In 1 Thessalonians 4:11, Paul encouraged the church to “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you.” Literally, we are “not to create social problems or generate conflict” and we are to “work with our hands.”
What happens, though, when church and business intersect? What happens when unintentional conflicts arise because of it? Especially, when well meaning people view the church as a fertile field of prospects to build their own business? The result can be anything but quiet. And quite often, becomes the source of disappointment, disillusionment, fractured friendships, and ruined relationships too damaged to be redeemed.
In most cases I am aware of, this scenario takes place because of some kind of multilevel sales program. I’ve been approached over the years by many good people who wanted to share an incredible opportunity that could help our church “build the next building” or “bless our missionaries” or a hundred other great causes. Each time pointing out how I could help thousands of people in our church if I would just encourage everyone to: _____________ and you can probably fill in the blank.
Crown Financial Ministries, one of the most respected Christian financial organizations in the world, whose goal is “to equip people to live by God’s design in their finances, work and life,” warns: “The concept of multilevel direct sales is not wrong, but quite often its practices are. Anytime a Christian must trick another person into listening to a sales pitch while promising fellowship, it is wrong! Anytime a Christian is more interested in selling a product than in ministering to someone else’s needs, that person is in service to money and not to God! Each believer must test his or her own attitudes before the Lord.”1
Most people who get involved in direct sales, multilevel or network marketing companies, do so with great intentions and great hearts. I might add, the majority of the people in the companies I have been aware of, over the years, have been great people, too. People who love their families, their country, and their church. The problem is the concept cannot deliver what it promises for 99.99 percent of the people who get involved. It’s mathematically impossible.
Popular Christian financial author and radio host, Dave Ramsey, says, “The good news is you can, hypothetically, make a lot of money if you get a whole lot of people in your hierarchy. The good news is you work for yourself and control your time. Your destiny is up to you. There’s no glass ceiling. There’s no one telling you that you can’t win. Those are good things for a lot of people.
The downside is sometimes people get in these things and they forget what business they’re in. You’re not getting into the makeup business or the cookware business or whatever it is. You are getting into the recruiting business. If you want to be a person who hires and trains and motivates and manages a large sales force and is constantly filling back in for the high percentage of dropout, and if you’re willing to do that for many, many years, then you could be one of those people who make a lot of money. But you’re not in the business of selling makeup. That’s just the side thing, just something that happens. You have to understand you are going to be in the recruiting business.
It’s probably not a great supplemental income. The supplemental income is from you selling makeup. How good of a part-time job does this really end up being after the hours you spend to set up one show or one party or whatever? Then you buy the stuff and sell some of it. You make the net profit of the difference, your upline gets a cut, and those kinds of things. How does it really end up panning out as a part-time job? Usually not that great. You can run the numbers and determine that for yourself. It can be, but use a lot of judgment if you’re going to do this. I’ve met people who wanted to do this as a part-time job, and I look up and they have $3,000 worth of product in their garage. It happens to a lot of people because they get caught up in the excitement of the deal and the potential and the hype, and they overdo it. You can do that in any business.
There’s a percentage who are excellent people who do an excellent job, and they set reasonable expectations and they operate these things like a business instead of a false cheerleader camp or something. Then there’s a percentage in almost every one that they exaggerate to the point that there’s no other name for it but lying. Don’t get sucked into that.”2
Some would say it’s none of our business what business people get in and I would agree. As long as that business is legal, ethical, moral and consistent with biblical principles. However, when someone’s business begins to create conflict within the church, it becomes “our business,” specifically, the business of the leaders of the church, to deal with it.
