Dismantling platforms

A few weeks ago, I wrote this article for the British youth ministry magazine Youthwork. Lots of people said lots of nice things about it, and then I felt warm and fuzzy, and then immediately guilty (which will make sense if you read the piece). The précis, if you can’t be bothered:

Platforms– Youth ministry attracts highly-relational entrepreneurs, who like building stuff with and for people

– As a result lots of us (in youth ministry and in leadership generally) tend to build little platforms for ourselves, consciously or otherwise

– If we’re building a little platform, it’s hard to build up /submit to others, and arguably it’s harder to build the Kingdom (two masters and all that)

– If we became aware of the issue, and took conscious steps to dismantle our little platforms and practice submission to one another, then wonderful glorious things might start to happen in and through and around us.

Now, an article is all well and good; liking and sharing that article is great (especially for my platform *wink*) – but I want to challenge myself, and anyone else who’s with me on this, to take things a bit further.

I’m going to take some active steps to dismantle my little platform. That is to say – I’m going to look for ways in which I consciously or subconsciously self-promote, as opposed to genuinely promoting the Kingdom.

I’m not deleting this blog (yet, although to be honest, it’s like a ghost town around here), but I have made some changes. To my shame, this site has long included links to me speaking and presenting, with ‘subjects I can speak on’ messages and an offer to appear at your event. Seriously, I’m cringing even writing that. Anyway, that’s all gone, as has the page full of links to the articles and publications I’ve written for, and some other hideously self-congratulatory nonsense. None of it was building the Kingdom; all of it was very gently promoting me. Hitting the delete button was gloriously liberating.

The other thing I’ve decided is not to talk about some of the media stuff I’m doing. Not because I’m appearing on Adult TV or anything; but because actually, I don’t need to promote it for it to find the audience that I hope for – faith-seeking non-Christians who almost certainly never find their way to my blog, facebook profile or twitter feed.

Again, I’m not setting myself up as any kind of hero – just as a worst-of-sinners who is trying to practice a bit of repentance. There’s loads of things I’m not dismantling – I’ve kept my book and film pages up because they have to exist somewhere, and this seems to be the right place for them.

So if this stuff is resonating with you, why not join me today in a bit of platform dismantling. You might consider:

– How (and why) you use social media

– Any personal blog / website, and whether it subtly (or not so subtly promotes you)

– The ways that your work excludes (or fails to intentionally include) others

– Any aims or objectives you’ve set for yourself which might not have wholly holy motives

…And if you have a copy of this book, throw it out. THROW IT OUT NOW.

And let’s not even leave it there. Because there’s a positive flip-side to all this stuff. When we dismantle our own platforms, we’re freed up to practice the ancient Christian discipline of submission: putting others first. Jesus tells his disciples that if anyone would be first, they must become the very last, and the servant to all (Mark 9: 35). When we practice submission, we get ourselves free from the chains of what our culture calls success. So today I’m going to ask myself – how can I prefer others? How can I become ‘the very last’? Some things to consider:

– How often do I share/retweet other people’s projects and ideas on social media?

– How am I empowering, giving opportunities to, and encouraging others?

– What am I doing today to help other people to achieve their goals?

Friends: it is vital that we get this issue right. If the Christian life is really about recognition and self-promotion, then we’re truly wasting our time. An evangelist friend recently described his mission statement as ‘Preach the gospel, die relatively unknown.’ Whatever your practical application of the first half of that sentence, the second is the kind of gloriously counter-cultural subversion that we can all get on board with.

It’s not about us. But just watch how he’ll use us if we really make it about Him.

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4 responses to “Dismantling platforms

  1. I’ll be honest, I don’t often read other people’s blogs with interest but was led to read this post. I hope you don’t mind if I share my recent experiences…
    About 8 months ago I had a book published. I think it’s an important book and it took 3 years of writing, so I was anxious to do all the right things to promote it. Being an ‘amateur’ without a ready made platform, I took all the advice of using facebook, twitter, blogging, commenting on other’s blog posts, goodreads etc. All very uncomfortable (I hate self promotion), and remarkably unsuccessful. But you have to keep doing it don’t you, because you need to get the message out there.
    Things like common sense (would this prompt ME to buy a copy) go out the window, you have to keep pushing the boulder uphill don’t you. It was all really getting me down, because it was me trying to be someone else.
    I’ve just had a month’s almost complete break, and have learned to enjoy life a little again (including a great week’s holiday when other guests at our hotel asked to buy copies, following natural conversations). And all in all I don’t see any difference in the internet sales.
    I don’t know what will happen next, but I think the lesson is not to lose oneself, not to try to be someone i’m not, be me, and trust God for the result of writing the book.
    God bless,
    Phil

  2. Hey Martin, challenging blog post as always and before you read below – I want to affirm and say I agree! – Thank you!

