God’s Retail Associates, Or Go And Make Convertibles

I was raised in a very evangelistic culture. We were constantly taught how to defend the faith and how to properly make gospel presentations. I took in a long video series on how to defend creationism to evolutionists. My middle school group often went down to the local gas station to witness to the people who just wanted 99 cent hot dogs.

Here in the West we interpret the Great Commission to mean we need to get as many people on board as possible. Though that Commission tells us to make disciples we focus much more so on making converts – as (hopefully) converts will naturally progress into disciples (that is if don’t just convert ’em and leave, what college kids refer to as wham, bam, thank you ma’am).

And because in our day we’re constantly being sold something we in turn try to sell the gospel to the non-believer. And how do you sell something? You present it as something you need. The oldest trick in the book.

This one might land me in trouble: No one really needs God. Plenty of people have lived their entire life without God and been, well, fine. They may have even been happy. Some of course raise their fingers in their air and say “BUT, they were actually empty shells and put on their best happy face.” And I’d say, true, though in a way almost everyone does this, even Christians. But let’s be honest, we all know some non-believers who have meaningful and beautiful lives.

Movin' in for the kill.

You can try to sell God by saying “he will fulfill your life and make it that much better.” In my experience people often don’t like to change and would rather stay at status quo.  You can offer them something better and they’d just as well remain where they are. Not to mention plenty of people have sold religion poorly by being miserable people living under some sort of oppression who have made that fulfillment claim questionable and untrustworthy.

I can see why Christians resorted to selling God for his fire insurance properties, because really all the other tactics (you need him, he’ll fulfill your life) didn’t seem to pull in much result.

So how do we sell that to someone that should be a Christian? What is it you gain from being a Christian? Persecution, exclusion from different groups? From what I’ve found God often has to break us down to build us back up, and real growth comes from pain. But those don’t make a whole lot of sense printed on the brochures. We won’t get lines around the building for that.

I could launch into an extended spiel about how love is both our means and our end, and that we do a “show, not tell” sort of witnessing approach. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time you could fill in the blanks.

So instead I’d like to hear from you – how do you present or sell the gospel? And how on earth do you not sound like a printer salesman?

 

*please note the “Go and Make Convertibles,” though written as a joke, actually has a deeper layer of meaning as con-verts are skeletons of the disciples they could be. They are all sport and little function. As a kid I referred to them as “broken cars.”

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29 Responses to God’s Retail Associates, Or Go And Make Convertibles

  1. I agree with the idea that we are just trying to sell God. I think how we advertise for God is partially related to how we view our relationship with him. If all we view him as is fire insurance, then that’s probably what we are going to tell other people. If we view him as a Dad who loves us, who has a relationship with us, and at the end of the day what we long for most is to be with him, then we might sell him that way.

    • the sticky part is how do you sell a relationship? It’s one of those things that needs to be experienced, it needs to be felt. And when I say felt I don’t mean ambiguously feel the love of God but feel the love of God by feeling love from God’s people toward you. Not much of a sales pitch.

  2. Carla says:

    A) How awkward was it as a middle schooler trying to witness to people who wanted to buy hot dogs? 2) Wow, I’ve never heard the disciples vs. converts explanation before, but I might need to steal this idea. It so simply and cohesively explains why we so often fail at evangelism. That and the whole selling it thing.

    Ok, how do I present the gospel? What a loaded question! I’m half afraid to answer and admit how bad I am at this. Once a small group of ladies and I went to a drug rehab shelter for women and their children where we were allowed in to give weekly presentations on Christianity. We were kicked out after about 6 weeks because we used to much Bible. That and we gave all the women free Bibles and they started bringing them to group therapy and evidently that was a bad thing for people in recovery. But anyway, I found it easy when these women approached me asking about Jesus and why to be a Christian. Most of them had never been truly loved in their entire lives, and yet they were trying to desperately love their children without ever being given an example. The simple message that Jesus loved them, had always loved, and would always love them (no matter how messy their lives were) was powerful to them. They longed for a relationship where the love wasn’t conditional. When they asked how they had to change for Jesus we told them they didn’t have to. That He wanted them just as they were and any changes they felt compelled to make would be something between them and Jesus. There were many disciples made at that center in 6 weeks. We recommended churches for them to attend, we gave our phone numbers, and because we got kicked out we hoped for the best and unfortunately felt like we did some wham, bam, thank you mam preaching.

