In 2019, after nearly a decade sharing my writing on the internet, I had a book idea. The book idea. With the help and encouragement of a few peers, I put together a book proposal. When some friends offered me connections in the publishing world, I sent my proposal off to these gatekeepers with a great deal of optimism.
Each response was kind but short: “Thank you for submitting your proposal. At this point, I would encourage you to work on building your platform.” And that was it. Many months of work on a single document, dismissed by the numbers it couldn’t boast.
Pressure to Build
We hear the message loud and clear, the words that have a cottage industry built around them now: if you want to do something with your life—write, speak, preach, publish, sell, influence—you have to build your platform. The pressure to grow “large, fast, and famous,” as veteran pastor Zac Eswine puts it, comes from all sides, even from within the church.
Today, you can purchase a course on platform building from a fellow Christian author for just under a thousand dollars, sign up for a video series on growing an email list from a popular Christian marketing expert for a few hundred dollars, or study the ways of other ministry leaders and their auditorium-packing strategies by buying conference tickets. And while investing wisely in our earthly work is one way we can demonstrate the excellence Christians are called to, the “build your platform” conversation seems to be missing something vital.
Jesus made two things his priority: his relationship with the Father and the work God gave him to do.
Content creators, ministry leaders, or any Christ-follower who desires to use his or her gifts, influence, business, or work for God’s glory can learn so much about the stewardship of our callings by looking at Christ’s example. Jesus made two things his priority as he went about his ministry: his relationship with the Father and the work God gave him to do.
Prioritize Fellowship, Not Followers
In Mark 1:21–38, Mark opens his exposition of Jesus’s ministry by showing how quickly he grew in popularity as he preached the gospel and healed many people. We see that “[the people] were astonished at his teaching” (v. 22) and “at once the news spread about him throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee” (v. 28).
This is the dream of many content creators, writers, and pastors, isn’t it? To “go viral.” To break onto the scene with our projects, our writing, and our sermons and immediately have thousands of downloads, Amazon reviews, and new followers clamoring for more of what we’re doing and saying.
In Mark 1:33, we learn that “the whole city was gathered together at the door” as Jesus healed many who were sick and drove out the demons who tormented others. Can you imagine the scene, the jostling for position in line, the whispers of, “There he is, it’s Jesus of Nazareth, I see him!” And yet the very next morning, at the height of his popularity in that region, when there were hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people lining up to see and hear more from him, Jesus was nowhere to be found.
He had gone to a desolate place to pray with his Father (v. 35).
Jesus demonstrates to us from the beginning that sustaining any work of ministry is impossible without attending to the health of our own souls. There’s no deadline, no commitment, no opportunity, no reputation, no line of people waiting for you more pressing than fellowship with the Father. Unfortunately for the church, a lack of diligence to maintain this priority—and the devastating effect on others—is evident in all too many places. It’s so easy to grow numb to our desperate condition, especially when our name is being trumpeted by others.
Pursue the Work, Not a Platform
In Mark 1:36, Peter goes looking for Jesus. We don’t need to imagine his bewilderment at why Jesus would leave town right as his ministry is growing, gaining credibility and attention, because we would wonder the same today. “Everyone is looking for you,” he tells Jesus.
You’re growing in popularity. You need to get back down there and do something, Jesus, Peter implies with his words, echoing sentiments we’ve all heard or may have offered to others: You’ve got the internet’s attention for a moment—capitalize! Here’s your chance to keep building your platform!
There’s no deadline, no commitment, no opportunity, no reputation, no line of people waiting for you more pressing than fellowship with the Father.
And Jesus’s response to Peter? He gets up, and he leaves. “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out” (v. 38). It’s not that Jesus doesn’t care for the people waiting to see him. It’s that he is confident he did what he came to do—preach the gospel of repentance and faith. And he’ll continue to preach that word until everyone hears it. He understands that popularity is fleeting, a hamster wheel of performance and entertainment to keep the lines of people coming. But the work he came to do is the opposite of fleeting. The message of the gospel will remain even after he leaves. And it will speak for itself much longer than the attention span of the masses.
Eswine sums up the pull of the platform beautifully when he writes, “As you enter ministry, you will be tempted to orient your desires toward doing large things in famous ways as fast and as efficiently as you can. But . . . almost anything in life that truly matters will require you to do small, mostly overlooked things, over a long period of time with him.”
Dependence and Faithfulness
In this internet and social media age, it’s easy for leaders and creators of all types to imagine ourselves as the exception to the model that has been set before us. We can put the word “gospel” on any ambition and believe it deserves to be blessed and popular. But a gospel label doesn’t mean our motives are pure, nor does it ensure our hearts will not wander.
A gospel label does not mean our motives are pure, nor does it ensure our hearts will not wander.
Jesus’s life and ministry show us what kingdom work looks like: fiercely guarding our souls and our fellowship with God, and committing ourselves to diligence in the work itself. Most of us will never have a platform large enough to be known, much less remembered for more than a moment. But if our lives and our work are an overflow of his presence and fellowship, the Lord will use us for his purposes right where we are.
I still believe God uses the written word, and I still feel called to be a writer. But dependence and faithfulness are the most effective platform-growth strategies I can practice in my work. If God is going to build anything with my work, he will build on those.