Character Over Talent

Several years ago, we had to ask a lead vocalist from our Arts Team to step down from the stage. There were character and maturity issues that the leadership staff collectively agreed disqualified her from being platformed in that way.

The goal was to work through those issues with her, in view of a potential return to what were clear talents and abilities.

Sadly, she was unwilling to make that journey.

She went to another church, and within two weeks (I kid you not, two weeks) that church had her on stage singing. It apparently never entered their mind to do any kind of background check on her, even informally calling our church to see if she was ‘safe’ to platform. All that mattered was her voice; and, to be sure, the gal could sing.

I wrote an entire chapter on “picking up the phone” in my book What They Didn’t Teach You in Seminary. Why church leaders don’t talk to each other when someone from a church down the street shows up on their doorstep, I’ll never know.

But for now, let’s think about the larger question: will you value character over talent? Answer: you must. I know there is no greater temptation – particularly in the area of music – where look and talent blind us. But we must open our eyes. Here are three reasons why:

  1. The Holy Spirit consistently shows up and works through character more than talent. It’s a question of doing something through the “flesh” or through the “Spirit.” The “Spirit” is better. You think the “hip” factor and the vocal range will be what grows your church. Nope. Not, at least, for the long haul.

  2. Character deficiency affects the entire team. Whether it’s ego, a negative attitude, a prima donna mindset, the undermining or disregard of leadership, juvenile behavior, relational divides, snarky comments or blatant immorality, such behavior infects the entire team and creates a demoralized and unhealthy culture. Like a cancer, it will spread from member to member.

  3. You run the very high risk – actually, probability – that the character deficiency will hurt the witness of your church and the impact of the ministry. If you have someone on stage who is seen by a first-time guest who happens to be their coworker, and that person is widely dismissed at work for their lack of character or charity, you have a witness problem. Or if the person’s Instagram postings, tweets or Facebook reveal a character or maturity that undermines the persona on stage, you have a witness problem. And not just a problem—you have a witness train wreck that affects the reputation of the entire church.

Character can be a tricky thing. We tend to think of it solely in terms of sexual immorality. While that is certainly a dynamic, I find it to be even more prevalent in terms of ego, narcissism, insubordination, negativity, gossip, slander, relational immaturity… the list goes on. 

So what are you looking for? Certainly gifts and abilities are a factor, but second only to character. And what are we looking for in terms of character? 

That’s easy.

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, along with humility and a servant’s heart. 

I’ll take that over looks and talent any day.

So will God.

James Emery White


James Emery White, What They Didn’t Teach You in Seminary (Baker).

Marketing Your Church: It’s Back to the Future

When I started Mecklenburg Community Church (Meck) back in the fall of 1992, there was one and only one way to jumpstart a launch and draw a crowd. 

Direct mail.

Phone banks were passé and annoying to people. Door-to-door visitation was even worse in terms of positive acceptance. Ads in the newspaper were expensive and largely confined to the “church” page, which, of course, the unchurched would ignore. And the internet? It didn’t exist in 1992. Not for the masses. So there was no way to use such things as email or social media or any kind of digital marketing.

With direct mail, you could anticipate approximately 2.5 - 3% return; so mail 10,000 invitations to your church start, and you could realistically hope and pray for 250 - 300 at the first service.

Those days didn’t last, and it wasn’t long before direct mail was so overused people became numb to “junk mail.” The new name of the marketing game became digital.

So what’s the new hot thing in marketing? 

Direct mail.

According to Printing Impressions: “Direct mail is having something of a Renaissance right now. A booming economy, coupled with ever more precise data sets – and the ability to make sense of them – has led to direct mail campaigns that are more targeted, and more effective, than ever before. Marketers and brands are returning to the medium, seeing the physical pieces as a premium tool they can use to cut through the digital clutter.”

I couldn’t agree more. In fact, speaking of digital clutter, it is forecast that 30% of consumers are already using ad-blockers. Remember how much fun it was to get surface mail in your mailbox? Direct mail appeals to an entire generation that has grown up with all of their messages delivered to them on a screen. At Meck, for these reasons and more, we have started to fold direct mail back into our own marketing efforts, and we have found renewed success.

But there are two keys to this success.

