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The Networking Multi-Level Trap

The following letter is one I wrote to a dear personal friend with whom I worked in the late 1970’s as his assistant pastor. He taught me more about the ministry than any other man I know and I considered him one of my closest Christian friends.

As you will see, he called me one day and said he was coming to Denver and wanted to stop and visit with me and my wife. We had not heard from him at all for more than three years. After we visited for about a half an hour, he began telling us about how successful the multi-level business was he had been in for over a year. He had resigned his church and was now full time in the business. Though we were delighted to see him after so long, we were saddened that his visit was more business related than personal. He left us some typical networking tapes and said he’d be back in a month or so and wanted to take us to one of their local meetings. Of course, if you’ve ever been to one of these meetings as I have, you know what they do and what they want. My wife and I talked it over several times and eventually I decided to write him the letter you are about to read.

The “Brother Todd” mentioned in the letter is a missionary to Mexico who happened to be a man led to Christ through Rayburn’s church ministry in western Colorado. The reason I mentioned our missionary friend in my letter to Rayburn had to do with Rayburn’s desire for me to help him get in touch with Brother Todd. Why? Because he, Rayburn, had gone to Mexico with his business partner a couple of times in attempts to set up this networking program in different places in the country. He wanted to communicate with Brother Todd, he said, because he wanted to start donating some of his revenues to Brother Todd’s missionary work. This is something I have seen nearly every Christian involved in multi-level networking program attempt. They, for some reason, want to give millions of dollars back to God for blessing them financially.

I sent copies of my letter to my Brother in Mexico. He, too, had a similar experience with another multi-level Christian trying to sign up his entire church as he pastored in Colorado before becoming a missionary. I figured he might want to know what was going on since it involved his ministry.

As of this writing, I have not once heard from my pastor friend. It saddens me greatly to know I’ve probably lost a wonderful Christian friend whom I’ve respected more than any other man in my life. I trust he’s wealthy now and happy. I am not, however, for his sake.

August 31, 1992

Hi Rayburn,

It sure was great to see you the other day and to catch up on things. I was glad to hear how the Lord has been working in your life and how he has blessed your family over the past few years. I trust the Lord will continue to bless you, your family, and the business in which you are now engaged.

Thanks for leaving us the tapes and though Sandy didn’t get time to listen to them, I did and found it interesting. I have, of course, heard dozens of such presentations over the years. When I was doing the high speed cassette duplication for eight years, I duplicated every type of business presentation, multi-level and networking seminar one could possibly think of and they are, of course, all basically the same in nature. It’s still interesting, though, to hear how people get into such businesses.

Before we get together again, I wanted, however, to share with you my thoughts on these things. Please keep in mind they are strictly personal thoughts and in no way reflect on what God has you doing right now except indirectly. Since I was willing to hear what you had to say about the business you’re now in, I trust you’ll extend me the same courtesy and read my letter carefully. Please read it at least twice because by the time you’ve reached the end the first time threw, you will have forgotten what I said up front. I likewise called my pastor and explained to him my intentions and asked his advice before mailing my letter to you.

Some of what I’m about to share is very personal in nature because of my own experience in such networking businesses. I have been in several; some with Christians. I have seen many people do well; even great. There are some aspects of such networking businesses, on the other hand, which are, at the worst, unscriptural, or at the very least nonchristian, as far as their foundations are concerned. If, in my opinion, brethren are able to see those things and deal with them accordingly, I believe God will bless them in spite of the company inner workings. Let me share with you a couple of examples of what I’m talking about.

I was in a networking long distance telephone company with several other Christian brethren both locally and around the country. We all went into it together and worked the plan together and after a few short months, it was going very well. I was one of the most active people in Colorado for some time working this program and was getting business nationally from others as you are now. As I began sharing the plan with other friends, I discovered not everything the company was telling us was true. I called Dallas one day and spoke with the national director of this organization and explained to him what I had been finding. He flat out told me that when sharing the information with potential clients, if they checked up on what I said and found it to be unverifiable, I should basically lie and say otherwise. That wasn’t exactly how he put it but that’s what he meant. When I told him such would be misleading them, he said he didn’t think it was. I eventually dropped out of this networking plan largely because it later proved not to be what they said it was.

