What do these Christians have in common?
- A certain super-sized home schooling brood of the ATI variety who are the subject of a TV show on basic cable regularly emphasizes that family is the central calling for life.
- A certain mega-church pastor writes and speaks extensively on leadership. He is convinced that strong, courageous leadership is the single greatest need facing not only the church, but society.
- A certain nationally-known apologetics expert has a ministry dedicated to “equipping the saints to give an answer for the hope that lies within them”. He believes that people are spiritually perishing because they lack the winning combination of information and good debate skills.
There are some valid branding/platform reasons why these people are associated with their “thing”. If you can establish yourself as the expert in a particular area, then you chisel out a niche for yourself in the overstuffed marketplace and become the go-to guy or gal on the subject of big families, leadership, apologetics or countless other “things”.
I understand this from a professional perspective. I’m a writer, and I know that establishing my brand identity is a necessary part of communicating what I can and can’t do to my potential audience. (I’m obviously well on my way to that goal since no one has asked me to write a book on accounting or brain surgery lately.)
I also understand this from a spiritual perspective. Each one of us has a specialized ministry to both the body of Christ and the world He loves. Each of us has unique message and identity; each one of us has a sphere of influence.
There are a number of obvious personal temptations built into this system (pride, false humility, and shameless self-promotion to advance yourself come to mind). And there are temptations for our relationships as well, as we claim tribal membership to distinguish ourselves: “One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ.'” (1 Cor. 1:12) To put it in popular vernacular, “One of you says, ‘I follow Bill Gothard’; another ‘I follow Rick Warren’; another, ‘I follow Brian McClaren or Nancy Leigh DeMoss or Mark Driscoll’; still another, ‘I follow Christ’.” It’s interesting to note that Paul is an equal-opportunity chastiser to each person who claimed a tribal identity. The subtle deception here is that even the people who insist they are following only Christ and use this as their “brand identity” can manage to create sinful, unnecessary division, according to Paul.
When we in the church subdivide ourselves in order to cluster under the umbrella of a particular spiritual movement, denomination, personality or idea, we are making an aspirational statement about who we want to be. Paul’s ironic antidote to this thinking? He tells us not to let our aspirations define our identity in the body of Christ, but instead remember who we were (not who we wish we were) when our Savior invited us to follow him. He closes his loving rebuke with the words that are meant to call us out of our tribes and into our identity as members of the body of Christ:
…You are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” – 1 Cor. 1:30-31
Learn from those with areas of expertise and wisdom. Learn from those with whom you agree, and learn from those you don’t. Trust the Holy Spirit to filter out the garbage that both kinds of teachers will present to you. Let’s all of us spur one another on to boast in the Lord: How have you encountered him this week? What have you learned from him? How has he been at work in your life or the lives of those in your sphere of influence?
As we boast in him, we just might find that this sort of branding looks suspiciously similar to worship.