First, it must be targeted—not just to a group of consumers, but a group of individuals. “Personalized, relevant messaging is now a requirement for effective direct mail campaigns, especially when sent to Millennial and Gen Z consumers,” notes Jim Andersen, CEO of Chanhassen, Minnesota based IWCO Direct.

Second, any and all direct mail must provide a bridge to a digital experience. It should lead someone to visit a website and online browsing. “The tangible, physical nature of direct mail captures a prospect’s attention,” Andersen adds, “while QR codes, augmented reality and other technologies make that direct mail piece the springboard into a dynamic digital interaction between brands and prospects.”

Of course, the greatest marketing effort is word-of-mouth; in other words, people inviting people. But print and digital marketing has its place as we reach out with every avenue available to us for the sake of the gospel. 

And right now, staying on the cutting edge of that marketing means going back to the future.

James Emery White



Toni McQuilken, “The Top 5 Direct Mail Printers and Segment Outlook for 2019,” Printing Impressions, December 17, 2018, read online.

Quitting Day

Have you quit yet? If you have, it was probably around Thursday, January 17. If you haven’t, it should happen around Saturday, February 9.

As in quitting your New Year’s resolutions.

In a survey conducted by NPR and The Marist Poll last November, almost half of all American adults planned to make New Year’s resolutions. Leading the pack was the intent on exercising more.

An analysis from Strava found that we’re most likely to give up as early as mid-January. CityLab decided to look at data from Google and a fitness trade association, along with information collected from smartphones by Strava and Foursquare.

As you might expect, we start off strong. “Google trends shows that searches for topics related to exercise and weight loss spike right around January 1 each year.” Almost 11% of all gym memberships for the entire year are sold in January—greater than any other month.

Gym Membership Sales 2016.jpg

So when do we start to fall off the wagon? Strava says it’s the third Thursday of January when activities dip below the four-week average of activity. Foursquare looks at when there is the first uptick in fast food eating and the first downtick in exercise activity. The forecast for this year places that day “on February 9, the second Saturday of the month and just 40 days into the new year.”

You’ve been warned.

Fall of New Years Wagon.jpg

Not all resolutions are physical. Many, one would hope, are spiritual. Regardless of the intent, there are ways to avoid an early “Quitter’s Day.” Those who set goals last longer. Those who focus on one goal, and not multiple goals, last longer. Those who make it past the 40-day mark, turning the activity into a habit or way of living, last longer. If we exercise in groups, we last longer. If it’s an indoor activity that doesn’t involve heading to a gym, we last longer. One would be well served to read Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit for more about creating these wellness habits.

But perhaps the best advice from CityLab editor Linda Poon is to not set a New Year’s resolution at all: “January is arguably one of the hardest months to make such a commitment. Days are short and temperatures are frigid… [which] means our “natural instinct is to stay in, eat more—and make excuses for hitting the treadmill tomorrow.

So happy “Quitting Day”! But take heart, your next big shot at a resolution comes when it’s time to start thinking about summer, the beach and that bathing suit. Think May.

Which means “Quitting Day” for those resolutions should fall sometime in July.

James Emery White



Linda Poon, “The Rise and Fall of New Year’s Fitness Resolutions, in 5 Charts,” CityLab, January 16, 2019, read online.

Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.

The Need for Church Bookstores

*Editor’s Note: With the recent news of LifeWay closing even more of the last line of brick-and-mortar Christian bookstores, the Church & Culture team thought it worthwhile to share this blog from 2014.


As someone relatively familiar with the publishing industry, having just published my 20th book, I read Philip Yancey’s article in Books and Culture with great interest. Titled “Farewell to the Golden Age,” it is an informed and insightful analysis of the end of publishing as we have known it.

Beyond just analyzing the rise of eBooks and self-publishing, as well as the demise of bookstores and back catalogs, Yancey explores what has been lost. Here are a few of his points, along with some of my own:

  1. No longer can you walk into a bookstore and browse through multiple titles you didn’t know existed. Instead, if a particular book is of interest, you order it through Amazon without any awareness of better titles on the subject, other titles on the subject, or just other books in general that would serve your life.

  2. Authors are published and promoted not on the basis of writing skill or excellent content, but whether they front a large enough organization to buy large quantities of the title, have a marketing arm of their own, or the social media presence of the author is substantial. “Forget sample chapters; tell us how many followers you have on Twitter.”