I could go on with a number of other experiences I have had over the years with a number of networking programs in which I have been enrolled. One of the best ones I got into had to do with selling a monthly vitamin package deal. A few Christian friends talked me into it and I thought it to be excellent. I worked it faithfully, more than I had with anything else, and it began to grow. The thing which made this multi-level outfit different was the fact that every person in the system was a paying monthly customer.

Yes, they sold the idea that you could make bunches of money but they made every person in the program buy the vitamins each month which was $30. I signed up several people and then the company, which was just a few months old, began to change the rules from the top down. When the lower level people expressed concern and tried to show them what would happen if they continued their plans, things got messy.

All my Christian buddies bailed out of the program, as they had in the long distance program in which we had joined together, and I was left hanging. I have found that most people in multi-level programs, and of course we both know that “networking” is the latest buzz word used for multi-leveling, never permanently stay in the program. I know of only a couple of families who have and they were in the Shaklee vitamin programs.

The reason, I believe, for people dropping out is the idea that if you work hard for awhile, you’ll eventually have a steady income for the rest of your life and, then you’ll be on easy street. This is do, of course, to all the people under you doing their thing which keeps you at the upper levels. It sounds great on the surface and does in fact work unless, of course, people under you begin to drop out of the program. Anyone who tells you such doesn’t happen is being less than honest. This is a subject which people in networking always attempt to avoid in their selling of the program to potential signees. People under you always drop out and must be replaced or the whole system breaks down. Your program may work somewhat differently but all networking programs share similar characteristics.

I mentioned I felt that such networking programs were unscriptural or, at the very least, nonchristian. Let me explain why I feel that way.

First, all such multi-level and networking programs link Christians in business with unsaved business partners. This is why I believe when such networking programs are used, they should be Christian in nature. There are now many such Christian networking programs around I’ve discovered. No matter how you view it, people above and below you in the structure are your business partners. Those closest to you in the tree structure are literally your business partners and if they are not saved, I believe there is a Scriptural bases for considering such programs as being unacceptable as Bible Believers. You even referred to the Mexican Catholic man you mentioned as your “business partner.” That bothers me because the Scriptures clearly speak to that relationship as being unholy. I have many Christian friends in networking, however, and they feel completely different about it than I and if in their own hearts and minds they are able to justify the relationships as something less than partnerships, then so be it. I, on the other hand, have a Scriptural problem with it.

The thing which disturbs me the most, however, has nothing to do with the Scriptural aspects of networking. The major focus of all networking plans is on the selling of an idea rather than a product. Oh sure, every program like this has a product (it is against federal law to conduct business without the selling of a product) but no body wants to discuss up front the product or products. Why? Because they aren’t selling a product; they’re selling the program (I.E. the idea). What is that idea? Wealth! Materialism! Early retirement! Easy street!

Rayburn, every speaker on that tape you left me had a common theme. They were all pretty well to do people who felt insecure. They all said they were dissatisfied with their current life and life style. They all confessed they were too busy and wanted to live without having to work hard, and they all wanted more money. They even attempted to disguise their greed by suggesting their real motive was they wished to spend more time with their families. the bottom line was, however, they wanted more money and lots of it. Doesn’t that strike you as odd?

Here are wealthy people, at least by our standards, who all said money hadn’t satisfied them but now that they were making more money than ever before, through this new program, which they never wanted to identify by name, they were now satisfied and had found self fulfillment. That philosophy alone should send up a warning flag to any Christian considering their appeal to get into their program. The bases for such a program is by itself unscriptural. No where in God’s Word is there room for such philosophy and yet every time you give out one of those tapes,you are promoting, as a Christian, that philosophy yourself.

