He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. Colossians 1:15-20
I had a conversation with a friend today about the place (or not) for marketing principles in the church. Not gonna get into all the various pros and cons in that discussion here. However, I do think there is (at least) one interesting dilemma any marketing professional might face in trying to help a given church with a marketing plan. I am not convinced all of us as church leaders even agree on what, exactly, our product is. That is a sad problem. But it is not a new problem. Paul addressed it in his writing. More than once.
The Colossian Paradox
After a (frankly) gushing introduction in his letter praising the little church at Colossae for its impressive faith and reliance on Jesus, Paul does something interesting: he reminds them of how important Jesus is. It almost feels out of place. He heaps the praises on them. You are faithful! You are on the right track! Being gospel-centered, you are getting it right and we have heard all about your impressive faith in Jesus! And then he launches into a long and poetic passage about Jesus as the very center of our faith…the foundation of the New Testament church. Seems odd to me. There is much I do not know about the Colossian christians. There may have been plenty of reasons they needed this “centering” from Paul. But I know this about the Western church today: we need this reminder. All of us need it. Because all of us have a way of losing our focus and forgetting what is first in our mission.
Sending Mixed Messages
I think it is not intentional…mostly not, anyway. But in all our fervor for reaching our communities and for creating attractive spaces and innovative ministries, I believe we sometimes lose the heart of the message. We preach Jesus (sometimes) while spending millions of dollars on our own comfort. As teachers, we teach the sufficiency of Christ (mostly) while insisting on a whole host of other rules and regulations for joining our church. As leaders, we celebrate Jesus (often) as the only hope for our world while twisting our relationships into tangled knots over the latest election results. We are all guilty of confusing the simple message of the gospel by how we conduct ourselves both inside and outside the walls of our church buildings. We need a reminder.
The Church’s “Product” is Grace…through Jesus
I’ve used this quote in this blog before:
“The world can do almost anything as well or better than the church…You need not be a Christian to build houses, feed the hungry, or heal the sick. There is only one thing the world cannot do. It cannot offer grace.” Philip Yancey (What’s So Amazing About Grace?) quoting Gordon MacDonald
The church absolutely SHOULD be doing all the social ministries we can, like feeding hungry people and building homes for the homeless and caring for immigrants and counseling pregnant teens, etc. After all, those are all things Jesus would be doing today. But if we are not helping all of those very people find Jesus, then whose mission are we furthering? More importantly, do we even remember what one thing we (the church) have to offer them that nobody else can offer? Maybe there is a better way to frame these questions: if we meet their current needs and do not show them the path to Jesus, have we given enough? Have we done enough?
Getting Things Out of Order
I think we find it easy to get our message out of order. The Bible is filled with God’s expectations of a people who choose to relate to Him. Following Christ requires obedience to all He has commanded us. But all those requirements (i.e., “commandments”) are for a redeemed people. They are for a people saved to follow Him. They all come AFTER our total surrender to Jesus…AFTER entering into a saving relationship with Him. Not before. From the very beginning of the New Testament church, the biggest benefit to be gained is not the amazing wisdom of scripture, nor the freedom from sin, nor the community of believers. The biggest benefit is Jesus. He is irresistible, the beginning of everything. He is the fullness of God. Everything…EVERYTHING begins and ends with Him. In our interaction with a world in need, Jesus must come first. Unapologetically. Thanks, Paul. We needed that.
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