  3. The bookstores that still exist are driven, by necessity, to sell what sells. Good and important books that have stood the test of time and need to be introduced to new readers (and new Christians), are not available. They are unknown, now, because stores don’t have the ability to keep large catalogs of books. They have to stock the latest bestsellers – regardless of quality – and not much else.

  4. Amazon and eBooks have killed off most “mom and pop” bookstores, including many seminary bookstores. Ironically, we are now seeing a leveling off of interest in eBooks and a desire for a “browsing” experience from online sellers.

  5. The Christian bookstores that have survived have done so by backing away from their namesake. Only about 30% of their inventory and/or sales come from books. The rest comes from what I not-so-affectionately refer to as “Jesus junk” (trinkets and religiously themed home décor).

Yet the need for Christian bookstores that are well stocked with vetted titles to serve new and existing Christians is staggering, especially in a day increasingly challenged in terms of a Christian worldview and a mind for God.

So in light of outdated economic models, what can be done?

The church can get involved. 

Consider the following:

  • An onsite church bookstore doesn’t have the overhead costs of a regular bookstore, such as rent or utilities. Further, volunteers can take the place of employees, freeing up even more costs.

  • Without the normal overhead, a church bookstore does not have to generate the revenue of a normal bookstore. In fact, since profit isn’t a motive, it’s simply a matter of breaking even in terms of cost-recovery (Or, if supplemented as a ministry expense, it doesn’t even have to reach that threshold.).

  • Without a profit motive, the inventory of the bookstore can be highly selective and entirely qualitative in nature. It’s a ministry, so the books can be chosen accordingly.

There is more, but I think you get the feel of the benefits. At Mecklenburg Community Church (Meck), where I serve as senior pastor, we have a bookstore and café at all of our campuses called “The Grounds.” Each book is carefully screened by me and other pastors/leaders for biblical and theological integrity. We carry titles that you won’t find at most other stores, but we consider them classics (or at least essential reading). We include reference works and study materials that few can afford to carry. The Grounds at our North Charlotte Campus is open not only on the weekends surrounding services, but throughout the week so that people can come and browse. Costs for each item are comparable to Amazon because we don’t have to carry the margin most stores would. And any and all profits beyond costs go toward our ministries and mission partners.

I know this would be a large endeavor for many churches. But if I can be so bold, many with quick excuses could offer this ministry if they wanted to. 

And it is a ministry.

When summarizing human devotion to God as involving heart, soul and strength, Jesus added “... and mind” to the original wording of Deuteronomy (Mark 12:29-30). It is as if He wanted there to be no doubt that when contemplating the comprehensive nature of commitment and relationship with God, that our intellect should not be overlooked. The apostle Paul contended that our very transformation as Christians would be dependent on whether our minds were engaged in an ongoing process of renewal in light of Christ (Romans 12:2-3).

And yes, reading an actual in-your-hands book matters to this.

As Yancey writes,

We still don’t know the long-term effects of reading eBooks vs. traditional hard copy books. Some studies show that people read slower on dedicated e-readers, and those who use tablets or computers or iPhones have a different reading experience, being constantly distracted by text messages, emails, Facebook, and other interruptions. Nicholas Carr’s The ShallowsWhat the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains explores the changes in brain function that may result. Hyperlinked, multi-tasking readers do not have the same “deep reading” experience, and are less likely to store what they read in long-term memory.

It is no wonder Paul wrote to Timothy from his jail cell asking him to bring him his books (II Timothy 4:13). 

How tragic would it be if there had been no books to bring?

Or any place to buy them.

James Emery White



Philip Yancey, “Farewell to the Golden Age: How Publishing Has Changed,” Books and Culture, July 2014, read online.

David Roach, “LifeWay to Reduce ‘Brick-and-Mortar Channel,’” Baptist Press, January 16, 2019, read online.

Meet Generation… Alpha

What do you make of a generation of young children who don’t want a puppy? 

They want an iPad instead.

Welcome to Generation Alpha, “the tech-savvy young children of millennials whose rising influence could soon make Gen Z an afterthought.” As a recent article in Advertising Age revealed, “they’re already playing an outsize role in household buying decisions, even though the oldest among them are only 9 years old.”

A bit of generational catch-up.

The three big generational groups that most are familiar with are Baby Boomers, followed by Baby Busters (Generation X), followed by Millennials (Generation Y).

