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.
A year or so ago I had a minor revelation that changed how I understood much of the New Testament. It’s a small thing that dramatically shifts how we understand the priorities of Jesus and the apostles. Are you ready?
Somewhere along the way I began to replace every occurrence of the phrase “the word” with “the message.”
You see, every time I read the phrase “the word,” my mind always pictured the Bible. So when I read that Jesus was “the Word” (John 1:1) I would always think Jesus is the Bible. This was really confusing and I’ve seen it cause some folks to deify the Scriptures.
But if I replace “the word” with “the message” I get something entirely different. Now when I read that Jesus is the word I understand He is God’s Message. He is what God would say in any circumstance. And this message became flesh and lived among us (John 1:14).
So when Luke writes in Acts 13:49 that “the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region,” I know that Luke is talking about the spread of the Gospel and not the knowledge of Bible verses. In the same way, when Paul encourages the Thessalonians to pray that “the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you,” (2 Thessalonians 3:1), he’s asking them to pray that the message of the Gospel would be received powerfully.
All of this should shift the focus from accumulating Bible knowledge to actually being a part of knowing, embodying, and declaring God’s message that’s found so clearly in Jesus and the Gospel. This is why I’ve argued elsewhere that one of the minimum standards of discipleship is a functional knowledge of the Gospel.
What do you think? Would reading the Bible this way change how you understand what’s happening in the New Testament? And, is this approach dangerous in any way?
I’ve been musing over this question for a while. I’m hoping that you (my readers) have some insight. I think it has implications about how we lead someone to faith and about what happens afterwards. The question is this:
If the Gospel (the message we share to bring people to faith in Jesus) doesn’t include discipleship, why would we add it later? If the Gospel does include discipleship, why don’t we preach it in our message?
If you’ve got some thoughts about this question, please leave a comment in the comment section. I’ll post some of my thoughts after I give some folks a chance to interact and discuss.
“The gospel that the first century apostles preached was one of Christ’s lordship and God’s pure and unfailing grace in Him. Paul of Tarsus, for example, did not forge people together with rules, religious duty, or legalism. Instead he preached a gospel of grace so high and so powerful that it kicked down the gates of hell–setting the Jew free of religious duty and the Gentile free of immorality. His was a double-barreled, two-fisted gospel.”
It’s time for another installment of “Blogs I Wish I Wrote.” Today’s featured blog comes from Mark at Godgrown. I’ve been following Mark for awhile now and I really appreciate a lot of what he writes. There have been a couple of times where he has taken some topic that has gripped the national headlines and turned it on it’s head in a way that causes me to understand the Gospel or the Kingdom in a new light. In a way it’s quite a bit like how Jesus would use parables in his day to convey divine truth and Mark is pretty good at it. Previously I’ve seen him take the Federal Bailout that recently happened and use it to communicate God’s heart to “bail us out” of our sin.
Today, however, Mark looks at how the church is supposed to possess a message that spreads much like the Swine Flu, and he calls it the Kingdom Flu. Mark not only gives us a good picture for how the message of the Gospel is supposed to spread, but delves into why it’s not and what it would look like if it did. I’m a little jealous of what Jesus taught through Mark today, so it goes on the list of “Blogs I Wish I Wrote.” You can read it here.