I did a yo-yo show on Sunday for a Super Bowl party at a church in Vancouver. The man who invited me to perform said he expectedÂ a few thousand to attend. I've heard that before. When it comes to church events I have learned that 50 means 20 and an estimate of 500 will never draw more than 175. Churches in WA must be different. They packed two high school parking lots with cars and filled an entire high school, three levels, with people. I performed in a gym full of kids and parents.
When I finished, I found the coordinator of the event to say thanks and goodbye. Surprisingly, he wanted to talk with me for a few minutes. No, it wasn't a surprise that he wanted to talk to me, it was a surprise that he had time to talk at all. He was the grand overseer of the event and all problems and decisions were channeled through him. Nevertheless, he found 5 minutes to talk to the yo-yoer. Unlike most people, however, he did not want to talk about me. Yes, their was the cordial chit chat and introductions (I had only spoken to him through e-mail at this point) but then he began to talk about his church. At first I thought he was trying to justify the Super Bowl event to me. I didn't see why, it didn't really matter what I thought. I felt I had a part to play in their schemes and whether or not I would throw the same event myself was besides the point. He called me to support their ministry and that is what I did. As he continued to talk the discussion broadened into the other ministries at their church. This was not the type of talk to impress, as I am sure you have all heard from ministry coordinators at large churches, it sounded more like a defense.
Finally, things became clear. "As a part of all these ministries we have an internship program to assist seminary students by giving them practical ministry experience." This talk was not a defense, it was a sales pitch. He was just a guy who believed in what his church was doing and wanted me to be a part of it. It was not that he knew me, he simply wanted everyone to be a part of what his church was doing.
As I rode home I wondered at his attitude. I could not imagine being a part of a church that actually invited other Christians to come and participate because I was so into what we were doing. My first thought was, "I believe in God, maybe I don't believe in church." I pondered this for some time and decided, "the thought has merit." Not that it is a good thought, or something I am proud of, it is just an accurate articulation of where I am at right now. I rolled this over in my head for hours, "why don't I believe in church... why can't I even imagine being excited enough about a church to invite people just to experience and take part in what we are doing?" I wasn't sure whether I should feel convicted or relieved that I have learned something about myself.
As I pondered, I expanded on my thought. "Maybe my whole generation doesn't believe in church, that would explain a lot." I grew frustrated at this, "the church is God's plan for his kingdom, what's wrong with me?" "What would it take for me to be so excited about a church that I would actually try to sell people on it." It was there I stopped. Me, a salesman? The reason I can't imagine this ideal church is because there is no such church. I am not saying this because it would take a perfect church to warrant a salesmen attitude from me but because I would rather be anything in life but a salesman.
Deep down I believe all salesmen are liars. If a half truth is a lie, then all salesmen are liars. Their job is to tell one side of the story, the side that will generate sales. Best case scenario everything they say is true and they leave out certain fine-print details. Worst case scenario, we have Super Bowl commercials. I could never be a good salesman myself. I love getting deals and I hate being scammed. The golden rule tells me I should do unto others... not a good verse for a world class salesman. I also believe that few things can make a substantial difference in anyone's life. I must qualify this. Soap, for example, has made the world a better place. However, if I were a soap salesman I could not convince myself that Dove is in fact better than Ivory. Even if I did believe it was better I could not convince myself that the difference would translate into better quality of life, or smell for that matter. We have such a variety of any given commodity I am always stuck at this point. The only way I can truly convince myself it will make an actual meaningful difference is if it is cheaper. Again, not a good rule if you are trying to make money. Unfortunately, I feel much the same about churches. "But," you say, "a difference in church will make a significant difference in a persons life." True, but how can I be sure that the church I am a part of is better than all the other churches I have never been to? If churches exist to lead us toward holiness (and it does, in case you were wondering) how can I be all that excited about a new singles group, youth group, young marrieds group, etc., at my church that is so fun? And if it is, in fact, leading us toward holiness I am not so sure I could convince anyone to come even if I wanted to.
If I am not a salesman, what am I? An educator, I suppose. Honestly, that is not much better. Compared to a salesman an educator wants you to have all the facts before you make a decision. They are concerned that you make the right decision, but equally if not more concerned that you make an informed decision. At the same time, it is difficult,if not impossible to present all the facts in such a way that will not lead to a certain conclusion. If I believe in a specific truth myself, I would be a fool to present the facts in a way that might lead someone away from the truth. So, even if I present all the facts, if I have any conviction at all I am still little more than a salesman. Some theologians, on the other hand, are exactly like salesmen. They tell you all the good things about their position and all the stupid things about their straw man opponents. If you are so convinced by your own arguments it would be hard to do otherwise. Sometimes I envy the salesmen educators with all their certainty and definite attitudes. I would love to reach the learning ceiling they have; nothing new to learn, being right all the time. Alas, my hopes of a complete and certain knowledge died with modernism and I too am swimming in an information age where anything can be proven and yet nothing is known. Even still, I can enjoy my education and my hopes of educating others.
I think this is why I enjoy yo-yoing and performing. I can sell something that has no value. "Buy a yo-yo, we both know it won't change your life and offers no grand hopes for wealth or bikini clad women. It is just a toy for useless amusement. That's right, ten dollars." There is no deception here. If people are buying on an impulse, at least they have a high quality toy (one of the all time great toys I might add) to show for it. Performing is great too. Why will people pay me more for an hour of yo-yoing than a week of physical labor (my physical labor is not worth much)? I have no idea. Do I care? In this case, no. There are no false promises in entertainment. You get me for an hour. You will laugh, maybe be inspired, and then we will never see each other again until the next mother/ daughter banquet you invite me to. (Please understand, I know the Scripture and the gospel can and does change lives, but that is not what I get paid for. In the context of being a salesman and making money I do not "sell" or get "paid" for my preaching, I get paid for entertaining.)
It may sound funny, but I have no problem taking money for something we both agree has no value, like a yo-yo or a show. On the other hand, I would have a very hard time trying to "sell" someone on anything that they might believe has value, something like a church. In those cases the educator in me may want to inform them of their options, but that might come across as a sales pitch too. I'll just keep my mouth shut about church and we can talk about life, Jesus, or yo-yos.