The newest cohort receiving attention is Generation Z, those born between 1995 and 2010. My own book, Meet Generation Z, was designed to introduce their distinguishing marks – currently the largest of the generations – and how they can be reached for Christ.

Generation Alpha, arguably too early to name and too early to designate, are those born beginning in 2010 (the same year Apple debuted the iPad). 

And while early in the generational game, there are some interesting characteristics to take note of. Here are three:

  1. They are more comfortable swiping a tablet or speaking to a voice assistant than most of their adult relatives. Hotwire issued a report that found that 81% of parents in the U.S. say the habits and needs of their children influenced their last technology purchase. “This makes them a critical gateway for marketers looking to get in good with their parents.” Fitbit, Crest and Walgreens are already developing “Alpha strategies.”

  2. They are going to be a large generation. Mark McCrindle, a social researcher in Australia who coined the phrase “Generation Alpha”, estimates that more than 2.5 million of them are born every week. He also sets 2025 as the last year Alphas will be born. By then, McCrindle estimates there will be more than 2 billion. This will slightly eclipse even Generation Z, which will reach 1.8 billion globally at that time.

  3. They will be a well-equipped generation. “Generation Alpha will be the most formally educated generation ever,” says McCrindle, “the most technologically-supplied generation ever, and globally the wealthiest generation ever.”

Anything beyond these three broad assessments lies in the realm of prediction, such as the idea that most of them won’t start having children until at least 13 years after graduating from high school. Or that “more than one in three Alpha women will never have children.” Or that while they will live longer than earlier generations due to medical intervention, “they will experience more health problems largely related to increasingly sedentary lives.”

Um… the oldest member of Generation Alpha is nine. I don’t think they are thinking about when, or if, they are going to start having children.

But McCrindle is probably wise with his suggested name for this new generation. It’s not just about starting the alphabet over again (After “Z”, where else is there to go?), but also to “signify this different generation will be raised in a new world of technological integration.”

We’re only just beginning to learn what that means for Generation Z. It will be fascinating or terrifying (or both) to watch it unfold even more organically among Alphas.

James Emery White


Adrianne Pasquarelli and E.J. Schultz, “Move Over Gen Z, Generation Alpha Is the One to Watch,” Advertising Age, January 22, 2019, read online.

“Generation Alpha,” Hotwire, read online.

The Choice to Read

The critical importance of reading reminds me of something I read long ago; so long ago that the author now escapes me. But I recall it was a lament for a book never read. The loss of pages never turned, covers never opened, words never seen. A single book can deepen your understanding, expand your vision, sensitize your spirit, fill your soul, ignite your imagination, stir your passions and widen your wisdom. There truly can be mourning for a book that is never read; mourning for the loss of what our lives could have held and what we could have accomplished.

Yet how can we become active readers in the midst of the frantic pace of our lives? It is tempting to view the act of sitting down with a book – much less many books – as a luxury afforded those with unique schedules or privileged positions in life. In truth, it’s available to us all. It’s simply a matter of choice or, perhaps more accurately, a series of choices.

To read, you must first position yourself to read. I have learned to keep books around me. When I travel, when I take my car to have the oil changed, when I go to the doctor’s office… I always have a book or journal, magazine or article. At the very least I have a phone or tablet that holds my reading material. If you were to look around my home, you would see stacks of books everywhere—on the tables by the side of beds, on the floor by chairs. 

But this reflects a deeper decision in relation to reading. Having a book at hand is only of use if I choose to spend available time reading it. Key to that choice is the word “available.” I once heard Jim Collins, known best as the author of business titles, comment that we do not need to make more “to do lists,” but rather a few “stop doing lists.”

And there is little doubt what needs to be at the top of that list. 

According to the most recent “Time Use Survey” from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, after you take out the time we spend sleeping, grooming, eating and drinking, working our vocational jobs, housework, laundry, lawn and garden care, caring for pets, shopping, caring for our spouse, caring for our kids and classes we might be taking,

… the average American still has around five hours of leisure per day. 

And guess what we spend most of it on. Yes, TV. Right at around three hours a day. Whether it’s live TV, streaming videos, or DVDs – whether on computers, tablets, phones or an actual television – three hours a day.

I know that in my life, the greatest opposition to reading is what I allow to fill my time instead of reading. To say we have no time to read is not really true. We have simply chosen to use our time for other things, or have allowed our time to be filled to the exclusion of reading.