    I’m setting up in an itinerant ministry (using the performing arts!) and constantly treading the line of being proactive about doing what I believe has called me to do (hence, letting people know about it) and not going as far as self promoting. I’ve definitely gone the wrong way a few times, but am very careful to watch it.

    Being a performing arts based ministry where I’m on stage a fair bit, doesn’t make this whole platform thing very easy.

    For me, my ongoing reflections on this have been – That building a platform shouldn’t be my goal, but rather a carefully managed tool on which God brings opportunities to build his Kingdom.

    For me, rather than removing my platform, it’s about being accountable with regards to my character, my heart, my vision and not getting tied up in blog reader stats, twitter followers etc.

    My first blog, I closed down because it had become simply a platform building tool. After a year or so, I set a rule that every tool I use, must first be for ministry purpose. If a platform arises from then on, it’s my responsibility (and I’m accountable before God) to handle that well.

    My action on this therefore has been that the bigger my platform grows, the longer I need to spend before God each day.

    Good discussion though and its a good reminder and challenge. Thanks for the post.

    * Confession. I own THAT book. But that’s for another post, another time. 😉

  3. Hi Martin

    I’m just catching up here, a little late. I appreciate your voice in the debate, but I wondered if I could offer a couple of reflections of my own.

    I am similarly frustrated that so much of Christian speaking, writing and publishing is based on a celebrity culture, and that there is pressure to build platform. It sucks that there is even a necessity for this. But I wonder if you’re targeting your (understandable) criticism at the right people. It is not the fault of the wannabe speakers who are platform building, it is the fault of the conference organisers, and publishers, and by extension, most evangelical Christians.

    It goes like this:

    – people only want to buy a Christian book from someone they know, and (usually) have heard speak.
    – people only want to come to a conference when there are famous people that they know who will be speaking.

    So (in order to make money)
    – conference organisers only want to invite people who are well-known (ie who have a ‘platform’)
    – publishers only want to publish books by writers who are already well-known.

    As a result
    – the only people to be invited to speak/have their books published are people who are Already known/famous/have a large platform. Hence the need to be platform-building.

    That, for me, suggests that the problem is much wider than writers self-publicising (which all writers published by traditional, Christian publishers are now told to do as part of the contract).

    Where do we break the unhealthy cycle? We could start by urging publishers and conference organisers to judge by content and usefulness, rather than celebrity factor, but they would complain that they need to make money. Surely, to break celebrity culture, it is not the writers and speakers who need to go silent, but we the church who need to take a look at why we go to conferences, why we buy the books we do.

    This is important, because it plays into equality issues, as we were discussing a while back around the issue of lack of women speakers in conferences. The blogosphere and twitter sphere have given people like me a (modest) voice, where previously I would have had none. I am encouraged by the quantity of female writers and speakers who are emerging precisely because of these different ways of building ‘platforms’ I.e. you can be well-known in the blogosphere even if you’re not well-known because you work for a big church, or you’re friends with the right people etc. Although the youth conferences are better than most, women are massively underrepresented in terms of conference speakers.

    Of course, there is always a responsibility to extend your reach in a healthy way, which is really important (being generous, championing others, just as you have suggested – and I actually think Michael Hyatt suggests that kind of thing too, though I haven’t bought his book :-))

    Finally, I notice that your critique applies principally to those whose job is, first and foremost, as a local minister/youth worker in their own context. This, I think is an important distinction. Many of my friends, particularly in America, where Michael Hyatt is writing, have a different context. Their job is to write, or to speak, and they are paid according to however many books they sell, or the speaking gigs they book. That is their job, and their living. Because of the way the publishing/speaking market is, which sadly includes the Christian market, they have to do promotional tours/speaking gigs etc in order to get paid. If they didn’t, they would have no income. That’s a little different to the situation I think you’re talking about, which is a full time minister, who is also writing/speaking on the ‘side’. I feel it’s important to highlight the different contexts.

    So these are the questions I would be asking:
    – would we go to a conference if we hadn’t heard of any of the speakers? If not, why not?
    – what would it take for us to buy a book by someone we didn’t know?
    – if someone’s sole income relies upon books and speaking, do you think it is reasonable for them to work on marketing their book? If not, why not?
    – if someone’s full time job is something other than writing and speaking, what proportion of time would you say was reasonable to spend on that?
    – how can we encourage a variety of voices in our Christian conferences, if so many of the ‘diverse’ voices are not as famous as the big church leaders?

    Best wishes.

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