Salesmen

The King's YomenI 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 expected  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.

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  • -brian relph

    This reminds me of the time right after you had done the research to buy Chrissy’s engagement ring. You did a lot of research on diamonds and I remember you saing, “I just think it would be so fun to sell rocks to people.”

  • I had forgotten about that. Yes, that’s from the same thought. I guess I feel that if I am were going to lower myself (in my own mind) so far as to become a salesman I might as well go all the way and sell rocks to people for thousands of dollars. I would really enjoy explaining why this stone, with a spec of internal coal that can only be seen under 10x magnification, is worth so much more than this larger stone with a spec of dust that can be seen under 5x magnification. While we’re at it, would you like to take a look at this bridge we have for sale?

  • I feel the same way much of the time simply with presenting the gospel to another. To this day, unless DIRECTLY asked, I am hard pressed to say anything about my specific beliefs. Even when I am asked I tend to stay away from anything truly incriminating.

    For a while, I thought that people would just see the gospel through how I live and act. I suppose this is true to a point, but again, many may find me a real nice person and all around great guy (some even like my dancing), but I still lack the specifics. They don’t really know WHY all this is, they probably end up giving it no more thought than the fact that they’re happy I’m one less person they have to deal with in their lives.

    I suppose I, sort of like what you have said, cannot stand the perfectly packaged, no holes, template answer presentation of the gospel. People read and believe the Bible and draw an incorrect conclusion that since it is the inerrant word of God, every question posed towards it should have a direct, air tight answer. Of course, aspects like pain or death for instance for the most part destroy any hope of simple; just believe answers to anything, especially the Bible.

    Therefore, in a way, it becomes something that not only do I lack the memorized pitch to sell, it’s just something I don’t want to sell or push, talk about. At the end of the day, I personally believe it, but what of others? Perhaps the sale idea doesn’t work because selling constitutes talking someone into something that will immediately or very quickly make one’s life better than it is at present. Sales deals with making one feel they need something they have not had (or needed) until the moment of the sales pitch.

    I guess this is where things are different with the gospel. Many are out there trying to convince others they need it and cannot live without it, which I would agree with, yet it really offers no immediate change, and it gives no real assurance during life. At least an insurance company, though we hate them in ways, when something goes horribly wrong, with enough arguing, they will pay out in the end. Sometimes no amount of prayer SEEMS to do anything.

    So, no, this is not something to be sold or pitched. We believe it’s true, if it’s not who knows, if it is there are consequences to our lives which are quite specific. So I suppose it would fit more into wisdom than sales. The wise are framed as not necessarily knowing or even believing everything, but listening, especially to reproach and correction. So what does that mean? I guess reading back over this, I am beginning to see that perhaps I feel more that belief and trust in the word of God is more based on personal, pre-achieved wisdom than a sales pitch which convinces or scares one into accepting it.

    I guess I would tend to believe this. Sales are based on fleeting emotions where the object of once desire is quickly tossed aside in the face of a strong enough opposition to it or in the presence of something new that seems to be better at the moment (how many of those kids, today, play with the yo-yos they purchased from you). Wisdom uses what it has attained and experienced, it’s not a throw away society, it holds onto and compares. It knows what is true and what is right because it remembers and because it allows the holder to know, if nothing else, that their mind is not special, and their rights are not first and foremost important. Therefore, they are able to listen.

    You said that you’d just like to talk to people about Jesus. I remember I once had a quick answer to all my religious woes, “just go back to what Jesus says.” Later in my life actually reading through what Jesus did said, I stopped saying that. He’s tough, and there needs to be much talk over what his words and life were about.

    Sorry about the length of this, I should have just posted it as a blog on my page, but hey, we haven’t talked in a while.

  • Amira

    Adam
    See it as a complement. As I said to Frank, there is a shortage of solid, grounded , commited, young , Christian men who also have a gift for engaing youth. Any church that is awake would love to have you there.
    As for the sales pitch business, just be a negative cynic like me. From where I stand it is always way too easy to find fault and therefore be less than 100% about anything, let alone a decision like what church to attend.
    Keep yo yoing, Amira

  • Amira,
    Thanks for the encouragement. I agree that it is too easy to be less than 100% satisfied but I also resonated with Steve’s comments (if you were brave enough to wade through them) that anything thing that is truly good is too complicated to narrow down to a sales pitch. It is difficult for me to aggressively pursue people with the gospel because I can’t say all that needs to be said to give them an accurate picture in a 30 second commercial. I also prefer to be approached than to approach. “You have questions, I may be closer to the answer than you… lets talk.” It is the easier road to take for sure. The problem with this, in my mind, is that I may be living just like someone who is ashamed of Christ. Of course I preach Christ boldly at shows, and I have no problem telling people who I am as a Christ follower, but I honestly wonder if this less aggressive, non-salesmen attitude about the gospel is wrong. Christ said “If you deny me before men I will deny you before my father.” What am I to do? As I just said I would never deny Christ but I sometimes wonder if there is a bit of shame that is expressing itself in my laid back attitude toward evangelism. God forbid!

