The Problem With Better People

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This post is inspired by a recent blog entry from Seth Godin. I love Seth’s blog although it’s outside my realm as he’s a marketing/business guru and I’m a lazy pastor who hates bringing anything corporate-looking into my own ‘establishment’. Still, I’m fascinated by his observations.

The recent post (which you should read above) focused on the biz idea that some people are better than others to focus upon. Some people spend more than others, so he gives tips on finding ways to locate such people and then focus on them. It’s a way of honing your marketing efforts to those with deeper pockets and it makes perfect sense.

As I read Godin’s thoughts, I felt both fascinated and sorrowful. The reality is that I’ve seen the church falling for this mentality time and again – and even myself as an oft-misguided disciple. As church leaders, I’ve heard numerous other pastors tell me personally, write it in books or even speak such things at conferences that it’s a great strategy to reach the movers and shakers. Go for the leaders. Influence the influencers.

better peopleThe way Godin puts it is that “some people are better than others.” The idea there being that some are “better customers.” In the business context, it makes sense to place values on people based on what they can offer you as a company or salesperson. In the church world, it’s the anti-gospel. In the corporate world, it’s the method of operation. In the kingdom of God, it’s blasphemous.

I’m not sure why the church has veered this same way. Well, actually I can see why we naturally respond that way as humans. I guess what I find so disturbing is how the church actually condones or justifies these actions. When did the gospel ever place value on reaching certain people over others? When did proper business strategies become the best way to spread the gospel message?

Last time I checked, it was a few high school aged kids who flunked out of proper Jewish school and had to resort to their various family trades that became the chosen twelve. And even then, the early additions to the movement were literal enemies of the culture around them–the unclean (prostitutes), the oppressive (tax collectors). Somehow that’s been translated to golfing with the mayor and chasing after CEO types in order to get the proper resources into our church’s storehouse.

Perhaps this is preaching to the choir, but I found myself inspired to vent after reading Godin’s post–much as I agree for the business world. The reality is that the beauty of the gospel provides a place where there are no “better people.” It’s there that humanity is truly valued not for anything we’ve done but just because we’re all created in the image of a loving God.

Matt Conner is a freelance writer and music journalist. As the founding pastor of The Mercy House, he led a church community for more than six years in intense community development across racial and socio-economic lines. As a writer, he’s interviewed thousands of musicians for multiple print and web-based publications.


36 Comments

  1. Travis Prinzi

    I think it appeals to our moralistic tendencies. Find people who are already pretty much just like us (because whatever we are, that’s what everyone should be, because our lives have a divine approval stamp), and then just try to add Jesus to them. Keeps us nice and comfortable.

  2. WordLily

    I guess I’m going to play devil’s advocate here. First of all, I totally understand what you’re saying, and, in general, I agree. However, I’m not sure ‘some people are better than others’ is quite the same as targeting influencers. Paul had an audience with the king. Surely Jesus’ impact on Pilate is noteworthy? Is it not, for Kingdom good, perhaps strategic to aim efforts at heads of household or heads of tribes, that more may be reached? This seems very different from a business-like targeting of deep pockets.

  3. WordLily

    Well, it could depend on your definition of “deliberately”. Perhaps Jesus didn’t seek that audience, but could it have been part of God’s plan?

  4. matt conner

    In my opinion, to pick and choose a passage like Pilate to uphold that principle is to ignore the myriad of entire stories, chapters and verses that find Jesus dining at the table (a very intimate setting) with every seedy character the society had deemed marginalized, unclean or unsavory.

    There’s a built-in privilege in some of the excuses or statements we make to keep ourselves insulated. Sometimes it’s not even our own “fault” as we’re so blinded by the cultural tides that pull us in, that we don’t even realize what we’re doing. And it’s not just in classism, but racism, sexism, etc.

  5. WordLily

    Matt: I am NOT saying the church should curry favor with the well-to-do or people of high position to the exclusion of the lowly. I didn’t intend to “pick and choose.” Your response makes me feel very unwelcome here and I’d take it all back now if it could be done, but I don’t see a delete button. Perhaps I should have waited until after I had my coffee this morning to read The Rabbit Room. Your second paragraph seems filled with hate and disdain, and I feel terribly unwelcome. In addition, I feel that it’s deeply misguided, at least in that it’s pointed at me (or at least based on some very quick assumptions based on very little).

  6. matt conner

    The issues of words without facial expressions, intonations and gestures. Please don’t ever take my words as venomous or full of any emotion other than a genuine heart for dialogue.

    I have a church full of hippies, most a younger, liberal, passionate creative group who long ago wrote off the church and now I have to deal with a lot of this young angst against what is established and ‘traditional.’ And there’s a reason that we draw that crowd, since the proverbial birds of a feather thing…

    At the same time, the pendulum can swing so far in the other direction and I’m not trying to come from that perspective at all. So please know I didn’t mean to insinuate things concerning you personally at all.

