Before I launch into the body of this article, let me explain that this is behaviour that I myself have very recently participated in. As well as being a web designer and blogger I am also very conversant with social media, so I thought I might promote Tosin’s Bible Blog via social media! It did not really take off as my motivation was wrong….my aim was to promote my blog, rather than to reach out to people with the news of God’s truth.
I am going to write today about something very similar. In a way, it is quite funny, human and predictable that I did not see this in my own behaviour, but recognised it immediately when I noticed other people doing it.
It’s like this – as prayerful, Bible-oriented Christians, who are crying out for God, if God is truly at work in our midst, then we should not have to advertise our churches or our ministries. This is because the powerful impact that we have on those around us should be the only advert we ever need. It is also the proof that God is truly at work among us.
I have personally given out thousands of invites to churches, and conducted advertising for different church needs countless times. I have also personally received countless adverts for different churches, and up until recently it had never occurred to me that there might be anything strange about the idea of advertising a church. However, it is only when I was reflecting on certain issues that these thoughts suddenly occurred to me.
Jesus, a viral social (media) superstar!
In a way, it is quite appropriate that this blog post touches on social media. That is because Jesus Himself while on earth was a kind of social superstar, and a viral one at that. However, the point was that He never had to advertise Himself because the work that He did was the most compelling advert. Jesus would heal the sick, restore people who were dead back to life and full health, He would heal blind eyes…. Then obviously, people who had been healed in this way would go out and tell their friends. It was not the case that Jesus or His disciples had to encourage these people to share the news about Him. In fact, many times He strictly warned them not to share the news about Him. Yet people never listened! It seems to be that if a deep, compelling impact has been made in your life, then you will not be able to stop talking about it, even if God Himself asks you to!
Sometimes the impact of seeing an undeniable transformation in someone else’s life might make other people inquire excitedly. If you saw someone disabled, sitting at the same spot for years upon end, and suddenly one day they were not there any more, then perhaps at first you might fear the worst. But look! To your initial relief then amazement, Blind Bartimaeus is still very alive in the marketplace and also looking around and pointing things out, happily and cheerfully talking to everyone, laughing out loud constantly – and this was in the days before universal healthcare, let alone medical advances to restore sight to blind eyes – would you not yourself go to join the queue around him to gawp in amazement, to see with your own eyes, to touch him – is it really him? “Blind Bartimaeus!” you might hail him (as his disability was so well-known and pronounced that it had become part of his name, to distinguish him from Bartimaeus the stone-mason and Bartimaeus the temple clerk, the fact that he was blind meant that he could not work, unlike them; unlike them he was defined by his liability rather than any possible usefulness to society) – “Is it really you?! What happened to you?!”
At which point he would launch excitedly into his story: “Well there was this Guy, I’m not quite sure what He did, but urm, yeah (a few excited confused details) – and now I can see!” “Which Guy? Tell me, where was this? (Actually, I can guess where) – what time..what was He wearing?!”
I don’t know about you, but if it was me I would not rest until I had found out everything I possibly could about this miracle worker. And then when I got home, I would share the story to my family:
“You’ll never guess who I saw today – just guess! Blind Bartimaeus – and he is not blind any longer!” To which my husband might reply: “Really?! Are you sure?!!!” So one person would tell another, who would tell another – this is how the story would become “viral”. Admittedly, the impact of each incident would get diluted with each rendition and over time. However, when dozens of these stories happened every single day, then the character consistently at the centre of the stories would become very well known, even if the details of any particular incident happened to be unclear.
This is how the news about Jesus would spread, so that whenever He spoke, He did not have to stand around giving out handbills, or trying to draw a crowd. When God’s power touches the lives of ordinary people, in the way it did through the life and work of Jesus, ordinary people find it utterly irresistible. Obviously people would hope that Jesus would touch their lives in the way that He healed Bartimaeus – and He often would! *
This is how it should be in our churches. Here, I am not only talking about supernatural power. Yes, God’s supernatural power should emphatically be at work in our churches for healing the sick, making blind eyes see, raising the dead. Biblically speaking, I believe that this is non-negotiable. Where people do dispute this (and many people do), I believe that it simply cannot be on Biblical grounds. I am not going to focus on this for a very simple and pragmatic reason – that I myself am not walking in this kind of power – yet. So I can hardly point fingers at others for also failing to demonstrate this kind of power… However, please note that I am not setting myself up as a Pastor, or trying to gather any kind of following like a church, for instance.
