We’re told these days how important it is to develop a personal brand.
A brand represents who you are and what you stand for. A personal brand is what makes you stand out from the rest and is what people remember about you. It helps you develop an online platform, and it’s what people expect from a leader.
And it’s exactly what pastors don’t need.
I’m intrigued by the pressures that Paul faced in Corinth. We know that Corinthians valued wisdom and desired a certain kind of leader: a good speaker with a commanding presence and the ability to make a living with his words.
Paul could have played the game, but he didn’t want any of it.
- They wanted a successful speaker, but Paul chose to ignore their expectations so their faith would rely on Christ rather than his rhetorical skills (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).
- They wanted someone who made a living from his speaking, but Paul chose instead to work with his hands (1 Corinthians 9).
- They wanted someone with a resume of success. Paul bragged about his hardships and difficulties (2 Corinthians 6:1-13; 11:16-33).
- They wanted strength. Paul boasted about his weakness (2 Corinthians 12).
It’s as if Paul purposely turned all their expectations upside-down. Paul didn’t want the focus of ministry to be himself. “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5).
No manipulation or tampering with the message (2 Corinthians 4:2). No self-promotion. No making ministry about himself. Instead, a relentless focus on Jesus. He refused to share Jesus’ glory or to think that he could somehow share the platform with Jesus. He purposely undermined cultural expectations so he could put the focus of people’s attention where it belonged: not on him but on Jesus.
Because we’re not in Corinth, we need to discern our culture’s expectations of leaders and decide how to undermine them so we keep the focus where it belongs.
Work at building ministry around Jesus, not around you. Guard against the pastor being the main face of the church. Focus on servanthood. Look for ways to not meet the unhealthy expectations of leadership that put too much emphasis on the leader. Make Sundays less about the pastor and his gifts. Shift the focus to Christ.
Pastors: don’t worry about your social media presence. Focus on your own flock and don’t worry about being known outside of your own ministry.
Churches: look for pastors who are interchangeable in the best sense of the word. When they’re done, another faithful pastor can take their place. Look for someone who is committed to working with other leaders and serving in private, not just in public.
One of the great dangers today is to make ministry about ourselves rather than Jesus. So refuse, with all your might, to build a personal brand. Instead, serve, and keep the spotlight where it belongs. Get out of the way and stay there so that Jesus gets the glory, and so you’re relieved of the pressure to project a certain image.
Pastors aren’t the brand.