    I get asked about these topics a lot from leaders at other churches. We have homosexuals within our church, sex offenders, et al. It’s quick sticky and people want to know our association, how that “works” and some people will just say it’s not right from time to time.

    When you run the spectrum of responses, you learn to listen for key things. And what I’ve learned is that a lot of our built-in, Evangelical reasons for things end up being statements that *sound* good, but in fact are harmful and even masked excuses we don’t know that we’re using just to stay insulated. It’s just the way the world works and, frankly, it’s much easier than getting our hands dirty and becoming the solution to the problem.

    Not to say that we’re being much of a solution. This is long-term work with marginalized folks and, even then, who’s to say that we know how to save people. But I do know what someone simply being present in my own life feels like and there’s few things like it. And I know what love feels like, and the same thing can be said. So it’s there I have to major, to fill in the cracks of society where little love and presence flows, and hope that the grace and power of God break through the hearts of those involved.

  7. Jim A

    Ok, i’ll admit that I’m not getting the point Matt. Did not Jesus the Christ target Paul, the very highly trained (at the feet of Gamaliel) who also turned out to conveniently be a Roman citizen as well as a Jew who could have done big things, possibly even ascending to the position of the high priest?

    So, it was not a bunch of flunked out High School kids who flunked out of proper Jewish school who ended up writing the majority of the NT. It was a scholarly Jew who had the absolute BEST understanding of the Jewish tradition. And he had a trained medical scholar in the form of Luke to help write his “biography”. I’d say it’s a good thing Paul was “targeted” to help spread the gospel to all corners of the earth. And did he not start as the Warren Buffet or Bill Gates understudy of the Jewish aristocracy who was great at tracking down and eliminating the competition (albeit with stones and not acquisitions)?

    Perhaps a better way to look at this is through the lens of what Malcolm Gladwell calls “Connectors” and “Mavens” (coincidentally a yiddish word) in his book “The Tipping Point”. There are Connectors, or people who have a very wide net of contacts who are exceptional a spreading a message and “marketing” things. Isn’t the Gospel a great thing to market and aren’t we called to market it to all corners of the earth?
    Then there are Mavens with extensive deep knowledge of things and sometimes the two mix (Billy Graham, St. Augustine, or even better John Wesley). And the fact is, these kinds of people can exist in all walks of life and in every level of society.

    Why not “target” them. I mean in the case of Paul Revere, if only William Dawes (the second lesser known rider) and a like him were the only ones given the message that the British were planning an attack the next day, we might still be call a Z, Zed which is true blasphemy!

  8. Travis Prinzi

    JIm A, interesting thoughts. Jesus’ “targeting” of St. Paul, however, was not an attempt to bag a celebrity to prove Christianity had cultural validity, which I think is what Matt is arguing against. He tore down everything about the old Saul, brought him suffering, and freed him from his life of influence and power to pursue the preaching of the gospel instead – by which he was despised and humiliated.

    I think lots of people have the idea (whether they state it outright or not) that if we strategically get X celebrity saved, or a bunch of successful, rich white folks saved, we’ll have tapped into the popular crowd and proved that the gospel can be successful, too.

    Breaking free from this is part of the way the gospel acts counter-culturally in our current context.

  9. Potter's Clay

    WordLily: You beat me to the punch at playing the “devi’s advocate.” I appreciated your thoughts and questions. I heartily agree with your thinking and even your examples. Paul did not go to the masses when he reached a new city; he went to the synagogues. Why? Because that’s where his message would be heard best, and that’s where he would find those who would respond to gospel.

    Matt: I’m not a big fan of Godin (I have felt a bit Godinized by his marketing efforts to sell books in the past), but I don’t think the lines between marketing and the gospel are as hard and fast as you suggest. When I was on staff with a large student ministry, a kind of guiding principle for building a ministry was to “move with the movers.” That did not suggest that anyone below the movers was less worthy, but that to reach the larger “pool of humanity” with the gospel, you had to start with those who would respond to the vision.

    That is what Jesus did. His disciples were not just random folks, but men who had heard his preaching and teaching, arguably for many years, and were ready to “move” when he called. He chose to build into those twelve men not because they deserved him any more, but because he knew they would be the strategic core to build his church. He still preached to the masses, but he spent most of his time with his twelve. I see the same principle at work in missions. If the Holy Spirit is not moving in a region, it raises legitimate questions about how much time, effort, and resources to pour into that region. Many western European countries are spiritually dead, with a response to the evangelical message at less than 1%. Some may feel called to go and preach there, but should a mission risk millions of dollars sending missionaries, materials, and money to a nation where there is no sign of the Spirit’s movement. It’s unfair to suggest that they don’t have a kingdom mentality; it’s also an issue of strategic stewardship of the gospel and money (the two topics Jesus spoke most about).