    In everyday life, I will have to say I’m a show and tell type of evangelizer. Everyone knows I’m Christian, its not secret, but I’m not into shoving anything down anyone’s throats. So I build relationships out of genuine interest and depth of caring, and when someone turns to me when they face a challenge I give them the only answer I have. Jesus. At times, I let the Gospel speak for itself and might offer a few verses, but reading the Bible to nonbelievers isn’t usually the best tactic. So I would have to say it’s all about love and living out my faith-which you have already said, quite a bit. So maybe I need an instruction manual on this, cause otherwise I got nothing.

    Great post! When I do preach the Gospel message I will now always have in my head whether or not I’m making a disciple or a broken car, I mean convert. 🙂

    • thanks Carla! Glad you enjoyed the post. I am with you – I have no interest in shoving Christianity down people’s throats – mostly because it was shoved down mine.

      It’s such a scandalous message that people don’t have to change – that any change they want to make is between them and Jesus – it so outrageous that many Christians preach you do need to change or else…

  3. I was going to respond, but Carla said it so well that I don’t really need to. I think I told you in a comment to an earlier post that the “Romans Road” “4 Spiritual Laws” method kind of left me cold. A) It sounds like a sales pitch and can be construed as pressure, and B) I don’t respond well to that myself, so why would I expect anyone else to? Beyond anything Carla said, I guess I would just have to say that I listen. Because people know that I’ll listen to them, and because I rarely offer opinions, advice or what have you, when I do have something to say some people will give me the same “ear” that I give to them. I don’t think that I am a “threatening” person in any way…in fact, I go out of my way to make sure other people know that they are welcome with me. It’s taken me a long time to get comfortable with myself, because the evangelical denomination that I became part of after I became a believer was alot like yours sounds, and there was a lot of pushing to “share the Lord” in that one narrow way. I know now that, although there are people who respond to that, there are also people who respond to me and my way of being, and those are probably the ones I’m called to minister to.
    Like Carla said, people who know me just automatically (almost), know of my faith, because it’s part of who I am and how I live my life.

    • my upbringing would have an issue with your non-confrontational ways. I think that your “method” is necessary because of the over kill evangelizing that’s been done – we need to take a step back to figure out how to do it more naturally.

  4. Larry Hughes says:

    I believe Carla does have the message. Ones actions speak louder than words.

    It is noble to try to convert sinners by evangelism or other methods but one must first walk as Jesus in order to show others what they are missing. Then they will come to you to ask for the peace you have.

    In one of my experieces at a new church I filled out the welcome card and introduced my self to a greeter as a visitor. Quickly he grabbed a brochure and said it is all in this little booklet of who we are. He quickly turned around and walked away leaving me dumbfounded. Never heard from any one after that. Guess I best not wear the Gorilla costume any more to church metaphorically speaking.

    • haha yeah. I think why he turned around and left is actually a profound truth here – that sharing your faith with strangers is awkward. Yet we think it has to be done so we devise all these ways (tracts) that we can hand out that do the work for us. Maybe we should take the hint – that evangelism like that is uncomfortable – and not do it! I’m not saying doing it all – but pursue more natural opportunities.

  5. Jason Dye says:

    love is both our means and our end, and that we do a “show, not tell” sort of witnessing approach.

    Spot-frekin’-on, Charlie! Perfect. Few words painting such a big picture. When I grow up as a blogger, I wanna be like you. The only thing you missed was the ABC’s of Christ-marketing line – because that’s what it is, right?

    btw, Skye Jethani’s got a pretty good book about Christians getting caught up in consumerism as a method of sharing the Gospel because our lack of imagination makes us fall back into the dominant culture.

  6. Amy says:

    I love this! I remember when I was in high school my youth group went to Philadelphia to put on street fairs (lame VBS sessions) for little ghetto kids. We would give them candy, attention, and then hit them with the gospel. Of course they all wanted to accept Jesus in their hearts! I remember wanting to get the addresses of all the kids I prayed with so I could keep in touch, but they didn’t know where they lived. I remember proudly returning to the church and telling people that we “won” (like it’s a contest) 23 souls for God. Hooray! I have no idea what happened to any of those kids. But that was our missions trip.

    I feel like what I was taught as “evangelism” growing up in the church was a lie. I got to college and I was like, hey, this tract stuff doesn’t work. It just sort of pisses people off. I made way more friends by being myself and talking about my life, which was wholly committed to God. Being as God is such an important life, He came out in conversation–naturally when I didn’t have to “push” it. I don’t think I “won” many souls in college, but I did love as Jesus loved. And, let’s face it, how many people did He share the good news with? Lots. And how many people didn’t want to embrace truth? Lots.

    I talk about my faith because it’s important to me–it’s a part of me. I just hope through my natural relational interactions I’m being Christ to people. And when they ask questions, I answer them. I haven’t had anyone on their knees before me. Sometimes I wonder if I’m doing the evangelism thing right at all. Then again, who knows by God what “seeds I’m planting”? (Can’t stay away from that Christianese when we’re talking ’bout “saving souls.” There I go again.)