However, even where we have not yet attained supernatural demonstrations of God’s power, or we don’t believe in it, then there should still be the deep impact of transformed lives that
1)Makes the people who have been healed/transformed want to go out and shout from the
2)Makes onlookers ask in amazement: “What happened to you?!”
If supernatural power of healing/raising the dead is too difficult or too controversial, how about things like restored marriages, totally transformed characters or personalities, economic transformations of entire areas?
Please note that in the Bible it is ordinary people who often share the news about Jesus. This means that they are not particularly religious people, not confirmed church (or synagogue) goers, just ordinary people going about their ordinary lives. If our churches were making a similar kind of impact, then it would be ordinary people spreading the news about what they have experienced.
Please also note that the motives of Bartimaeus and my fictional woman from the example above were not religious. When the woman went home and told her husband, her motives were not to try to get him to become more religious or to try to get him to go to the synagogue more often. However with the husband and wife and the countless hordes who literally followed Christ, what He offered, the prospect of a radically transformed life, in the same tangible way He had transformed the life of Bartimaeus, was sufficiently compelling to draw them, even if they did have any reservations about “religion”.
What Jesus gave them
Jesus was compelling for others to follow for reasons that are quite obvious, when we think about them.
1) Firstly He did something extraordinary, that could not be explained by ordinary means. If it was someone today making the blind see by using cutting edge medical techniques, then that would be amazing, and I would certainly read any related articles to find out how those techniques worked. However, I would not drop everything I was doing to go and follow such a person, would I? I would not go and stand in the freezing cold – or the dizzying heat, squashed in with thousands of other people, and wait with bated breath for every word that could drop from his lips. Rather I would read from the comfort of my own computer in my own warm room. Wouldn’t you? However, if it was someone doing the equivalent of what Jesus did – performing miracles that far outperformed the most brilliant techniques of modern science, and he was right here in my city, then I would certainly make those sacrifices. Firstly, I would want to see with my own eyes, check to make sure it was not just an elaborate fraud, and then my mind would run about how his power might work in my own life.
2) Secondly Jesus gave the people something that no-one else could give them. That is, if there were a thousand other people who were going around, doing what Jesus did, then even if they were operating far beyond the known bounds of science or medicine, Jesus Himself as an individual would not have been that compelling, because there were a thousand other people doing exactly the same thing. Raising the dead would still have been a big deal, but if one thousand others were doing it, then He would have had to share His influence and His impact with these thousand others. As Christians, we are supposed to operate with a power that is not found anywhere else – that is the power of God Himself. God’s power is the power that made the universe. We should be able to easily outstrip the “powers” of science and medicine. If your church and a thousand others were working with the power of God as Jesus did, then your church might not be a big deal compared to all the others – yet Church itself would be a big deal, so many people might at least go to a church, if not yours in particular.
Advertising your church…or advertising your God?
Yes, as Christians we are called to share the Gospel using any means available to us. However, our aim should be to advertise the God at work in our churches, not the churches themselves. I’ve recently been targetted with adverts essentially saying:
“Come to our church! We are lovely people!” etc etc.
Perhaps the reason that we as Christians are so quick to advertise our churches rather than our God is because our God – that is the concept of God at work in our church, or the experience of God found in our church – is not big or powerful enough to advertise. For many Christians, I think that we don’t even have any real expectation that God should really impact people’s lives.
Dutiful versus Compelling
I am a Christian, and I understand that it is part of dutiful Christian conduct to invite people to church. So I have dutifully done this many times.
“Please come to our church!”
I’ve tried to be as enthusiastic as possible.
“The people are really lovely! We sing really great songs!”
And yet, why would someone who was not a Christian, who did not believe in God, find it sufficiently compelling to give up a morning of their precious weekend to go to meet “nice” people, and to hear nice music? Everyone knows that I am a Christian anyway, so obviously I would be trying to get people to go to church, wouldn’t I?
