In a recent article, Christianity Today contributor (and thus, platform user) Martin Saunders wrote a piece titled, “Platform: why a culture of self-promotion threatens to throttle the church.” The article takes aim at former CEO of Thomas Nelson, Michael Hyatt, and the influence of his book: “Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World.”
In the article Saunders writes:
“… my nagging concerns about Christian platform culture have slowly escalated. I’ve watched as self-promotion among leaders, speakers and writers has gone from a sin of pride to an act of apparent necessity.”
Saunders thinks that platform building for Christians is all about making Jesus “more famous,” which he correctly calls out as not being right, but judgingly assumes that that is the motive behind Christian platform building.
So on that note he quotes Mark 9:35 about how we are called to be “last” and to be “servants to all” (as if to assume that platform building isn’t about serving!).
Saunders, it seems, is frustrated because though he wrote on this before, nothing changed. Why aren’t people listening to me and doing what I said? he’s wondering. I mean, if Martin Saunders wrote for change on this subject, why hasn’t the culture simply changed?
“I wrote a couple of articles on this a few years ago, and lots of people sagely nodded in agreement. Nothing changed though, in fact platform culture has become more entrenched in the modern church.”
So this time it’s no more mister nice guy. Saunders is throwing the gauntlet down, or rather, throwing “open the window” (presumably it’s high up, probably so that his message can get noticed in a noisy world…):
“Stop! This is ludicrous!”
He goes on to quote Paul in Philippians 1, that “To live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
Then Saunders writes this:
“We need leaders who genuinely prefer one another; who seek to build each other up rather than jostle for position. And when some of us find ourselves in positions of influence, we have to continually guard ourselves against pride and abuse of position. One of the best ways of doing that is for leaders to surround themselves with people to whom they’re genuinely accountable; friends who will tell them when they’re starting to believe their own hype or get competitive, and to whom they’ll actually listen.”
And he’s right, 100%. But what’s that got to do with platform building? It seems to me that paragraph serves to judge the motives of platform builders. As if to say, if you’re building a platform you don’t “genuinely” prefer one another. As if by platform building, leaders are by default jostling each other for positions rather than working together for God’s Kingdom.
Why I’m A Platform Builder
By day I own a Christian retail store. By night, I work on my platform and help Christian use social media to reach more people for God’s Kingdom glory. On the weekends, I’m a part-time minister, occasional preacher, and tech-support guy for my church.
And Michael’s book, Platform, has had a huge impact on my life. No Saunders, it’s not sitting next to my Bible on my bookshelf (that place is reserved for the works of N.T. Wright!). But it has had a huge impact on my life.
See, I’m the kind of guy who loves to help people. When a young person connected to our church named Bailey was planning his first mission trip to the Philippines to help with the relief effort after a Super Typhoon devastated the country, I built a website for him.
I didn’t have a lot of money at the time to donate toward his cause, but I do know how to build platforms. And I so built one for him to help raise funds.
My “gifting” is with technology and social media.
I’m not good at a lot of things. But I’m good at this and I can use this gift to help people like Bailey.
And when pastors and itinerate preachers began asking me about my social media platforms and websites, and about how social media can help them in their ministry, I thought to myself, “Yes! This is it. This is my calling!”
After being on this earth for over thirty years and never having a sense of “this is what I’m supposed to be doing,” I finally got that. I’m a platform builder. It’s my calling and it’s how I help people.
Why Do I Sometimes Charge Money With My Platform?
To me, that’s a dumb question. Why does anybody make money? Some people might just want to get “rich and famous.” But most people just want to make sure their family is taken care of and they can pay their bills and perhaps leave a little nest egg for their children.
Do I want the freedom to not have to go to work each morning? Yes. Do I want the ability to work from anywhere (even while travelling)? Yes. Do I want to generate enough income that my wife can eventually live her dream of being a stay-at-home mom? YES!
And what’s wrong with any of that?
See, as I said earlier, I own a Christian retail store. And I don’t know if you are aware of the times, but I’m feeling the earth rumble beneath my feet. I don’t mean to speak doom here, but I don’t have the confidence I once did in the Christian retail industry.
So what do I do when I’m not doing what I’m doing now?
Working in Christian retail was my long-time dream. But what do I do when that dream fades away? Should I not pursue another dream? Perhaps one that enables me to help people with my particular set of skills? Perhaps one involving a platform?
The Real Problem Is A Heart Issue
When Saunders quoted Mark 9 he assumed that platform building isn’t about serving. Is that true sometimes? Sure, it can be. I’ve organized concerts and events for Christian musicians and speakers who throw tantrums if the Skittles they requested are not in their prep-room before the event.
But I’ve also known and met some incredibly humble Christian speakers and musicians.
As Michael Hyatt said, “a platform amplifies what you are.” If you’re a humble and genuine Christian, your platform will amplify that. If you’re a narcissist, your platform will amplify that. But the platform isn’t the problem.