    • I love what you said about not winning many souls but you loved as Jesus loved – I think really that’s all God is looking for. He’s not really a notches on the belt type.

      And in some circles the number of souls won is a contest – which is why the gospel presentations got simpler and simpler – more efficiency for winning more folks over. Though of course we tell them what they want to hear just to get them off our backs.

  7. That’s IT, Larry….earn the right to speak.

  8. Charlie,

    >>…con-verts are skeletons of the disciples they could be…

    Brilliant! That alone made reading this article worth it!

    I do believe, however, that this post has many hidden meanings and things you are not telling us. It smacked of the open-aired thoughts of a man who is wrestling with something, and is speaking aloud to try and find clarity. Still…it was nicely done.

    Rock on, hippie. (Oh, wait, did you get your hair cut to make yourself more presentable?)

    • Donald – I got a hair cut today!!!

      To be honest I don’t think I wrote this with any hidden meanings. This post took a few weeks to come together, which is why I say, cryptically you might say, “I don’t think” – I’m just saying I don’t remember two weeks ago exactly what I was thinking.

  9. Chris says:

    It seems as though in certain evangelical churches, when their people are sent out to “win” others for Christ they believe that they are being faithful to the Great Commission. Are they? I think the answer is unclear, but the way they do it (evangelism) sometimes I feel is misguided.
    The Great Commission is very important. But so is something else. That is the Great Command, to love God and to love others. It seems as though too many are faithful to one to the exclusion of the other, which in the end is being faithful to neither.

    When you have something you know to be real and good, for many of us our instinct is to share it. The hope is that everyone will be as responsive and worked up about it as we are. So what starts out as genuine enthusiasm ends up feeling and sounding like a sales pitch. I once heard the secret of good sales is knowing when to back-off. But even using this terminology of sales and marketing can seem distasteful.

    Because of the many crass methods of evangelism that exist out there people are reacting against it. As happens in a lot of areas the reaction becomes a subtle over-reaction to the point where love is the only thing that is emphasized and words are denounced. This is another imbalance which can create a new caricature much like the previous one.

    What I want to say is that, the reaction against words and verbiage is wrong. Jesus after all is described as the “Word” or Logos. There is something about language that is utterly necessary in our attempts to impart the love of Christ. I get the sense that people like Carla, Amy and others get that. The Great Commission and the Great Command go hand in hand. For us there should be no score-card. Our aim is to love, then share that love. We’re not out seeking evangelistic targets, but we should be sensitive to the person who is genuinely curious and seeking (does that make us seeker-sensitive?) and we should not be afraid to speak the reason for the hope that we have within us, doing so with gentleness and respect. It’s that last part I think that people forget that gets them/us into trouble.

    • I agree that just using marketing/sales pitching language doesn’t feel quite right. I think your right about the reactions to the Christian sales pitches – and so now we probably over compensate in relying only on love and Jesus’ name isn’t mentioned. I’ll agree that does have it’s time and place, and it seems like these days is not the time or place.

      Gentleness and respect feels like a lost art. I’m trying to relearn it.

  10. David says:

    I just wait until Jesus tell me who is goint ot get saved, and I often get a word of knowledge. Bingo! It has never failed in three countries. If we hear God, we can’t miss.

    (from the Cardiovascular unit of my local hospital – so if you can pray I would appreciate it)

    How that job hunt?

  11. Larry Hughes says:

    Amy:

    I think a lot of evangelical churches miss the true meaning of winning souls to Christ. They are only looking at counts and number, not the countees theirselves. Ok envangelism does sound like a good sales pitch. Make the sale and forget them. That is where they fall short.

    A true evangelist will nuture the ones allegedly saved and follow up weekly or daily on their progress into a new life. They will show love, concern, as well as share in their sorrows and their joys. A true evangelist will become a mentor to the ones they have saved and give loving fellowhip as long as it is needed.

    There will be no high pressure sales pitches just to get the counts as in a contest. The counts are not important but what is important is the mentorship lovingly given to keep the new followers of Christ interested and grow in His name.

    It is more important to win a sinner over to Christ forever than to win many for a day or two with out guidance.

    • Larry,

      >>A true evangelist will become a mentor to the ones they have saved and give loving fellowship as long as it is needed.
      ——————

      Is that the calling of an evangelist, or is it the calling of a pastor? I ask this based on the five callings of God our Father as mentioned in Ephesians 4–

      “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;…”

      Would an evangelist have the ability to disciple/mentor? Would it be better if the evangelist educates them, and the pastor teaches and shepherds them?

