Is Jesus for Sale Like Everything Else in America?

Tonight I went to a hockey game up in St. Paul. We sat in a luxury suite, the home team Minnesota Wild won, and the crowd brought electric energy to the entire experience. Minnesotans love hockey like I love baseball. Despite the wonderful sports experience, I couldn’t escape advertising.
Ads are everywhere. Ads line the entire ice rink. We consider this normal. A thin bar of digital video screens lines the entire arena at perfect eye level. Every little promotional event during breaks in play features its own sponsor with their own airtime. Even the shovels used to clean the ice – sponsored by Ace Hardware. Advertising doesn’t just belong to the game. Signs lined the interstate and the parking garage had one small billboard.
These ads ask us to consider buying new technology, listening to a radio show, or to support their ideology. We live in an advertising-saturated culture. People advertise themselves on dating websites or on their Facebook pages. They put out an appealing representation of themselves for others to consume.
I work for my school newspaper, and at least twice each week we receive a press release or request for coverage in the form of an e-mail or letter. Basically, they want us to advertise for them in the guise of official journalism. Advertising, believe it or not, runs the newspaper business, because subscription income covers only a small percentage of the budget.

I share all of these examples to display the cultural difficulties we have as the church. How do we share the gospel of Christ without conforming to the advertising ethics and practices of corporations and self-interested organizations? Or is there a place in the church for some form of advertising?

Well, it seems that the church as a whole likes to advertise. Go to a major Christian music festival if you’re questioning that assertion. Many churches advertise through cutesy signs outside. The list goes on, and on. Perhaps most dangerous, we feel like we as Christians, or as members of our church, need to advertise.
“Hey, my church is what you need, come with me.”
“Come to youth group. We eat pizza.”

How does that sound different from someone hawking a George Foreman grill?
Obviously, I think there’s real, life-or-death value in growing someone or planting a seed toward their knowing of Christ.  I just don’t want to be selling a product. I don’t want to sell my Jesus with a T-shirt.  I don’t want to package the Gospel and roll back the price Wal-Mart style. I want to know people and share Jesus with them in authentic, personal ways, but I admit that I often don’t know how to do so in a way that doesn’t seem like advertising. And advertising often comes across as fake. I want to share my struggles and my successes with the person, and that being a Christian doesn’t automatically remove any of my struggles, but I want to let them know that neither defines me – only God’s overflowing grace in Jesus can do that. Jesus changed my life, and can change anyone’s, and I don’t think that any advertisement can say that authentically.