Now, I know that you personally do not ascribe to that belief but you are in fact promoting it. You even, admitted yourself that you are attempting to achieve that life style by saying that within another year or so, you’ll be able to basically retire financially and start another church or go fulltime in another ministry work without that work supporting you. It is that philosophy alone which is the most detrimental to the Christian. God doesn’t call millionaires to pastor because they have money; He calls those who seek Him and are willing to follow Him.

Closely connected with this is Zig Zeiggler’s philosophy of “Help enough people get what they want and you’ll get what you want.” Though that philosophy sounds good and though Zig Zeiggler is a born again Christian, the bases of that philosophy is wrong; unless, of course, what “they” want is what God wants for them. In principle I agree with Zig’s statement but in practice, when applied in a networking plan, what we are really helping people get is wealth. Even that isn’t wrong in and of itself but such a philosophy as the reason for living is certainly mundane and places money at the center of one’s life. Even helping Christians achieve this goal for the purpose of helping God out with their vast amounts of accumulated monies doesn’t change the philosophy; it’s still wrong.

God doesn’t need our money. I’ve enclosed a short little article I’ve written on what God has taught me over the years on money and stewardship. Additionally, I’m not surprised at all that you’ve been able to involve lots of Pentecostals and Charismatics in this program. They are the most gullible people in the world and are easily misled because they are used to believing first and checking up on it later. How else do you think Jim Bakker and Jim Swaggart made their hundreds of millions of dollars in their ministries each year.

When I decided to stop trying to travel and hold revivals back in early 1980, I finally thought it best for me to get into cassette duplicating. God really blessed me over eight years and in fact, for two years, after getting an SBA loan, things were unbelievable. I had two incoming 800 toll free lines, I was advertising in national Christian publications, I was doing about 60,000 cassettes a year, and I had even hired two part time employees. I was making more money than I ever had in my life. I was so happy with how the Lord had blessed me yet I felt something was abnormal about my business.

I began praying on a daily bases for wisdom. It was during these weeks and months of prayer concerning my business that God began to speak to me about the gift of tongues. I had been, of course, filled with the Spirit three years earlier but because I did not believe in the gift of tongues, I never received the gift. Though I was given the gift of tongues during this time, my business went belly up a few months later. I filed for bankruptcy in late 1987. It took a long time for me to understand how things could have been going so well for me financially and then all of the sudden the bottom dropped out.

I know now my philosophy was wrong. I got into the cassette duplicating business, and I confessed it often to others as we visited, to make money so I could eventually be financially self supporting. With my business largely mail order, I could live anywhere and still make good money. In this way I could move to any little town any where and pastor a church without support. I figured I would get a church to pastor even if they could not pay me. In other words, I was buying my way into the ministry.

Were my motives wrong? Of course not. My methods, however, were unscriptural and God wasn’t obligated to honor my work. I was wrong, my philosophy was wrong, and I paid dearly for my mistake.

First of all, Rayburn, I don’t want you to misunderstand anything I’ve said so far. I know exactly how you feel concerning finances and the like. The ministry is financially sacrificial when it comes to money. You and your family have sacrificed your very lives in the ministry by your faithfulness and I want you to know the God will honor that faithfulness in whatever you do with the rest of your life. Don’t ever let anyone tell you differently.

Please understand also that I am not disappointed in your interest in this networking plan. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to make good money, even lots of money, in order to support your family and to do things to help out other ministries. We must never lose sight, however, of the fact that God doesn’t need our money and He isn’t impressed with how much money we make and give to Him for any reason. If we can work a program such as the one you are in with these things kept in perspective, I have no problem with it though I personally do not believe in networking programs generally and would never again participate in one unless I was sold on the product. Even then, there would be many other things I would first consider before signing up. Compare this with the tape you left me hear and you’ll see they all were sold on the plan/idea/program; not the product. In fact, they never once mentioned the product. Why? The product is available to justify the program. Their main interest is money and the plan.

