Contrary to popular belief, Charlotte is big enough for both Jonathan Martin and myself. I am not speaking of our egos or personalities—I’m talking about our literal size. Jonathan is 6’6 and I’m 6’4; meaning, when we walk into a restaurant people stare. Height isn’t the only thing we share in common. We are both the sons of Pentecostal preachers. We both share a love of NBA basketball and the culture surrounding it. We both like hip hop. Despite the misgivings of the Pentecostal church, we still are a part of the movement. We both are academic. In other words we would certainly be paired in a “eHarmony compatibility test.”
Jonathan has become an older brother figure for me. He’s a little older, a little taller, and a lot wiser. Because we share a city, we make it a point to get together as often as possible to hang out. It was at one of these meetings that he gave me a copy of his upcoming book, Prototype. So for the next couple paragraphs allow me to brag on my big brother.
The book is genuine. There is not an ounce of pretentiousness in it. Jonathan’s openness and vulnerability is refreshing. He offers his own story as a gift and this is not the kind of thing you expect from a “big shot” pastor. The tenderness with which he writes gives me hope that I don’t have to be anything other than myself. Even in (especially in!) my obscurity and woundedness, Jesus is there.
The book is bold. He takes direct aim at the false images we carefully craft for ourselves. The reality of our belovedness as our only identity permeates the book. He quotes Jay-Z and Herbert McCabe. Bruce Springstein and Annie Dillard. Dr. Suess and Soren Kierkegaard. Bono and Henri Nouwen. Perhaps this is how he got Stanley Hauerwas and John P. Kee to endorse the same book.
The book is lived. The pages are not the abstractions of an academic. Rather, the book comes packed with stories out of a messy community in Charlotte. There is no PR for Jesus or ministry here. The book bears witness to what God is doing in the life of Jonathan and Renovatus. It is a “ground level” experience that allows the reader to live with the tension that marks any genuine pursuit of God.
The book is uniquely Jonathan. I joked with my pastor last week that the book could really be titled “Jonathan Martin: the memoir of a giant pastor.” This book is a peek into the heart of a wonderful human being and I recommend it with the highest degree of enthusiasm.
(Buy the hard copy of this book because you’re going to want to pass it along to the people that matter to you.)
I overheard a conversation this morning at a local coffee shop between two small business owners about marketing strategies. Very matter-of-factly, they spoke about ways to garner more customer engagement and, in turn, dollars in their bank account. It was a very typical conversation and hardly worth writing a blog about if taken in isolation. The thing that really made the hair on the back of my neck stand up was the striking similarity in this run-of-the mill marketing conversation and the conversations I hear pastors having. Both are using similar language. Both are reading Jim Collins and Malcom Gladwell. Both are after growth. Both want excellence and success. Both have to compete to be relevant in the market. Both are employing the same tactics–excellent print design, a slick website, clever social media campaigns, quick follow up with new customers, and existing customers spreading the word about the product.
All of this scares me and leads me to think we’ve got a gospel problem in the Church. I think we have commodified Jesus into a product and made the gospel into a sales pitch. Churches have become cleverly disguised businesses that sell their product. The measureables of Disney World and many churches are interchangeable. Each wants butts in seats, dollars in the bank account, an incredible customer experience, and a customer desire to come back for more. If you look at the consumer culture around us this is not shocking. Everything is screaming at us to buy a product. And like every insidious evil thing, it looks wonderful from the outside.
We have bought into the lie that if we want to reach this consumer culture we’ve got to bow to it. In order to reach people that are rabid consumers, we have to give them an excellent product in order to compete.
The gospel was never meant to be a sales pitch. The Gospel is an announcement. The Gospel announces that the Kingdom of Heaven is here and that Jesus is King over the whole earth and that because of His life, death, resurrection, and ascension we are invited to experience salvation and join Him in His work here and now. We are not called to be a sales rep for Jesus. We are called to bear witness with our lives to the power of the gospel. You bear witness with the sum total of who you are. You proclaim the truth of Jesus as King with your story and with radical love.
I’m not saying that churches shouldn’t have promotional material. I’m not saying that the church shouldn’t have an accountant. What I’m saying is that we have commodified the gospel and made it into something it never was. We’re not trying to trick people into signing up for Amway. We are bidding the broken sinner the same invitation Jesus gave us–to drop our nets and follow him. It will cost everything and it will be worth it.
We’re reading through the book of Acts right now as a church and I want that. I want there to be healing in our midst. I want the broken to be set free. I want thousands to be baptized and added to our number. I want people being transformed progressively into the image of Jesus. I want the power of God to be evident. I want to see people full of the Holy Spirit. You can’t have any of that without the direct involvement of God. Our production teams for Sunday services can’t make that happen. Lights, smoke, and a really great band won’t make it happen. Only God can.
Jesus is the hope of the world…not our marketing efforts for him.