“How do you brand God?”, she asked. Janell is a marketing professor. She explained that she and a colleague have been exploring that question.
We were just beginning our take-off roll in Detroit on my flight home from Nairobi, Kenya. We had done the usual “What do you do?” and my explanation that I am a missionary helping people consider what it might be like to know God prompted her branding question.
I must admit that I’ve never begun a conversation about the gospel in quite this fashion.
I asked her how she felt God should be branded. She suggested several ideas about crucifixes and other things.
I suggested that she might explore how God wants to be branded. God says that his brand is seen in his people. His brand is the transformed lives of those who truly follow him. Lives of peace, lives of joy, lives of purpose, lives of self-sacrifice for others.
God says “by their fruits you shall know them.” He says, “By this all men will know that you are my followers, if you love one another.”
Janell is very curious. It was a very engaging conversation. She asked very good questions. The airplane was still taking off and climbing. “I need to get a pen and paper. I want to write these ideas down.”, she said. As soon as we reach 10,000 feet and we were released from seatbelts, she grabbed pen and paper from the overhead bin and we continued.
“If this is how God is branded, how does your organization engage with this brand?”
I explained our vision statement, “Building movements of true followers everywhere so that everyone knows someone who truly follows Jesus.” Wanting to keep the conversation personal rather than purely academic, I continued, “That is why we are having this conversation. You are talking to someone who truly follows Jesus. So this conversation is living out God’s brand. I’m helping you understand what it might be like to know God personally.”
“What is your organizational process to engage this branding?”
I explained the seven basic measurements that we use to evaluate our progress. Although this is typically “insider information”, it seemed appropriate to include in our conversation. She wrote notes as I briefly explained:
- Exposures to the gospel
- Indicated decisions to accept the gospel (which Janell called “behavioral intention”)
- Membership in a growth group to grow in understanding
- Membership in a movement group to engage in helping others understand
- Mobilizing and leading a group
- The 6th and 7th are similar measures external to the organization or internal to the organization: Committing to a lifetime of engaging in helping everyone know someone who truly follows Jesus. Sometimes by joining the staff of the organization. Most frequently by living as a true follower of Jesus in the business or professional workplace.
“This sounds like Amway.”
I was amazed that she made the connection. I responded, “DeVos was a follower of Jesus. He took this discipleship and multiplication process which has been used around the world for two thousand years, and incorporated it into a business model. He saw a good model and built a business on it.”
“So, how does someone become a member? What are your membership requirements?”
We were looking at her notes of these 7 measurements. “The first two measures include the gospel. Gospel is an older English word for “good news”. As people understand how God loves them and what he has done for them, it is good news. So perhaps the best way to help you understand the membership process is to briefly list the key points of the gospel. There are four of them.”
So right there in our aluminum tube at 35,000 feet, she took notes about the “membership process”:
- God loves you and has a purpose in life for you that is full of joy and fulfillment and meaning.
- We cannot experience God’s love and purpose because we have sinned, and we are separated from God. (This led into quite a discussion about “original sin” and are babies evil.)
- Jesus Christ is God’s way of overcoming this separation. It is borne out of his nature and his love. (This led to a fascinating conversation about “exclusivity claims” among religions.)
- Each of us must personally accept God’s invitation to engage with him through Jesus’ substitution to overcome our sin and hence our separation.
There were many other threads to this conversation.
“Hasn’t science moved us beyond much need for a spiritual explanation for everything?”
I used our current situation: If airplanes had existed in the past, perhaps people would have explained flight as “angels get underneath the wings and lift them up.” But we know that modern flight is based on principles of science. Differences in pressure create lift on the wings. Heating causes gases to expand in the engines. Newton tells us that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Lift and propulsion move the airplane up and forward.
But my question is: Who created these scientific laws? How did they come into existence so that we could discover them and employ them to travel from Detroit to Orlando? They appear to be the product of some intelligence which designed them to work in productive ways for our benefit.
“I think I’m more of a Stephen Hawking type when understanding science.”
I told her of Dr. Fritz Schaefer, nominated 5 times for the Nobel prize. Dr Schaefer explained his perspective on science in a U.S. News and World Report article in 1991, “The significance and joy in my science comes in the occasional moments of discovering something new and saying to myself, ‘So that’s how God did it!’ My goal is to understand a little corner of God’s plan.” Dr. Schaefer has lectured on “Stephen Hawking, the Big Bang, and God.”
Janell shared more of her spiritual background. I sense that she knows about God, but more in the Stephen Hawking agnostic or deist approach. And God wants her to know him personally, as the forgiver of sins through Jesus and as the source of fulfillment and joy and purpose in life.
We exchanged business cards. I emailed two websites and she has responded thanking me for the conversation and the websites:
- EveryStudent.com. A safe place to ask questions about life and what it might be like to know God.
- Stephen Hawking, the Big Bang, and God, a lecture by Dr. Fritz Schaefer.
It was a fascinating conversation. God’s Spirit gave words to say and thoughts to share. I would never have imagined how a conversation on branding God could lead to an explanation of the gospel and ongoing exchange of emails.