This is an underserved topic, and one which will see some more development here over the next few months. Meanwhile, to get the conversation started, please take a look at this response from Jonathan Leeman in the 9 Marks Mailbag.
View the original here
Hello! I’m wondering whether Christians should be involved with multilevel marketing, like Amway, for example. I’d also like to know what to do if someone who claims to be a believer is involved, but doesn’t go to the same church as I do.
I’m glad you asked since this is a subject Christians don’t always give much thought to, particularly in the context of their church relationships.
At the most abstract level, multilevel marketing is simply one form of direct sales that is neither good or bad in itself. It’s a tool that can be used well or poorly. A pyramid scheme, of course, would be a very bad (and illegal in many countries) use of the model. At the same time, when a real estate or insurance salesman has someone selling for him or her, and they receive a portion of the commission, that effectively is a form of multilevel marketing. And I don’t have a moral objection to that, as such.
But now let me offer a couple of cautions. First, you should always ask whether the product you are selling actually helps people to live better lives. If your company seems more interested in signing up others to sell than it is in selling the product, take that as a big red flag. Realize also that multilevel marketing organizations, both the good and bad ones, love churches because churches are one of the few remaining places that autonomous Westerners structure their lives around a community, and the organizations are only too happy to take advantage of those relational webs.
Second, whether you are selling insurance, real estate, Amway, Arbon, Cutco, Mary Kay, Juice Plus, Tupperware, or whatever the latest suburban living room party product is, you don’t want to exploit your church relationships to make the sale. Just as I wouldn’t want an insurance agent joining my church so that he can phone his way through the membership directory, so I would caution someone against emailing all their friends at church in order to talk about Arbon or Juice Plus.
The reason is, we want our church relationships to be used to pursue much more important matters, namely, helping one another prepare for eternal life. And we don’t want anything to interfere with that.
I remember people felt slightly suspicious about a couple who sold Amway in my church as a kid. Were they using relationships just to make a sale? To some extent, they jeopardized their ability to enter into fully transparent, vulnerable, sin-confessing, hope-encouraging relationships with other people. They worked against their own spiritual good. And goodness, how much more important to help one another begin living eternally now rather than expanding our current client base!
(Full disclosure: I spent two weeks the summer between college and graduate school selling Cutco knives to my parent’s friends in the church. It was horrible! But I still have an awesome set of knives.)
Am I saying that someone involved in a multi-level marketing program should never invite a fellow church member to consider their product? No, assuming that product is in some shape or form legitimate, but I would strongly caution pastors against doing so, and I would want to have a conversation with any member who was pushing into church relationships with their product. I’d want to know more specifics. I know of situations where pastors needed to tell members to stop involving other members entirely.
On the other hand, my friend and fellow church member Jason is a real estate agent, and he does an exemplary job of serving our church members through his profession (including me). But he doesn’t pursue us. We pursue him. There is no doubt in people’s mind that he loves them as people, not as potential clients.
There is a larger conversation here, and that is, how do we balance church relationships with professional competencies? You don’t want the real estate agents or doctors or handymen in your church to feel like you only contact them when you need their professional expertise.
Much depends upon judgment. Yet thanks for raising the subject, because my sense is that many Christians can be careless about these things, including me. The solution is to make sure we’re loving our fellow members for eternity’s sake more than ourselves for this world’s sake.
So – what do you think – Let’s get the conversation started – and then I will tell you what I really think! 🙂