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Evangelism and making the sale

We watched the film The Big Kahuna a few nights ago, per my dad’s recommendation. Kevin Spacey and Danny DeVito play Larry and Phil, two seasoned marketing reps for an industrial lubricant distributor. They’re at a sales conference in Wichita with Bob — a young salesman and born-again Christian — under their wing. The goal of the conference, at least for Larry and Phil, is to snag the Big Kahuna, a potential client whose account could successfully clinch both their careers.

The movie is based off a play, so it takes place mostly in one location, the hotel room, and virtually every second is filled with dialogue. Through this we learn more about the lifestyle gaps between the three men — Bob with his conservative Baptist background, Phil (Spacey) with his business savvy and colorful language, and Phil (DeVito) who is a liaison of sorts between the two.

When Bob gets invited to a private party where he’s sure to get some face time with the Big Kahuna, Larry and Phil send him out with specific instructions on how to land the account. When Bob returns later, they are shocked to hear that instead of soliciting his business, Bob used the opportunity to “talk to him about Christ.”

Infuriated, Larry lambasts Bob for wasting such an opportunity; he’s particularly peeved over Bob’s use of “lead-ins” to guide the conversation toward religion. Bob defends his actions. To him, talking about Jesus is just as important as selling lubricant is to Larry. This comparison doesn’t fly with Larry, though, as he offers the following observation:

It doesn’t matter whether you’re selling Jesus or Buddha or civil rights or ‘How to Make Money in Real Estate With No Money Down’. That doesn’t make you a human being; it makes you a marketing rep. If you want to talk to somebody honestly, as a human being, ask him about his kids. Find out what his dreams are – just to find out, for no other reason. Because as soon as you lay your hands on a conversation to steer it, it’s not a conversation anymore; it’s a pitch. And you’re not a human being; you’re a marketing rep.

This, I think, is where Christians miss the point of sharing our faith with others, and it’s why I have a hard time with certain evangelism techniques. There’s one in particular that involves asking a series of predetermined questions with the goal of getting the person to admit that they can’t get to heaven with accepting Jesus.

I just get a weird feeling about it. I try to place myself in the other guy’s shoes and imagine what it would feel like to have a Christian use this technique on me. What would it be like to think you’re just having a normal conversation, and slowly realize you were being prepped for a sales pitch? Then, what are you supposed to say once the pitch has been made? “Well, you stumped me. I guess I’m a Christian now.”

I think I’d feel pretty disappointed, maybe in a sense even cheated, if this was really all the message of Jesus was about — if the beauty and significance of His life and death and resurrection could be reduced to a set of tenets to be objectively accepted or discarded.

What are your thoughts? What experiences have you had, either as a Christian sharing your faith, or a non-Christian being on the receiving end? What inherent differences exist between selling a product and “selling Jesus”? Is it appropriate to even make such a comparison?

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Filed under: Faith, Movies, ,

13 Responses

  1. altonwoods says:

    When it comes to evangelism, It seems as though some people want to zoom right past the seed planting process,and the watering part,in order to get right to the harvesting which seems like the “spiritual hustle” to them. How can anyone put their faith and trust in someone they don’t even know unless we as Christians first through having a relationship share with them the love of Christ.

  2. Allison says:

    I agree with you, Drew. It’s funny though, because I feel like I have the opposite problem. I can build the relationships and even talk about Jesus with people in casual conversation without having an “agenda.” But I do believe that if we care about people, we will eventually present the gospel to them and explain the choice they have to accept or reject Jesus as their saviour. That’s the hard part for me.

  3. Kim J. says:

    The problem (for me) is that I already have a thorough knowledge of the Bible, know what’s required (according to most current interpretations) and I’m still not a Christian. Therefore, presenting verses of scripture (or explaining the belief that acceptance of Jesus Christ as a personal savior will lead to eternal life) does not prove anything for me, and I think it may not do much for most non-Christians because most non-Christians don’t believe the Bible is the Word of God. We’re therefore left with someone “proving” something to us using writings that we don’t believe came from God.

    Having said that, I do very much appreciate that the motivations behind efforts to sway me to become a Christian are pure, and I am grateful that there are so many kind-hearted people in this world who genuinely believe in eternal life, love God, and want to help others find what they’ve found in their religion. The intentions behind these endeavors are truly humbling. 🙂

    I believe there are more effective ways to share one’s beliefs to sway others to Christianity. The times in my life when I’ve been compelled to second guess my current course of agnosticism have not been times when a Christian has explained their beliefs or quoted scripture.