      Just a passing observation, Larry. I’d be curious as to what you would say.

      • Larry Hughes says:

        Donald:

        I think you are refering to Ephesians 4: ( 11-13) . It does not give a breakdown of their duties like the 5 fold ministry might indicate. Depending on the size of the body of Christ ( church), most times it is the pastor that plays multiple roles due to economics and numbers. In larger churches you may have an evangelist, a pastor, minister, a disciple, and elders where their positions are plainly divided. Even in larger churches the pastor is mostly an evangelist preaching inspiring words but as a mentor his is not. That is regulated to persons of lessor titles. Do you know how hard it is to have an audience with a pastor of a mega church?

        I base this on the red letter edition of King James and the New Living Bible.

        However, If you as an evangelist did bring others to Christ and felt love for others, one should have an interest in the new comers progress and continue fellowhip. Wouldn’t you think that is what God wanted? Besides the evangelist words is what inspired one to come to Christ in the first place. Wouldn’t you think they would want to have fellowship with the evangelist to be further inspired?

        Even Jesus had an interest in the blind person he healed by following up with him in the temple as reported in John.

        As great as Billy Graham was as an evangelist, there was no way he could have personally been involved in every one that came forward to be saved. Thus I suspect he had others as evangelist that tended to the flock coming forward.

        I suspect most evangelist only give a moving ( sales)presentation on the virtures of following Christ and then when the service is over, He says “Well I have done my job, it is up to others to finish the work. On to the next gig. ”

        This is where I differ on conventional theology and ideals. Another reason why I prefer to bring the church to the people instead of bringing the people to the church. I have heard many horror stories of people seeking salvation only to be judged unfit and turned away at a church. We all have to work in unity in the body of Christ in order to mentor the new comers and ones seeking God’s grace. In a sense we of the body are all mentors first and foremost. But how many do you see actually doing that in churches? To do other wise is sin.

        The main reaon why I wander in a proverbial desert seeking others that seek God’s grace that usually don’t attend church because I think out side of the box and try to stay with in what was written in scripture. That is very difficult to do and I do fail at times. This was not one of them.

        Sorry Charlie for the ranting.

      • @ Larry – no reason to apologize for ranting. I love that you all are having a conversation, I don’t do this blog to be the king!

  12. Jason says:

    “Here in the West we interpret the Great Commission to mean we need to get as many people on board as possible.”

    That nails 90% of the churches in America today. It’s all about the numbers. “We saved X number of people, now gives us X amount more money!” “Look at how wonderful our church is! We had X people a week come to Christ!”

    I remember going to a church one time in January where the pastor mentioned from the pulpit they averaged ten people a week coming to Christ during the previous year. (Apparently they had one big “revival” outreach and hit quite a few.) I looked around the sanctuary and there was MAYBE 150 people there. Now, I’m no mathematician but I play one in blog comment sections and an average of ten a week for a year is around 520 people.

    Shouldn’t that church be well over 150 people if 500+ came to Christ in their church?

    There’s a well known pastor who wrote on his website that basically their entire church was focused only on the lost and if you weren’t on board with it then there are plenty of other churches where you can go. What does that say to the new believer with questions? The single mom whose porn addicted husband ran out on her? The forty something guy whose wife was killed by a drunk driver? “Sorry, we’re all about the lost. Gotta keep up those totals. Go somewhere else for Christian love.”

    • the ironic part is that those who are very focused on the lost tend to demonize the sinners and distance themselves from the tax collector and prostitute. Not sure how that’s possible, just like your hilarious example of 10 people per week. Maybe what he said was true, but they had the good sense to take their business elsewhere!

  13. Chris says:

    @ Larry,

    “In a sense we of the body are all mentors first and foremost.”

    True. Wasn’t this the gift of the Reformation? The church (which is the people) ceased to have the responsibility for its care and perpetuation under the priest, as there was now a priesthood of all believers.

    • Larry Hughes says:

      Chris:

      I don’t know as I haven’t dug deep enough to be familiar with the Reformation yet.

      What I do know was during those times priest were all powerful and had absolute control of all aspects of the faith and the people. It was essentially the same as the Pharasees in Jesus’ time. Full of the legal aspects but lacked in faith, forgiveness, and love to the point of having the athourity to brand some one a heretic which meant punishment or death on the priest say so or whim if one differed in thought about faith.

      To me that was worse than heresy. That was sin using religion to control the masses for an ideaology that was the fartherist from the scrptures true words.

  14. Pingback: Can We Come Out Of Hiding Yet, Or Rightfully Ashamed Of The Gospel | Charlie's Church of Christ

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