I’m a sucker for good marketing campaigns and commercials. As a child, I thought I really could Be Like Mike if I drank enough Gatorade. I wanted Nike shoes because of Michael Jordan. In high school, I bought Michael Jordan’s cologne. I think I may have had a slight obsession with Michael Jordan.
In 1994, Red Bull wanted to bring their energy drinks to London. But energy drinks were already a huge trend and Red Bull was entering a saturated, competitive market. So how did they get the word across about their product? Billboards? Print ads? Radio and TV ads?
They decided to utilize trash cans.
Red Bull’s team filled trash cans — especially in areas with an active life — with empty, crushed cans of Red Bull. They also left empty cans lying around outside of clubs. It piqued people’s curiosity enough for them to buy Red Bull to see (and taste) what everyone was drinking.
Red Bull created an illusion of popularity and it worked!
Creating a church buzz
We do this kind of marketing in the church (though maybe not as creatively and effectively). We try to create buzz about ourselves so that people will come give us a visit:
Come to our Easter Egg Hunt where the eggs will be dropped from a helicopter in the sky!
Come for the Easter service and stay for the live lion to mark the resurrection of Jesus!
Come to our Fall Kick Off for a chance to win a brand new car!
Or how about the time a mega church pastor (wanting to promote his new book he wrote with his wife about intimacy) wanted to “bring the bed back in church and God back in bed”. He and his wife were going to spend 24 hours in a bed (fully clothed the whole time, of course) on the roof of their church.
Or how about the time that same pastor preached next to a Ferrari because “God gave me a Ferrari because I am a Ferrari.” He also drove a Rolls Royce onto the stage a few months earlier.
Are these tactics gimmicky? Yes. Are they cringeworthy? Also, yes. (Do I like answering my own questions? Absolutely.)
But, I get it. Anything (short of selling our souls to the devil — maybe) to grab people’s attention to come check us out might be worthwhile. We put our best ideas and best images and best people and best foot forward to create an idea (sometimes just an “illusion”) that this place is definitely (catered) for you.
While we, as a church, present an image that’s rooted majority in idealism rather than reality, Jesus takes the “truth in advertisement” to the extreme.
Jesus’ marketing pitch
Jesus said things like:
“All who lift themselves up will be brought low, and those who make themselves low will be lifted up.”
“Whoever comes to me and doesn’t hate father and mother, spouse and children, and brothers and sisters—yes, even one’s own life—cannot be my disciple.”
“Whoever doesn’t carry their own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
“None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all of your possessions,”
There’s no sugar coating when it comes to Jesus.
Jesus doesn’t hide anything in fine print. Jesus tells us everything on that Terms of Service Agreement—the one that a majority of us just scroll to the bottom of so we can click “accept” and move on with our lives.
In the Gospels, Jesus quite often stopped and said what it means to follow him and that his ultimate invitation is for us to “come and die.” Imagine a church using that as their marketing statement!
The difficult challenge of following
The often difficult words of Jesus remind us that we can’t have everything we want and still follow Jesus faithfully. They remind us that we can’t just know Jesus as healer, savior, rescuer, redeemer or friend all the while desperately ignoring Jesus the radical teacher, the counter-cultural prophet, the wild, untamed Messiah.
To be a disciple of Christ is to hand over our lives to the mission and vision of Christ. The end goal of a disciple is to be just like their master. So everything we do; everything we say; everything we think should be filtered through the lens of Jesus Christ. Being a disciple of Christ is to see as Jesus sees; loves as Jesus loves; do as Jesus does.
But what happens to all of us is: we pray for Jesus to take the wheel yet we become the bask-seat driver trying to tell Jesus how and where to drive.
Jesus knows how difficult living a life that embodies sacrificial love is. Which is why Jesus is so upfront with the cost of discipleship. In Luke 14:25-33, Jesus says that a good builder takes a good look at the budget before starting a project and that a wise king will take stock of his soldiers--how well trained they are, how many they are before declaring war. Basically: fully know what you’re getting into because following Jesus isn’t a hobby; it isn’t a part-time commitment. It’s a way of living that requires a life-long commitment involving surrender and sacrifice.
A cost of discipleship is to reassess who we are and what we do. It forces us to reassess who our neighbors are and pushes us to make our circle of inclusion wider and wider.
A cost of discipleship is to take a look at our commitments and priorities and reorganize them so that all of our commitments and priorities reflect the way of Jesus’.
A cost of discipleship is to look at what we possess and urges us to see that we are not entitled to anything but that we are entrusted with everything.
A cost of discipleship is to let go what might get in the way of faithfulness: What beliefs, traditions, point of views, ideology, loyalty, relationships must I let go in order to be a faithful disciple?
What are we building?
Richard Rohr says that we are always working on building two kingdoms: ours and God’s. Those two kingdoms can coexist for seasons but the clash of the two kingdoms is and always will be inevitable. When (and not if) those kingdoms collide, we have to decide: whose kingdom am I going to advance: mine or God’s?
The cost of discipleship is always choosing to be a builder of God’s kingdom at the expense of “mine.”
As Rohr says, we can’t pray Thy Kingdom come without also praying my kingdom go as a disciple of Christ.
I leave with you a prayer attributed to Mother Teresa when talking about the cost of discipleship: do it anyway.
People are often unreasonable and self-centered.
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.
If you are honest, people may cheat you.
Be honest anyway.
If you find happiness, people may be jealous.
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough.
Give your best anyway.
For you see, in the end, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway.
Joseph Yoo is a West Coaster at heart contently living in Houston, Texas with his wife and son. He serves at Mosaic Church in Houston. Find more of his writing at josephyoo.com.