    The mission of any local church is similar to the mission field. In the church, it all comes down to Kingdom intent. If the intent of “moving with the movers” is in order to find those who will share the vision to reach to lost, and to help a church do it more strategically and effectively, then I don’t see much difference between that and the model of Jesus with his disciples. A church can do that without suggesting that “movers are better people.” Your suggestion that that kind of strategy is “insular” and tinged with “classism, racism, and sexism” is jut way over the top. We preach the gospel to everyone, we teach to those who will listen, we reach out to those who respond, so we can better and more effectively preach the gospel to everyone. 2 Timothy 2:2 clearly shows that Paul was teaching Timothy to move with the movers to build the church.

  10. Travis Prinzi

    Asking forgiveness in advance for the level of snark I’m about to unleash.

    Paul did not go to the masses when he reached a new city; he went to the synagogues. Why? Because that’s where his message would be heard best, and that’s where he would find those who would respond to gospel.

    No, Paul went to the synagogues first because the gospel was “to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” He was following God’s divinely revealed order of things, not acting like a strategic marketer. We could argue Paul went to cities and major trade areas first for the that reason, but that’s because that’s where the (ahem) masses were and where the gospel would reach the most people. Also, I don’t recall Paul’s track record in the synagogues being all that great.

    When I was on staff with a large student ministry, a kind of guiding principle for building a ministry was to “move with the movers.” That did not suggest that anyone below the movers was less worthy, but that to reach the larger “pool of humanity” with the gospel, you had to start with those who would respond to the vision.

    So since the Pharisees were the most influential, start with them. Check. Eventually, their influence would spread to the poor, lepers, outcasts, etc.

    Where on earth is “move with the movers” in here.

    That is what Jesus did. His disciples were not just random folks, but men who had heard his preaching and teaching, arguably for many years, and were ready to “move” when he called. He chose to build into those twelve men not because they deserved him any more, but because he knew they would be the strategic core to build his church.

    The disciples were not influential people. They were not ready to move when he called. They abandoned him at his crucifixion. They weren’t ready to move until the Holy Spirit descended on them in the upper room, and that readiness to move was nothing of their own doing, but entirely God’s work. Jesus didn’t pick out the 12 best for the job out of some strategic plan. He picked 12 lowly individuals – even the people gathered in Acts 2 recognized that these were not people of influence! – and did things through them that would never have been expected by the “movers” in that culture

    If the Holy Spirit is not moving in a region, it raises legitimate questions about how much time, effort, and resources to pour into that region.

    I wonder what William Carey would have to say about this methodology.

    Some may feel called to go and preach there, but should a mission risk millions of dollars sending missionaries, materials, and money to a nation where there is no sign of the Spirit’s movement.

    I’m sorry, what? The answer is, “Yes.” And the question is, “What are ‘signs of the Spirit’s movement'”? The Spirit’s “movement” was pretty clear: Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. It’s not something to look for; it’s something to go out and do.

  11. Jim A

    Travis, not Everything about the old Saul was torn down. Paul remained influential, a connector, and certainly a maven and even pulled the Roman card to score an audience with a wide range of individuals that joe-gentile wouldn’t have the opportunity to tocuh. What was torn down was his belief that this man Jesus had NOT really been raised from the dead.

    I agree that Paul was not trying to prove the gospel can be successful. And that would be the wrong idea with which to take to the popular crowd/celebrity. But maybe we’re looking at this all wrong all together. Is it our job to “pick and choose” anyway? Even if those we are “picking” are the hippies and dropouts and losers?

  12. Travis Prinzi

    @travis

    Jim A,

    Is it our job to “pick and choose” anyway? Even if those we are “picking” are the hippies and dropouts and losers?

    Precisely! Which means getting the gospel right is at the heart of it all. The problem is that we’re bad at self-reflection. We’re often very, very poor at separating out what’s gospel and what’s middle-class, privileged-white, western culture. Which means we’re more comfortable with and more prone to talk with and minister to the celebrity than the hippie.

    I think Paul pulled the Roman card to keep from getting executed, not as a missional strategy. I don’t think he remained influential with his old crowds in the least. He had a difficult enough time staying influential with the churches he was highly involved with (Corinth and Galatia, for example).

