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How can I sell a godly message without selling out?

Mark Driscoll » Mission Church Preaching Church Leadership Evangelism Wisdom

Pastor Mark Driscoll answers a Christian blogger’s question on how to communicate for the sake of the gospel—not going viral.

As a Christian, author, columnist, and blogger, I wrestle with the self-promotion that drives so much of the blogging world today. Some days I feel like the majority of people reading and commenting on blogs—even the “best” Christian blogs—are motivated far less by a desire to grow closer to God than they are by “generating buzz,” “driving traffic to our sites,” “gaining followers,” and the highest of all callings, “going viral.” How are we as Christians to respond? As an author who “needs” to generate social media connections to keep selling books, how can I stay true to what God intends communication to be for and about?

–Christine

Christine,

This is a very personal and practical question for me, and in the day of social media it is more important than ever. I sincerely appreciate you raising it. Having failed at this numerous times, I am happy to point out some of the landmines I have driven over and share some of the lessons I’ve learned through my mistakes.

If you think about it, there has never before in the history of the world been an age like ours. We no longer need to get permission from gatekeepers (government, media, etc.) to get a message out. This allows us to communicate in an unfiltered and constant way with people.

In his book Tribes, Seth Godin writes:

A tribe is any group of people, large of small, who are connected to one another, a leader, and an idea. For millions of years, humans have joined tribes, be they religious, ethnic, political, or even musical (think of the Deadheads). It’s our nature. Now the Internet has eliminated the barriers of geography, cost, and time. All those blogs and social networking sites are helping existing tribes get bigger and enabling new tribes to be born—groups of ten or ten million who care about their iPhones, or a political campaign, or a new way to fight global warming.

If we use the opportunity that social media and other communication means at our disposal provide, we can potentially create a tribe focused on who Jesus is and what he has done, and rally people for kingdom action. With great opportunity comes great responsibility, however. You, me, and everyone else doing the kinds of things we are blessed to do must be constantly checking our motives:

Are we just trying to get famous for our glory?

Are we just trying to sell stuff to make money?

Or, are we truly trying to get a message out to as many people as possible because we believe it is biblical, vital, and helpful?

I am sure that you, like me, have things you are very passionate to communicate. We hope, in God’s grace, that these things would be used to help as many people as possible. Therefore, to get that message out we have to use the mediums that are available. This is the kind of scenario Paul was referring to when he said, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (1 Cor. 9:22).

Guard against false prophets in search of false profits.

The “all means” is what we are talking about. We could write down our thoughts on a piece of paper with a pen and hand them to one person, which would be fine. But to serve as many people as possible, we use various means. The message of our faith does not change, but the means by which it is distributed do change. This explains why Christians have been early adopters of everything from the printing press, to amplified sound, to radio, film, television, video, and now the Internet.

The issue is not gathering a tribe, but how you gather one and what you do with it once you’ve got it.

If you get a tribe primarily by trashing faithful Christians with whom you simply disagree on secondary matters, then you are a member of the pajama-hadeen. There’s a difference between attacking a position that a brother/sister holds, and attacking a brother/sister. The easiest way to get people’s attention on the Internet is the same way to get their attention on the street: do something crazy and/or start screaming at people.

Sadly, those who don’t have a tribe can easily form a tribe by simply declaring a World Wide Web war on someone who does have a tribe.

Ask yourself, when is it time to submit to godly counsel and apologize publicly?

The answer is not to be nice, but rather discerning. Is someone a wolf, a shepherd, or a sheep? We are to be nice to the sheep and the shepherds, but not to the wolves. There are few things worse than some guy going apostate, teaching nonsense that would make even Hymenaeus and Alexander blush, and then accusing people of not being nice because they pointed out the apostasy. This is like an arsonist burning down a building and then complaining about how mean the police were for putting his photo on a wanted poster.

If you idolize your tribe and demonize other tribes, treating the Bible as a good place to gather proof texts like rocks to throw at others, then you are not serving the King but rather acting like a court jester. If we gather a tribe only—or even primarily—to sell stuff without spending most of our energies to serve and give, then we have to do some serious soul searching to see if mammon is our most high god.

Take Jesus, not yourself, seriously.

Even worse, sometimes people gather a tribe to see what is popular, what will sell, and what will be blood in the water for the sharks in their tribe. In this case, the motive is to build up a big enough fan base to get a mainstream media interview with a coiffed dude in a suit, and maybe even a book deal with Jezebel House Inc., which is always looking for a fresh new voice. Other times, when a leader reaches a critical mass of popularity, he or she changes the message, sanding off certain rough edges and adding layers of lacquer to make it more palatable and profitable in the vast market. These individuals are, by definition, false prophets in search of false profits.

In order to guard against these destructive strategies, we have to continually ask ourselves questions like these:

  1. What is my true motive for writing/speaking/communicating?
  2. Is pride causing me to cave in to my critics and/or pander to my constituents?
  3. What does it look like for me to become an increasingly sanctified version of myself, rather than trying to sound like someone else for the sake of higher traffic online?
  4. How can I turn my critics into coaches and learn to do better by God’s grace?
  5. What things do I consider so true and vital that I am willing to lean over the plate and take one for the team in order to protect?
  6. Not if, but when has pride caused me to glorify myself instead of God in my work?
  7. When is it time to submit to godly counsel and apologize publicly when I have erred publicly?
  8. What does it look like for me to communicate with a prophetic edge of confrontation, humor, and conflict?
  9. Is it about the message, or is it about me?
  10. Do I love people, and am I genuinely trying to help them?
  11. Am I driven by a fear of man that causes my joy to rise and fall with comments people make and the number of followers I can claim?
  12. Am I glorifying God by talking about Jesus a lot?

Christine, as I prayed for you today, I got the sense that you ask this question because you care. You care because the Holy Spirit is in you, and he wants you to not be yet another someone who goes up fast and comes down hard but rather continually grows as a communicator, because he loves you. Do the best you can by God’s grace, and keep doing better by God’s grace. Only one Communicator never made a mistake. They killed him anyway, and he has a legion of critics to this day. He promised that in this world we would have “trouble,” which is the Greek word for blog comments. God bless your labors, sister. Take Jesus, not yourself, seriously.

 


 

Got a preaching and teaching question for Pastor Mark Driscoll? Check out previous topics in this series, and send your questions to preachteach@marshill.com


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