And yet, even as a Christian, there are some experiences that I genuinely find compelling enough to share with others. Some of these are not necessarily related to faith or Jesus or God. I’m sure that the difference in my attitude must be striking.
“Oh my goodness! Check this out! Is this real?!!!”
I have made the case that with churches it should not necessarily be the established members, or people who are already Christians, who spread the news about the church..
If as a church, you are finding it necessary to advertise your church, perhaps that indicates that even your own members do not find it sufficiently compelling to share the news about your church. Or maybe like me they are very dutiful about sharing the news. However, anyone can tell the difference between what is dutiful, and what is genuinely compelling.
Even as a Christian I can be cynical about “Christian” experiences. If someone came and started behaving as if they were totally excited about something that had happened to them in church, I would want to hear the details.
“OK so tell me! What happened?!”
I’ve been deeply involved in Christian circles my entire life, so regarding “Christian hype” I’ve mostly “heard it all before”. Personally, I would reserve judgement in most cases until there is more evidence of similarly transformed lives to justify what this person is saying.
However, with some churches I cannot even be dutiful. In some churches I have been to, I have had such negative experiences that I cannot honestly say anything positive about the church, even if I wanted to try. Every time I open my mouth anger, venom and vindictive rage spill out. In these cases, not only was there not the slightest experience of God’s wonderful power to be had in touching my life, but it was more like it was the actual devil himself attacking me through the church members.
And you expect me to go out and advertise your church? I can only be a powerful dis-advertisement for your church. In these cases it is hardly surprising that these churches feel the need to advertise. Actual church members can only be dutiful, at best, and non-church members only have negatively exciting tales to tell.
Sincerely, I think that this is fast becoming the most representative experience of Church. The same way a whole church would collectively fail to seek the power of God in their midst is exactly the same way individual members fail to seek the power of God in transforming their own characters, meaning that church visitors get exposed to ingloriously untransformed characters, and this invariably results in painful and bitter experiences.
Is Jesus in this city?
Let me conclude by posing a question. Is Jesus in this city? Surely if He was, if there was someone, or a church walking in His kind of power (that He actually personally promised us, by the way), then I would have heard about it by now! And you know whom I would have heard it from? Not the church people, not the pastors, not the dutiful members, but ordinary people, the ones who did not grow up going to church, the friends that I met while at work, the ones who do not necessarily believe in God, but just want to live their lives as happily and as peacefully as possible.
Let me imagine what the social media world would look like. Twitter, Facebook? Competing, arguably inconsistent accounts of what happened, even from supposed eyewitnesses (just like the Gospels themselves!)
Firstly you would have personal accounts from the people whose lives have actually been transformed:
“Finally back with my hubby after all these years – who would have thought it!”
“OMG, I can’t believe I finally got a job!”
“I can’t believe I’ve been free of x for a year! I’m amazed at how my life has changed!”
And then you would have the second hand reports of people disputing the facts
“Did you hear about that guy that is going about doing all those weird things? WTF?!”
“You don’t actually believe all that sh** do you?”
“Say what you like! It was my actual sister! I know what she looked like before, and I’m telling you, this is crazy!”
And then there would be the inconsistent, contradictory reports:
“No, it was a green shirt!”
“No it was a red shirt!”
“Actually, I’ll think you find that it was a green shirt with a red border!”
“That wasn’t red, that was burgundy!”
“Check out this photo!”
“Dude, can’t you see that that has definitely been photoshopped?!”
But the same names would keep cropping up time and time again. Pastor xyz Ministry xyz. Church so and so.
Even the possibility that something like this could be true would be compelling enough to totally monopolise 1) the media 2) Our daily conversations – even in our supposedly sophisticated times. Look at all the noise about the Mayan prophecy. I mean seriously, how could anyone have genuinely believed that?!
I will ask the question again: Is Jesus in your city? Or your town, your village, your hamlet – If there is no evidence that He is, here is a radical (but Biblical) thought – you be the Jesus!
*Before writing this article, I thought that the name of the Bible character was actually presented in the Bible as “Blind Bartimaeus”. However it is not – he is referred to as Bartimaeus, a beggar who was blind. I think he has come to be known as “Blind Bartimaeus” by Christian tradition