Over the past three years I’ve noticed a rise in the amount of direct marketing or multi-level marketing (MLM) companies on my social media news feeds. Everywhere I look are photos and testimonies about the wonders of this dark spot correcting cream, essential oils, healthy shakes that aid in weight loss, and that body shaping wrap. What strikes me most about these posts is that they are coming from men and women in the church.
The church has become the marketplace and the members the main target audience for the multi-level marketing (MLM) businesses that I see advertising all over my news feeds. This is not a new phenomenon; the evangelical community has been the main recruiting place for MLM for years.
Parties hosted to sell products take the place of a small group meeting. Meeting someone new on Sunday turns into a recruitment sales pitch. I even have a friend who opened her door to receive a hand-delivered new baby gift basket from her church, only to be given a sales pitch by the deliverer for her skin care company’s baby line. The new mom went from feeling cared for to preyed upon in a matter of seconds.
If we aren’t careful, people can quickly become an opportunity for our financial gain instead of a brother or sister in Christ.
Let me say clearly that I don’t think in any way that being part of a MLM company is a sin. I mean who doesn’t want to look younger, feel younger, be skinnier, and live a healthier natural life while making an additional income? And MLM, according to the Federal Trade Commission, is distinct from a pyramid scheme because its sales people can make a profit from selling the product or service directly to the customer without necessarily recruiting more sales people below them.
With MLM, like all business pursuits, however, believers need to be careful to conduct themselves with wisdom and discernment. We need to be very careful to remember that the church isn’t a sales territory. Our business pursuits should never distract people on Sundays from worshiping God or hearing the gospel. In the same way that we wouldn’t want a politician to come in to push political beliefs or platforms on us during worship, our businesses shouldn’t invade our worship space either. When we are gathering with the church we need to be present, not allowing business to distract us or take us away from community. No sales team – even one built with men and women in the church – can substitute for the community of believers God calls you to live among.
I was in sales for years prior to coming on staff at the church where I now work. I love sales, everything about it. And I will fully admit there have been times where certain MLM ventures have looked enticing. But for me personally, “building my business” through an MLM pursuit and trying to minister to women through my ministry role could easily be areas where lines between serving the Lord, serving others and serving myself get really blurred. This is the area where I would caution us as we consider the prevalence of MLM within the church – making sure that we are intentional about serving the Lord and others first and foremost in all of our pursuits.
Here are a few things to ponder over as you build your business, sell your product, or even if you are considering joining someone’s MLM team:
What is your motivation? Is it to be seen as important? To belong? Will you tithe your earnings or keep the money you earn only for yourself? Is it all for you or is it an opportunity to further the gospel? “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
What will you be giving up to make it work? Do you have the time to really invest in what you are selling? How will your husband or children sacrifice for your new venture? Do your family and friends have any concerns over your involvement?
Do you talk more about the product you are selling or the team you are building than the Lord? What we talk about most is very revealing of what we love most. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). When you communicate about your product, just as any person in sales would, from the testimonies to the pictures you post, ask yourself - who is getting the glory of this story or photo? Which brings me to the last part . . .
Pictures. Use wisdom in the photos you choose to post. Is the photo too revealing? As a single man recently pointed out, “Many women won’t wear yoga pants but have no problem posting a before and after photo of themselves or a friend in a sports bra and short shorts to show progress.” He pointed this out to me while saying he was avoiding social media for now because it was awkward for him to see his friends' wives, or the woman leading worship that week, in nearly nothing on social media. Like anything concerning social media, we should ask ourselves, am I posting this to gain approval or attention from others? Am I pretending to point to Jesus when I'm really pointing to myself? Will it be helpful? Will it be harmful to anyone around me?
Just like in any business structure whether you are a barista, a doctor, or the top of your team for a MLM company, conduct your business with integrity and a purpose to point people to the Lord. Work in a manner that is worthy and bringing much glory to God.
Amanda Edmondson is on staff at Sojourn Community Church is Louisville, Ky where she serves as the Director of Women's Ministry and the Executive Assistant to Daniel Montgomery. You can follow her @amandaedmondson.