Monday, 24 February 2020

The Selfless Self-Promotion Conundrum - by Ben Morton



Chances are, if you’re reading this, then you’re at least vaguely aware of the world of modern social media. It’s an ocean of voices constantly sharing opinions, tips, rants or whatever stray thought happens to coalesce. It seems like millions of people are crying out to the web to be noticed in the hope that the others will take a break from the same activity to listen for a bit. 


Chances are, you’ve been caught up in the drive to promote your own sense of style and worth - or your collection of favourite hobby-horses or soap-boxes - to build your public profile and show the world who you really are. We all seem to have the idea that it is important to make our online presence an extension of our own carefully crafted façade so that people around us can ‘get us.’


Chances are, you’ve heard that as a writer you need to ‘build a platform', ‘promote your brand', 'publicise your work' and post more content to garner more followers. And if you’re a Christian there’s a fair chance that thinking about this issue makes you feel just a bit icky. 


Yeah, me too.


What are we to do with the fact that the Christian faith is one where humility is prized, and the individual’s identity is found in belonging to the broader body of Christ and the self must give way to the life of Jesus? 


Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash
I’m not writing this as an example of someone who has it all figured out, or any kind of success story, but rather as a writer who has had this nagging issue in the back of my mind, and a sense that maybe the Holy Spirit is drawing my attention to something I need to learn. So I’m going to spend some time thinking and praying it through on this page and maybe you’ll benefit from it too.

Truth be told, I have never been particularly comfortable with self-promotion, and have occasionally sabotaged myself (possibly unconsciously) because of a desire to be humble and a distaste for self-glorification. As a teenager I struggled with the tension between a desire to pursue fame through my creative talents or to lay them down and serve Christ. I felt like there was no middle road. It was clear to me that the desire for my own recognition was attractive to me for the wrong reasons, and using my God-given talent to achieve it was a corruption of their purpose. I had a very long and painful struggle to let go of all that. People who aren’t believers would probably point to that moment as the reason I never achieved the great things people always predicted for me, but I can’t fault teenaged me for doing what I thought was right at that time, regardless of the consequences.

Photo by Gerd Altmann on Pixabay

But God gave me talents so that I could use them, not to bury them and wait for him to return. I need to work and my family need to eat. How do I navigate the issue of being a humble follower of Christ when my talent is the thing I have to sell and it seems unanimous that self-promotion is how artists ‘sell themselves?’ Can I actually sell myself when I belong to Christ? 


I can serve Jesus by using my talents as he intended me to, and by using them to the best of my ability in a way that honours him. In fact, I must do this because they are a gift from him for that purpose. They are not to benefit me, but to serve Him and others. Diligence and faithfulness. Ouch, that hurts. I’m rubbish at those.


But how are people going to know about my faithful and diligent work if I can’t promote myself? I can speak the truth. I can talk about my work and I can talk about my talent, but not to showcase myself. It can’t be about me. God has called me to do this, and a servant doesn’t get credit for doing their work. If I have created something that I believe is likely to be of benefit to others, then it is good that I let them know about it. Not for my benefit, but for theirs.


I pray that for myself, and anyone else who is reading this, that we would know the difference between self-glorification and diligent, humble service accompanied by speaking the truth in love.

How do you navigate the humility / self-promotion conundrum? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
Ben Morton AKA Morton Benning.



Bible verses I used





Some pages I looked at while thinking about this issue.
GoinsWriter - A Surprisingly Satisfying Alternative to Self-promotion





Ben Morton
Ben Morton AKA Morton Benning is an author, illustrator, editor, publisher and occasional lecturer in speculative fiction, as well as a fiction-writing coach who runs his own assisted publication business called Immortalise [helping writers become authors]. He is the author of Playing God, and The Tale of Alathimble Spaide and Other Such Nonsense (Stone Table Books) and creator of Morton’s Anglish Fictionary (Immortalise) and largely responsible for encouraging a lot of creative people to attempt things they weren’t sure they could (or maybe should) do. He and his lovely wife are members of Christies Beach Baptist Church and have almost three adorable girls.

