There is, of course, a ‘horizontal’ impact of our (‘vertical’) obedience to God. Jesus commands us to “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” But notice that the emphasis is on God’s ‘reputation’, not ours; and this is echoed throughout the NT: we do “good works” so that people might glorify God “on the day he visits us,” (1Pe.2:12) and that the gospel not be ‘dragged through the mud’ because of our ungodliness (cf. 2Pe.2:1-2; Titus 2:2-8), but, rather ‘adorned’ by our Christ-likeness (e.g., Titus 2:9-10). In other words, we are to always glorify His name.

And even so, men will still slander us (1Pe.2:12; 3:15-16). As Jesus repeatedly warns us, we will be hated by the world (Jn.15:18-19), even killed by those who think that they’re thereby serving God (16:2). Moreover, the message of the cross will always be an offense to men. This is not to our shame; we glory in the scandal of the cross! If we are to talk then about marketing the gospel, or Christ and His Church, we are speaking of a hopeless and useless task. The cross cannot be marketed successfully because “the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2Co.4:4). As a deliberate stumbling block, given by God to frustrate the world and its wisdom (1Co.1:7-2:14), the gospel is fundamentally unmarketable. Rather, it is preached – a God-centered and God-commissioned message directed toward man. Only through the preaching of the cross are men’s eyes opened to the truth and their souls quickened to new life, resulting in Spirit-wrought conviction and faith (e.g.,1Th.1:4-5; 2Th.2:13-14; cf. Ro.10:14-17).

As those under authority to preach (1Co.9:16), we should certainly strive to become “all things to all men” (9:19-23), and so remove any unnecessary hindrance to the gospel (9:12), despite the inevitable blindness of men (2Co.4:2-3). But this stands in sharp contrast to ‘marketing’, which seeks not just to communicate its message clearly and persuasively, but to peddle a product (cf. 2Co.2:17). Thus the success of marketing is measured by actual sales (‘conversions’). The success of our ministry must be measured first and foremost by faithfulness to the message (cf. 1Co.4:1-4), not ‘nickels and noses’. Despite Mr. Kriegbaum’s statements, faithfully “offering the best value” DOES guarantee success in our ministries (at least before God, and what other kind matters?), NOT our image in the market-place! The truth will prevail, God will glorify His name! “Let God be true and every man a liar!” We need only to be faithful – and that, it seems to me, is our greatest need, especially today.

Our “image in the marketplace” then seems hardly the pressing issue for our churches. Rather, aren’t we too concerned with image? Isn’t it our present obsession with questions of style and form, to the neglect of biblical and doctrinal content that plagues us? Our people are dying for want of substantive teaching, not glossy images! As a pastor, what I need is not prayers for my church’s marketability, but prayers for faithfulness to “preach the word; in season (when our ‘image’ is great, and the church is ostensibly thriving) and out (when problems abound, and our ministry seems a barren wasteland)!” I am all too prone to be concerned with the superficialities of image. What I need is the constant reminder to fear God and not men. He is the One who has called me to ministry, and He is the One with whom I have to do!

We so desperately need Spirit-filled prophets of the gospel and faithful expositors of the Word in our pulpits! Let the myriad marketing gurus remain on the shelves of the ‘Christian bookstores’!


Saturday, August 07, 2004

Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

There is a battle raging in the evangelical church (and outside the church, as well) regarding the roles and function of men and women in the home and the church. I want to commend a couple of resources to you to familiarize yourself with the questions and concerns central to this issue.

First, let me say that I am solidly in the 'complementarian' camp. Within evangelicalism there are basically two ways of approaching the issue. The 'complementarian' side would say that men and women are equal as man made in God's image, yet different (or complementary) in their relationship to each other and in their roles in creation, marriage, and the church with men called to headship and authority in the home and church while women are to exercise loving and biblical submission. The clearest and most succinct exposition of the complementarian view may be found in CD format, delivered by Dr. Wayne Grudem at a recent church conference:

The complementarian organization is called 'The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood' and has an excellent site: I strongly suggest clicking on 'gender questions' at the home page for the '50 Crucial Questions' as a primer on the complementarian position.

A tremendous resource with scholarly articles on virtually every issue concerning gender, roles, biblical questions, theological issues is the book called 'Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood' edited by Wayne Grudem and John Piper. I STRONGLY recommend this book. It should be a reference tool on every Christian's shelf.

The other side of the debate within evangelicalism (and I use that term loosely!) is called
'egalitarianism'. This view would say that man and woman are equal and any 'hierarchy' in role and function is a consequence of sin and the fall. Their website is:
I'll let them articulate the position further at that site.

I think this issue, alongside homosexuality and gay marriage, is one of the most important social and pragmatic questions for the postmodern evangelical to answer. The authority of God's Word, His intent in creation, the integrity of the home, and the health of the church are at stake.

So, sharpen your sword, show yourself as one approved, and dig in.

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