It reminds me how Neil Postman once noted that the great fear of George Orwell, as conveyed in his novel 1984, was of a day when there might be those who would ban books. Aldous Huxley’s portrait of the future in Brave New World was more prescient. Huxley feared that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.

I remember a time when my family and I traveled to Disney World in Orlando, Florida. There for a week, our pattern was to go to the parks early in the morning, come back to the hotel for a mid-afternoon break, and then go back out for the evening. One day, during one of the afternoons back at the hotel, we were sitting in the atrium around a table doing what came naturally to us as a family. 

We were reading. 

My oldest daughter was tearing through the latest installment of Harry Potter in order to pass it on to her siblings; my other daughter was soldiering her way through Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov; my oldest son was reading Tolkien’s trilogy The Lord of the Rings; and my youngest son was laughing uproariously over some unfortunate event conceived by Lemony Snicket. 

I had my own stack of books beside me, as if they were a mound of pastries that I couldn’t yet decide which to eat first. A history by David McCullough, I believe, finally won. My wife, bless her soul, was actually reading one of her husband’s books. 

Martyrs still exist.

A woman walked over to our table, openly marveling at seeing six people – and particularly four children—reading. She said it was a wonderful sight and wondered how we did it. I remember thinking that we didn’t do anything—we genuinely enjoyed reading. But there was something that caused my children to love a book. It started by doing what my mother did, which was talking about books like they were truly a pleasure. Then, throughout her life, modeling a life that read. 

But then another thought entered my mind. What led us to read that day? The same thing that had led us to read a thousand days before. On that day, upon returning to the hotel room, the TV went on just like it would in your family. But then Susan and I instinctively said to our kids: “Why don’t you get a book and read instead? Come on, let’s go out together and sit by a table and read.” 

So we did. But first, the choice had to be made. Oh, and once the choice was made, an astonishing thing happened.

Books were read.

James Emery White



James Emery White, A Mind for God (InterVarsity Press).

Joe Pinsker, “What American Men Do with Their Extra Half Hour of Daily Leisure Time,” The Atlantic, January 7, 2019, read online.

Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (New York: Penguin, 1985), p. vii.

The State of Apatheism

In the first ever “State of Theology” survey conducted in the UK, adults were asked what they believed about God, Jesus Christ and more. The headline? A third of all surveyed responded “I don’t know” to many of the questions.

 For example, to the statement “There is one true God in three persons: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,” 29% agreed, 39% disagreed and 32% replied “don’t know.”

Or consider this: “Biblical accounts of the physical (bodily) resurrection of Jesus are completely accurate. This event actually occurred.” Only 20% agreed, 46% disagreed and, again, 34% didn’t know.

Even more, 36%, didn’t know whether to agree or disagree with the statement “God counts a person as righteous not because of one’s own works, but only because of one’s faith in Jesus Christ.”

In fact, an article on the study concluded that “‘I don’t know’ was the top response to numerous questions about Jesus, sin, the Bible, salvation and other rudimentary theological concepts.”

“It’s actually tragic when you look at the survey and you see so many saying ‘I don’t know,’” Stephen Nichols, chief academic officer of Ligonier Ministries and president of Reformation Bible College, told Premier Christian Radio. “These aren’t just matters of life and death; these are matters of eternal life and eternal death. There can’t be any more consequential questions than the questions on this survey and so these ‘I don’t knows’ are really troubling.”

Yes, they are.

There are several responses that could be made to the seeming shrug of the shoulders toward theology. The most hopeful is, “Well, if they don’t know, let’s go tell them!” Yes, that would be the place to start. But it might be helpful to realize that there is more than mere ignorance at play. What if their “I don’t know” actually betrays a lack of interest, and not simply a lack of certainty?  My sense is this would be the more accurate assessment.

There was an article in the Atlantic Monthly in which the author was describing his spiritual condition. Someone asked him about his religion. He was about to say “Atheist” when it dawned on him that this wasn’t quite accurate. 

“I used to call myself an atheist,” he ended up responding, “and I still don’t believe in God, but the larger truth is that it has been years since I really cared one way or another. I’m (and this was when it hit him) an... apatheist!” 

He then went on to describe his state as a “disinclination to care all that much about one’s own religion, and an even stronger disinclination to care about other people’s.” 

