When Christians complain about the present-day church and say the answer is just to do things the way they did back in the New Testament, I sometimes wonder how closely they have read the document they cite.
After all, if it wasn’t for the need for Paul and others to write letters correcting all the things believers were doing wrong in those early days, we wouldn’t have much of a New Testament. So much for good examples. When it comes to church, in many ways the New Testament is more of a repair manual than a sales catalog.
Yet I’m grateful for that, because it tells me that if there was room then for people who messed things up, then there’s room for me now. And it reminds me that our “selling point” to the world is not, Hey, come join us, we have got it all together. It’s, Hey, come join us, we haven’t got it all together, either—but we know someone who does.
Sadly, much of our public face has more to do with Madison Avenue than the Via Dolorosa. We’ve made Christianity more self-serving than self-sacrificial. We’ve been busy presenting Christianity as a brand, a lifestyle, when it’s actually really all about a person.
We have failed to recognize that brands and personalities are quite different.
Brands are smooth and cool. Personalities are fuzzy and warm. Brands tend to be about things, products. Personalities, naturally, tend to be about people. Brands tend to be external, about what you get. Personalities tend to be internal, about how you feel.
Brands tend to be about an image (about which the Ten Commandments offer some clear warnings, by the way), personalities tend to be about an impression.
When you’re promising the best taste or the the best tread, branding works well: Coke, Nike, Starbucks, Mercedes. Their logos readily come to mind. When you’re promising the best service, personality wins.
That’s why when someone is selling a car on TV, there’s lots of glamor shots of the vehicle. And when you’re selling car insurance on TV, there’s a likable person: Progressive’s ditzy but dependable Flo, or All State’s confident and calming Dennis Haysbert.
Brands are about aspiring. Personalities are about inspiring. Brands create a thirst. Personalities refresh. Brands are created in a meeting. Personalities are forged over a lifetime. Jesus isn’t today’s logo; He’s the timeless Logos.
Maybe we’d do better presenting Jesus not as a brand (here’s what you can get from Him), but as a personality (here’s why you can trust Him). And the first evidence to point to would be how He’s accepted us, works in progress as we are.