  13. Jim A

    Travis, I get what your trying to say – I think. Jesus wasn’t a white middle-class republican. I regularly sing that Derek Webb song in the comfort of my study/library in my middle class house in the middle/upper class neighborhood in suburban Houston. Having just come back from a trip to Costa Rica (yes, a vacation many can’t afford), it’s not hard to say that everyone in America is rich beyond belief. Folks who’ve been to the slums of India and other similar locations would no doubt echo that.
    But what I’m hearing is that we (the white middle classed privileged westerner should not be ministered too? Perhaps they need it more! On a hidden track, The Proprietor suggests that he’s envious of the Little Elba (from South America) because she never has to wonder whether earth is just a little better than the land of the free”.
    And the point isn’t why Paul pulled the Roman card. It’s that he HAD the Roman card to pull. Stephen didn’t have that card so he was stoned while Saul held the stoner’s robes and never had a chance to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth. Thankfully, Paul wasn’t passed over just because he WAS the “middle-class privileged Roman/Jew olive eastern culture” person that he was.
    Furthermore, I think all mankind is bad at self-reflection. But with Christ within, all mankind regardless of stature in the community, can reflect that Christ and not ourselves. And when that happens, the “rich white guy” can give the poor, trodden down central american a hand up.
    I think this is what Jack Lewis had in mind when in “the problem of pain” he describes the paradox in that while Christian teaching says blessed are the poor, but for the rich to give to the poor to alleviate their poverty. And blessed are the persecuted but we find believers leaving a city to avoid persecution. If these things are not blessings then should we not be striving to be poor and persecuted?
    To him to whom much has been given much is to be expected. I find that with Christ inside me, I am MORE aware, not less, of the poverty around me, those with a harder life, those dealing with sickness and joblessness and Christ, not me, makes me want to DO something about it. Cut off that body part of the church and you may just find a bunch of poor/persecuted wallowing in their poverty and persecution as way of drawing attention to themselves instead of deflecting it to Christ.

  14. Potters Clay

    Travis: Snark is one thing. Polarizing a discussion is another. I simply was trying to suggest that the matter is less black and white biblically than Matt was suggesting. You apparently disagree. So, let me pick your nits and then move on to real life.

    About Paul: You use a later doctrinal statement about the efficacy of the gospel for both Jews and Gentiles to suggest that is the reason he went to the synangogues first? Acts 26:22-23 is Paul’s own commentary about that passage–to wit, that salvation came through Jesus, a Jew, to the Jewish people first, and then to the Gentiles. Nothing about mission. The most reasonable reason that Paul often (not always) went first to the synagogues is because he would be received there as a fellow Jew, and would find an audience. He also preached to the masses, but he undoubtedly targeted his message. The issue of whether or not it was always effective is moot.

    About moving with movers: I think 2 Timothy 2:2 is a good example of moving with movers. You preach to everyone, but you move with those who are “faithful” to build the church. That would not be the Pharisees, which is really almost a non sequitur, irrelevant distraction of an argument.

    About missions: Carey was called. I covered that in my comment. I didn’t say no one should go, but only questioned when a missionary organization should pour millions into a country where the Spirit is not moving. Churches must preach the gospel to everyone, but they have to decide where and how to do that. That’s not elitism or insularity, but stewardship. As to the Spirit moving, even Jesus recognized the principle of the Spirit’s moving, instructing his disciples to move on from a town that would not receive them or the message of the kingdom.

    About the disciples: The disciples surely knew Jesus and had heard his teaching (technical correction of earlier post: probably not yet his preaching). They moved when he called them because they were prepared and Jesus arguably knew that. He did not call them only because they were the lowest of the low, random individuals, but because they were ready to move. The question of “influence” had nothing to do with my comments. To suggest that the disciples were useless to God’s plan until the upper room ignores the sweep of the gospels. Jesus chose the disciples because he knew they were the ones who would build his church, and he would build them into those men. The Spirit gave them the power at Pentecost to do what Jesus prepared them to do after his departure.

    OK. You disagree. I know. Let’s move on.

  15. Travis Prinzi

    @travis

    Jim A, forgive me if it sounds like I’m saying that there’s a whole group of privileged people that don’t need to be ministered to. Not at all! The middle class privileged need ministered to as well – which I know, being one of them! But I think it’s fair to say that tons of money and resources and effort and people power go into ministering to suburban churches and those who already have a lot, and a lot fewer are willing to go – permanently – where it’s very uncomfortable and hang out with those our culture has marginalized.

    It’s easy to buy the American Dream metanarrative and say, “Well, those people just aren’t working hard enough, they’re lazy, they’ll just buy drugs, etc. so we’re not going to spend resources on them.”

    I’d also caution that we be careful not to use the “God needs people in the suburbs, too” line as an excuse not to heed a call to the marginalized neighborhoods. Certainly it’s absolutely true that God calls people to every area – privileged and underprivileged. But it’s a little odd that every single time I have this discussion with anyone about the church’s responsibility to the marginalized, people are always really quick to remind me that “God needs people in the suburbs, too.”

  16. Jim A

    Those really quick people are absolutely right though Travis! I’m part of a Methodist church who has a fantastic outreach to some VERY marginalized “‘hoods” where schools are very poor, shacks abound and no one wants to be caught there when the sun goes down. We have members who are fired up and go out and read to these kids and buy them backpacks and school materials and shoes. Where do you think the money for that kind of work comes from??
    This all seems quite off the main point that I thought Matt was making which was the marketing aspect and how he drew a parallel to Godin’s writings. That’s the bit I disagreed with. I don’t think there’s a “problem” with better people or better off people as it relates to who the church should be reaching out to.

