You think you know something and then you don’t.
When I was a kid in the mid-80’s, my brother and I were listening to the radio and a song by Gloria Estefan came on called Rhythm is Gonna Get You. Later in the day, the song was stuck in my head, so I started to sing the chorus.
Then my brother said, “Wait, what are you singing?” I told him, “The Rhythm is Gonna Get You.” He cocked his head back in disbelief and said, “I thought it was ‘Benjamin’s Gonna Get You’ and I had no idea who Benjamin was.” I laughed and laughed at his expense. Later I wrote a blog and told everyone about it too. He found out about it at Christmas 2018 and was cool with it though.
That video is crazy pills, btw.
A Theology of Burnout
When I first started ministry, I had a verse that I put on my resume that I claimed was a guiding force behind what I did. It was 1 Corinthians 9:19-23.
For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.
I took that to mean that I would try to be a little bit of everything so that I could literally be all things to everyone in ministry. I would be a little athlete, a little choir nerd, a little rock and roll guy, a little churchy, a little edgy, a little funny, a little intellectual, a little this, a little that…you get the point.
That way, no matter who I met, I was ready to relate! I found it to be exhausting, especially as I got older. I couldn’t relate like I used to, nor did I want to. I thought this verse meant that to be all things to all people I had to be like all people, but that turned out to be an unsustainable pace that lead to burnout after burnout. I got so tired of having to be all these things! Can you relate?
Relate. You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
A Theology of Marketing
It just so happens that Paul was everything he mentioned in this passage, but you and I are not. What was he really saying? I believe that he was not suggesting that we become something irresistible to every type of person. No, that would be virtually impossible without lying. Are you saying Paul is a liar? Wow. I can’t believe you said that.
I think he’s telling us how he met people where they were. To Jews, I approached the Gospel like Jew would receive it. Like a Gentile, I approached the Gospel with a Gentile the way that they would receive it.
I believe this passage is about contextualization of the message for your audience to make it likely that they will receive it. And that, my friends, is what we call marketing.
A Theology of Target Audience
Still not convinced? Try this story. In Matthew 15, Jesus actually admits that he has a target audience! Read v. 21-28..
Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon. And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.” But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, “Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us.” But He answered and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” And He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” But she said, “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus said to her, “O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed at once.
Jesus had a target market of the Jews, and some Gentiles still connected with the message and he responded to them! This is a great story to bring up the next time you have to convince your leadership that it’s ok to say “we’re trying to reach 40 year olds, or 24 year olds,” etc. You’re not saying that because you’ve picked a target that nobody else matters. Of course not!
But if you did, you’d still be in the company of Jesus, so….(of course everyone is welcome at church. Don’t @ me.)
My point is simply this: Marketing is Biblical. It’s not evil, it’s necessary…and the churches who embrace this fact are going to be the ones with the best chance of seeing their people happily informed, educated, empowered, and practicing the life Jesus desires for us to live.
What do you think? Let me know your thoughts in the comments or join the discussion in The Seminary of Hard Knocks Facebook group. You can also connect with me on Instagram, where I share exclusive content and sometimes do impressions. Thanks for reading!