Reverse-Marketing the Church

Recently a guy asked me what business I was in. I explained that I’m not really in business; I work for the church up the road. He commented that the church is a business too; I smiled and went on my way.  The church is not a business, but I wonder how often we give those we encounter that impression?

Marketing gurus teach you that benefits draw people more often than the feature that they represent. For example:

Feature Benefit

  • Vibram Sole                     Long-lasting tread= happy feet
  • Rear A/C Control           Passengers adjust their own temp= happy kids
  • Giant Print Text             Easy to read= happy grandparents
  • Advanced  harness        Safety for your child= happy mommy

You get the idea.

In the Christian sub-culture, we have listened to the marketing gurus so much that we are now marketing the church.

I’m all for crisp design, excellent materials, and getting the word out, but I think we have to be careful. Church leaders should be intentional concerning their commitment to keep the church focused on the main thing!

When every sermon series is reduced to “seven steps to this” and “five baby steps to that,” we may be missing the point!

In this felt-needs approach to church, we often promote the benefit (practice) over the feature (doctrine). The problem is that a church can quickly become focused on perceived results rather than the source solution.

Doctrine has become an ugly word among some churches because it is seen as impractical. Doctrine, however, is very practical! We shouldn’t be scared of it.  Part of the problem is in the pulpit. Doctrine doesn’t have to be and never should have been boring!

If we lose our focus on doctrinal truth, we will develop moralists rather than Christians. We will convert folks to a religion, causing them to forfeit real relationship with Jesus!

This approach is dangerous for the Christian but it is deadly for the non-Christian who may attend your church.

Let’s use Jesus’ “I Am” statements to illustrate the point.


Feature Benefit

  • Christ the sustainer!                             You can be fulfilled & sustained!“

I Am the bread of life”

  • Christ the illuminator!                         You can see through darkness and sin!

“I Am the light of the world”

  • Christ the provider!                               You can find security & provision!

“I Am the door”

  • Christ our shepherd!                             You can experience unconditional love!

“I Am the good shepherd”

  • Christ our life!                                         You can have heaven!

“I Am the resurrection & the life”

  • Christ our entrance!                               You can have free access to God!

“ I Am the way, the truth, and the life”

  • Christ the source of all good!               You can be fruitful!

“I Am the true vine”

You are much more likely to see the right-hand column advertised as a sermon series than the left. Can’t you hear the titles? You can be fulfilled today! How to find security! All that is fine, but, if we aren’t careful, we will become so preoccupied with the “benefits” that we will forget the “feature.”

The benefit’s focus is on you, but the feature’s focus is on Jesus!  Who are we trying to promote—us or Him?

Yes, what we get is great, but let’s not forget that who we get is greater! If we get elements of the process but miss the person, then we’ve missed it all together!

If church leaders direct peoples’ attention onto the practical benefit rather than the personal feature (or, should I say, the featured person), then they distract rather than focus the church.

How ‘bout this series?

Seven reasons why Jesus is all you need!


We are in danger of being seen as self-help businesses rather than faith-based churches!


At some point, we pastors have to leave the marketing to the gurus and preach the pure, satisfying, undiluted stream of God’s Word!


Prudent Parenting

Proverbs 27:12a

A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself;

Laura and I were talking the other night about how hard it is to believe that Ella is already into her second year of life. I find myself thinking often about what kind of father I am and what kind of father I need to be. Because parenthood is a task so much bigger than myself, it often forces me to focus my dependence upon God. Right now our parenting goal is pretty simple. We want to raise Ella in a way that causes her to realize, early in life, that her parents love Jesus. We want our relationship with Jesus to be the defining element of our lives. Laura and I want the gospel to be the central theme of our lives to the degree that when we pass off the scene and Ella is asked how she remembers us she can simply say my parents loved Jesus.  For this to be true we recognize that our faith must be authentic—we can’t play games with God.

During my years in youth ministry I’ve noticed a trend among many Christian parents. Parents often are more reactionary then preventative. Rather than seeing themselves as a Bomb Squad, seeking out potential problems and diffusing them, they seem to see themselves as Disaster Relief Workers, going in after the devastation to help pick up the pieces. No doubt both roles are valid but how much better would it be if we could forsee evil and hide our families from it? I read an article a while back about parenting that Pastor Paul Chappell wrote. In the article he mentioned some parenting styles that are often referenced.  Here is what he said:

Below are four descriptions of parenting styles, three of which describe unbalanced approaches. These descriptions are helpful for parents with children of any ages, as they outline the heart philosophy of the parent rather than the behavior of the child.

1. Neglectful—Low in love, low in control

This parent avoids or flees his children. He finds it easier to say “Ask your mother” and continue watching a ballgame than to engage in opportunities to spend time with his children. He avoids setting boundaries and ignores the precious few boundaries that are broken. Unfortunately, children discern the neglect. Even as they take advantage of the relaxed rules, they translate the lack of attention as a lack of love.

Proverbs 29:15 describes the dangers of this parenting philosophy: “The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.”

2. Permissive—High in love, low in control

This parent allows his children to lead him rather than leading them. He fears his children and is reluctant to say “no.” While being your child’s friend is important, remember that you are his only father/mother. Be your child’s true best friend by fulfilling your role as his parent.

The book of Proverbs is full of Solomon’s admonition to his son to listen to and heed his father’s instruction: “My son, keep thy father’s commandment, and forsake not the law of thy mother” (Proverbs 6:20). Solomon knew that he could give Rehoboam advice and instruction that would help him live a successful life.

3. Authoritarian—Low in love, high in control

This parent pushes his children to conformity, rather than leading them to maturity. Parents who lean toward this parenting philosophy should remember Ephesians 6:4, “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”

The goal for Christian families is not to raise well-behaved children; it is to mature Christlike adults. To do this, you must reach your children’s hearts. Discipline and instruction is necessary, but never forget that heartstrings are tied with cords of love.

4. Authoritative—High in love, high in control

This is the parent who accepts and fulfills his role as a parent by lovingly nurturing his child’s heart with love while training him in obedience. He sees the big picture and ultimately directs his child’s heart to the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). While retaining the role of a parent, he is able to fellowship with his child, spending quality and quantity time together.

It is God’s design that an earthly father would display an accurate representation of the heart of our Heavenly Father: ”Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him” (Psalm 103:13). Authoritative parenting that maintains a balance of committed love and caring control gives children a picture of their Heavenly Father that creates a hunger to know Him.

As we strive as parents to draw our children’s hearts toward the Lord, it is so important to recognize that in our own strength and through our own wisdom we are insufficient for this incredible responsibility. As Jesus clearly stated, “…without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5).

It is my experience that Christian parents are often permissive or authoritarian and then when this strategy doesn’t work they react. For example permissive parents find out that their children are involved in some alarming sinful activity and so they react harshly but before long their permissive pattern returns. Other parents who are authoritarian in their leadership style find a rebel on their hands and over-react by becoming permissive or even more rigid.  As I sit writing this I’m thinking of one parent and he is the one typing at this keyboard. I realize that I can only strike this balance of high in love, high in control by God’s grace.  If you are reading this and you feel that you have made some parenting mistakes in the past may I remind you of Romans 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. Today, as I think about what God must do in my life for me to be the father that I need to be—I encourage you to do the same. What kind of parent are you? What kind of parent do you need to be? What steps need to take place for you to get there? Don’t just react. Set up a long-term strategy and become a prudent parent!