But it’s what he wrote next that haunted me.

“I have Christian friends who organize their lives around an intense and personal relationship with God, but who betray no sign of caring that I am an unrepentantly atheistic Jewish homosexual. They are exponents, at least, of the second, more important part of apatheism: the part that doesn’t mind what other people think about God.”

And sadly, this seems an accurate reflection of our day. In a U.S. version of the same “State of Theology” study, to the statement, “It is very important for me personally to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus Christ as their Savior,” a mere 38% of American evangelicals strongly agreed.

So while there was widespread lament to the “I don’t know” headline of the survey, the greater lament should surround the greater headline, true of believers and non-believers alike:

“I don’t care.”

James Emery White



“The State of Theology,”, read online.

Griffin Paul Jackson, “Brits’ Top Response to Theology Questions? ‘Don’t Know.’” Christianity Today, November 23, 2018, read online.

Jonathan Rauch, “Let It Be,” The Atlantic Monthly, May 2003 Issue, read online.

The Ruthless ABCs of New Year Leadership

The start of a new year is always a time of reflection and recalibration, particularly in the life of a leader. Beyond our own personal lives, we have a team, an organization or a company we are responsible for leading.

So how do you approach that role at the start of a new year?

I put myself through the “ABCs.” I will present these in the context of leading a church, but they apply to any leadership role.

A – Advance

First, I think through what will advance the church. By this I mean raw numerical growth from the unchurched and the expansion of ministry impact. The goal is to move the ball down the field, to advance the cause of Christ… so what can be done to achieve that?  

B – Better

Next, I try to evaluate how we can simply do better at what we’re already doing in terms of efficiency (doing things right) and effectiveness (doing the right things). These are reflections on quality and performance.

C – Control

Finally, though I’m sure we could come up with leadership explorations for every letter of the alphabet, I think about control. This is about maintaining appropriate control of your vision and values, culture and DNA—not to mention the more obvious control of output and decision making. Leaders provide order instead of anarchy, unity instead of division, missional focus instead of a handful of tactics in search of a strategy.

These ABCs should be pursued ruthlessly. By that I mean with bloodless calm and collected emotion. Here’s why: You will find areas where you need to change. You may even be entering an era where this annual exercise leads you to a massive change, say, in strategic emphasis or methodology.

That’s when the ABCs get scary, but also when they bring the most helpful organizational change. But leaders must work steadfastly, pray diligently and seek counsel humbly to know when it’s time to…

… quit something,
… start something,
… fix something,
… end something,
… move something,
… try something,
… transition something,
… change something, or
… redirect something. 

And they must do it with their organization’s best future in mind. Not their ego, not whether it will mean more work for them, not whether it will stir the pot of controversy… but whether it is best.

I’m in the thick of my New Year’s ABCs right now, and I can honestly tell you that I’m not sure I’ve ever had the Holy Spirit prompt me to consider more draconian steps in my 30-plus years of ministry. Steps that would be revolutionary for the church I lead. I am not sure if the prompting to “consider” will result in the prompting to execute. But that’s the benefit of the exercise—to force any and all considerations so that I can spell out next steps.

And that’s why you learn your ABCs, isn’t it? To spell things out?

James Emery White

Lifestyle Brands

A burrito isn’t a burrito. Not if you’re Chipotle. 

It’s a lifestyle brand.

“Our ultimate marketing mission is to make Chipotle not just a food brand but a purpose-driven lifestyle brand,” says Christopher Brandt, the company’s chief marketing executive. “Chipotle will become a brand that people will want to know about, want to be a part of and want to wear as a badge.”

Add in Godiva, which has publicly noted the company’s desire “to be seen as a lifestyle brand by leveraging their culinary expertise to expand beyond chocolates.”

Who else has jumped onto the intentional “lifestyle brand” bandwagon? 

Pizza Hut, Blue Apron, IHOP… need I go on?

All to say, burn the phrase “lifestyle brand” into your psyche. Companies are trying the strategy “of using emotion and shared values to build relationships with consumers—and sell them more stuff.” To many, it brings to mind the 1971 jingle that if you wanted “to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony,” you bought a Coke.

But back to Chipotle.

“You kind of make an evolution from having fans of your brand to people being friends with the brand and inviting the brand in, wanting to see the brand do different things and talking to the brand in a different light,” Brandt said. “Not just — ‘I went to Chipotle.’”

