Marketing Is Not Ministry
The Rise of The Quote-Card Industry
2 Corinthians 2:17 “For we are not like many, peddling the word of God.”
Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote in 1921 “Die Philosophie soll die Gedanken, die sonst gleichsam trübe und verschwommen sind, klar machen und scharf abgrenzen.” (Philosophy should make clear and delimit sharply the thoughts that are otherwise opaque and blurred.” (TLP, 4.112)
This essay is an effort in that spirit to bring clarity to set of increasingly blurred lines regarding the role of social media in the spiritual life of God-followers and truth-seekers.
WEAPONS OF MASS INSTRUCTION
We now live in an unprecedented time. A private citizen can easily and quickly become a mass influence, because anyone with internet access and a computer can reach every other person on the entire planet with that access and some variety of that item. The New Testament precept in James 3:1, “Let not many among you become masters (spiritual leaders)” and the model of knowing one’s teachers personally and well (2Timothy 3:14) are now in mass abrogation through the internet’s presence in everyone’s personal space. The candidacy for the role of an influencer is open to anyone with the hardware and software tools, and the right “how-to” manuals. Having these tools, it can be rendered irrelevant that they might, as Alexander Pope said of his era’s critics, “lack only talent, taste, and sense (judgment).”
Web presence can also be fully automated, an author piling up postings to be published at given times by web-presence engines, creating the illusion the writer is faithfully putting out material relevant to the issues of the day – when a post on any given day may have been entered for web-publication months before the day it goes active.
The mini-video, sound-bite, and quote-card are the tools of the day.
As presence proliferates, and pressure to be up-to-speed mounts, time available for people to read in any kind of depth decreases, and people are naturally driven to be attracted to the most user-friendly, least time-demanding items. These are placebos for being genuinely informed or fed – and like all placebos, they leave the taker without the actual needed nourishment or repair-influence.
What is the result?
We face a webisphere filling up with “spiritual” presences acting like secular marketing efforts, and filling the web with competing aphorisms and market-share increasing media.
PAUL SEES “MANY” IN A SPECIFIC ERROR NEEDING CORRECTION
Paul proudly ( in the positive sense) asserted, “We are not like many, peddling the Word of God.”
“Peddling” is ancient language for sales.
Paul first clarified that his means and methods for ministry were not those of the people whose profession is sales.
Why did Paul feel this particular clarification was necessary?
They key is the word “many.” Paul saw an unacceptably large number in his era who were using what Paul considered sales practices to “market” their version of what they conceived spirituality to be; and create a “customer base” that ended up believing and living in a manner Paul considered an inaccurate version of Biblical life.
THE GOAL OF SALES IS THE SALE
Does anyone remember Arnold Schwarzenegger’s quote from Pumping Iron, saying “getting up a good pump” (working out so hard your muscles fill with an inordinate amount of your body’s blood supply) felt identical to romantic ecstasy? Well – most often, getting up a good pump makes you feel like you have a bad case of flu or vertigo, including vomiting.
Arnold’s sentence was simply not true.
When Arnold was confronted about his words, his response was, “Well – obviously, that was ‘sales language.’” There is a more compact word for Arnold’s description of how pumping iron makes you feel: it was a lie. It was a very successful lie – Arnold Strong (his 1970’s marketing name, since the overtly German moniker “Schwarzenegger” did not play well in a Western world only two decades past World War II) and his Pumping Iron marketing movie made young Arnold a star, and dramatically increased the bottom line of the body-building industry. His “sales language” worked – but it was manifestly dishonest. In Scripture, the goal for godly character is to be without “guile” (Ps. 32, John 1), and speak truth (Deut. 5:20*, Matt. 5:37) in an utterly unequivocal manner.
THE “BLESSED EQUALS SUCCESS” TEST
The test of sound God-following is not whether it is “successful” at making the sale.
The Isaiah 55:11 maxim, “The word of God will not return void, without accomplishing that for which I sent it.” does not mean we always “close the sale” for God.
