Self-promotion or God-promotion?

(Jamie Hobbs) #1

I can think of no better topic to start off my time in RZIM Connect than the one that has plagued me throughout my time as an apologist. As a speaker, churches and other institutions looking for a godly message to be delivered will not invite you to speak if they do not know you exist. So at some level, some self-promotion is needed. And yet John 3:30 continues to trip me up. I must decrease that He might increase. So how can I promote myself?

Thus is my dilemma. I’ve heard several well-respected orators struggle with this, but ultimately come to a place of peace in that it is not the messenger that is being promoted, but the message itself. So where does everyone else stand on this? Has anyone else struggled with marketing and self-promotion, in that you don’t want to get in the way of God’s Word, but still want a chance to speak God’s Word?

(SeanO) #2

@Jamie_Hobbs That is a great question. I found a few articles I thought were helpful on this topic and put some excerpts below. @jlacross recently asked a very similar question, so I am posting that thread at the bottom as well - it has an absolutely smashing video by Tim Keller on the temptation of finding our identity in our ministry.

Common themes seem to be having a secret life with God that is not in public view, intentionally seeking out feedback from other people on how we are coming across / getting advice and finding our identity in Jesus rather than our ministry.

Hope those thoughts are helpful! May the Lord bless your ministry and the Spirit of Christ give you peace / guidance about the way forward for you in this matter.

Gospel Coalition Article

  • Parade in public what should be kept in private
  • Be way too self-referencing
  • Talk when you should be quiet
  • Be quiet when you should speak
  • Care too much about what people think about you

John Piper Article

One last thought. CJ Mahaney, a good friend and helper and encourager to me, has said, “Our self perception is as reliable as a carnival mirror.” This means that other people need to help you refine your self-perception. So in answer to this question, “What can we do in order to avoid self-promotion or bad influence?” one option would be to ask people, “How are we doing? Are we doing things that exalt Piper in a sinful way? Are we doing it in such a way that it really has become a Piper phenom and not a God phenom, not a true phenom?”

(Jamie Hobbs) #3

Thank you for your post. I did read through Jill’s (@jlacross) topic as it seemed germane, and thank you for referencing it again. The Gospel Coalition Article is especially helpful.

(SeanO) #4

@Jamie_Hobbs Glad it was helpful. In specific reference to John 3:30, I think it is important to remember that John the Baptist was exalted by God. Jesus even praises him in Luke 7:28, at the same time pointing out that our worth is not in our success but in belonging to God - “I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he”. So there is nothing wrong with being used by God, but John the Baptist knew when it was time to step aside. He was only a forerunner, just as we are only messengers - of the one true King Jesus Christ.

These words from I Peter 5 came to mind:

I Peter 5:1-6 - To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

5 In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,

“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”

6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.

What I like about this passage is its emphasis on community and on God’s timing. If we believe we are gifted in a particular area by God, we should seek affirmation first from the Body of Christ. If the body of Christ affirms us, we must still wait upon God - for peace in our own hearts, direction and the right open doors. I think Judah Smith makes a good point about discerning if we should try to open up the door to a public preaching ministry.

“If you have a gift to preach, and you love people, and you’re yourself, then you’ll be fine. If you don’t have a gift to preach, and you love people, and you’re yourself, don’t preach.”

What are your thoughts? Do you agree/disagree with Judah Smith’s perspective? Do you agree/disagree with my perspective? I’m curious - what other resources have you found on this topic?
It sounds like you’ve done some digging yourself already.

(Jamie Hobbs) #5

Nice teaser at the end there. “How do you know you’re called to preach?” … to be continued. Smooth.

But to your question, I do believe what Judah is saying is right. In fact, I emphatically agree with him. God calls into service whom He will and not everyone has the same service.

And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God…
– Eph 3:11-13a

So preaching is a calling like any other ministerial role. To do anything without the calling of God means you’re doing it in your own power, which is doomed to fail. I like Gamaliel’s words on this:

And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it—lest you even be found to fight against God.
– Acts 5:38-39

I don’t have other resources on this, per se. My digging has been direct conversation with other preachers and Christian leaders. I’ve had a dozen people tell me I need to be teaching or preaching fulltime, going back to your point about affirmation from the body, and I’d love to do it, but I just couldn’t get past John 3:30. How am I decreasing that He might increase if I’m marketing myself? As I’ve matured in the faith, I’ve gotten closer to an understanding that I’m promoting God’s Word, not me, and if He’s called me to speak His Word, I need to find opportunities to do so. So I’m closer to peace on this, though I can’t say I’m all the way there yet.

(Keldon Scott) #6

See, you’re already enjoying this site. Love the discussion.

(SeanO) #7

@Jamie_Hobbs Thanks for bring up this issue - it is certainly one we should all consider before moving towards public ministry. Self-reflection and asking God to search our hearts is of the highest importance.

(Carson Weitnauer) #8

Hi @Jamie_Hobbs,

Thank you for raising this great question. It is an important conversation! I know there is a real frustration here. I think this is something to meditate on and perhaps be encouraged by. There is a good desire within you to serve the Lord. Hold onto that - you Heavenly Father is well pleased with you and has a good plan for your life.