  • Interesting thoughts. After reading it I came across this quote from the late business guru Peter Drucker:

    “…the aim of marketing is to make selling superfluous. The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well that the product or service fits him and sells itself.”

    (via 37signals)

    I think the salesman approach you describe and loathe (and I’m right there with you) is a dying art. Marketing folks like Drucker and the modern day equivalent (Seth Godin) detest this form of business. It just doesn’t work anymore. That’s why car dealers started going no-haggle. Smart business people realize that the product has to sell itself.

    For an interesting twist on your thoughts on spreading the gospel, consider how business folks like Guy Kawasaki (formerly with Apple) have adopted the term ‘evangelist’? I think straight forward witnessing can still happen in a way that’s not salesman scary. It happens every time a techie friend of yours excitedly tells you about a new techie toy (and we all have a friend like that, don’t we?). He (or she) is not selling the product, they’re just talking it up. They’re evangelizing.

    It’s kind of sad that I have to use a non-Christian example to illustrate a Christian concept.

  • Yes, I have heard this, the, “Apple Converts” as they tend to be called.

  • Kevin,
    That helps. It is funny that the example you gave was from the apple world. Even while I was writing my last comment I was thinking in the back of my mind that the last thing I was actually excited about enough to tell someone about was the apple iphone, and I don’t even use a cell phone or ever intend to have a high-cost cell phone if I do. I feel like I have been taught the bad salesman approach to evangelism for so long I have a difficult time making a more organic, or natural effort. Then again, all the friends I have out here in Portland regularly talk about divine things and a few are still deciding whether or not they really want to be a part of this whole Christian thing. Is this evangelism? It is so different from the revivalistic approach growing up I don’t dare use the same word.

  • Amira

    Adam and Steve
    OK I admit it Steve, I didn’t read all of your blog the first time around, but I have now read it. Adam told me to add this so here we go.
    In my opinion, there are 2 separate parts to the Christian experience. The first we can all be certain of. This is , who Christ is, that He is and that belief/ making Him Lord will grant us eternal Salvation. This alone gives peace and comfort and is reason to evangelise. The outworkings of that and the application of the Bibile to our daily lives is much more complicated as we all , to an extent, have our own take on the scriptures, our own worldview if you will. That is where the phrase a Christian walk probably comes in. That is the area of less than 100% certainty and the area which requires a lot of wisdom as you said.
    That’s all, Amira

  • Adam said, “…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.”

    Well put. I think this is the common current we all find ourselves in.

    “…I preach Christ boldly at shows, and I have no problem telling people who I am as a Christ follower, but I honestly wonder if this less aggressive, non-salesmen attitude about the gospel is wrong.

    I wonder if someone can “agressively” love another? The focus isn’t about showing the person how “right” we are, but how much we are willing to “go to bat” for them… or something of the like.

    As for everyone else, thank you for such an engaging and thought-provoking discussion! I’ve been wrestling with this “salesmen” idea too, and I’ve been thinking more along the lines of what Kevin said, but I have a loot more thinking to do…

    Just to throw a log on the fire, it might be interesting to note that all goods and services have value discrepancies. Who decides what an apple is worth? Is it the cost of growing it, transporting it and stocking it on supermaret shelves (and paying everyone needed for that process)? What about coffee? Why do people pay over $3 for a cup? The profit margin for coffee is through the roof! Even the paper we call money only has value because the U.S. convinced the majority of the world it could be traded for gold (real value). But they printed more than ever could be redemmed and the rest of the world is catching on (check out Ron Paul’s speech).

    How’s that for a rip roaring discussion? Or maybe I just burt the house down.

  • I’ll drink to that. But now I have to go hash it out. Thanks for the comments, much appreciated. Good to hear from you as well, Adam has just got everyone to read his blog I see.

    p.s. need any fences fixed?

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  • stephen fitz

    just wanted adam to reach a record number of comments

    As a youth pastor I have lots of opportunities to try to persuade kids to follow Christ. I’ve found this simple truth. It works really well with Christians, it doesn’t work with non-christians. With those not interested in what you are selling, the best you can do is just present the information as truthfully as possible and let them do with it what they will.

    The gospel is beyond the ability to sell. The church is therefore beyond the ability to sell, but a local church could be sold to someone I would think. I know someone could sell me on a place if I was looking. If it was in someone’s best interest as far as I could percieve I would have no problem selling my local church if I felt it would help them.

  • Hey the bear has posted a new blog before you have a new one. what is the deal? give me more of your profundity

  • good lord, it has been forever since you have posted anything…when do we get to hear your nuggets of wisdom? Give me more!

    By the way…St. Patty’s Day party, plus Steve going to War party on the 17th at our crib…7ish. bring beer, wine, or food. one of the three. and your wonderful wife!