I come from the holiness tradition (I’m still there, and love it!). And I can spot legalism a mile away. Blaming the morally neutral “thing” for the sin it sometimes highlights in others, then suggesting the way to avoid the sin is to avoid the “thing,” and then to get upset when culture doesn’t just change because you say so, is legalism at its finest.
As Jesus pointed out, “Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Legalism says, “here’s the solution, cover a woman up head to toe so that a man can’t actually see her. That’ll avoid the sin.” Which misses Jesus’ point entirely. The problem isn’t with the woman, it’s with the man’s heart.
And with platforms, the problem isn’t with the platform, it is with the person’s heart.
What About Personal Branding?
Isn’t personal branding “self-promotional”? Doesn’t the Bible say “To live is Christ, and to die is gain?”
Look, “personal branding” is simply another way of saying, “when people see you, they trust (or don’t trust) the message that you deliver.” That’s it.
Sometimes we get so hung up on these terms that we forget what they actually mean.
We all have a personal brand. Yes, even Martin Saunders. Your brand is you. It’s your personality. Your appearance. Your mannerisms. Your tone. Your attitude. You are your personal brand.
People who have read Saunders in the past and like his stuff, his tone and his style will read him again simply because they liked what they got the first time. In other words, they like and trust his “personal brand.”
We read authors and follow preachers that we trust. We trust them because they’ve given us a reason to trust them. When we see them, we instantly trust them. And how do we know? Because when we see them, we recognize their personal brand.
That’s why reviews and endorsements matter. Because if they come from someone we’ve grown to trust, someone who has proven themselves to be trustworthy (i.e. they’ve proven themselves by modelling a consistent personal brand), then we’re more than happy to take their word for it.
And when Paul says “To live is Christ…” he’s not calling all Christians everywhere to be uniform drones without unique personalities, appearances, mannerisms, tones, and attitudes (see what I did there?). What he is saying is when we live this life, in all of our personal uniqueness, we are to live it hidden in Christ. In other words, when people look at us they should see Christ all over us.
Or, to put it another way, when they see our “personal brand,” they should see Christ all over it.
“To live is Christ” cannot be juxtaposed with “personal brand” for true believers. Our personal brand should reveal the Christ we serve.
Why Christians Must Be Platform Builders
I’m so glad that platform building is seeping its way into the church.
Because we have a message. And we’ve been commissioned to take it to the ends of the earth. In today’s world the best way to do that is through social media and the internet. Opportunities exist like never before. I can’t imagine the Apostle Paul squandering such a ministry tool!
“If you believe in your message, you should believe in it enough to share it.”
But with literally billions of posts being shared on Facebook alone every day, how can the message I share rise above the crowd and get noticed in this noisy space?
I’ve got a great idea! It’s not original to me. People in the Bible used this approach thousands of years ago. But here it goes: I’ll leverage a platform!
When Jesus was speaking to a crowd one day he noticed a boat in the water. He decided to take advantage of the acoustics of the lake, separate himself from the crowd, climb into the boat, and teach. He leveraged a platform to be heard throughout the crowd. (Matthew 5)
On the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit hit, and the huge thronging crowds where wondering what was going on, Peter didn’t just stay low and talk to the few people who could hear him in his immediate vicinity. Rather he “stood up” with the eleven and “raised his voice” to address the crowd. Peter leveraged a platform. (Acts 2)
When Ezra, the teacher of the Law wanted to address the people, he literally “stood on a high wooden platform built specifically for the occasion.” Ezra leveraged a platform. (Nehemiah 8)
When Paul was in Athens he discussed the gospel with people in the Synagogue and in the marketplace. But soon he found himself on the Areopagus, where the philosophers would meet to debate. There Paul took the stage in the meeting of the Areopagus and shared the good news of Jesus. Paul leveraged a platform. (Acts 13)
The prophet Jeremiah lamented that a part of him didn’t want to share God’s word any more because of the trouble it caused him. But then he confessed that ultimately “His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.” It’s hard to imagine that Jeremiah would face consequences for sharing God’s word if he wasn’t leveraging a platform to get that word out. (Jeremiah 20)
I could go on, but my bigger point is that in Bible days when people wanted to get out the message that God placed on their hearts, they leveraged platforms.
That may look different today. But the principles are the same. And the opportunities are greater than ever!
I can’t imagine why any Christian would say, “Jesus, get off that boat. You’re being prideful. Peter, sit down, speak quietly to the people around you. It’s arrogate to want to be heard by the entire crowd. Paul, you’re making a ruckus. Go back to the quiet little synagogue or your pride will get the best of you!”
But that is exactly what Saunders is telling Christian leaders and ministers to do today:
“Stop! This is ludicrous!”
No. It’s not. What is ludicrous is when one Christian leader tells other Christian leaders to stop leveraging today’s platforms for God’s Kingdom.
That is ludicrous!
So keep platform building. Keep leveraging today’s tools and technology to reach more lives for God’s Kingdom.
And don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.