  17. Travis Prinzi

    @travis

    Those really quick people are absolutely right though Travis!

    Yes. They’re correct. Technically, specifically, factually correct. I’m not debating that. I’m saying that it’s far too often an excuse not to actually hang out with and minister to the marginalized. Why are inner cities such a mess? Why have they been abandoned by the churches?

    I think Matt’s main point was that we’ve too often adopted the same mentality about there being “better customers” to go after, and with that point, I can’t see any reason for disagreement. The church has most definitely done this, and way too often.

    no one wants to be caught there when the sun goes down.

    And that’s unfortunate. I would hope there would be a lot of people who not only want to be “caught” there – they want to live and sleep there when the sun goes down. They’re willing to be broken into, assaulted, hurt, and even killed to minister to people the church abandoned long ago, and only now visits sometimes during the day when it feel safer.

  18. Sir Wilbur

    A couple of humble thoughts. (by the way I liked the article)

    1. God has chosen the foolish things of this world to confound the wise.

    God’s chosen methods and God’s chosen audiences are very different than the methods or audiences I would choose. I would choose the brightest and the most handsome, the ones voted “most likely to succeed”. Likewise, I would chose to spread my message with tremendous fanfare, fireworks, sky-writing, and the like. But, God’s ways are not our ways. PRAISE HIM! Otherwise I would be outta luck friends. He chooses to speak to us through a 2000 year old book instead of through neon lights. And no way am I smart enough, or handsome enough, or winsome enough, or wealthy enough to have even garnered a second glance from someone looking to put together a “who’s who”. BUT GOD, who is rich in mercy, slow to anger and abounding in love, saved me from my open rebellion toward him, in spite of my relative worthlessness and made me his very own son. WOW.

    2. The first several verses of James 2 teach blatantly that showing favoritism is sin.

    We, as fallen men and women, often look to earthly relationships in regard to what the other individual has to offer us. I’ll be nice to “such and such” because he can get me WV football tickets. Or, I need to impress “such and such” because he’s in a position to offer me a job. But, as new creatures in Christ we need to get beyond that earthbound logic. When we view our relationships with an eternal perspective we realize that no eathly man has any status that can surpass what we have received IN CHRIST. Therefore, as recipients of the greatest possible favor one could ever receive, the grace of God, we should no longer value others by what they can offer us. Let’s endeavor to sit with the poor man rather than give special honor to the rich.

  19. becky

    Sir Wilber, well said.

    Jim A., Stephen may not have had the chance to preach the gospel to the whole world, but the way he died influenced one who did. All throughout history God has chosen the small and insignificant, not the grand and influential. Isreal was a small nation (actually not even a nation) of slaves. Zero grandeur and zero influence. It was only by the power of God that they became a great nation. David was the youngest son; a shepherd who was overlooked even by his own father. Jesus himself was poor, and for the majority of his life had no influence whatsoever. And Paul considered his own influential past to be rubbish. God’s kingdom is built “not by might, not by power, but by the Spirit”.

  20. Randall Goodgame

    I agree with the gospel, and It is good to encourage the body toward remembering that the wisdom of Jesus turns our wisdom upsidedown, but I was particularly touched by Wordlily’s articulate confession of hurt feelings, and for me that frames the biggest takeaway from this discussion. We are debating a point of theology that most fall so miserably short on in practice – and by missing her sharp language to move on to “snarky” point making is to miss the point of the gospel altogether.

    To quote Bob Dylan, “Maybe I’m too sensitive, or else I’m getting soft.” But maybe not. I know this… I treasure this site as a safe place for the sharing of ideas and working through this “life in Christ” journey together. And if for one second that safety is challenged it becomes my high concern to push back hard towards erring on the side of love, where there is no error.

  21. Travis Prinzi

    @travis

    Randall, forgive me if I really did get too snarky in that comment. I tried to go over it and make sure I wasn’t being harsh, but I do fail often in heated discussion to stay gracious. (For what it’s worth, I’ve got over 5 years’ experience of keeping a few websites “safe” places … I’ll be sure to do the same here, and again, I’m sorry for getting snarky.)

    That said, I don’t think we’re debating a point of theology here. We’re debating how the gospel does its work in our current society, and whether or not it’s been compromised by a market mindset toward evangelism.

  22. Randall Goodgame

    Travis – I most easily see the sins I’m most familiar with committing. I don’t mean to be snark police, but thanks for receiving me, and I love the Hog’s Head!

  23. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    While very many good points on both sides (and all in between) have been made, we have to keep in mind that the Gospel is, first of all, true. It is not evangelism of any particular people group that is the priority, but above all a deep, continual abiding in Christ. This will direct our evangelism.

