A few years ago, I was asked to sit in on a meeting with a church consultant. The church I worked for was looking to hire a consultant to help them with some fund-raising efforts – and a few other things. At one point in the meeting, he began to talk to us about marketing – about branding – and the message our website and even our church sign – sent to the broader community and the world. Now – some people are ready to write those sorts of things off, being content to depend on word-of-mouth and relationships reach a community to a local church – but if you think about it – that’s part of marketing and branding, too. It is just that today, we’ve added a digital component.
Most everyone that I know will visit a website before going just about anywhere. Before we go to a restaurant – before we rent a place for vacation – etc – we check out the website and what others have said about it in the reviews. We do that because we want to know what to expect – what we are getting into. We are influenced by marketing and branding in nearly every part of our lives and that includes the church.
Before folks visit a church – they check out the website for the same reason they check out a restaurant or product; they want to know what to expect – to find out what they will be getting into by showing up for church.
Most church websites that I’ve visited – most church Facebook pages – have videos of sermons and pictures. They have sections on their webpage that say, “who we are” and “what to expect.” On those pages, they talk about their doctrine, their theology, their tradition, their worship service, their commitment to mission, and Jesus, and how much they love one another. They talk about their upcoming classes – and now they talk about how to worship via Zoom or Livestream. They talk about their history, their staff, their leaders – just to give folks as much of an idea of who they are what to expect.
But I’ve yet to see a church website put it the way Jesus did in Matthew 5:10-12. Jesus told his disciples what to expect. He said,  “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Maybe there is a church website out there that tells people to expect persecution if they show up for church and if they start to really follow Jesus – but if there is, I haven’t seen it.
This message that Jesus gives his disciples isn’t one that we expect. In Matthew 4 – Jesus was healing people and that drew crowds. Some were drawn to what Jesus could do for them physically – but others were there because of what he did for them spiritually, emotionally, relationally, etc. He brought healing to people – and not just to their bodies. Jesus was a world healer.
And – when he called His disciples – he called them to do the same sort of work. To train them to do what He did, Jesus went up on a mountainside, sat down, and began to teach them. He started with the beatitudes and each one builds on the next and they are intended to be essential Christian qualities.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Those all sound great – don’t they. That is a pretty good marketing tool. We can use that. It sounds like we are headed for a text that says – and when you have this you will have inner peace and live happily ever after. We’d like that because we like a Disney end to things. We want the happily ever after.
But that’s not what we get.
Instead, we get words like persecuted, reviled, lies, maligned. Those aren’t words that are normally used to market or brand a church – let alone Christianity. Truth be told, the idea is a little surprising. In fact, Frederick Dale Bruner put it best when he wrote, “It surprises us that the goodness described thus far in the Beatitudes will be rewarded with persecution, for, on the whole, human experience would suggest that the better one is the less trouble one has. And yet the next two Beatitudes teach that people should expect persecution if they seek justice and that Christians in particular should expect bitter unpopularity if they are really Christians” (Bruner 180).
Bruner isn’t the only one who knows that. Truth is, the Apostle Paul knew that well. In fact, he told Timothy, “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). There it is in print – and yet – there is little wonder that you don’t find that on a church website. Telling people that they can expect to be persecuted for Christ’s sake – well – it isn’t a way to pack the pews.
But there it is.
Persecuted – reviled – people speaking evil about you – lying about you…
Does that sound like something that you want to endure? Wanna take a punch for Christ’s sake? Because if you truly follow Jesus, chances are good it is going to happen – and can be simply because you want to follow Jesus – simply because you are associated with Jesus. At least that is what it seems like Jesus is saying.
When Jesus says blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake and when he says blessed are you when “others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account,” He’s saying the same thing. John Piper helps to make that connection.
John Piper said, “So what we learn from this is that true righteousness — the righteousness that surpasses the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 5:20) — always involves a relationship with Jesus. True righteousness is not done for its own sake. It is done for Jesus’s sake. The mercy and the purity and the peacemaking of a disciple of Jesus comes from Jesus (“Without me you can do nothing.” [John 15:5]) and is done for the honor of Jesus. It’s this attachment to Jesus that gives our righteousness its distinct character.”
So – then – the reason we can expect to be treated poorly is that we are associated with Jesus – and we are doing stuff for Jesus – like helping to restore shalom, working for justice, bringing light to dark places, letting the light of Christ shine before the world so that they will see our good works and glorify God – or take a swing at us simply because we aren’t like them.
Not long ago, I met with a retired pastor. He is someone I admire and respect. He is one of the kindest – most gentle pastors I’ve ever been around. He is a genuine follower of Jesus and I wish I was more like him. But – because of his kindness, his gentleness, his love for Jesus, a staff member of his church said all sorts of things horrible things about him. They accused him of being verbally abusive and even suggested that he struck them. It nearly cost him his job.
As it turns out, however, he had never spoken a harsh word to the staff person. What he had done was preach a sermon on a text that spoke directly to something the person was doing – which was out of accord with someone who is pursuing Christ. My pastor friend didn’t have a clue that was going on in that staff member’s life. But the staff member hated him and said all manner of evil against him because he was preaching and teaching and walking with Jesus. It was that simple and sometimes that is all it takes.
Jesus was quite clear. If we are doing the work that God has called us to do, if we are restoring shalom, if we are bringing the light to the dark, we ought to expect persecution and malice of all kinds and we ought to consider ourselves blessed. Often it is in the push back – it is when the punches are being thrown that we know that we are engaged in the work God’s called us to. We know it because the prophets of all endured it – and – so did the Lord Jesus.
Are you willing and able to take a punch for Christ’s sake?