10 comments:

  1. Thanks Ben for a great contemplation on a quandary common to Christian creatives. Thanks for all those links to explore too. I love your reminder of the blessed opportunity we're given to 'serve Jesus by using my [our] talents as he intended me [us] to, and by using them to the best of my [our] ability in a way that honours him'. I am enormously thankful for the never-ending grace he supplies which enables us to do so in a way which brings souls into his kingdom of love, and strengthens and empowers the feet of those who bring the gospel of good news (as you do through your own creative endeavours and through your publishing services and teaching ministry). May God's richest blessings overtake you and overflow onto your lovely family, Ben.

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  2. I also struggle with this - a lot! I’m rubbish at self-promotion and books-promotion. I’m not even sure how to “speak the truth “ about my work. I usually do that for other people and hope they’ll do it for me.

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  3. The most powerfully standout question you asked us: “Can I actually sell myself when I belong to Christ?”
    I can’t comment on self-publicity because I’m still as nobody as nobody is.
    In belonging to Christ, your question hits the mark. Should we try to sell what doesn’t belong to us? The master took the talent off the unproductive servant and gave it to someone else...
    As for serving Jesus with the talents He entrusted to us, that’s just it - we are His servants, doing His bidding. Some vessels ‘seem’ to be more important than others, however God isn’t favouring the famous, like we tend to do. Whatever is the talent in our hands, is from Him, to be used for Him. Anything else is self-serving rather than serving the giver with His gift. I do believe that with the gift, He makes the way to enlarge it.

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  4. Hi Ben, I've grappled with this same issue for many, many years. As you say, the seeming contradictions have the potential to really trip us up. Way back in school, I made a firm resolution to never toot my own horn again after hearing some other kids call me a show-off. And that decision was so deeply entrenched, those years of trying hard to promote my books were really hard, to say the least. I think you've given a good outline and mindset here. Now I'll explore some of your links.

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  5. Thanks, Ben. You’ve certainly made me think. I do think it’s interesting that we don’t blink at a baker advertising a loaf of bread but we find it hard to promote our own products like books, art and in your case, acting. Maybe it’s because we see these things closely tied to our ego. But maybe we shouldn’t. Maybe we should think of our creative works like a baker would think of a well crafted sourdough loaf. There is the satisfaction in creating but his ego probably doesn’t get crushed if some kid says they only like white bread. Maybe we should see our created works as products rather than as extensions of ourselves. That way our ego doesn’t get into nearly as much trouble. Food for thought :D.

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  6. Hi Ben - Thanks for raising an interesting issue. I'm in that situation at the moment with my debit novel coming out shortly. I think one thing we can do is be involved in the writing community. Occasionally you'll see someone who'll join a group but they only ever promote their own stuff. If we genuinely participate in the community (e.g. offer suggestions when asked, comment on people's posts, share news about others' books, do reviews etc), then we've probably 'earned the right' to promote ourselves. But it's also in the way we do it. I've seen people always asking/expecting others to promote them, but they don't always do the same for others. If we think of ourselves as part of the writing community, and part of the larger body of Christ, then we'll be promoting each other and lifting each other up.

    Thanks for sharing those resources too. I'll have a look :)

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    Replies
    1. LOL - Make that 'debut' novel. I hope it's not a 'debit' novel :)

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  7. Thanks for this article. I've been stalling on the promotion side of writing also. I'm in it to spread the message of Christ, not for money, but need to find a way to do it, feed my family, and not be smarmy.

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  9. The problem with most self-promotion is just that - it's promoting self. That's not clever marketing.

    Seth Godin defines marketing as serving others. Joanna Penn and Mark Dawson are two great examples. They spend a lot of time providing free writing and business advice to writers i.e. serving the writing community. And they're both doing very well ... but I am sure that's because they are serving, not self-promoting.

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