One of the ongoing conversations in the evangelical church is about marketing the gospel. There’s a tension. On the one hand, the gospel is decidedly countercultural. On the other hand, we want to contextualize the gospel to a modern world, so more people hear the message in their language and come to faith in Christ.
Tim Sinclair lives at the nexus of both marketing and ministry. He grew up in ministry as a pastor’s kid, has successfully helped businesses market their products, and is a morning radio host on WGBL in Champaign, IL. He’s recently written an interesting and perhaps provocative book, Branded, Sharing Jesus with a Consumer Culture.
Today, Tim stopped by for some thoughtful answers to my questions on ministry and culture:
When you start talking about marketing and branding and the church, serious Christians get a little queasy.
Absolutely. That’s why I address the issue in one of the first chapters of Branded. Webster’s defines marketing as “the process or technique of promoting, selling, and distributing a product or service.” According to Mark 16:15 it seems that Christians are called to do the same thing with Jesus. (“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”) We are to show (promote), share (sell), and spread (distribute) our faith…so, to me, evangelism is marketing, just under a different, far less controversial name.
Do you think, as Brett McCracken wrote in Hipster Christianity that we’ve tried to make Jesus too “hip”?
Jesus and his teachings are relevant (or “hip”) today, with or without our help. I think the problem is when Christians try to change who we are in order to bring people to Christ. God has given each of us different gifts and talents and abilities, with our own unique styles and circumstances and techniques. If we focus on being exactly who God calls us to be, and if we allow that honesty and authenticity to shine through, those who naturally resonate with us will naturally resonate with Jesus too.
How do you square Jesus’ words that His followers won’t always be liked with a desire to make Christianity appealing?
The gospel, in and of itself, is going to be offensive to some. And, therefore, those of us who want to share that message are not going to be “liked” by everyone. And that’s okay. The rub comes when Christians try to change or adjust our beliefs in order to widen the funnel. We hope that we can get more people “in” by changing our message or by watering it down somehow. But, our message isn’t (or shouldn’t be) fluid. Our methods should be. In fact, Jesus used culturally-relevant methods all the time to share biblical principles: stories, songs, lines in the sand, analogies, etc. Making Christianity appealing isn’t the same thing as relevantly showing people how it already is.
You minister in a college- atmosphere at the University of Illinois–what is the biggest challenge to the gospel on today’s college campuses?
It seems like an entire generation (not just college students) is of the mindset that their actions should guide their faith, rather than allowing their faith to guide their actions. Our culture has adopted the idea of a flexible faith in which society dictates right and wrong instead of the Bible. The challenge seems to be convincing our teens and twenty-somethings that right and wrong is a constant, not a variable…and, just as importantly, that following Jesus’ example of how to live really is better in the long run.
You’re a Christian broadcaster, author, and speaker. What is one piece of advice you’d give to someone who wants to spend their live in Christian communications? Don’t try to appear perfect.
Our stories have power, flaws and all. People automatically distrust those who claim to have it all together…mainly because they know it’s impossible. None of us is perfect – even those who work in ministry – and if we try to share our faith under the guise of utopia our story will never be effective. Your honest, authentic self is better than any other one you can come up with.