To help our church family “mind our own business, work with our hands, and lead a quiet life,” here is our official policy on multi-level/network marketing or other business opportunities here at Crossroads:
Because Jesus said we are to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33) and the Bible says we are to “keep our lives free from the love of money and be content with what we have” (Hebrews 13:5); because Jesus said we have a responsibility to “love one another” (John 13:34-35) and the Bible says we are to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves,” (Philippians 2:3) the elders have determined it is in the best interest of our fellowship that we strongly discourage our members from being involved in multi-level or network marketing programs. Recruitment of fellow church members to become distributors, salespeople, etc., and solicitation of fellow church members to purchase products not only is discouraged but is prohibited. This would include but not be limited to: the use of church rosters, mailing lists, church social media groups, church functions, activities, meetings (on campus or off campus), small groups or ministry groups of any kind. As a point of reference: We do not allow our own missionaries, doing the work of God, to recruit or solicit financial support from members in our congregation. Crossroads does not endorse any business or business opportunities nor do we allow our paid, part-time or volunteer staff or spouses to represent, work for, recruit or profit from them.
Thank you for helping us “keep the main thing the main thing” here at Crossroads. The reason we’re here is to “connect people to God and one another.” Not for business purposes or personal profit. Rather, so that we can reach as many people as possible with the gospel of Jesus Christ and make a difference for Him in our world before He returns.
© 2013. Barry L. Cameron
1“Multilevel sales programs” Crown Financial Ministries, 7 June, 2013.
2 “Multilevels Mean Recruiting” Ask Dave, 7 June, 2013.
Ten Big Lies of Multilevel Marketing by Robert L. Fitzpatrick:
"For almost everyone who invests, MLM turns out to be a losing financial proposition. Fewer than 1% of all MLM distributors ever earn a profit and those earning a sustainable living at this business are a much smaller percentage still.
Extraordinary sales and marketing obstacles account for much of this failure, but even if the business were more feasible, sheer mathematics would severely limit the opportunity. The MLM business structure can support only a small number of financial winners. If a 1,000-person downline is needed to earn a sustainable income, those 1,000 will need one million more to duplicate the success. How many people can realistically be enrolled? Much of what appears as growth is in fact only the continuous churning of new enrollees. The money for the rare winners comes from the constant enrollment of armies of losers. With no limits on numbers of distributors in an area and no evaluation of market potential, the system is also inherently unstable."
IT’S ALWAYS WINNING AT SOMEONE ELSE’S EXPENSE
Most people understand the immorality and illegality of a straight pyramid scheme because they are not sustainable. If six people all agree to give the leader a dollar and then are told to find six more people to give them a dollar, it might sound reasonable that we will all be able to find just six people to give us a dollar. The problem is, by the time you reach only thirteen levels, you would need 13 billion people, which is almost twice the entire world population of just over 7 billion. By the way, at only level 5 would you completely exhaust the population of Crossroads. Level 5 requires 7,776 participants. Somewhere between levels 8 and 9 you would exhaust the Metroplex. Multi-level marketing is not illegal, because there is a transfer of products. See more about Pyramid schemes.
It is immoral, though, because the promise of extra income is not true for the person below the first few tiers. Even if the pyramid starter is a Christian, he or she is effectively telling a lie in order to receive personal gain. Now, there will be the occasional level five or seven person who does well, but that is only because others became disillusioned and other portions of the pyramid have already collapsed. In the end, all pyramid schemes prey on the people who join the scheme later.
Evangelical Resources on Multi-Level Marketing
But where are the distributors’ yachts? (Forbes)
Ten Big Lies of Multilevel Marketing
The Truth About Multi-Level Marketing (free ebook: The Case (for and) Against Multi-Level Marketing)
Consumer Fraud Reporting/Multilevel Marketing
Multi-Level Marketing Jobs (Pyramid Schemes)
Should a Christian do MLM or Network Marketing?
Barry L. Cameron has been the Senior Pastor of Crossroads since 1992 when the church was averaging 188 in morning worship. Pastor Cameron and his wife, Janis, have three children and two grandsons. He’s the author of the bestseller: The ABCs of Financial Freedom, Contagious Generosity, and The Financial Freedom Workbook. The Cameron family has been completely debt free since November 2001.