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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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