Sacred Selling

I have been thinking a lot about the way we sell church-related goods and services.

jesus-money-changers-temple

I have been thinking about that and about Jesus overturning the tables of the money changers and sacrificial animal sellers in the temple.

The marketing inside the church has probably never been more feverish than it is today.  Hollywood hires savvy Christian marketers to try to gin up interest in certain films among our demographic.  We trademark little phrases for sale to Christians.  I recently heard an acquaintance excitedly describe a system for integrating Prayer and Your Priorities.  I shall not share the catchy name for this system so as to avoid smearing the person working on it.  This results in a marketing platform for an inspirational book, a devotional, a daily planner for the system, calendars, sticky notes, etc.    I imagine it will prove attractive for some Christian publishing house.

My question, though, is whether this is a wholesome thing for the church.  As the author of a book, though not a super consumer-oriented one, I think about it all the time.  For example, if called upon to preach at a local church, should I take along a box of books to sell at the end of the service?  Should I even mention the book?  Should I ask whoever introduces me to mention the book?  Should we sell ANYTHING in the church?

The question is not as easy as it may appear.  For example, the market instincts of new publishers spread Martin Luther’s work to a large audience.  Without the printing press, Luther probably would have died as just another dissenter.  Marketing and the honest profit motive are surely reasons why the Bible is as incredibly widely available as it is.

But the question remains.  How far do we go in making a profit from the gospel of Jesus Christ?  I don’t have a good answer.

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3 thoughts on “Sacred Selling

  1. Our church has made an uneasy decision ourselves to sell goods for a Christian church overseas. The overseas church is a predominantly Muslim area and the city itself is isolated within the nation and has little contact with the rest of the world. Unemployment is very high. The Christians in the city make beautiful wooden decorations. They asked us to sell some of their items for them and we agreed to have it as part of our evening services. We considered that this was a viable way to help our fellow Christians in a time of need and we decided to sell them. We don’t profit, but they do. We are confident it is the right thing to do, though it seems awkward to have so much business at the church on a Sunday evening.

  2. Sean, I think your level of self-awareness is good. That’s the important thing in terms of keeping the issue in perspective. If you get to the point where you aren’t concerned at all, that’s when there is a problem. The goal here is not self-interested profit. It is philanthropy, which is a mission of the church.

  3. “How far do we go in making a profit from the gospel of Jesus Christ?”

    This seems an unnecessarily incendiary way to frame the question. For most of us “profit” is something you didn’t really have to take, anyway. It is the “extra” left after all reasonable expenses are paid for. The way that most people informally use the word profit, the answer to the question is “we don’t make a profit at all off the Gospel.”

    On the other hand, is it OK to improve ones’ situation, in order to better promote the Gospel to which one is firmly committed? Then the answer is more qualified. God doesn’t need church marketers to get His message across, but He does use them. Better funded and equipped marketers can do a better job. To deny this is to make the mistake that the pietists make regarding the secular world–in the end, their attitude is a rebellion against the incarnation. God worked within a fallen creation to save that creation. He continues to work in that fallen creation through us, His fallen creatures.

    That said, personal gain and questions about it are very difficult to sort out–they are in a kind of permanent tension. Medieval Europe, with its mendicant orders and ongoing history of monasticism, bears this out. Only a fool would dismiss the entire monastic exercise, and only a fool would accept all that it did.

    St. Paul did not condemn having plenty. He was just ready to give it up in a heartbeat when the Gospel was on the line. Try as I may, I have a hard time feeling that good portions of the church wouldn’t find “good reasons” to hang onto their marketing and church-related careers even if God made it very plain to them that they were no longer helping the Gospel. That is very troubling to me.

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