I don’t think there is any tension between our calling and self-denial. After all, it was intrinsic to John the Baptist’s calling that Jesus became greater while he became less. It seems to me that John is a model for our imitation in this passage.

I think we need to surrender more and more to the idea that we must become lesser and Jesus must become greater. This is our joy! We just want to see our awesome God glorified! May God work this truth deeper into our hearts. On the other side of that struggle is the delight of humbly serving others.

So what gives? How do we let people know we’re available to proclaim God’s word - for His glory?

In the apologetics space, here are some general remarks on barriers that I have seen apologists face. I share them knowing that these may or may not be applicable to you! But perhaps they will be helpful to others with the question you’ve raised.

Insecurity and the counterfeit yes:

Positive feedback — “Great talk” “Good job” “Really important” — can be a way of avoiding an insecure person. The idea is, I’ll tell him (or her) that it was a job well done to avoid the unpleasant reality of discussing where it fell short, how it could be improved, and so on - advice which I may not be qualified to give and they may not want to hear.

Narrow focus

Sometimes apologists have extensive knowledge of apologetics. However, this is not integrated with a wise understanding of human nature and culture. The narrow focus on apologetics creates an myopia that results in a lack of relevance to an audience’s concern. This is particularly ironic when an apologist (subtly or overtly) presents themselves as having superior understanding of reality (and worldviews) while not appearing to understand the significance of psychology, sociology, and other fields critical to navigating life with wisdom.

Weak theology and Biblical foundations

Sometimes apologists seem to care more about ideas - apologetic ideas or philosophical ideas - than the Scriptures. It can feel as if their apologetic is hunting for a Bible verse to quote than that they are steeped in the Scriptures and sharing God’s wisdom in an apologetically informed and persuasive way.

The apologist’s personal life and relationships

Apart from a life of integrity and kindness, an apologist is unlikely to gain a hearing for their message. The personal formation of our character, relational abilities, and way of life is the basis for the public presentation of apologetic messages.

Mismatch between personality and personal interest

A personal interest in apologetics is not the same as having a calling in apologetics. If we believe that “apologetics work is better than secular work” (e.g., banking or running a restaurant) then we may not be open to seeing God draw us into a line of work where our primary calling would be developed - and where apologetics would remain an engaging, but secondary interest. We need self-awareness to find the fit between our personal ‘wiring’ and our calling. It may be that we are very interested in apologetics without being called to be an apologist.

Poor communication skills

Sometimes an apologist has a keen understanding of their topic, but is not able to communicate in a powerful way. There can be great “logos” but the “ethos” and “pathos” is missing. Or they are not simple and understandable in their presentation. Or their talks are not illustrated in a way that makes the meaning clear and personal.

A lack of prayer and an absence of the Holy Spirit

Sometimes apologists depend so much on the power of reason and argument that they do not think that prayer is very powerful or important. However, we need to be broken hearted and dependent upon God in prayer. Then God will empower the use of our reason for his glory. The work of the apologist is to be done in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

A lack of community

An apologist needs to be part of community. We are formed in the local church as our brothers and sisters in Christ press into our lives and help us grow to maturity in Jesus. Sometimes apologists, feeling lonely due to their specialized interest, withdraw from fellowship. In doing so, they miss out on lessons they need for their own walk with God that would also be invaluable preparation for their greater service to the church.

Pride and vanity

Apologists sometimes appear to be full of themselves. The impression can be, “I am smarter and better than you.” This attitude comes across in relationships and in public speaking. It tends to push an audience away and results in few requests to speak again.

Hidden sin

Sometimes apologists struggle with hidden sin. For this reason, God closes doors for ministry to protect them and others from the temptations of greater visibility.

Lack of purpose

Sometimes apologists want people to be better apologists. This is a good goal. However, in most cases, apologetics is a tool to help people be faithful Christians. The apologist may need to become a better apologist for the sake of their calling, but their work in this area is aimed to serve others as they follow their calling. At their best, apologists don’t want everyone to become apologists; they want everyone to know and follow Jesus as Lord. Apologetics serves a larger goal. Imagine a preacher who, in their preaching, wanted to convince everyone in the congregation to become a preacher!

An argumentative spirit

Proverbs 17:19 says, “Whoever loves a quarrel loves sin; whoever builds a high gate invites destruction.” Temperamentally, apologists are drawn to arguments. However, without the cultivation of personal maturity, this can lead to a quarrelsome personality.

A broken world and church

Even in the best of scenarios, a mature and faithful Christian who is gifted in apologetics may not find fulfillment of their calling. Due to the economic situation where they live, persecution, apathy and indifference, and a wide variety of other shortcomings and sin in their community, there just may not be interest in work humbly done in the power of the Spirit.

I hope this is helpful to you. Many of these points come from an examination of my own shortcomings. I would be interested to hear of other barriers that others in Connect have observed. I trust I will see more room for repentance and growth as I learn from the insights of others.

In the meantime, I am grateful that you are building friendships and making contributions to the discussions in Connect. I hope you will find this to be a safe and encouraging place to grow and to be helpful to others. I encourage you to stretch yourself to offer increasingly valuable and relevant answers; let each topic challenge you to new depths of prayer and new levels of service to the other members of Connect.