Our Addiction to Self-Promotion

its-all-about-meA few years ago I was asked to speak at a conference for youth and community workers.  The person who had invited me didn’t know me well but had been involved in an online campaign that I had helped start. I soon realised my host was under a misapprehension that I was a lot more well-known than I actually am.

So, very enthusiastically, he decided to introduce me to the 300 or so people at the conference by saying:

“Well I am really excited everyone, because today we have JON KUHRT here to speak to us.”

You could tell by the way he said it that he was expecting some kind of response – maybe a smattering of applause or perhaps even a whoop. But all he got was blank faces.

Undaunted, he continued to introduce me, and then decided to conduct a straw poll to verify his belief in my fame:

“So who here has heard of Jon Kuhrt?”

You can visualise the tumbleweed blowing down an empty street. It was an awkward moment, to say the least.

I think a total of two people put their hands up. One, rather unconvincingly, said “I think I have…” That proved to be the highpoint. The other said “I know his brother – does that count?”

My host could not hide his disappointment with my lack of fame. The only person who was happy about the whole episode was my wife. She thought it was hilarious.

Self-promotion in the Church

It made me reflect on the whole issue of profile and self-promotion within the Church.  It reminded me of when I once asked to write a prayer resource for a large Christian network and the leader encouraging me to do it by saying: “It will be very good for your profile.”

And with social media we can all be addicted to self-promotion. Many people don’t seem to be able to do anything without telling the world they are doing it via Facebook or Twitter. More than ever we have opportunities to promote what we are doing, thinking, feeling and achieving. And Shares, Likes, Re-Tweets and Blog Stats mean we have instant statistical feedback about how many people are bothered.

Craving recognition

But Jesus gives an incredibly counter-cultural example when it comes to profile and promotion. He went out of his way to downplay what he was doing, avoiding big crowds and consistently not doing what his supporters wanted him to. Even his brothers did not understand his approach:

“No one who wants to be a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things show yourself to the world.” (John 7:4)

Jesus’s approach challenges our own cravings for recognition. Speaking on platforms, tweeting and blogging should never become too central to anyone’s identity. It’s dangerous. With the rise of social activism within the Church, it can be a subtle temptation for us to want to be known as someone concerned about poverty and justice rather than someone truly engaged in the work.

Integrity and motivations

Following Jesus is not about being unduly modest or withdrawing from public engagement. The key factor is making sure there is an integrity between who we are and what we present to others – our public profile needs to be in sync with our private actions.

And our motivations need to be right – the light of faith should shine out so that others can see it, but not in order to make us look good. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it in The Cost of Discipleship:

“Our activity must be visible, but never be done for the sake of making it visible.”

Or as a wise colleague of mine used to say:

“What is done on the pavement is more important than what is said on the platform.”

(This article was originally published on the threads website on 3rd October)

About Jon Kuhrt

Jon Kuhrt works with people affected by homelessness, offending and addictions at the West London Mission. He, his wife and three children are part of Streatham Baptist Church and he is a member of the Christians on the Left. He likes football...but loves cricket.
This entry was posted in Ethics & Christian living and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Our Addiction to Self-Promotion

  1. Kevin says:

    I’ve no idea who you are, but I’m glad you said this. The tendency towards self-promotion is massive in the relatively small Christian world. We must be different, but it’s bl**dy hard treading the fine line between positive visible and self-promoting visible; telling people about good stuff, or important stuff, without it being actually telling them about me. You’re good at practicing what you preach, saying stuff and getting on with stuff. Keep it up.

    Now, just in case I’m only commenting out of desire for self-promotion because WordPress tells me it will get me more hits, I’m going.

  2. Good story, especially the bit about Nikki.
    It makes a good modern day parable.

  3. Reblogged this on and commented:
    Thanks Jon for these thoughts. Similar thoughts have been vexing me for a long time…as Christians we seem to be so vulnerable to these kinds of issues, and didn’t the Apostle Paul have something to say about this? The tragedy is that often we don’t even realise we are guilty of boasting, seeking significance and promoting ourselves be it through facebook or in other ways…sober reflection needed.
    Andy

  4. Paul Lewis says:

    Laughed out loud in the Quiet Zone. Thanks.

  5. Jeannie says:

    This is really important, Jon. At root it springs from a (very valid) need to be seen … from childhood… but we need to be healed people (or on the way to it, we never get there) so that we begin to know our significance as children of the Father. Otherwise our need to feed our ego will eat at our soul, and people will sense a disconnect between our words and our inner world. The reason Jesus did not need to self-promote is because he knew who he was (john 13…)
    Thank you for this, another thought-provoking blog.

  6. Corin says:

    Jon, I loved this, Jeannie, your comments were particularly resonant; It all comes down to identity. ‘People will sense a disconnect between our words and our inner world,’ Accordingly, I’ve been pondering if it’s actually possible to operate in anything other than our ‘false self’ in our use of social media in particualr, and how varied the ‘hooks’ are in trying to navigate it. Consider how implicitly prescriptive its rules of image self- curation are. Despite being superficially without boundary, even in the worthiest of posts, I’d suggest there are only a few acceptable messages it will allow you to convey : 1) I am relevant and clever 2) My life is rich 3) I am witty. Anything that falls outside this becomes problematic. These seem ‘ok’ until we compare them with the message at the core of the gospel in terms of our true significance; they can easily become barriers to engaging with a love that encourages help us die to self and ultimately become what we are. Our need for significance is real, but I’m not sure that the energy I/ we put into fb/ twitter helps that at all. More often than not, I know it perpetuates something that really I’d be better off without.

  7. Pingback: Honour where it’s due: Neil Jameson, Citizens UK and the difference between profile and genuine influence | Resistance & Renewal

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s