    That said, it is often “the better people” who are most drenched in world-think. That’s why James said what he said about favoritism, and Paul went on about the love-feasts where “the better people” were, well, less than better.

    It is in fact easy in the middle class to stick with those people and places which are most comfortable and familiar. God does want His people in the suburbs, but that doesn’t slide by the fact that He wants His people everywhere. Quite often where He wants us is straight out of our comfort zone so that we have to trust Him totally and fly by faith.

  24. Travis Prinzi

    Well said, Ron. I fear my uncharitable snarkiness has jettisoned the potential for a great conversation, so that’s a great summary statement and a great starting place for moving forward.

  25. Jim A

    Of course it is Travis because Ron’s line’s up so well with what you are (i think) trying to say.
    For me this whole thing’s a waste of time now because I CLEARly don’t understand the point Matt Conner was trying to make between the Godin blog post and whatever it was he was trying to tie it to.
    I THOUGHT, from reading the blog entry that the kind of BETTER person Seth was talking about was “better at spreading the word” since it mentioned marketing (quote from blog) and I didn’t realize those folks ONLY came from the ghetto. I misunderstood. Apparently this is all about who people are supposed to Preach at. And there’s certainly a lot of preaching going on Here.
    I was clearly wrong and have no idea what any of this is about.

  26. Travis Prinzi

    Jim A, perhaps we’ve been the proverbial ships passing in the night on this. My understanding of Matt’s post was that it’s wrong for the church to have “preferred customers,” so to speak, to whom we preach the gospel.

    If I can back up a bit: I think the church’s history over the past 50 years or so shows that we have, sadly, chosen safe and preferred places for ministry, and while we can all agree God wants his people everywhere, we’ve been disproportionately focused on the supposedly “safer” suburbs. This means we need extra emphasis on moving back into the not-so-safe parts of the world where the marginalized are.

    In other words: Ron brought up the James passage about the church wrongfully preferring the affluent and influential over the poor. I think what Matt’s done is opened a conversation about the ways in which the church does that in our current cultural context. I think it’s a really good discussion to have.

    But if I’ve missed Matt’s point entirely, please forgive me for taking us way off track! I would disagree as well with the idea that the only people who can preach the gospel are marginalized folks (just as I disagree with the idea that we only need to minister to them).

  27. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Jim,

    Having been raised both fairly income-light by modern standards in some parts of my childhood and also completely middle class in other parts, I can say I vastly prefer being solidly middle class, also that there is nothing wrong with being middle class nor with working hard and having a good amount of money.

    My point, as I think Matt’s was, that we are to be salt and light wherever we are, and not necessarily seek out the “important people” or the “movers and shakers.” 1Cor 1:26-27 says, “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise.” The Queen of England once said she was saved by an “m”; “not many” rather than “not any.” I think one of the main reasons Jesus had more fruit among the poor and downtrodden was that talented, rich, clever, prominent, good looking people sometimes feel their life is working just fine without God – at least until He begins to shake them up a bit and show them the Ecclesiastes futility of life apart from God.

    Christ in me will in fact preach the Gospel wherever I go – all I have to do is trust Him. Sometimes that involves stepping out of my comfort zone; sometimes it involves doing things, going places, talking to people of which “religious” people would disapprove.

  28. Sir Wilbur

    Well said, Ron.

    The other aspect that I eluded to earlier is that the real “movers and shakers” in God’s economy are the exact opposite of the worlds. The meek and lowly, the childlike, the ones whose actions speak louder than thier words and others like these are the truly influential. Not to say that God never uses the popular guy, or the rich man, but that is certainly not his S.O.P. The reason for this is, in my opinion, is that the real power is in him, not us. It’s not about our persuasive ability, or our eloquence, but rather about us becoming less and our Savior becoming more. Our greatest strength is our own weakness. Besides, Romans 9:16 says: “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.”

    So, we need not concern ourselves about the status of those we rub shoulders with, in either sense. We need not seek out the handsome or the homely, the wealthy or the impoverished, but rather focus on getting ourselves out of the way, and letting the glory of the One who gave himself for us shine through to whomever we may come into contact with.

  29. E

    Matt,

    I think I hear your larger point and I completely agree. The unfiltered use of corporate / business thinking in relation to the gospel or the overlapping earthly reality of local churches is bad for us.

    I do believe that there is another slice of this that is worth considering.

    The argument that I’ve heard in the church context goes like this. As humans on earth, we have limited resources to engage ministry with, in terms of time, money, people and simple location, we’re in one place at one time. Because of that, an individual or a ministry can’t reach everyone at the same time, and even if you assume you’ll reach everyone, who do you reach first?

    Godin’s answer to that question is all about ROI (return on investment). You reach out to the people most likely to respond positively for the least amount of cost and you maximize your return. The churches who do that the best are the most effective, and they win.

