The Gospel and Multi-Level Marketing
So here’s where I get controversial. If you don’t like controversy, don’t read any further.
Several years ago my wife and I listened to a podcast on “The Moth.” The tagline for The Moth is “true stories told live without notes” and it’s a fantastic experience of listening to everyone from common, everyday people to famous politicians tell their true life stories.*
The particular story that made the greatest impact on me was a story about a young lady who moved to Colorado. When she moved to Colorado she was looking for a place to belong so she joined two groups. She joined a new church that was just getting started and she joined a multi-level marketing group (like Am-Way, Mary Kay, etc.).
The kicker was that, while she was looking for a place to belong, she was a natural saleswoman. This enabled her to quickly gain clients for her multi-level marketing business and it made her a great evangelist. She quickly moved up the ranks of both groups, finding herself in leadership and becoming very popular.
But there was a problem. She would use the same sales techniques to win people to Christ that she would use to sell people on whatever product her group was promoting. She’d constantly be in a conversation and in her mind be trying to determine whether this person needed Jesus or needed her product. She even told one story about how she was in Target talking to a woman who was in tears talking about her life and the storyteller forgot whether in the conversation she was selling Jesus or her product as the remedy for her situation.
The story takes an abrupt turn. At some point, burnt out from success and confusion, she distances herself from each group. Then, she and her husband move to New York City and she never sees either group (the church or the multi-level marketing firm) again. But as soon as she moves to New York City, someone tries to introduce her to a food co-op and get her to join. Her response: “No Thanks. I don’t believe in religions anymore.”
There are a lot of lessons to be learned from this story, but I want to focus on just two:
- The Gospel of Jesus is the only true gospel. But we often settle for lesser gospels. And in the last several years I’ve seen a slew of presentations for different products that promise to change your life, make you healthier, create a work-life balance, and make your dreams come true. Products meet a specific need. Gospels (true and false) promise ultimate fulfillment. Friends, if Jesus’ perfect life, atoning death, glorious resurrection, and promised coming and restoration aren’t satisfying enough for you, you will never find the happiness you seek in anything else. Please don’t buy the promises that fulfillment will come through a product that you buy or sell. It only comes through Jesus.
- The church of Jesus and the Kingdom of God should never be built on the same foundation as any multi-level marketing campaign. I know we are taught to meet people’s felt needs and to point to the promises of the Gospel. But in the end if we are only selling people an answer to their needs and not a relationship with the Lord of Heaven and Earth, we are doing harm to them and we hurt ourselves. Somewhere along the way, someone should have made sure that the woman in this story was meeting Jesus. Someone should have challenged her about selling Jesus the same way she sold her product. Someone should have made sure that the people she was introducing to the church had truly met Christ. Growth for the sake of growth (especially at the expense of the Kingdom) is a terrible master.
I’ve had many well-meaning friends and family members who have sold and been a part of multi-level marketing companies. They are good people who believe in a product that has made a difference in their lives. And I’m not against selling. Many people sell.**
I am against confusing lesser gospels with the true Gospel. I’m against people believing more in the product that they sell than the Bible that they read. And I’m against the church being built on sales principles that are meant to get people in the door and participating through human means. The Gospel is the power of salvation to those that believe. It will change people if we believe it, preach it, and model it. We don’t need to sell it. We need to be witnesses.
*Warning: If you take this post as a recommendation, know that while The Moth is authentic and heart-wrenching, it is also not always clean or “family-friendly.” Listen with care and discernment.
**This is my olive branch to multi-level marketing folks. I do believe people can and do have good intentions, motivations, etc. But those who are part of one must work to keep these realities at bay in their hearts. There is a lot of seduction in the industry, the primary one being greed.