As the old saying goes, the same sun that melts wax hardens clay. No one seeing clay harden in the sun would say the sunlight “isn’t working.” The hardening of the clay as a response to sunlight makes clear what the clay is: it says nothing about the sunlight that melts wax being different, or better, or more successful. A soft heart melts in the light – a hard heart gets harder. (John 3:20-21) There are times God specifically allows wrong to succeed for the specific purpose of allowing evil people to define themselves utterly and without unclarity as evil. (Psalm 92:7)
Some of the most “successful” God-following in history resulted in loss and death. See the example of Yochanon the Immerser (John The Baptist), whose preaching of the truth to Herod never “closed the sale” – and many other such examples. Even the “faith-chapter” of the New Testament – Hebrews 11 – goes out of its way to point out that worldly success is not the litmus test for accurate spirituality. Yeshua’s closest disciple, John, failed greatly during his lifetime, unable to successfully escape being tortured beyond imagination, and exiled to a desolate rock in the middle of the Aegean Sea. His impact – like that of Mozart in music – came mostly from his written works, and long after his death. Letters of Paul like his note to the Galatians are now seen as major theology influences, but in their original time were written to only a few dozen people in sparsely populated region.
Not to say there is anything endemically wrong with earning a living through religious work. The Scriptures say clearly that “the worker is worthy of his wages” (Luke 10:7, 1Timothy 5:18) and “just as in the Temple system, God has ordained that those who proclaim the news of Messiah (including all aspects of raising up believers and believing communities) should get their living from the work of it.” 1Corinthians 9:14) This Blog is not a diatribe against earning a living from religious work: I do so, myself.
This essay is an attempt to point out that marketing does not de facto equal ministry.
One can successfully market – and not successfully minister.
I know one quite sincere minister whose LinkedIn account publishes a verse of Scripture to the internet every day. This habit – either automated or him doing this posting daily – has created the “boy who cried wolf” situation: when I see his name, I simply ignore it. If someone is speaking all the time … it becomes the same as that person never speaking at all; with one additional complication: “In an abundance of words, sin is never lacking, but the tongue of the righteous is like choice silver.” (Proverbs 10:19-20)
QUANTITY VERSUS QUALITY
The core issue here is superabundance versus wise choice-making. Directly contrary to the old adage about photography, “If you want to take a great picture, take a million pictures” – the idea of speaking well is to speak little – and when one does, speaking should be well-chosen words. “Let your words be few” advised King Solomon, and “Be slow to speak” was the advice of the Messiah’s half-brother, Ya’acov (James).
We need to face the fact that spiritual leadership is taught by Scripture in the context of close and ongoing personal relationship. “The things you have been taught and learned, you should practice, knowing from whom you have learned them.” (2Timothy 3:14)
Yeshua modeled spiritual leadership to us by working closely with a small group and letting them get to know Him exceedingly well across time.
They learned from His instruction and His personal example.
They knew – truly knew – from whom they had learned what they had learned.
Quote card proliferation reduces pastoral ministry to the advertising craft.
It reduces truth-speaking to sales.
Truth needs as many words as truth needs.
Choice-making in regard to words is a spiritual discipline: “Like apples of gold in settings of silver, is the right word in the right circumstances” and “A wise person holds back his words, but a fool vents all his spirit.” is the advice of the wisest Israeli king in history.
Balancing the Bible virtue of verbal restraint, is the willingness to teach as much as is necessary, and in a manner not controlled by sales concerns or populist appeal.
Moses re-taught the entire Jewish nation at great length in Deuteronomy – the “second (telling of The) law” – before we crossed into the Promised Land, because a lengthy review in depth was necessary.
As Rav Saul (Paul) was departing from the city of Troas, he taught at such length that a teenager named Eutychus dozed off and fell out of the window on which he was sitting to listen. We note, he recovered after receiving prayer.
Simon Peter said he considered it no burden at all to be a consistent reminder to those he taught of those things most important they had learned. (2Peter 1:13)
Proliferating words in an unnecessary manner as a mere advertising “presence/footprint creation technique” runs the risk of drifting out of the pastoral profession and into the advertising industry.
Sales standards are not pastoral standards.
Sales goals are not pastoral goals.
We seek to “speak the truth in love,” not win the demographic or make the sale.
We seek new-births, not new members.
We seek turnings to God, not purchases of our materials.
We seek to foster mature spirituality, not customer loyalty.
These things are easy to confuse.
I end with my starting quote from Wittgenstein’s Tractatus: “Philosophy should make clear and delimit sharply the thoughts that are otherwise opaque and blurred.”
Hopefully, these ideas help clarify an increasingly blurry field of spiritual habits proliferating in the sphere of social media.
May it all be for shalom.
Rabbi Bruce L. Cohen
2 November 2016