    What, you don’t like that? You want to reach LESS people for God? Hey, there are two kinds of churches out there, there are winner churches and loser churches (anyone see Little Miss Sunshine?) I’m being sarcastic, but it is a pernicious point of view that can be tough to shake.

    From my view there is a valid question in there and I also think there is a real danger. The question is, “There are lots of possibilities for sharing the gospel or doing great things, in the near future. Which one is the focus, or what do we do first?”

    The danger is that we don’t let God direct or re-direct us as we answer that question. This is a filter that I think can help bring Godin and his moves into balance.

    [Insert Ron Block’s primacy of the gospel and grace here]

    The people I know who are trying to use biz principles to help church process aren’t bad or evil… the ones I know personally are absolutely not anti-gospel. They are honestly trying to do the very best they can with the hand they are dealt. And they are more focused on prayer than “Who Moved My Cheese?” or whatever it is this week. If they remain balanced in that, I think it is pleasing to God and I think it can be really useful and honors Him.

    I’m reminded of Paul going east and God sending him a vision of the man from Macedonia crying for help. Paul promptly turns around. But he was going east, he had a plan and a strategy for going east and I really do think that is ok, maybe even good. I’m sure he had reasons for that which Godin would approve of. A target market of Easterners with excellent ROI potential.

    But even better was his ability to hear what God was saying and to respond.

    As long as love is primary and following God’s leading is paramount, I’m golden with some decent project management helping us along.

  30. Aaron Roughton

    E., your post reminded me of a preacher that I knew who defined the great commission in terms of overlapping spheres of influence as opposed to the usual description using concentric circles. Instead of requiring you to be the epicenter of a movement that took you all the way to the “ends of the earth,” it required you to love the people around you. Love and disciple the people in your sphere of influence. Encourage them to love the people in their spheres. As our spheres overlap, eventually we’ll reach the ends of the earth. Ideally, of course. An immediate problem of this idea in my life is that I look around and realize that it’s as if I used the Godin article as a tutorial on making friends. I see the effects of what Matt is cautioning us about far more in my personal life than I do in my corporate church life.

  31. E

    Aaron (and Matt),

    That resonated with me. Personally, I feel too insulated from people in my own personal sphere of influence and that makes sense to me too.

    Part of why this topic matters to me is that I run a small company that does “church marketing” and we work with churches and church plants across denominations all over the country.

    I wrote a long and loving, thoughtful and considerate post… but then it occurred to me that I’m probably the only one who would even want to talk about this at length. So I bagged it.

    So if anyone is interested, let me know and I’ll weigh in from my dark and tainted perspective… otherwise we’ll let it go. I really am in agreement with the larger point – the valuation of people for self-interest and gain isn’t the gospel at all as I understand it.

  32. E

    Matt,

    This will be a bit longer than a normal post, sorry about that.

    Let me start by saying that I’m quite horrified at the thought of using Godin’s article as a model for ministry. I really am in agreement with you on that one and my personal reaction is similar.

    That being said, I think there might be room for a conversation here. I work mainly with church plants, across denominations, all over the country. With the church plants we work with, most of them do utilize a lot of business prinicple stuff and they do some marketing to announce their launch.

    We do a lot of the logistical moves, so that the pastor and launch team can focus on people and loving them, instead of getting completely bogged down in the necessary details in startup.

    Practically, most of what we do is help with design, logos, printing, websites and that kind of thing. We’re communication support, not our goal to infect people with some sort of machiavellian “marketing mindset”. Bleah.

    You asked two questions that I thought were great and might be helpful to frame my thinking: “When did the gospel ever place value on reaching certain people over others? When did proper business strategies become the best way to spread the gospel message?”

    I think scripture is really clear that God doesn’t value some people over others and we shouldn’t either (James referenced earlier in the thread). But I do see people being sent to specific groups in scripture. This isn’t targeting people in a Godin sense of valuation, but it does seem to be selective.

    Jesus was sent to the Jews. Paul was sent to the Gentiles. God sent Paul west to Macedonia instead of east. There is some sense in which you could say that there was a target audience in play in some major new testament examples of reaching people with the gospel.

    Two things I see scripturally here: one, though targeted (in some sense), they were not exclusive. We see Jesus talking to the Phoenician woman, the Samaritan woman at the well and we see Paul teaching in the synagogues. Two, the blessing of the gospel very quickly moves from the group in focus and undergoes something of an explosion of grace that crosses all normal lines of social, racial, economic demographic.

    That would be Pentecost. Acts 2 go boom.

    So while it is fair to say Jesus was sent to the Jews, that becomes a starting point and not a rule for exclusion. Same thing for Paul, he focused on a handful of cities… but the blessing certainly didn’t stop there.

    So, if scripture is our filter, we have some pretty radical departures from Godin’s pragmatism in focus immdediately. Instead of saying, “some people are better than others”, I think it would be more fair to say that sometimes, “God calls you to a specific group.” On the surface, the immediate activity might look very similar, but the heart and motivation would be quite different.

