Notes in the key of E: Experience and its false cognate, Emotion

Good advertising makes you feel something then do something.
–A Senior Marketer from General Motors

Didn’t General Motors just declare bankruptcy?
Me

Perhaps GM’s ad problem was simply that its ads didn’t make us feel something and then do something.

Or perhaps GM’s ad problem is that the old formula of feeling leading to doing (AKA tugging on heartstrings in order to tug on purse strings) just doesn’t quite pack the punch it once did.

Or perhaps for Christian ministries the problem goes much deeper than that.

With regard to fundraising, Christian ministries and missionaries continue to subscribe almost universally to that old GM formula as if it were Gospel. The truth is, it’s anything but. It’s actually quite problematic from a Christian discipleship standpoint to nudge people towards giving through appeal to emotion.

As Mission Increase Foundation‘s Suzanne Dubois and Tracy Tucker noted as we were preparing for this past summer’s Marketing Your Ministry workshop, there are no scriptures that guide us, lead us, or teach us how to drive people’s action through their feelings.

This is definitely not to say that emotion plays no part in the process of biblical giving. Far from it. The importance is the sequence.

Let’s read 1 Peter 1:22 together re-e-e-a-a-l-l-y carefully:

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.

(Interestingly, some early manuscripts have the verse ending with “from a pure heart“.)

So what’s the biblical counsel? Get everyone all lathered up with emotion so that on impulse they’ll respond rightly?

Far from it!

The Bible never places much trust in our emotions to guide right action!  My own life verifies that suspicion is well placed, thank you very much, You?

Instead, take a look at where emotion enters the process, according to Peter:

  1. We learn the truth and then obey it. This produces:
  2. Sincere love in love–an outflow of action–and because of this
  3. We love one another deeply.

Two key truths here.

First, the biblical model turns the GM marketing model on its head. (Praise God–perhaps we can avoid bankruptcy after all!) Biblically, action–obeying the truth–precedes feelings. As Christians, we may or may not initially feel like doing the right thing at all. As Christian leaders, our goal is not to manipulate feelings until our listeners feel like doing the right thing. Our goal is to work with the Holy Spirit to teach the truth, i.e. What does God call you to do in relation to this cause?

Second, the Bible associates the heart with depth, will, strength, and response to truth, not with emotions stirred courtesy of a heart-rending DVD. You can see that 1 John 3:17-18:

But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

For the Christian, the feelings equation is truth + deed; then God’s love can pour out through us.

That’s why the third component of E (Engagement) is experience, which is shorthand for truth + deed. Appealing to emotion may produce “success”, if success is defined as “getting someone to give me money”. But it sure isn’t the biblical path to growth in the likeness of Christ for our hearers.

And it sure didn’t sell a lot of cars for GM.

About Pastor Foley

The Reverend Dr. Eric Foley is CEO and Co-Founder, with his wife Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, supporting the work of persecuted Christians in North Korea and around the world and spreading their discipleship practices worldwide. He is also the International Ambassador for the International Christian Association, the global fellowship of Voice of the Martyrs sister ministries. Pastor Foley is a much sought after speaker, analyst, and project consultant on the North Korean underground church, North Korean defectors, and underground church discipleship. He and Dr. Foley oversee a far-flung staff across Asia that is working to help North Koreans and Christians everywhere grow to fullness in Christ. He earned the Doctor of Management at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.
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