Pastor's Blog

When my wife and I bought our first television, we couldn’t afford cable.  We just used “bunny ears” – the antennae that extend and retract and swivel and rotate.

No one position of the antennae brings in every channel.  Every time you change channels you must adjust the bunny ears to a new position. 

Time weakens the joints of the antennae.  They won’t stay extended, so you fix them in place with duct tape. 
Then the reception is weak, so you wrap them with aluminum foil or a wire coat hanger.
Which makes the antennae too heavy, so they slowly droop down and lay flat.  So you prop them up with books – or assign one of the children to hold them in place so you can watch the game.

And your idea of a “good picture” falls somewhere between snowy and less snowy.

You get accustomed to the wire-hanger duct-taped aluminum-foiled monstrosity on top of your television.  (Perhaps it’s tasteful modern art.)
You get accustomed to replacing the foil, losing the picture when someone walks by the TV, and missing half your show because you were adjusting the bunny ears to get a “good picture”.
You get accustomed to an awful picture being a “good picture”.
The TV works. 

The experience of the bunny ears is what I picture when I think about ministry.

I see the church as intensely personal.  It’s not only about people; it is people.  It is a people – imperfect but forgiven souls striving together to know God and obey His truth and live life together as it was intended to be lived.  It is the connections between us, and our connections with Him, and the Spirit of God working in and through all those connections to mold each soul and the whole body to be the beautiful bride (the technical term is “sanctification”). 

This heavenly idea seems so abstract, seems to defy physical boundaries, seems to be beyond marketing.  It must be believed and practiced, tasted and experienced – not packaged, marketed, and sold like some generic widget, mass-produced and stamped out on an assembly line.

But our feet still walk – on carpeting.  We park cars in lots and sit on chairs in heated and air-conditioned buildings that have lights and projectors and sound systems that require electricity and water and sewer.  We function amid “stuff”, and “stuff” involves that most earthly thing:  money. 

As abstract and heavenly as the church is, she is earthly.  We are regularly reminded of that.  We still break bread and sip grape juice together to remember a real wooden cross on which a body of flesh was tortured and broken, bleeding real red blood, and heaving one last gasp to declare the heavenly business finished. 

And it was a real body that rose from a real grave . . .

We cannot avoid that earthly part.  We must deal with the world as we find it, not as we wish it to be.  I am a missionary to America, and like it or not, I live in a society oriented to marketing.  It is how America functions, the language she speaks. 

It is easy to overdress the church in the American garb of marketing.  Overdressed she can become a prostitute.  But if we don’t dress her at all she will seem so foreign that she will go misunderstood and her message won’t be grasped.

We must be a heavenly people – I will never abandon that picture -- but I have concluded that we must make SOME use of the “stuff” of American culture.  We can’t escape dirty hands working in a fallen world.  There are some aspects of marketing we can use to serve God in America.

If bunny ears can get some reception, a snowy picture is better than none at all.

God’s “product” is the church – that group of people in which the Spirit works, each part influencing the others toward spiritual maturity (godliness and Christ-likeness).  I have suggested that if you want to market the church, the “product” to be “marketed” is the group of people itself and the process of maturing through interaction with each other in everyday life.

But I have always had trouble selling that idea.

I believe we tend to “market” our properties and our programs instead.  It’s much easier to market, and I’m not opposed to it in principle.  But when you put second things first, when you make fringe accessories the core, you distort the picture – and often your thought and practice. 

When you focus on marketing programs and properties (the word in vogue is “your campus”) you feed a consumer mentality and invite people to shop for what meets their needs.  People come to get – to take – and don’t have to give any thought to giving, to doing the work of providing, to developing a sense of personal responsibility to be a part of the body’s work.

Perhaps this is unavoidable, especially in America where the culture is consumer-oriented.  All I know is that “all take and no give” is not the biblical picture of the mentality of the Christian church. 

But some people – Christians – are content to take for years.  Even for decades.

Churches serve up a smorgasbord of “ministry” if you will.  People can go to Church A for the preaching, Church B for a small group, Church C for worship music, and maybe send your kids to the youth group at Church D, and summer camp with the gang from Church E.  All without feeling a need to commit themselves to the work at any one place.

Even better – if you can build a megachurch that pays professionals to do all the ministering, no one in the church needs to commit to anything.  It’s the ultimate in religious smorgasbord experience!

I’ve watched people use churches this way for years.  They will send their kids to the VBS of one church the second week of June, to another church the third week of June, and so on throughout the summer.  The church provides free babysitting for the kids and the parents get a break they feel is well-deserved – without ever feeling any personal responsibility to help with a VBS at any one church, because they aren’t committed to any one church.

In the meantime, a handful of people at each church work like crazy to provide a good experience for the children and after doing so for a few years, they often burn out.

My purpose is not to criticize megachurches or ministries like VBS.  I’m simply observing that when you market “ministries” you feed and perpetuate a consumer mentality.  These ministries are good things but not core things.  They are not what the church is about.  But we end up making them what the church is about.  That skews our vision.  We miss the core things.

I am all for things like VBS.  But for me, it is not about what the kids are doing.  It’s about the fellowship and camaraderie – the real love and appreciation for each other – being built among those running the VBS.  That is what the body is about; that is the core.  If kids learn a Bible story or two and get a good taste in their mouth for the church – so much the better.

. . . Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.  (Ephesians 5.25-27)

I think these verses nicely sum up the life process of every church.

Americans tend to think individualistically – Christ died for me.  And we tend to think of our religious commitment as personal and private.

That is certainly an aspect of our faith.  But the apostle here talks about the church as a body.  I don’t just walk alone with Christ.  I walk with other followers of Jesus (1 John 1.3); we all have meaningful connection to each other because we have meaningful connection to Jesus.

And Jesus is in the process of sanctifying us – setting us apart, making us different, changing us – together.  He sanctifies the church.  He cleanses the church by washing her with God’s Word.  He wants to present her – the body of the church – to Himself as a pure and holy bride.

Not just me.  The church.  I’M not the bride of Christ.  The church is – all believers throughout all time. 

And the church exists in local chapters -- local churches.  And that is where the great process of beautifying the bride takes place.  Each church is going through that process as the members impact and influence each other, the Spirit of God working in and through each to change the others, to keep moving the whole body toward being the pure and spotless bride.

The unbelieving world isn’t undergoing this process.  The church is.  The church is where God is doing His work.  The church is the product He is working on.

This is why I say if we are going to “market” the product of Christianity, then we must market the people itself.  The bride – the church – the parts in relation to each other – is the visible display of the work of the invisible Spirit.

The problem is that the church is not a finished product.  It is still in process.  She is exercising and primping and working out blemishes and faults and frailties.  That is what sanctification is.

When we preach the gospel, we invite people to join themselves to Christ.  But that act of faith is inseparable from joining this greater process of change with the rest of us.  That process affects all of us through meaningful connection and interaction with each other. 

This is what “being saved” is.  It starts with a personal faith in Jesus (“I have been saved”).  But that first step of faith connects me to the body and the larger process by which we are being changed – saved from the living out of sin in our everyday lives (“I am being saved”).  And I – we – go through that process together until the church will be finally saved on the last day (“I shall be saved”).

This is why I say the church itself is “the product”.  But the product isn’t finished.  The bride is only half-dressed and her dress needs mending.  Her hair is still soaking wet and uncombed, and she's barely begun applying her makeup.  She will be ready someday.  But right now she is still in process – still far from perfect.  Quite imperfect. 

But how does one market an unfinished and imperfect product?

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