    The selection is about calling and is God directed, not human insight directed and often that will be surprising. I doubt Godin would send Philip on a desert marketing campaign to talk to a single individual. And the “target” audience will be a starting point, not an ongoing exclusive social club. I don’t think you could ever use Godin’s path to get to an Acts 2 convergence.

    The second question was, “When did proper business strategies become the best way to spread the gospel message?

    That is a great question and I do think it is a danger that we can take something that seems to make sense from an operational view and take it too far. It is something we can see and touch and do something with, and yeah, that can be mesmerizing in contrast with faith and things not seen (or at least not seen yet).

    Also, the goal of business is to make money, that is the point and the measure of success. That is not the goal of the local church at all (or had better not be).

    So business strategies are shaped and refined in a context of maximizing profit and return on investment, surely there must be a disconnect in application to the local church.

    Of course there is, but I think that good biz moves can still be a help and a support to the work of the local church. It just has to be kept in proper place and perspective. Let me give you an example.

    We worked with a church plant in north Baltimore that was going to be a larger than normal launch, we were actually expecting up to 400 people on day one. The launch team (of almost 200 people) worked and served in their community for over a year… and then set up for a grand opening.

    To support that many people, there were a lot of things done to try to connect with people, capture information for followup, connect people with small groups and means for helping build / maintain relationships of people that might show up. Who needs help? Who needs prayer? Who wants to go with me to the soup kitchen on Thursday? Checklists and contact management software were acquired.

    On day one, 951 people came. Most of them unchurched.

    Was it because of the good business principles employed that this happened? Clearly no. It was a God thing. No one in their wildest dreams expected that. Was it a goat rope just to try to find chairs and space in those first two services? Absolutely.

    Would it have been worse if the launch team hadn’t prepared for everything they could do using good, solid business principles of project management and preparation?

    I think so. It was a mess, but it could have been a disaster. Instead of a nightmare, God did something really amazing, and some good process was able to give some practical support, like a handmaiden, in the time of need.

    In America, we live in a culture that is media rich and that appreciates an organization that is run well. We see a lot of good design everyday as we live our lives. And the din of marketing speak is a huge problem. It devalues language and pushes meaning around in ways that are really unhealthy. Adjectives have run amok.

    But for all the problems this brings (and will continue to bring) it is also an opportunity. It’s a language our culture understands. It may be possible for us to use things like color, font, visual layout, as an aide in communicating God’s love.

    Should a “marketing mindset” and “corporate business principle church” be the heart of our expression of the gospel?

    No.

    But, given that the average American gets marketed to everyday in the way that we do, it seems to me that this is an open door for the church to speak to our culture in a way that they can understand. To the Jew, Paul was a Jew, to the Greek, he was a Greek…

    I would argue that to the overcommunicated to American, the local church can use good design and branding, excellence in communication strategy and good business principles in terms of accounting and task management to support the outgrowth of prayer, the nudge of the Holy Spirit and a call to love people deeply with authenticity.

    The marketing stuff and the biz moves can not, and must not be the heart of our expression of the gospel. But in some cases, they make a good tool.

    The metaphor I might use would be a song of worship. Good biz principles should be on the level of making sure the guitar is in tune. That activity will never result in the presence of God alone, we need grace for that… God’s love for us to meet us, our open heart to him and a real response.

    But tuning the guitar is better than not tuning it, even though it isn’t even close to the primary thing going on.

    Matt, my honest belief here is that I am in agreement with you in your post – I too have heard people say things using corporate buzzspeak and the cookie cutter pragmatist philosophy related to the love of Christ that makes me cringe.

    But I also see pastors who desperately want to help introduce people with all their messiness and sin to the arms of a loving God.

    There was a recent church plant who didn’t take up an offering, but in his first service he gave one away. He had donors lined up, they created loaded debit cards and gave them to the families who attended his first service… and he asked them to go find someone who needed help and give away the money that was given to them in that service.

    He is asking people to come back with your stories of what God is doing through simple generosity… and it isn’t just a gimmick. His vision is for a local church of extreme generosity and this thanksgiving service will involve packing 20,000 meals for people in the third world with Stop Hunger Now.

    I’m supporting him with checklists and marketing plans but this guy is the real thing and he is loving people and doing some great work.

    Last thing. We try to be really thoughtful about what we do… but I am very open to correction, to be teachable and to be balanced in our perspective and ministry.

    Matt – from your view, if it even possible for a so called “marketing minstry” in the church to be a good thing, what would the danger be? What line should we watch out for in terms of crossing? Or if someone came to you with this idea for starting something like this to help churches, what counsel would you give them?

    I think there are times when the church must be counter-cultural and clearly that impacts process and communication. How do you think it does in this context? Or should?

    Thanks!
    ~E

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