Is the Church a good place for networking? On MLMs and the body of Christ.

MLM-image

Relationships.  Everyone alive functions in relationships.  The age-old adage about finding a job, getting into school, and establishing one’s self is simply, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”.  The United States purports to be the land of opportunity, where anyone can pull himself up by his bootstraps if he is willing to work hard enough, and while it is true that there are countless entrepreneurs who have built businesses from their own ingenuity and suave, it remains true that those who are born into a higher social rank and those who are born in privilege tend to find positions of authority, leadership and success more easily.

Networking.  We never take a class in High School or College about networking, but at some point in life we all learn that because of the weight that relationships merit in our success, we must get to know a lot of people who can help us.  We need references, we need an “in” with a company, we need people to help us along.  And suddenly our social network becomes a tool.  Friends become a target.  Relationships become a means to an end.

This reality is extremely helpful,
but at the same time extremely dangerous.  

Missiologists have picked up on this reality.  In regions of the world where there is no church and no believers, the missionary’s most difficult task is what they call “Zero to One” work.  It is always the most difficult task to find that first person who will believe.  Why?  Because a missionary is an outsider.  A missionary is trying to bring a foreign belief to a new land.  A missionary is someone who looks differently, speaks differently, dresses differently and eats differently, and it is his goal to undermine and remove all historical religious beliefs of a tribe or nation and convert them.  People are skeptical and people are set in their traditions and ways.  How would you respond to a man from South America who approached you on the street, could not speak English so he utilized an interpreter, and he set out to tell you about eternity and the path to Heaven, declaring everything you had ever heard and believed was false?  Our culture is unique in the fact that there is a coolness factor to adhering to our own personal belief system and finding ourselves in abstract and rare traditions.  Most countries around the world, however, find great pride and identity in their culture, in their family and in their heritage.  Much in the manner we would say, “To be American is to be free”, they would say “To be Saudi is to be Muslim”, or “To be Japanese is to worship the emperor”.

But the moment that first person believes, there is now an insider.  There is now a person who trusts Jesus from within the culture, and the work of redeeming the culture for Christ can begin – we do not try to make them culturally like us, but to help them glorify God through their unique habits and traditions.  But more importantly, this person has a network of friends and family which he can immediately influence for the Gospel.  It is natural, it is organic, it is normal for friends to influence friends, and family to influence family.  We can trace it through Scripture.  We can trace it through history.  And it is good practice to encourage believers to immediately share their new faith with their loved ones, as they will have infinitely more impact than an outsider will.

While it is essential that we utilize our social network for the furthering of the Gospel, we must also guard our body, our Church, diligently that we do not utilize this “network” for personal gain.  God has given us the body to reach the world with the Gospel, and to push one another on to maturity and good deeds.  It exists for accountability, fellowship, and the glory of God.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

 – Heb 10.23-25

Mary Kay has been around for ages – since 1963, in fact.  It is an MLM plan where ladies become representatives and and private vendors of Mary Kay product – working on their own time and being their own boss.  I remember hearing that women in my mother’s community were Mary Kay providers, but I was never exposed to their parties or sales tactics.  But suddenly, with the explosion of social media and inter-connectedness with the internet, there are new MLM plans every day.  People want to get rich easily – or supplement their income, they want to work for themselves on their own schedule and they are finding their fortunes in selling wraps, oils, makeup, lotions, and snakeskins to their friends and family.

Most people believe in and love the product that they are trying to sell.  It is not all a giant hoax, people are enjoying their work, their revenue and their products.

It is, however, causing great damage to the body.  Firstly, the vendor is being trained to consider all relationships as potential clients or partners.  Just get the product into their hands and they will become believers.  Convince them to sell the product too, and they can have just as glorious a life as you!  And suddenly, your friends and family are targets.  Church attendance becomes an opportunity to build your network and business, not an opportunity to corporately worship God and encourage one another.

Secondly, those non-entrepreneur types can feel the target on their backs.  They know who is selling what, and because of the aggressive nature of the representative, they start to avoid that person and begin hiding or stop attending group activities altogether.  The invitations to parties, the request to host a party, the free samples all feel disingenuous and alienate this person who deeply needs true community and accountability.

So what am I saying?  Let’s look at Jesus’ response when vendors set up shop in the Church:

“The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables.  And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; and to those who were selling the doves He said, ‘Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.’  His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me’.”

 – John 2.13-17

Jesus became so angry with the people who were using the temple as a place of business that He made a whip, overturned their tables, and chased them out!  It has been said that if you are ever asked “What would Jesus do?”, remind him that flipping over tables and chasing people with a whip is within the realm of possibilities.  Hopefully people are not actually setting up shop within your church building, but when MLM trainers teach vendor to consider every friend and relative a possible client or partner, we are essentially doing just that:  in our hearts.

If make your living through any of these MLMs, please hear me.  I am not saying that this is a bad way to work and live.  Mary Kay reps have been doing it for fifty-two years!  If you have the personality and the drive, then by all means, knock yourself out, and earn that pink Cadillac.  But I am saying that we need to be extremely intentional to keep our relationships within the body pure, focused on the glory of God and pushing one another on to maturity in faith through accountability.  It was said of Jesus that “Zeal for His house would consume Him”, and with the coming of the New Covenant, we – as the body of Christ – are now His house.

“Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”

 – 1 Cor 3.16

Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people”

 – 2 Cor 6.16

We individually have the person of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, but we also corporately – as the body – make up the new temple of God.  He dwells within and among us.  And Jesus has great zeal for His body and for the temple, and He will fight for her.  Therefore, we must consider our brothers and sisters in Christ as accountability partners, and fellow heirs, as those with whom we live and strive and push each other on to holiness.  Not clients.  Not potential buyers.  Not as party hosts.

So get out there and make your living.  You can even use your platform as a sales rep to share the Gospel!  It has been said that evangelists are sales men at heart:  selling Jesus.  If you can sell green smoothies and dehydrating wraps, then you can sell your faith!  But protect your heart and protect your local body.  Beware lest we set up invisible tables at church; for Jesus may come in and chase us out with a whip.

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