Don't Be a Brand

Social media, public ministry, and the lure of constant self-promotion

April 26, 2016Filed under theologyMarkdown source

Don’t be a brand, pastor.

It’s tempting. There are a thousand reasons why it looks like a good idea. Church marketing consultants tell you it’s good for your church’s profile at large, and indeed it might bring some attention to the things your church is doing. Leadership journals might tell you how you can use your gifts more effectively. You see other godly men with big platforms, doing great things for the kingdom. Their podcasts, conferences, churches, ministries all flourish, it seems, at least in part on the strength of their public personas.

Don’t do it.

Don’t promote your sermons every chance you get. Don’t retweet your people’s compliments. Don’t feel the need to highlight every blog post you write. Don’t make much of yourself.

Don’t be a brand.

Look: social media is a good thing. And I’m writing this from a blog which I’ve maintained in various forms for the better part of a decade now, on which I have posted a great deal of theological reflection. I have my student sermons posted here and elsewhere online. Just because of those realities, I know, even with the least of credentials in ministerial vocation, even with no “reach” to speak of, the temptation to promote my name. I know the temptation to make a brand out of “Chris Krycho.” I want people to listen to my sermons and think they’re good. I want them to be impressed with my voice, my delivery, my exegesis, and the way I point them to God. (Yes, even that last.) And this is all the opposite of what faithful Christian ministry looks like.

When I say, “Don’t be a brand,” I mean: don’t make the enlargement of your camp of followers a goal. Make it an anti-goal, even. When you see people chasing your shadow, point them back to their own churches and their own pastors. Remind them that they live where God planted them, and it is good. You are not their pastor for a reason.

This temptation isn’t totally peculiar to pastors. But it is peculiarly dangerous.

If I promote New Rustacean, and that comes to my credit to some degree, I can certainly take pride in it in all the wrong ways. I can hang my self-worth on it. (The reality: I’ve occasionally done just that with all my public work online.) But even if I were, stupidly and sinfully, to make a brand out of myself with that—not just a public identity, but a marketable version of myself which ✨sparkles✨ with my glorious skill at talking about programming languages—at least I wouldn’t be doing it in the name of God. At least I wouldn’t be claiming to point to Christ while making a name for myself.

Don’t become a brand no matter what: not even for the sake of being a well-known and well-liked programmer. But whatever you do, do not dare—not for a moment—to take your ministry and use it to draw attention to yourself. Remember (when you preach, when time you write, when you craft a song) that the call to self-exaltation endemic to fallen humanity is a necrotic rot. It will ruin you.

There is a place for tweeting out your sermons, for sharing your blog posts on Facebook. You can publish a podcast on theology. You can use the tools of social media to use your gifts as public goods.

But think hard about the way you use these platforms, and about how much you use them. Think about whether your sermon feed should be private. Think about whether you should share your blog posts publicly on Facebook, or only to your church’s private group. Think about your goals and motivations in making a podcast, and chasten your aims.

Don’t go looking for a bigger platform and more attention. Serve your local church faithfully. God might give you a platform, and if so, use it judiciously (and say no to many things). And if no such platform comes, remember two things: First, God is good and loves you; a big stage might destroy you. Second, your local church is good, and you are called to love those sheep, not the more numerous sheep in greener pastures elsewhere.

Yes, I’m going to share a link to this when I publish it in a few minutes. And yes, I do so with some trepidation, and a sense of irony.

I make these choices carefully. I happily promote my podcasts: Winning Slowly and New Rustacean, and even and Run With Me—but I do not tweet or post my sermons on Facebook. (And I need to turn off Vimeo’s automatic sharing.) I don’t publicize that RSS feed. It exists; family and friends who care to can subscribe. But I do not and will not make a habit of pointing to those things. If others find them profitable, well and good; glory to God. But I will not be a brand.

Use the tools; glorify Christ with them. But use them prudently.