I trust you will read this letter a second time. I honestly believe these things I have said come from my personal experiences in networking programs; both personally and with those I know who are Christians. In fact, the church I pastored for a year was started by a man who turned his ministry over to me because he went into networking. The company was represented by hundreds of commercial companies selling products through this networking program which they called Unamax. They, too, had over 15,000 products from which to buy. They, too, had tapes of rich people who had joined the program.

My pastor friend, who later turned his church ministry over to me, was making over $3,000 a month and he had done that in less than six months. He signed up half the church before resigning, too. He even got one of my best friends so caught up in it that my friend quit his thirteen year King Sooper’s job and went full time into multi-level and networking programs. He went broke in a few months and hasn’t been steadily employed now for over three years.

I have many friends who have put their whole life into networking and today have nothing to show for it. Some of them were super sales people too. I believe the bases for these Christians not making the plan work is that the plan itself is worldly and materialistic in nature. From what little you told me about this program, it sounds so much like Unamax I was beginning to wonder if it was that same organization under another name and title. Though I am in no way suggesting these things will happen to you, I trust you will consider what I’m saying as at least worthy of your prayers.

By the way, the pastor I said turned his church over to me also signed up our church secretary and her family. They, along with others in the church fellowship, began traveling around the country together holding meetings in different cities. What happened? The pastor spent so much time with his former church secretary that they began sleeping together, divorced their mates, and moved in together. The pastor had five kids and the secretary had three children; one was a six month old infant which she cheerfully turned over to her husband for custody. At the risk of sounding dramatic Rayburn, what you’re in is dangerous to the very fiber of a Christian’s relationship with God. Not because you’re making money but because the people with which you work are caught up with money and wealth and easy living. I personally do not see how a Christian can successfully negotiate Christian and Biblical and moral principles by saturating their minds with that mundane and ungodly philosophy and I’m asking you to stop and think about what you are in.

As I’ve typed this letter and tried to put my feelings into logical patterns, I’ve felt in my heart that my letter won’t have any effect. After all, you may reason, it’s working! It may be working but the foundation isn’t based upon Christian morality and that’s what bothers me.

There are many other things which could perhaps be said but I’m sure what I’ve said won’t touch you personally. Sandy suggested I forget saying anything and just let it go. I, however, have felt the need to at least share my feelings with you because I’m concerned over what could happen. If you had come to me and said you and a Christian friend borrowed a half a million dollars and purchased an old copper mind and because the mine was producing a million a year and you and your partner were making $100,000 each, I would have been thrilled.

If you then tried to sell me stocks in order to expand your operations, I would have purchased all I could afford. I have no qualms about Christians making lots of money. In fact, one of my favorite preachers is a farmer in Arkansas. He nearly supports his entire ministry through the buying and selling of properties. I am not apposed to that and in fact admire him. I am not apposed to you doing the same thing and later returning to the ministry with your own support. The motives for such a desire, however, is what bothers me.

I believe you’ll find it impossible Rayburn to return to the ministry if you maintain this same philosophy, working with people who hammer this philosophy, and selling this philosophy to others; especially to other Christians.

I wouldn’t care if you went into a business and never returned to the ministry. I would be honored, on the other hand, if some day I were able to say, “Yes, I know Rayburn Cox ... I even new him before he was a millionaire.” There is nothing wrong with your desires; in fact, they are honorable before the Lord. I’m asking you to simply consider how you are going about it without the money and the hype and glamor in front of you by those who only want you involved in their idea so they can make more money. Be honest Rayburn. The philosophy is “Help me get rich and you’ll get rich, too.”

As I close my letter, I’m trying to guess how you will respond. I’m guessing, because of what I’ve said, I won’t hear from you again for some time; maybe you’ll choose never to talk with me again. That makes me sad. You mentioned how other Christians whom you had not seen for years became upset when you visited them only to discover they were being visited because you wanted to sell them on something. I know how they feel but I’m not so sensitive that I felt that way. Like Sandy said, we’re just glad you came to visit no matter the reason. I do understand how those people feel however.

