main menu

December 28, 2009

marketing Jesus

In my work and life I see a lot of advertising campaigns. There are the far-reaching ones that seem to suddenly be everywhere: in the paper, on the internet, on billboards and on the sides of buses. As a Christian, I also see a lot of advertising done by Christian groups. The budgets of these agencies are not usually as big as those of secular corporations, but some of them have quite clever catch phrases or well-created graphics, too. Every advertising scheme tries to draw in the viewer--as quickly as possible--with the goal of a specific response, whether a purchase, a donation or a commitment.   

Advertising is meant to be attractive. In North American Christianity we are bombarded by marketing schemes, so when we seek to advertise our churches, events or programs, we look to the same methods. But I wonder if at times we are guilty of painting the Christian life as far different than Jesus intended for it to be. Everything is a good time. We pique people's interest by telling them what's in it for them. Do any of these appeals sound familiar?

  • Win a CD for donating to my ministry!
  • Come to Sunday school for crafts and games!
  • Go on a two week trip ministry trip overseas. Spend the last three days on the beach!
  • Receive a tax receipt for your gift to God's work!
While fun has its place (and I heart tax receipts!), sometimes our marketing in the Christian world leaves me questioning how well we know Christ--the one we supposedly are marketing. Our flighty advertising schemes do no justice to the depth of spiritual matters. They paint Biblical discipleship as a bed of roses. It is a picture Christ did not paint. The message of the cross is heavy. I wonder how we'd respond to this call:

  • Come carry a cross!
  • Die to yourself!
  • Put yourself aside and think of others!

This was Jesus' message. The path that Jesus took was not a path of what we would call good times. PR experts would probably say he did a poor job of making his message palatable. Jesus led the way down a path of humility, tears, pain, a cross...and not being accepted or understood by others. Try putting that on a flier.

I wonder sometimes if I am merely following "Christ" as advertised by North American Christianity which is trying to fill seats to fund programs--a politically correct, comfortable Jesus. Or would I follow His disfigured, unsightly form, outside the camp, bearing His reproach? Would I be identified with Him, even in death?

In a recent conversation with Sunday school kids, we were talking about Christmas. I asked them "Do you think Jesus came to earth because He thought it would be a good (fun) time?" They and I both knew that of course, that was not Jesus' motivation for coming to earth. In fact, fun was probably the farthest thing from His mind as He "made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant." But how often do we make our choices based on human factors--good times?

Jesus made His big decision to come to earth based on the Father's will and serving humankind...not based on what would feel good or be convenient. Neither was it some knee-jerk, unmeasured decision. I wonder how I, as a supposed follower of Christ, make my life decisions. Do I look at the Father's will and how I can serve others? Do I scorn more lowly ministries in favour of more prestigious, name-up-in-lights ministries? Christ is the perfect example of selfless choices. 

I have an older friend who is honest with me about the Christian life. Her words aren't especially attractive: "Julie, the Christian life is not easy." As I look at her life, I see a woman who is a model of service to her family and the body of Christ. She has served tirelessly, thinking of others and laying down her life for them. She has cooked endless meals and done unglamorous jobs. Even when making "personal" decisions, like which house to buy or which city to visit on vacation, she has thought of others. There is no laughter in her tone when she tells me of some of the hardships--but neither is there regret. I simply hear honesty. She knows, and I am learning, that death to ourselves is where life begins. As we speak to others, are we honest to what the Christian life may entail?

 I'm not saying we shouldn't ever use clever advertising techniques. But the essence of the Christian message is a weighty one. Let's not water it down in exchange for short-lived commitments. Let's be honest, like Christ. Christ needs to speak His message of death and self-sacrifice to the very core of each of His disciples. They must find that there is no life outside of Christ. Dying is living. The winning of their souls and committed lives will be worth every penny Christ spent in "advertising."


  1. I think you should try putting "Come carry a cross!" on a flier. After all, that kind of dark promotion seems to be working for the Jihadists right? ;P
    Good posts though sis. I finally read a bunch of them today.

  2. Sometimes I wonder what the appeals to people about Islam. :*(
    Thanks for your visit.