Thursday, September 8, 2011

On Self-Promotion

Dane Ortlund offers a thought-provoking post titled What Kind of Online Culture Are We Cultivating? in which he asks some pointed questions. For instance:
What are we doing, brothers? I am asking myself no less than you.

What if we made up our minds to refuse to quietly electronically parade whatever accomplishments the Lord grants? What if we let the Lord decide who knows of us and what we've done? What if every post, tweet, and FB update was passed through the fine filter of Matthew 23:12?

What are we of? What's driving us? Is this how true faith acts, faith in a God who one day 'will disclose the purposes of the heart' (1 Cor. 4:5)?
James M. Hamilton responds:
Is it self-promoting to want to help people understand the Bible?

Maybe. Could be. Before we can say one way or another, we need to know more about that desire, don’t we?

If the aim of helping people to understand the Bible is ultimately so that we can advance ourselves, self-promotion would seem to be an issue.

But what if, as far as we can tell, we’re operating on a genuine desire to serve others? Love for God manifesting itself in love for God’s word and God’s people, provoked by the challenges God’s people face.

If that’s what’s driving someone, would self-promotion still be a concern?
Justin Taylor then highlighted a John Piper interview clip in which Piper outlines the balance between good and bad self-promotion.

We cannot see each other's hearts. Many times, I think, we assume we know bad self-promotion when we see it. Isn't there a line between the pastor-author who references his book here and there and the pastor-author who re-tweets (apparently) every single mention of himself? Or perhaps in both cases the heart we ought to be looking at in the objection is our own. Why does it bug us so much? Is it because we worry about someone's pride? Or is it because of our own envy or resentment? There's a line there too, in which I ought to be more worked up about my own sin than yours.

Still, I think this is a danger zone. The Band of Bloggers events at the major gospel conferences the last few years have discussed this issue, typically within the framework of how to build a platform for the gospel and Jesus' fame, rather than a platform for our own. I shared at one of those events that I think it's important for pastors/bloggers/authors to have people very close to them who just aren't impressed by all that stuff in the least. Find people who will remind you regularly that you're not a big deal.

Last year Brandon Smith interviewed Trevin Wax, Steve McCoy, and me on the issue of Christians and Internet Presence, and asked us, "Is fame something that Christians should avoid or embrace?" At the risk of indulging in self-promotion, here is how I responded:
I hope this doesn’t sound like I’m dodging the question, but I’m not sure “avoid” or “embrace” are the only two options for Christians. I think we should just be faithful to the callings, private and public, that God puts before us. In that sense, fame is neutral. There were men of God who were famous in the land in Bible times. Fame is not something to embrace, of course, as a self-exalting pursuit, but neither something we are morally bound to avoid. In some cases, I’d think avoidance of exposure or recognition can be a form of false humility, a type of self-centeredness all its own.
I would also point back to some of Hamilton's questions, including the practical concerns publishers give authors in the expectation of their participation of marketing a book and the logical problem inherent in blogging against self-promotion. If drawing attention to oneself is always bad, we ought not ever do anything attention-getting in public, including posting thoughtful, theological, and excellent writing on the world wide web, as Dane Ortlund does.

I love my brothers, and I'm thankful for the self-reflection and sharpening that goes on in most corners of the evangelical social media world.


Gabe said...

You don't realize how timely this is, for me, today. I am currently in the middle of helping a church with a marketing campaign that hopes to actually walk this line between rejecting and seeking fame. I've had to do a lot of reflecting and study about what is appropriate, biblical and reasonable for a church to do.

So much of what I have found can be redeemed, in promotion, but it's generally not. I think your city (and Jared I mean 'your' in a general sense, not just you ;-))should know about your church. But what they know about it is the key.

Do people know about your church because it gives away a car on Easter or have they been hearing of people turning to Jesus? Has it caused a holy uproar? Have people not stopped talking about the Jesus they heard about there?

So instead of promoting this church, I am about to present to the pastor and elders that they promote the Jesus that the church promotes. That they will make so much of Him that the city will know exactly what this church is about, unapologetically.

Anyway, my long and drawn out two cents. Thank you for writing this, this morning.

Anonymous said...

How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live. ~Henry David Thoreau

This plays in my mind when I read people's blogs. Especially Gospel blogs. People have lots of ideas about God, ministry, theology and spreading the Gospel, but they're not living them. Although they do a fine job writing about them!

Those writers are just silly. Even when they have powerful things to say, I can't get over the fact that they blog from their couches and have built an empire off their wit and way with the English language. When you look at their lives, they're not doing anything to further the gospel but their writings make it clear that they expect everyone else to.

I have a friend who likes to say, "The further you stand from someone, the louder you have to yell to get them to hear you." Its a "duh" statement, but it totally applies in terms of internet Gospel-sharing.

FB, Twitter, blogs and so forth, are such impersonal social mediums that Christians have to do a lot of shouting (or nagging) about the Gospel in order for it to be heard. And whats the first reaction when you're being shouted at or nagged?

Alternatively, when you are in person, you can come alongside someone and quietly whisper the Gospel in their ear. This is usually much better received. I don't know many people who were brought to Jesus by a witty blog post, random scripture on FB, or a Piper tweet. But I know many, myself included, whose hearts were soften to the Spirit because someone cared enough to do the HARD work of loving me and showing me Jesus over time.

I don't think the Gospel SHOULDN'T be shared on the internet, just that it shouldn't be our primary ministry. Its too impersonal, easily disregarded, and frankly...too safe. (I had to throw that in there!)

If Jesus walked the Earth today, I dont think he'd blog from His couch or be tossing out parables on Facebook. I think He'd be outside, loving and leading the flock just as He did 2000 years ago. Even with technology, He'd still choose to get face-to-face and personal. "Go and sin no more" just wouldn't be as powerful over twitter.

(That all being said) I've been ministered to immensely by your blog, so there is always a need and purpose for technology. But if I didn't think you cared, and felt you were the type of guy who sat on his couch trying to think up theological catchphrases and underhanded zingers to stir up "gospel guilt", I wouldn't have remained a reader.

Not to be overly flattering, but I think you do the internet gospel thing well. But there are others who seem to just use it to be pious and fish for compliments.

Josh Cousineau said...

Very helpful Jared. I have had people challenge me writing blogs, hosting conferences' and doing 'self-promotion' on-line. This was helpful!

Thanks man.