Once upon a time, there was a creature known as the Portuguese toothfish. When American seafood started trending, it seemed like a natural fit. The toothfish was large, tasty, and relatively easy to catch. A perfect pairing. One problem, though — turns out, no one wanted to eat something called a toothfish. So the powers that be decided it would be known instead as a Chilean seabass. Problem solved.
Branding makes a difference. A would-be restaurateur named Guy Ferry? Who cares? The same bleachy, spiky fellow named Guy Fieri? My daughter will drive across Florida to eat his chicken fingers.
It’s easy for us to pretend that it doesn’t. “Quality will win out,” says the owner of “Bob’s Place for Food,” the best eatery you’ve never heard of. “It’s not fair!” he yells to the skies two months later when he declares bankruptcy.
But branding the church? Isn’t that heretical? Only if the image takes over and squeezes out the actual “bread of life” (John 6:35 — see what I just did there?) that we are trying to serve to our neighbors. I see no point in bending over backward to appeal to folks who have no interest in spiritual things. On the other hand, Paul himself became “all things to all men” (1 Corinthians 9:22).
Our neighbors want a welcoming spirit. They want practical life guidance. Jesus provides these things as side benefits of the gospel. As long as we don’t change the gospel itself, we may discuss them as a means of segueing into more spiritual concepts. That’s not compromise; that’s fishing for men in a way that they may be caught.