That said, trying to equate a fondness for burritos with something greater may cause more than a few eye rolls.

“When I hear people talk about ‘lifestyle brands’ or ‘societal brands’ or ‘purpose-driven brands’ or what have you, it’s all marketing spin to me,” said David B. Srere, chief strategy officer at Siegel+Gale, a brand consultancy. “Any good brand should do all of those things.”

Still, there is a value to the “mumbo jumbo,” Mr. Srere said, adding, “If calling it a lifestyle brand begins to move them and get the company to think differently about the brand and move to a more meaningful role, then that’s fine.”

The rise of “lifestyle” marketing ploys are largely the result of companies worrying about their brands fading into the background or losing customers in a crowded marketplace. Brands are playing the long game as they aim for hearts and minds.

“It’s not an overnight thing to be a lifestyle brand,” said Brandt. “You have to be consistent and find the messages that resonate with people and you have to do it over a period of time.” He pointed to Chipotle’s recent initiatives to run ads on shows that generate chatter like “Real Housewives” and a sponsorship tied to Fortnite players.

“The journey’s begun, but there’s no finish line,” he said. “We’ll keep telling our message and championing what we think makes us special.”

It goes without saying that if there should be anyone in the “lifestyle brand” business, it should be the church.

But are we intentionally trying even half as much as people selling burritos?

James Emery White



Sapna Maheshwari, “When Is a Burrito More Than Just a Burrito? When It’s a Lifestyle,” The New York Times, July 29, 2018, read online.

New Year’s Resolutions for You and Your Church

It’s that time of year again. 

We’re going to lose weight, exercise more, get out of debt, stick to a budget, stop smoking, save for the future and spend more time with family.

We make resolutions because we want to bring change to bear on our circumstances. We want to improve ourselves and our quality of life. And the top resolutions, for most people, tend to revolve around the same three poles: money, health and family.

But what would a set of New Year’s resolutions look like for you and your church, your role as a leader, or simply as someone who wants to live a life of strategic Kingdom investment?

And specifically, what if they came from the Bible?

Though many more could be added, here are 15 to consider:

1.  Pray more.

So he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord… ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’” says the Lord Almighty. (Zechariah 4:6, NIV)

2. Invest in your spiritual gift(s). 

Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you. Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. (I Timothy 4:14-15, NIV)

3. Get more intentional about evangelism.

I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. (I Corinthians 9:22, NIV)

4. Care for yourself spiritually.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (Philippians 3:12, NIV)

5. Make the tough decisions you know are best.

And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me — the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace. (Acts 20:22-24, NIV)

6. Confront debilitating patterns of sin.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. (Hebrews 12:1, NIV)

7.  Do the hard work needed to build community.

If your brother or sister sins against you, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. (Matthew 18:15, NIV)

8. Keep in touch with contemporary culture.

From the tribe of Issachar, there were 200 leaders… All these men understood the signs of the times and knew the best course for Israel to take. (I Chronicles 12:32, NLT)

9. Quit comparing yourself to other Christians, other leaders, and other churches.

Turning his head, Peter noticed the disciple Jesus loved following right behind. When Peter noticed him, he asked Jesus, “Master, what’s going to happen to him?” Jesus said, “If I want him to live until I come again, what’s that to you? You – follow me.” That is how the rumor got out among the brothers that this disciple wouldn’t die. But that is not what Jesus said. He simply said, “If I want him to live until I come again, what’s that to you?” (John 21:20-23, Msg)

10. Read more.

Timothy, please come as soon as you can… When you come, be sure to… bring my books… (II Timothy 4:9, 13, NLT)

11. Prioritize your family.

A leader must be well-thought-of, committed to his wife… attentive to his own children and having their respect. For if someone is unable to handle his own affairs, how can he take care of God’s church? (I Timothy 3:2-5, Msg)

12. Refuse to use ministry to satisfy your personal ambition.

Should you then seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them. (Jeremiah 45:5, NIV)

13. Love people, not just crowds.

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love. (I Corinthians 13:1-3, Msg)

14. Be more open to change.

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? (Isaiah 43:19, NIV)

15. Stay focused on the vision.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and signs were performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47, NIV)

James Emery White


Editor’s Note: This past blog is a favorite of the Church & Culture team and has become a New Year’s tradition. Enjoy!