Recently, Forbes announced that NBA legend Michael Jordan has become the first billionaire professional athlete. Jordan’s net worth certainly can be attributed to his prowess and accomplishments on the basketball court, but what really made him a billionaire is his ownership stake in the Charlotte Hornets and, more importantly, his brand.
Jordan was arguably the first and most successful athlete to leverage his name as a brand. His partnership with Nike to create the Jordan line of athletic apparel was a game changer in its day and has paved the way for a myriad of superstars to follow in his wake.
Today, celebrities, athletes and business professionals alike seek to advance their personal brands and build their platforms in order to increase influence and affluence. Where entourages used to consist of trainers and accountants, they’ve now been replaced by “brand strategists” and “platform gurus.”
Social media has become one of the primary vehicles to accelerate one’s brand. Twitter and Instagram followers represent influence, and self-promotion is the name of the game. In fact, the very idea of social media carries with it at least a slight hue of narcissistic presumption.
Of course the church is not immune to the cult of personality and the culture of self-promotion. High-profile Christian celebrities and pastors are easily criticized for manipulating book sales, buying Twitter followers and using speaking engagements to promote their brands.
But what if I told you this allure toward pride is not limited just to the big shots? At the root of this is every man’s sinful desire for self-importance. Each of us seeks his own way. Each of us craves attention, significance and recognition. Even in a wholesome desire to serve the Lord and to make a difference for his kingdom, we can be easily sidetracked to make much of ourselves, whether intentionally or unintentionally.
I don’t think most Christians have a calculated, self-conscious plan to build their brands. At first blush, we recoil at the thought of pride and self-promotion. But the incipient nature of pride works its way into our thoughts and actions quietly. What we think are noble aspirations to build his kingdom can sometimes be tainted with a desire to build ourselves up. It’s a vice we must all fight.
Added to this is the relative newness of social media. For most of us, we’re still evaluating this phenomenon’s virtues and vices. This article is not a knock on social media. I’ve used Facebook and Twitter for years. I enjoy the personal interactions afforded, and I’m fascinated by the way it’s woven into the fabric of our relationships. Social media can be a powerful and helpful tool, even for Christians. As with any tool, we must be wise how we use it.
Simply stated, Christians are not brands. We are disciples. And as disciples, we should emulate our Lord. In Philippians 2:3-5, Paul exhorts believers to reflect Christ through humility, doing nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.
The Bible is clear that God is the one who raises up individuals to places of influence. In his sovereignty, he often gives us platforms, but they’re to be used for his glory, not our own. I’m always encouraged to see Christians who get this. The Lord obviously has his hand on them and has given them a strategic voice, and they aren’t trying to leverage it for their own glory.
How do we guard against pride in our uses of social media? How do we emulate our Savior’s humility across a medium that tempts us toward self-promotion? To some degree, this is a matter of conscience, but here are a few places to start:
1. Check your motivations.
Before you tweet something, stop and consider your goal. Are there any hidden desires to make yourself look good or important?
2. Take inventory of your social media posts.
Occasionally, I look over the last six months of Tweets, Facebook posts, and Instagram images and ask the questions, “If someone only knew me by what was posted here, what would they think? Is this an accurate portrayal of my life, or is it what I want people to think about me?”
3. Avoid sharing or retweeting good things about yourself.
If someone posts something nice about you, it’s OK to like or favorite it or even to reply with a thank you. But reposting kudos is self-congratulatory. This includes putting a period in front of the reply or quotes around it followed by “//Thanks” so others will see it.
4. Beware of the humble brag.
This may be a new term for you, but it’s basically when someone publicly pats himself on the back in a seemingly humble way. For example, someone may tweet, “Grateful to give $1 billion of my own money to a local charity.” The line here between thankfulness and false humility can be fuzzy. He may be genuinely thankful, or he may just want to tell everyone how awesome he is.
Honestly, I’ve been guilty of all of these. Pride knows no bounds in our self-conscious, depraved hearts. But by God’s grace we can guard against pride and build the kingdom instead of building our own brands.