They probably wonder if you ever would have contacted them if you hadn’t gotten caught up into this business.

Then, too, I’ve thought that you may get really angry and tell me how wrong I am in assessing your motives. I state again, however, I am not questioning your motives and in fact think your motives are honest and admirable. How could it be wrong for any man to want to support his family in the best way he could and to also put lots of money into God’s work on earth. Those are good motives and honorable before God. If the foundation is wrong, however, we should reconsider. I wonder if you have gone to any brethren you really trust, set this before them, and asked them if they saw anything wrong with the program before you gave yourself to it? I know you’ve gone to others but not for their honest opinion and advice; you went to sell them. Did you at any time go to two or three men of God and show them the complete program and ask if they had any advice? I also would be surprised if Brother Todd would be in agreement if he had an understanding of the way this networking system works.

Many years ago, as a teenager, I wrote a letter to a Christian friend in Iowa. We had grown up together in a Baptist church. Though I was living in Nebraska, we kept in touch. I had allowed my Christian life to drift into something less than honorable to God and wrote him a letter filled with immorality concerning a girl we both knew. To my amazement, he wrote back and chastised me for my letter and told me I was totally out of line and to get my Christian act together. Though I was stunned by his letter, I respected him for his stand and his courage to warn me of my ways. Only a friend, I knew, could have been courageous enough to have written that letter to me. I trust, though I’m not comparing you to a Christian backslider, you’ll consider my letter in the spirit in which it was written.

Finally, I’ve considered the possibility that you’ll just consider me a jerk and ignore anything and everything I’ve said. I hope you won’t consider me anything less than your friend but that, too, is a possibility that has crossed my mind. The one thing which I don’t believe will happen is that you will take my remarks seriously. I know you won’t give up what your doing because of the results and satisfaction you’ve gotten from it. The money, the people you’ve meant, The trips you’ve taken to Mexico, the traveling from one end of the country to the other and the exciting meetings you’ve been to are all pretty difficult to overlook. I will pray for you, however, that God will continue to lead you in the direction He wants. You are one of the most Godly pastors I’ve ever known. You mean more to me than nearly any man with which I’ve ever worked. You are one of the greatest soul winners I’ve ever had the privilege of seeing in action.

None of these feelings I have will ever change no matter what and where you go in life Rayburn. I pray, however, you will consider what I’ve said. Forgive me if you think I’m being too personal and trying to tell you how to live your life; that’s not my intention. The reason I said nothing while you were here in Denver was out of respect for you and to hear you out. Then, too, I felt what you did was none of my business. It still is none of my business but as one of your brethren, I felt I had no choice but to ask you to at least think about what I have to say. My love for you as a brother in Christ, however, over rules any of my other considerations for grounds not to write this letter. I would have had a difficult time living with myself if I didn’t express these thoughts. I know you didn’t ask for them but if I didn’t respect you and love you as my brother, I wouldn’t have taken two days and many hours to write this long letter.

I am not saying any of these things out of spiritual piety. In fact, I often feel I have failed in the ministry. I have no church, as do you, to point to and say, “See, that’s what I did for the Lord.” The only church I ever pastored eventually folded though we did so oweing money to no one. I don’t feel more spiritual than you or anyone else and this letter was not written with that attitude even if you think otherwise. I’m not telling you how to live your life; I’m telling you that as a Christian, some networking programs violate Biblical principles and morals. Since you’ve lived your entire life by the Scriptures, I’m simply requesting you examine the Scriptures in relationship to this business. I would be disappointed in you if you saw something in my life you felt cut the grain of Scripture and didn’t tell me. I hope you’ll believe that I am attempting to do the same now.

I pray God’s best for you Rayburn and if you remain in the program you are currently in, I’ll think no less of you. I feel honored that you even thought of me and my family as part of what you are doing and I mean that sincerely. I trust it will always be so.

Complete In Him,

Phil Scovell