Have you ever looked at my stuff online and thought ‘That guy loves himself. He’s always trying to promote himself. What a tool.’? If you haven’t, I certainly have. I really don’t like self-promotion. I do self-promotion, but it always leaves me feeling a little bit dirty.
When you’re an author there is a pressure to promote yourself, to build a platform, to create content, to have a presence on social media. You keep hearing that publishers will be more interested in you if you have a platform. Being self-published, I need to promote myself, or at least my books, or no-one will know they exist. If no one knows about them, what’s the point of having them at all?
Why did I choose to self-publish? While the answer to that is a longer blog post for another week, the short answer, in terms of self-promotion, is that I was going to have to do self-promotion either way, so why not just do it myself? Still, I hate having to sell myself to the world.
When I was a young preacher, I knew I really wanted to get opportunities to preach. Especially to preach in places with big stages and big crowds. I knew that, while part of me was interested in people hearing about Jesus, a lot of me was interested in people hearing about Jesus from me. So I determined not to offer to preach anywhere, only to accept invitations to preach. The only time I broke this rule was when I moved to a new church and let them know I was available if they wanted me.
If you’ve seen my social media you might have noticed that I don’t stick to that rule anymore. If I’m travelling to Sydney, I’ll often let people know that I’m available to preach in case they want me. A few years ago I decided that if I have been gifted by God to communicate his word in a way that encourages others in their faith or helps people commit themselves to Jesus, then I should make myself available for people to make use of my gifts.
Still, I get uncomfortable doing this. It still feels a bit self-promotional. I’d rather things just happened organically. And I often wonder if I should just leave things be – if people want me for something they’ll contact me.
What is at the core of my discomfort? I would like to say that it’s my abundance of humility, but I suspect that actually, it’s pride. When I see people doing really overt self-promotion, especially Christians, I cringe. I think ‘Pull your head in, mate. You’re not Kanye, and not even Kanye is Kanye these days’. I don’t want people to look at me, and think ‘That’s the guy who is always just tooting his own horn and pushing his own barrow.’ I want people to look at me and say ‘Wow! What a funny, but self-effacing guy. He’s not like those other try-hards who promote themselves all over social media.’
So when I hold back from promoting myself, it’s pride. And when I promote myself, it’s pride.
I’m pretty sure there are plenty of us dealing with this. Social media has turned us all into self-promoters. What are we meant to do?
For me, I don’t think the solution, currently, is to just get off social media altogether, but perhaps it will be in the future. Nor is it to just let other people promote me and my stuff because I’m too ‘humble’ to do it myself, though perhaps I shouldn’t write that off either (without the false humility bit).
While I haven’t found the solution there are some things that I have found helpful:
Cheer everyone on
When I see people doing things that I want to be doing, I have to remind myself that what matters is not that I get to do it but that it gets done. If I want people to hear about Jesus then it doesn’t matter who they hear about him from. So when I encounter the twang of jealousy, I try to encourage the person if I know them or speak positively about them if I don’t. Sometimes, when I think of it, I pray for them and their ministry too. I’ve found it helps me get excited about the work of the kingdom above my work for the kingdom.
I also remind myself that other people probably look at me and the things I get to do and get jealous. So however mediocre, inadequate, unsuccessful and sinful I feel, I suspect the people I envy feel similarly.
Remind myself that Elijah had a ministry to ravens
In 1 Kings 17, before Elijah has become the great prophet, God calls him to hang out in a valley with some ravens before hanging out with a widow and her son. None of this is glamourous ministry, but it’s what God had for Elijah to do at that time, and so that was enough. By God’s grace, I have a ministry to more than ravens, but if I have peaked in terms of worldly ministry success, then that’s ok. If from now on only birds read my books (which would be weird because birds can’t read) I’ll need to be ok with that.
Don’t bury my treasure
In the parable of the bags of gold the ‘wicked servant’, unlike his good investing counterparts, takes the resources he’s been given by the master and buries them in the ground out of fear of the master. When the master gets back and discovers his servant has done nothing with what he’s been given the master isn’t impressed. We don’t have to be afraid of God, like the servant was, because God isn’t like the hard master. So shouldn’t that make us all the more eager to use what we have been given for the sake of God’s kingdom while we wait for Jesus’ return?
God has given me the gifts he has, he’s given me the platforms I have, he’s given me the time I live in, he’s given me the education I have, and the personality I possess. All these things are given to me to use for him. He hasn’t given them to me so I can bury them out of some false humility and fear of man. No, he expects me, with his help, and the help of others, to navigate the challenges of this era of ministry that I’m in – where you can have a ministry to people all over the world without leaving your house and you can say whatever you want to a potentially giant group of people without the traditional gatekeepers making sure what you’re saying is faithful and helpful. So when I share a book I’ve written, a video I’ve made, or I make myself available to preach, when it’s done for the sake of the kingdom and not my own fame, I’m sharing the treasure that God has given me for the multiplication of his kingdom.
Remind myself that I probably don’t want what I wish for
I regularly daydream about what would happen if I sold a million copies of my book. It’s embarrassing to admit, but it’s true. In my daydreams, my life stays pretty much the same, but I have a lot more money and people regularly invite me overseas to preach so I also have Gold or Platinum status on Qantas. But when I actually think about what it would be like if I did reach that level of success, I’d have pressure from people wanting more from me than I could give. I’d have thousands of people critiquing me and my theology. I’d have people judging me without knowing me. I’d be feeling the pressure to write the next bestseller or to always have something profound to say. And I’m sure we’ve all noticed what seems like a higher than normal level of moral failure of prominent people in ministry. I don’t need that kind of temptation in life. If I really mean it when I ask God to ‘save us from the time of trial’, success could be one of the things I’m asking him to save me from.
If I’ve had any mantra over the past few years it’s been ‘God calls us to faithfulness, not to success’. So what does faithfulness look like? As a non-exhaustive list, it’s to seek first the kingdom, love my wife, love my neighbour, be diligent in my work, hold fast to the gospel, and leave this world better than I found it. I can have exactly the right, most balanced, and humble promotional strategy but if I don’t have love it’ll just be a clanging gong or a banging cymbal. I could delete Facebook and Instagram and never get on stage and still be the most prideful, self-promoting fool around. Faithfulness asks different questions, not ‘What is the right way to do self-promotion?’ but ’What is the way of love for God and love for others?’ and ‘What builds God’s kingdom over my own?’ If I can keep answering those questions, and keep listening to others as they help me answer them, I should be on an okay path.
I’m pretty sure I haven’t figured out all this self-promotional stuff. I’m sure I’ll be struggling with pride and vanity till the day I die. On the other hand, I do also know that deeper than my desire to glorify myself is my desire to glorify God and grow his kingdom. I have to trust God that he is at work in me, fixing my heart in all the ways I cannot. God has been working with prideful disciples since he invented humans, I’m sure he can work with me, and in me, too.
And now for the self-promotion. The audiobook for Weird, Crude, Funny, and Nude: The Bible Exposed has just come out. If you want that, or any other version of my books, you should definitely get on it.