The last year or so, I have seen an influx of famous Christians pushing back against the idea of Christians having “platforms” or “brands.”
Once I push through the irony of famous Christian men and women using their large platforms and well-known brands to decry the practice of building one’s platform or brand, I have to take a moment to put aside my personal biases.
My literal day job is helping authors build their digital platforms. So, I guess you could say that when I see people talk about my work like it’s a dirty sin, I take it a little personally. You would be wise to read the rest of this post taking that into account.
A Word on Words
I try to use the words “platform,” “branding,” and “marketing,” as little as possible when I am helping an author with his or her online presence because I know the negative weight these words carry with most people. I feel dirty saying them, too, sometimes, because they sound slimy to many.
But, these words are ultimately the simplest words to use when describing the strategy one uses to connect with one’s audience in order to proclaim the message they have.
If you have a better word to use than “platform,” let me know. I’d love to use it. But, it’s the easiest word we have to use for now, so I’ll be using it throughout this post. Also, because I primarily work in the digital space, whenever I say “platform” I’m talking about social media/online platforming, not offline speaking or other “platforms.”
A Means to Serve Others, Not Promote Ourselves
Every time I meet with an author for the first time to discuss online platforms and branding, I say the same thing:
“I am more interested helping you use the gifts God has given you to faithfully serve people online than I am in getting you to sell more books.”
No author has ever had a problem with me saying that. If an author had a problem with me saying that, I would know we had some heart work to do before we could start in on any strategic platform work.
A Christian who has an online platform ultimately is using a gift he or she has been given by God to build up others for the good of the kingdom of God.
The Lord has gifted all of us in different ways. Some gifts receive more public attention than others—those who have the gift of teaching are often given more opportunities to platform that gift than people who have the gift of service or the like.
Ultimately, I believe God has given us various gifts and proficiencies that we are supposed to use to serve and equip others for gospel ministry—this goes beyond “spiritual gifts.”
Are you really good at knitting? How can you use that gift for the building up of the kingdom of God?
Are you proficient fisherman? How might that gift be used for the encouragement of others?
Has God given you the ability to write well? Consider how that gift may be used for Great Commission work.
However the Lord has gifted us, and however spiritual or unspiritual those gifts may seem, our responsibility is to use the gifts and interests the Lord has given us for his glory.
Here’s a personal example from my own tiny platform here:
A while back, a church leader from East Tennessee emailed me asking for some ideas about how to reach the Millennials in her community this summer through their VBS program, as the parents of the children are Millennials. I was able to use the interest God has given me in generational studies to serve a random church leader from East Tennessee in a way I would have been able to otherwise without this blog.
This is where part of the conflict begins: in order to use the gifts God has given us to serve others, we have to actually interact with others. So, in the context of serving people through the internet, this means we have to engage in social media. We have to “platform” ourselves in one way or another.
You can have the best blog in the world, but if you aren’t sharing it on social media or through some other means, no one will know it exists, and ultimately, you aren’t serving other people at that point. An unshared blog is an online personal diary: a nice exercise, but in the end it is only a service to yourself.
If we are going to use the gifts God has given us in the digital space, we need to engage other people online. The conflict I believe we’re seeing in the pervasive pushback against Christians “platforming” themselves is at least partially rooted here.
No one seems to have a problem with Christians being on social media—all of these conversations are happening on social media—the problem seems to be with the promotion or sharing of one’s content on social media.
So What Do We Do?
How might a Christian go about building an online platform/presence in order to use the gifts God has given to serve others and build up the kingdom of God without falling into traps such as self-promotion or prideful gain?
Here are two basic steps I have tried to take myself and have encouraged others to take:
1. Examine our hearts.
First, when wading into the digital space, we have to check our own hearts. Why are we building a presence on social media? Why are we investing the time, energy, and money in a blog? These and other such questions are ones we must answer for ourselves.
We cannot create a blog and invest in an online presence for the purpose of becoming famous. Outside of the fact that doing so is a self-seeking, sinful pursuit, investing hours in an active blog and social media presence is a bad way to try to become famous. If you want to become famous via the internet, your time would be better spent trying to get your cat to go viral or something. It takes a lot less time and effort that way.
Does paying to boost your Facebook post violate your conscience because you think it’s sinful to advertise your work? Don’t do it.
Is even having a Twitter presence problematic for you because you think you would only be able to engage for self-seeking reasons? Don’t create an account.
In John 14:26, Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit is given to us to remind us of Jesus’s words, and in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Paul tells us that the Word of God is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness so that we might be a equipped for every good work.
If in building an online presence via a blog, social media, or otherwise, we violate our on consciences and feel slimy, we need to stop. I have felt this way before and have killed some projects and pursuits because of it.
When we establish an online presence or platform, we need to ask ourselves what our motivations are for doing so. Are our motivations to give or gain, to serve or to be praised?
2. Seek accountability.
We are all sinners and are plagued by self-righteous, sinful hearts. Because of this, many of us are so blind to our sin that we can “examine our hearts” all we want, but we will never be able to see when we’re pursuing something like an online platform for selfish gain.
We need accountability when it comes to our online platforms. All believers need one or three or ten people in their lives who can send a text, make a phone call, or some other way instantly tell us, “You’re being a fool. Stop.” Likewise, we need to be meeting with a person or group of people on a regular basis who can monitor our activity and tell us if they see sinful pride and self-seeking postures in our online activity.
We need to be aware of our own consciences and motivations, but sin often keeps us from rightly seeing our own hearts. Seeking accountability allows us to hear the wisdom of others who, though also sinful, may see us more clearly than we see ourselves.
Might we say as David does in Psalm 139:23-24:
Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my concerns.
See if there is any offensive way in me;
lead me in the everlasting way.
The discussion around building online platforms or brands has been somewhat discouraging to me because it feels like many are disparaging what I do on a daily basis.
It is my understanding that, with proper accountability in place, Christian platforming that seeks to serve others with the gifts God has given us for the glory of his name is a worthwhile pursuit. At the same time, platforming for the sake of acquiring book deals or fame is to be avoided.
Platforming is a neutral practice. The motivation of our hearts and the goals of our work, like in any profession or pursuit, are ultimately what make our efforts sinfully self-seeking or righteously God-glorifying.
Chris Martin is the Co-Creator and Chief Content Officer at LifeWay Social as well as a Content Strategist at LifeWay. He and his wife Susie live outside Nashville, TN.