Is My Career in Marketing Vain?
Is my career in marketing vain? It’s a great question, and it comes to us frequently. What we’re going to address today is often reflected in emails we get from Christians who work not only in marketing, but also in the clothing industry and in all facets of the fashion world. Here’s the question from a young man: “Pastor John, hello! I work at Nike and have often wrestled with my position at the company, being that my job is in marketing. I sell luxury goods to people who don’t need them and often can’t afford them. On the other hand, the company gives away millions of dollars as well as shoes and clothing. I want to be excellent in my work and glorify God. I also want to honor my managers as those in authority over me. I am against the consumerist ways of America, and yet I feel I’m in some ways contributing to them. How do I balance these tensions and continue to work hard with my hands so that I’m not a burden to anyone? Can the products of a humanist company like mine be at all redeemed by the God-glorifying work done by their Christian employees? Or is a career change needed?”
Five Questions for Marketers
If I worked in marketing, I would ask myself these five questions, at least.
1. Am I always telling the truth? God is a God of truth (Isaiah 65:16). He commanded us to bear witness in the truth — that is, not to bear false witness (Exodus 20:16). He told us in Ephesians to speak the truth to one another (Ephesians 4:15). His apostles said they could do nothing against the truth (2 Corinthians 13:8). Christians are radically truth-driven people. We really believe there is such a thing as truth. So we should ask regularly, Is my messaging always truthful?
“Christ’s security is better than the security of money. His power is better than the power of money.”
2. If I succeed in my marketing efforts, am I helping people? Am I doing them good? Jesus said that whoever would be great must be the servant of all, which means we seek their good (Mark 9:35). Paul said, “Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14). And he added that “love does no wrong to a neighbor” (Romans 13:10). So I must ask, Is my service or is my product doing good for people, or hurting them or confirming them in some hurtful pattern of behavior or thinking?
3. Am I in a position to significantly change the way my company does business, so that people will be helped rather than hurt by what we do and the way we do it? Or is that an unrealistic expectation that, given the position I have, I could significantly alter things for the good of this company and what it does?
4. Are my professional efforts and successes magnifying Christ? That is, are what I do and the way I do it and its outcome showing more clearly that Christ is supremely valuable, more valuable than anything? Paul said that was his life’s goal: to magnify Christ in his body, “whether by life or by death” (Philippians 1:20). He said that he counted everything as loss compared to Christ (Philippians 3:8). I don’t mean to claim that it is simple or easy in any job to show that Christ is more valuable than the job or the salary or the esteem or the benefits or the relationships. I don’t claim that any of that is easy or obvious. But I do claim that we should ask that question. And I do think that in asking it God will help us get a read on whether we are doing his revealed will in our job.
5. Is a different career path or a different vocation open to me where my gifts could be used and these questions could be answered in a more satisfying way? I pose this question because I don’t want to give the impression that an employee is responsible for all the misdeeds of the company he works for. The more he knows, the more responsible he is. The more power he has, the more responsible he is. But I don’t think it is automatic that one must leave a job because there is sin in the company. In 1 Corinthians 7:24, Paul says that remaining in the position where we were called to Christ is the Christian norm. We are to remain there, it says, with God — with God. And that would change a lot of things. But it doesn’t necessarily mean you leave the position. But he also says, if the door is open for a change, and you can and you should, then go ahead; seek it (1 Corinthians 7:21).
So those are my five questions that I would ask myself if I were in marketing.
Listening to Conscience
Now, let’s get more specific. Our friend writes and says two things are troubling him, and they should. He says, “I sell luxury goods to people who don’t need them and often can’t afford them.” And the second thing he says is this: “I am against the consumerist ways of America, and yet I feel I’m in some ways contributing to them.”
“Christians are radically truth-driven people.”
So there are two issues here: one is the objective fact that his marketing effectiveness is confirming people in a sinful mindset with regard to money and possessions (so it seems), and the other is that he’s aware of it and feels bad about it. Now, both of those are a problem. The second one is a conscience problem.
The Bible is very serious about not acting against our conscience (Romans 13:5). It’s also clear that a conscience can be distorted or needs to be recalibrated according to God’s revealed will; it might be too loose or it might be too tight, and God’s word needs to shape the conscience (Acts 10:9–16). But while it’s being shaped, while it’s being calibrated according to God’s word, it should also, in general, be followed. To go against your conscience is to say to God, “I don’t mind risking displeasing you.” That’s a very dangerous thing to say. We ought not say that; we ought not act that way.
What We Say to the World
Now the other issue, the first one, is more objective and needs to be tested by Scripture. Is my marketing effectiveness really confirming people in a sinful mindset with regard to money and possessions? And here’s what I have found over the years as I’ve tried to think about my own life, the people I minister to, all the different ways we handle money: I have found that the most helpful thing in providing guidance and putting a proper, biblical governor on the love of money — my love of money, my love of comfort, my love of ease — is not simply to take isolated texts here and there, and try to figure out precise applications from those texts (which seems to almost never work because you always come up with some scenario where those texts might not be valid), but rather to let the relentless stream of New Testament texts about money wash over me. That has a very salutary effect. The New Testament is relentless in pushing us toward a wartime simplicity and economy for the sake of the kingdom, and away from luxury and away from affluence and away from finery and opulence.
Here are some of the passages. Here’s a little bit of the waterfall, the stream that I’m talking about, that needs to wash over us:
Luke 6:20, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”
Luke 6:24, “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.”
Luke 8:14, “They are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life.”
Luke 9:58–59, “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. . . . Follow me.”
Luke 12:15, “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
Matthew 6:19–20, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, . . . but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.”
Luke 12:20–21, to the bigger-barn builder, “‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you.’ . . . So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
Luke 12:33, “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail.”
Luke 14:33, “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”
Luke 18:24, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”
2 Corinthians 8:2, “In a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.”
1 Timothy 6:7–8, “We brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.”
Hebrews 13:5, “Keep your life free from love of money.”
And the list could go on and on. And the point of all those texts, I think, is to pose the question, Is what we do and say about money communicating that Christ is more precious than money, his security is better than the security of money, his power is better than the power of money, his preciousness is better than the preciousness of money? That’s what our life is supposed to say to the world.
Samuel Grafton once said, “A penny will hide the biggest star in the universe if you hold it close enough to your eye.” So, for ourselves and for others, we should ask very seriously: Are we putting the penny so close to our eye and to their eye, that the star of God’s worth is made harder to see?