Women in Theology is happy to publish a guest post from Lauren Jones. Lauren Jones is an ordained minister (itinerant elder) in the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME). She has served in parish ministry for over 10 years. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature from the University of Maryland (College Park) and a Master of Divinity from Howard University School of Divinity. She has written for Gospel Today magazine, “Modern Loss,” and other Christian publications. You can follow her journey as a widowed mother of two on her personal blog “Throw Up and Theology.” In her spare time, Lauren volunteers as a speaker for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) in honor of her late husband.
“You need to brand yourself.” This is the advice I keep seeing on social media when it comes to dating and relationships. Personal life coaches like Tony Gaskins constantly ask their followers, “What is your brand?”
If you’re an entrepreneur or work in corporate America, you’re familiar with the concept of branding. It is the business’ attempt to set itself apart in the market and demonstrate to potential customers what makes it or its product unique and valuable. Branding is a necessary part of any marketing and communications strategy. We have even adopted this practice in the church. You rarely see ministries or churches without an identifiable brand or niche in the Christian market now. Everything from the pastor to the church logo, tagline and website are marks of its brand. Since churches are pretty much “selling” the same thing, the gospel of Jesus Christ, we have to do something to stand out above the rest if we want to grow our membership. Branding is a good thing when we think about church growth and membership.
However, I think there is a fine line we can cross into wrong and worldly thinking if we get too caught up in branding ourselves as believers. First, by simple word association, when you think about branding, you think about a product or commodity. You think about something for sale. When we apply this to ourselves as women and men, we devalue who God created us to be. Psalm 8:4-5 says, “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings” (NIV). This speaks to our worth and value as children of God. In Matthew 6:26, Jesus reminds the disciples that they are more valuable than the birds of the air because they belong to God. If we think of ourselves as merely a brand, we devalue who we are in Christ, and we could easily go down the slippery slope of thinking of ourselves as products to be bought and sold.
Also, branding implies that one must prove the worth of the commodity. God has already told us that we are precious and valuable in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (John 3:16; Romans 5:8). We shouldn’t have to jump through hoops of proving to the world that we are worthy of good things or even in matters of justice. We see evidence of this in the “Black Lives Matter” movement. This is not an endorsement or rejection of the organization, but the core of their message is, “Our lives matter too.” They are trying to convince the powers that be that their lives matter despite their being on the margins of society as black people, since blackness has been so devalued in American society. If we truly adopted and believed what Jesus preached and declared about us as children of God, the poor, disenfranchised and outcasts wouldn’t have to continually try and prove their worth as human beings. This is another major reason why adopting the idea of branding oneself is problematic as a Christian.
If we create a brand for ourselves to establish our worth and value in society, then our natural human inclination will be to devalue someone else if they have not created a personal brand that speaks to our fleshly proclivities. We cannot deny the effects our capitalistic society has on how we act and think. If we’re not actively pursuing the same mind that was in Christ Jesus, then we may fall into the trap of devaluing, belittling and disengaging from those we deem less valuable (Philippians 2:5). James chapter 2 admonishes believers not to show favoritism to those we think are worthy. It tells the story of a rich man who enters a meeting of believers with fine clothes and jewelry and the people give him the best seat. However, the same people despise a poor man who comes by giving him a seat on the floor or a standing position. I would surmise to say the rich man effectively branded himself. He received the outcome he was probably looking for. They placed value on him based on his presentation.
Branding oneself is a good idea, but Jesus is calling us as believers to a higher standard of living and thinking. Relying on branding to determine the worth and value of a person or thing means we are relying on our own finite minds and experiences. God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). God’s ways are much higher. It’s time for the Body of Christ to stop depending on ourselves when making assessments of people and worldly affairs. It’s time to go higher and deeper in the things of Christ.
In 1 Samuel chapter 16, Samuel goes to the house of Jesse to anoint God’s chosen king. When Samuel saw David’s brothers, they looked like they could be the one. The men had the right brand. However, the Lord said to Samuel in verse 7, “Do not consider his appearance of his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (NIV). Don’t miss out on your blessing because someone failed to meet your brand standard. Allow the Holy Spirit to equip you to see people the way God sees them. That’s when we will truly recover the lost sheep of Israel and bring them into the fold.