You may have heard these types of comments in the offices of some Christian organizations:
- “I have people who handle fundraising for me.”
- “They do our development; I just do ministry.”
- “We try to keep fundraising separate.”
You may have even observed this concept in the structure of a ministry staff or the operations of the ministry:
- The ministry leader goes out and “does ministry.”
- The marketing or development staffers stay inside and “do fundraising.”
Keeping the two separate, on the face of it, seems right — sort of a ministry equivalent of the separation of church and state.
But separation of church and state wasn’t God’s idea. (The state needs the influence of the church.)
Likewise, our marketing efforts need to be fully informed by our ministries. Their designs should be fully compatible.
The two should not be separate — because treating ministry and marketing as separate entities carries with it enormous risks.
For one thing, the longer we make ministry and marketing separate things, the more unlike each other they become.
By the time of that explosive “clearing the temple” scene in John 2, the salespeople outside the temple evidently had no great affection for the ministry going on inside, except as a source of profit. But the service they initially set out to provide was honorable: to make it easy for more people to engage in worship.
Somehow, though, and somewhere along the line, these “empowerers” of the ministry became more consumed by — more focused on — the empowerment process than on the ministry itself. Instead of ministering, in their own way, alongside the priests, they became exclusively “marketers.”
They could still cling to seemingly safe and accurate definitions — ministry connects people to God, and marketing enables that connection — but already you can see a comma dividing the two ideas. And that chasm grows.
There’s a danger of drifting into an attitude that says this: Marketing is a carnal thing we do only because we have to in order to accomplish something spiritual. In other words, We gotta keep selling these stupid doves, or a bunch of folks will never get into that wonderful temple.
When we come to feel this way, we’ve moved into something like schizophrenia:
- Now one of our identities is “good,” the other “bad.”
- Now some of our staff do God’s work, others do dirty work.
- Now our donors are not our friends and partners, but a necessary evil.
Do we really believe that a good spiritual harvest can be reaped if we are planting such bad seed in such a foul field?
This is not how God designed ministry to occur.
This is not how He dreamed of people becoming connected to Him.
God’s idea is that the marketing — the communicating, the inspiring, the persuading — will grow directly out of the ministry itself.
Jesus told Nicodemus, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6 KJV).
- It’s been so since the beginning. On the sixth day of Creation, God decided that zebras would produce zebras and not centipedes (Genesis 1:24).
- We find the same truth in Job, in Isaiah, in 2 Corinthians, in Galatians: We reap what we sow.
If my marketing is “fleshly,” my ministry can’t be “spiritual.”
A dishonorable request for financial help can’t produce “neutral” dollars which somehow become “godly” when they flow into my ministry’s work.
This defies God’s design!
No, it is not inherently dishonorable to ask someone for help in your ministry.
- Paul asked, and did so boldly.
- Women’s contributions helped keep Jesus’ earthly ministry on the road; a ministry treasurer even had to be designated.
But to keep marketing as honorable as the ministry it strives to empower, the two must be inextricably intertwined. Marketing must be part and parcel of the ministry.
Furthermore, the marketing must be included in the ministry … not the other way around.
The marketing effort must reflect the character of the ministry. Marketing must operate on the basis of the ministry’s values, not vice versa.
If this one-way flow is not observed, marketing instincts begin to influence ministry decisions … and the ministry becomes simply an elaborate collection service:
- What will our ministry do next month?
- I dunno … What will raise the most money?
Now the Holy Spirit no longer guides the work; He sits outside in the waiting room, while we consult our revenue reports.
And the work He wants to accomplish — in the lives of those our ministry is helping, even in the lives of our donors themselves — goes undone.
On the other hand, when the flow of values is properly maintained, the character of the ministry is maintained, and the result can be genuinely God-pleasing.
It’s still, after all, His work.