God is into branding.
Not like the marking-your-cattle-with-a-hot-iron kind of branding. But the modern, business-world kind of branding: Using strategic words and imagery in order to convey a specific message to observers.
Think about it: When we see a white robe, we think purity, salvation, and heaven. When we see a cross, we think of Christ’s sacrifice, his life, and what it means to follow him. God stamps his name upon the heads of the 144,000 in the book of Revelation, to show others that they are of his brand. Branding is all over in the Bible, from God giving Cain a mark that let others know to back off, to Jesus comparing the Kingdom of Heaven to a mustard seed. Even titles like “Christian” and “Adventist” carry specific brand imagery to onlookers.
But a brand is not an image or a logo. A brand is not a word or a slogan. Those things are part of a brand and they are known as “brand identity;” but brand does not equal brand identity. An organization’s brand, boiled down to its core essence, is its reputation.[i]
The strongest argument for the Gospel is a loving and loveable Christian.
For example, when we think of Walmart’s brand identity (a smiley face, the phrase “Rollback,” etc.), we might associate the brand positively with a reputation of low prices or we might associate it negatively with a reputation of overseas sweatshops and poor employee compensation, depending on our experience with the organization. When we think of Chicago’s brand identity (a picture of their skyline, the phrase “The Windy City,” etc.), we might associate the brand positively with a reputation of sports, shopping and concerts or we might associate it negatively with a reputation of crime and terrible traffic, depending on our experience with the city. A brand identity–the obvious elements like a name, a logo or a phrase–conveys in an instant the entity’s reputation to the observer.
We find this sentiment of brand = reputation in the 3rd Commandment, where God tells his people not to take his name in vain. We often assume here that God is asking that we don’t use his name in swear words or in common colloquialisms, and he very well may not want us to do that. But this commandment is saying so much more. This is God telling his people that he is very serious about his brand (reputation) and we should make sure we’re committed to it as much as he is before going off and representing him to the world.
This brings us to a concept known in the business world as personal branding. Personal branding says that we each individually represent something to those who observe us. And if what we personally represent is not congruent with the organization we belong to, we have the ability to cast our brand (reputation) upon the organization’s brand (reputation), for better or for worse.
Consider the following quote from a brand mentor/image consultant:
“For any organization its reputation is communicated by its employees. The customers perceive the brand of the company by its employees.”[ii]
Of course, in a religious setting this principle wouldn’t just apply to “church employees” but to all Christians everywhere. As “employees” (read: members, believers), we convey God’s reputation to the world. That’s heavy, but it’s true.
By the way, what is God’s brand?
“Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:8
Ellen White echoed the above sentiments of God’s brand and our personal representation of it when she wrote, “The strongest argument for the Gospel is a loving and loveable Christian.”
Unfortunately, there have been many Christians and non-Christians who have misrepresented his brand over the years, and now we find ourselves in a world where people don’t really know what to think when they hear the word “God.” Rob Bell realized this conundrum and wrote a book about it called What We Talk About When We Talk About God.
In other words, the God brand has suffered to the point that many don’t know anything about him, or if they do they want nothing to do with him.
Back to the 3rd commandment: If we can’t be serious about living our lives the way God asks us to, and if we are going to misrepresent who he is in his love and goodness and glory, then maybe we should not call ourselves his people. We’ve all met a fellow Christian who acted in a hypocritical way and made us think: Yikes! He’s giving us Christians a bad name. And, let’s be real, we’ve all been that hypocritical person who gave Christianity a bad name at some point in our lives (in fact, even the act of calling someone else a hypocrite is hypocritical, unless it’s Jesus doing the name calling).
This is not to say that if we ever act foolishly (which we all do from time to time) we cannot call ourselves Christians. It simply means that we need to pay close attention to the God we love, worship, and represent, and ask ourselves this question: When others see us, are we upholding God’s brand or are we sullying it?
We may be dealing with spiritual and religious matters, but these are mainstream business principles.
My challenge is one, not of condemnation, but of self-evaluation: Are you accurately representing God’s brand to observers?
As stated above, God’s brand has suffered. Let’s change that! Let’s bring his brand back by showing the world the most powerful brand-testimony they’ve ever seen: Christians who love and want to serve others, as Christ has loved and served us. I’m a firm believer that it is our life’s work to tweak our personal brand until it is the very brand of God, so that when others look to us, they see the God we represent and want to serve him as well.
“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” 2 Corinthians 5:20
[i] Randy Shattuck, “The 6 Elements of Building a Strong Professional Services Brand,” http://www.peterhhelmer.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/The-6-Elements-for-Building-a-Strong-Professional-Services-Brand.pdf.
[ii] Ruchi S., “How Organizations Benefit from Personal Branding,” https://www.linkedin.com/groups/How-Organisations-benefit-from-Personal-4579790.S.5937474118193532930.
Zack Payne is the Associate Pastor at the Green Bay SDA Church in Wisconsin, and is currently pursuing his MDiv at Andrews University with a leadership emphasis. He loves listening to vinyl records, longboarding, baking, writing music, and chillin’ with Ally and Arthur, his wife and son.