The Sin of Self Promotion
Pride is a very acceptable sin in American culture. We speak of American pride, civic pride, community pride, company pride, school pride, team pride without anyone objecting. Pride is also one of the voluminous motifs of the Bible, as a subcategory of the doctrine of sin. It is sometimes displayed with bombastic projection, but it is more likely to be a subtle spirit. There is pride of place, pride of position, and family pride. Pride is frequently the result of achievement. If you simply look and listen, human pride is everywhere.
The Bible is very clear about pride being a sin. Pride has consequences, too, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling (Prv 16:18).” Pride comes, first, then comes dishonor (Prv 11:2). Humanity is steeped in sin; therefore, pride finds little or no resistance from the people around the proud soul. When the championship trophy is raised high for the faithful fans to cheer, the proud players are expected to glory in the moment and in themselves.
Boasting is a common form of pride projection. It is the articulation of the heart. Words can proceed from the mouth or be found in writing. Either way, the contents of the heart are on display. When accolades are thrust upon an achiever, the heart is enlarged with pride. The release of pent-up pride comes through self-pontification.
Post-modern man is hardly a believer in sin, which is why sin is not a trending topic for media discussion, today. If a person denies sin, he surely denies the righteous judgment of sin. Rebuking sin is also very uncommon in today’s antinomian society. Antinomian means, “without the Law.” People do what they think is right in their own eyes. If you correct anyone with biblical truth, the result is often a furious firestorm of protest. You have offended their pride.
Self-promotion is a subcategory of pride, which we have established is a subcategory of sin. I write on this subject because of the internal conflict of wanting Christ to be known and not knowing how to do this without promoting myself. Imagine a business wanting to sell a product but refusing to promote its own name. This is unthinkable.
I rather like the position of obscurity. As a nobody, without name recognition, I would be perfectly content to live the rest of my life with no one paying any attention to me. The problem for all Christians is the fame of Jesus’ name. We want to make Him known to the nations. How do we do this without drawing attention to ourselves?
God is revealing Himself for His own glory. One might object to God’s self-promotion, but the difference here is God’s identity and our own. God deserves all glory, for He accomplishes all things for His glory. We deserve no glory because anything good accomplished by us should be attributed to God, our Maker.
For the Christian, the Holy Spirit is in us willing and doing God’s good pleasure (Phil 2:13). Our good works were ordained by God (Eph 2:10), and He accomplishes what concerns us (Ps 57:2; 138:8). Paul summarizes this economy, “For from Him, through Him, and to Him are all things (Rom 11:36).” Note the sheer lack of exception to Paul’s all-inclusive statement.
Attention to detail in these matters is important because a Christian must not steal glory from God. Unfortunately, we do it far more frequently than we realize. “David Norczyk Ministries,” is our fictitious ministry name, and our fictitious slogan is, “It’s all about Jesus.” Do you see the inconsistency? One’s ministry name can betray him in this matter of all glory to God.
Another example is the Christian publishing industry. When you buy a book from a Christian bookseller, you are buying a product being promoted. The product may attempt to bring glory to God with its contents but consider the packaging. What is the title of the book? Who is endorsing the product? Who is honored by these endorsements?
Christian teachers, especially those savvy with media, are all about gaining influence over people. The prodigious build their own empires. The cash begins to roll in, and it is all about getting bigger. In their pseudo-altruism, they claim God is blessing them. He is enlarging their territory. My reader will have to forgive my skepticism. I am at the stage of observing many Christian ministries and wondering if they are even Christian. The reason for my skepticism is their self promotion.
The irony is found in the Gospel itself. The Gospel, as the believer knows, is scandalous. It is an offense. If the Gospel is preached in truth, it should drive many people away (see John 6). This is hardly the objective of most church ministries. Church growth is the objective. Bigger is better. God blesses big things, while He merely tolerates small things, is the spirit in the church. If true Gospel preaching hinders church growth, then it must be fixed. Diluted messages or disenfranchised pastors are two popular options.
Why is the Gospel so unattractive, while some Christian ministries are bursting out of their stadiums? I pray you understand this disconnect. The true promotion of Christ is done in one way. It is the preaching of the Gospel. If the product is the Gospel, and the product is foolishness to natural man, why is there so much success?
One can only conclude: another gospel is being self-promoted by would be messiahs. The great litmus test is whether a church is doing just about everything, and preaching is only one component part.
Consider the observation of James M. Boice in the last generation: “Many things are talked about as necessary for the health and growth of the church today. People talk about certain programs as essential. It is true that they are important. We have such a diversified culture that people have their own individual problems. The family is fragmented, and the kind of reinforcement along Christian lines that ought to take place in homes does not always take place. The church is trying to minister specifically at these points through programs. Still, if you think back to the time of the Great Awakening in this country, you will realize that churches at that time had hardly any programs at all, at least nothing that we would recognize as programs. There were no youth groups, no graded Sunday schools, no bowling leagues, no baseball teams. But those churches were healthy. Why? Because they had the faithful preaching of the Word.” — James M. Boice in “Feed my Sheep.”
So, if the message is truly the Gospel, it will produce a remnant of people who accept it. If the method of choice is anything other than the preaching of the Word, then the betrayal has already begun. It is very humbling being a Gospel preacher. People detest the method and despise the message. Why are some preachers so widely popular?
Arrogant pride resonates with natural man. He loves a winner. If someone, even a Christian preacher, makes a name for himself, then even the world feels obligated to like him. All of the preachers in the Bible were losers (in the eyes of the world). Most of them were killed because of the message they preached.
Self-promotion in ministry is very tempting. I will position myself as chief of sinners in this category, so I avoid the label of hypocrite. I am writing about something I am guilty of before God. It is natural to want an audience, and some men will sell their souls to the devil to get one. For me, I am like Jesus in John 6, however. I preach the hard stuff and lose my audience. Then, repeat.
The remedy for self-promotion is Christ Himself. We must deny talking about ourselves (note my breach in the last paragraph). The lazy preacher is always talking about himself. People need to learn Christ, not laugh at the gormless escapades of the pastor each week. If we are to preach Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor 2:2), then I might suggest we start by preaching Christ. It sounds simple enough, but muse how much Christ you are hearing from the pulpit each Sunday.
We have multi-million-dollar mega churches. They are built on marketing and advertising for promotion, with worship music and programs for products. It is not preaching. The reason could be staring us in the face. True Gospel preachers are rare because they are not popular, with a few exceptions. This means that some of the best preachers may be found in smaller churches, which refuse to self-promote themselves in the manner of a business.
Self promotion is man centered. It is difficult to distinguish it from the world. The church name, the church logo, the church web site, the church agenda, and the people of the church are all about anything and everything, with preaching being a mere inclusion on the list of activities. Some churches even promote the brevity of sermons, or the conversational style of the preacher.
Self promotion is a sin. It is a sin for a pastor/preacher. It is a sin for a local church or para-church ministry. The correction for this is returning the act of preaching to the position of primacy. Until this occurs, the church will continue to follow the leadership of the culture and the world around us.
The church may throw around terms like, “relevant,” “intentional,” and “missional,” but until preaching is restored, the church will be irrelevant. Until preaching is restored, we will unintentionally make ourselves irrelevant. Until preaching is restored, the church’s missional posture will be to reach the world with irrelevant intentions, like church growth. Weeds grow faster, larger, and more voluminous than carefully cultivated grass. We must commit to carefully cultivate a church culture where the method of preaching and the message of Christ are established, honored, and maintained as the supreme activity. The alternative is the sin of self-promotion.
Spokane Valley, Washington
April 27, 2021