How Jesus Marketed to Disciples

Deep and wide
Deep and wide
There’s a fountain flowing deep and wide.
– Children’s hymn

Longtime readers of my work know me as a champion of metaphor. I believe there’s great power in the comparisons metaphors bring to an idea. For many years, following Mark 4:33 as noted in the previous post of my Jesus Marketer series, I taught that we should, as Jesus, teach exclusively in metaphors.

I no longer believe that.

To be clear, stories are critical to understanding. I try to demonstrate the use of stories and hooks throughout this series. But if I speak entirely in narrative then my meaning will be unclear. The use of plain directives is an attempt to reveal the secrets of effective communication. This is where I digress from my previous work, which advocated speaking entirely in parable. After further study, it’s become clear to me that Jesus used two distinct strategies, depending on his audience.

In fact, the title of this blog post may freak you out: the idea that Jesus used a marketing strategy to teach his disciples. If you’ve been following my series, you know that I am using the term marketing not as an unethical manipulation of truth in order to grow an audience, but as a strategic means of communicating a message. And you better believe that Jesus had a strategic means of communicating his message to his close followers.

Most of the time Jesus spoke to a large group of curiosity seekers, new followers, and the casually interested. This is the crowd. The Bible tells us that large crowds formed and followed Jesus around wherever he taught.

Sometimes though, he found himself alone with his band of followers. His second method Jesus reserved for these disciples – not casual followers, like the crowds, but committed followers. These were literally people who had left behind an old life. What Godin calls the “tribe,” except in an extreme form, for Jesus’ tribe had radically changed their lives.


The Difference Between Crowds and Disciples

The difference between the crowd and the disciple is the difference between interest and pursuit, between skimming the tepid surface and scooping from the darker, richer middle. The disciples are those who aren’t content with the “wow” moment of the parable; like the true story theatergoer who returns home and Googles the factual version, disciples want answers for the questions Jesus artfully raises. They’ve decided to follow Jesus.

Notice the distinction in the rest of Mark 4:34: “… [he] then explained everything to his disciples when he was alone with them.” All of Jesus’ teaching to the large group, which included both disciples and general crowds, was based in parable. After the big event, when he was just with his small group of devotees, he explained everything.

I’ve cited this verse for most of my ministry. As an advocate of story in sermons and in worship, I have had people push back by pointing out biblical moments where Jesus taught with clear dos and don’ts, such as in the Sermon on the Mount. Clearly, in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught with directives rather than vague stories. But notice the distinctions in the audience: “Large crowds followed him … Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up a mountain. He sat down and his disciples came to him. He taught them …”

The Sermon on the Mount wasn’t primarily large group teaching to crowds; it was small group teaching to disciples, and it was very different in nature; though, by the end of the sermon, the crowd had again found him, and he responded with the parable of the housebuilders. (I’ll offer more on these distinctions in a future post.)


A deep deep flood, an ocean flows from you.
Of deep deep love, yeah it’s filling up the room.
– Phil Wickham


Deep is the Goal

In one sense, clarity is the goal of any communicator. We want our message to be easily understood. Preachers are trained to mine biblical texts for wisdom and then to present this wisdom in concise and understandable means. The goal of Deep teaching is clarity.

This method is Deep because it offers challenges for us to grow as disciples. Perhaps you have heard church people talk about “Deep” worship and “Deep” teaching. Some preachers are gifted, passionate Deep teachers, and their work does great things for the kingdom of heaven.

Wide and Deep is more than communication technique – it is theological necessity. Wide teaching keeps us connected to the world, and Deep teaching inaugurates God’s kingdom in the world. It’s hard to do both, but it’s possible, and it’s what Jesus did.

The paradox and the genius of Jesus’ interaction with crowds was to both engage them and challenge them. His use of parables as an exclusive public teaching style (Mark 4:33) communicated to seekers and drew them to the gospel. But the challenge for these churches is not to stop there, but to lead seekers to a counter-cultural commitment to follow Christ. A healthy congregation both invites seekers to ask questions and makes clear the path of discipleship.

The secret to Jesus’ strategy is to teach both Wide and Deep.

As we will learn later, Deep and Wide teaching can happen together, through resonance. Resonance is a ringing in the ear, the reverberation that happens when the beauty of a deep truth is discovered in accessible waters. Its ripples reach the shore of crowds and disciples alike. Resonance is both deep and wide. It is the fountain of a deep creative source of wisdom that emerges on the surface as a clear and refreshing spring.

JM Logo 250

Resonance doesn’t necessarily show up in the narrow shallows of trends. When we discover true resonance, we change hearts and live. This kind of communication is not for the ordained or those to whom authority has been given. As Godin alludes, authority flows to those who understand how to engage the tribe. How to communicate using Jesus’ Wide and Deep methods.

Ideally a church should engage in both Deep and Wide teaching, depending on their community.

In practice this creates tension, as we will see next week.


This is part 6 of a 12 part series, Jesus Marketer.

Next, Part 7: How Jesus’ Two Marketing Strategies Conflict.

About the Author

Len Wilson

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Christ follower. Storyteller. Strategist. Writer. Creative Director at St Andrew. Tickle monster. Author, Think Like a Five Year Old (Abingdon).