    I really like the quote about laying your hands on a conversation to steer it–for me, it rings true. Thanks for sharing this, Drew!

  4. j f n says:

    i instinctively agree with what you’re saying. i hate selling things to begin with… and to “sell” Christ, to me, cheapens the gospel.

    i feel like we need to “be” more. because abiding in Christ makes sharing His gospel unavoidable much of the time. it would be like trying you to hide the fact that you’re in love with drea and that you guys are having a baby. it’s just sort of …there. an authentic and irresistible truth.

    but then, i don’t know. perhaps we end up where we started: sharing Christ with the big kahuna and finding that the rest is just semantics. in that way, the post is a really good challenge to question my own intentions and examine the authenticity of my own devotion.

  5. Tara says:

    ugh, this is a tough thing- I agree.
    Have you seen this clip where Penn (from Penn & Teller) talks about a guy who gave him a Bible… Penn is someone who says he “knows there is no God” but also feels, if you do believe in a God, how much do you have to hate a person to not share the gospel (which you believe to be life-saving) with them…
    Anyway, if you have 5 minutes, it’s an interesting watch.

  6. Tara says:

    Annnnd the link would be helpful:

  7. Drew says:

    To you guys who’ve commented so far: I really appreciate your responses. I feel like they’ve picked up some slack on things I left out — namely the challenges of maintaining a balance in evangelism efforts. Watching the video you sent, Tara, and hearing about your experiences, Kim, is an encouraging reminder that it’s possible to share our faith with people without making them feel like we’re better than them, or are trying to sell them something.

    For me — and this is where I resonate with Allison and Janaiha – it’s simply a hard thing to nail down in a practical sense. Once we establish that we want to get away from the salesman mentality, how do we avoid throwing the baby out with the bath water when it comes time to share the Gospel with another person?

    Kim, you said, “The times in my life when I’ve been compelled to second guess my current course of agnosticism have not been times when a Christian has explained their beliefs or quoted scripture.” I think that’s really significant. Not that I would minimize the importance of scripture or engaging theology in an academic sense, but maybe that as Christians we should think of evangelism as not just “explaining” but as “being”, as Janaiha pointed out. I think that opens the door to more creative ways of bearing witness to our love for Christ – where even things like caring for the environment or seeking justice for the poor can become a means of sharing the Gospel with others – if those actions are complemented with a clear presentation of Christian beliefs.

  8. mi0wnpersonalariz0na says:

    Hey Drew- nicely put. You are so smooth with your blog entries, very easy to read.
    I grew up in a Catholic background – that hadn’t worked for me since 4th grade. Just recently though – I decided that Jesus was the way – something I always knew, but outwardly accepted Christ, and have been intently seeking Him ever since. I think that “selling Jesus” is really, waaaay to common – I felt like a lot of my Christian friends were trying to “sell” Jesus to me, and then a lot of my non christian friends were trying to “trade” with me – maybe Jesus isn’t the way – so why not just NOT care about ANYTHING.
    I have been spreading the word of Jesus almost everyday to everyone. And I don’t use any sales’ pitches- the passion I have on my journey for Christ is contagious. I just am – as your friend Janaiha put it- “… maybe that as Christians we should think of evangelism as not just “explaining” but as “being”. What an excellent way of putting it into words.
    I do think there is great validity to the movie quote above – but I also feel like if someone feels like that – they have been sold to. I am in total agreement with your observation of sharing the Gospel in other ways – Love God, Love Others, Serve the World.

  9. jason brown says:

    just stumbled onto your blog – now that your dad is done with his, I’ll try yours out. Try not to suck.

    • janaiha says:

      “janaiha likes this.”

    • Drew says:

      No promises! 🙂

      • Sherri says:

        Wow, just read your blog entry. I’m really kind of sad at the perspective you are coming from. “Selling Christ”? Christ doesn’t need to be sold. We just need to be obedient to what He has called us to do. It’s not about us in any way, it’s about Him. Every Christian is called to share their faith: And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. (Matthew 28:18-20)
        It’s not about selling. Christ didn’t sell anything, He told people the truth, and from that they either chose to listen or not. We as Christians should never feel we need to convince, argue, or sell someone on loving Jesus Christ. We just need to love them enough to tell them why we love Him.

      • Drew says:

        Hey Sherri! Thanks for commenting. Admittedly, I feel like I didn’t do a great job in the original post clarifying that I’m not against sharing our faith with others, just that I’m not interested in trying to “sell” Jesus as a product. It sounds like you and I agree on this.

        The other comments here are worth reading if you haven’t already. I feel like people added a lot of good stuff I left out.

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