“The real test of a saint is not one’s willingness to preach the gospel, but one’s willingness to do something like washing the disciples’ feet.”
– Oswald Chambers
One of my favorite Christmas movies is Miracle on 34th Street. It tells the story of a girl meeting a man who claims to be Santa Claus. However, her mother is quite concerned over this belief. With the tension of who this man is, a trial commences to determine once and for all if this man is really Santa Claus.
One scene from this movie sticks out as pertinent to the discussion ahead. This man has been hired to play Santa Claus at Macy’s department store. While getting ready for work, he and a coworker have an interesting conversation.
(View scene here)
“Don’t care what Christmas stands for, just make a buck make a buck.” When we think about that line, it is a sad reality. The truth is we see this playing out in our culture’s view of Christmas.
But, let’s apply it to giving the Gospel: “Don’t care what the Gospel stands for, just make a convert make a convert.”
Does that phrase shock you? We may not have heard a pastor say that while preaching, but does it describe the way we give the Gospel? Have we commercialized conversion?
Product or Relationship?
Have you ever walked into a store and immediately was barraged with their sales? Buy 1 get 2nd 50% off! Buy 2 get 3rd free! Free gift with purchase!
In working retail, I remember having to know each sale we were having. I had to know the products on sale, and I had to know how to sell it.
Anytime we give the Gospel to an individual, we are asking them to accept what we are saying. It can be like selling something due to using persuasion. But, the question comes down to, “What are you offering?”
Think about it. When giving the Gospel, what are you offering to the other person? Is it a free home in Heaven? A get out of Hell free card? Or are you showing Jesus?
The majority of time, we tend to offer Heaven over Hell: “Jesus saves you from Hell,” “Turn or burn,” “Road to Heaven” etc. These are phrases used in tracts and evangelistic methodologies today. Doesn’t it sound like we are just selling a product or eternal real estate?
For example, if a person called you saying, “Would you rather spend the rest of your life in the desert or in a tropical resort?” Wouldn’t you pick the resort over the desert? Usually after that initial question comes the task you must do in order to get to the resort.
No one would want to spend the rest of their life in the desert. We would want the resort, and we would probably do anything to get there if this was especially our eternal destination.
In I Corinthians 1:22-23, Paul states his preaching is centered on one person: Jesus Christ. His evangelistic concern was to preach where Christ had not been preached yet (Romans 15:20). Was Paul’s message concerned about whether a person chose Heaven or Hell? His concern was for the individual to know Jesus Christ. Even when we look at Paul’s sermon in Acts 17:22-31. h=He isn’t giving a choice of burning in Hell or living in a golden mansion in Heaven. Acts 16:25-34 provides a one on one witnessing opportunity Paul had with the Philippian jailer. Do you see the phrase, “Let me show you how to know for sure you are going to Heaven”? Do you see the phrase, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved”? Paul was more concerned about showing how to have a relationship with the risen Savior than selling real estate for our eternal destination.
Salesmen or Witnesses?
A product cannot be sold without a salesman. He must know the product, the customers, and the strategy to get his product sold.
Now turn your thoughts to giving the Gospel. What is the current mindset in giving the Gospel?
Usually, people think of giving or leaving tracts. We see this done at restaurants, in stores, and observing people handing out tracts on the street corner. Think about how people might begin a conversation to give the Gospel: “Would you like to know for sure you are going to Heaven when you die?” “May I give you something to read?” These are just two examples. But, isn’t this a sales strategy?
We see ourselves as a Christian salesmen wanting to win a convert in order to gain Gospel Salesman of the month when we get to Heaven. But, is that the right mindset?
In Acts 1:8, Jesus calls his disciples to be witnesses. The greek word used for “witnesses” is “μάρτυρες” or “martyrs.” A witness is someone who tells of an experience that has personally affected them. It could be a victim of a crime or someone relaying the success they experienced through a certain program. A martyr is someone who is killed over what they believe and speaking it in order to prove it is true. None of these terms indicate “one who sells a product.” In fact, Matthew 28:19-20 commands us to make disciples and to teach. There is no sales pitch involved.
A witness is honestly a passive person. They saw something happen or something happened to them. It is then their job to tell their story; and in the case of a court room, persuade the jury the story is true. But, in our case, a witness is telling of Jesus. None of us have actually seen Heaven or Hell. But, we have experienced Jesus. Therefore, we are witnesses of what Jesus has done in our lives; not witnesses of what Heaven will be like.
Convert or Disciple?
The final component to a sale transaction is the customer. If you want to be good at sales, you need to know your audience: demographics, feelings towards your product, and how it could benefit your specific audience. Basically, you need to know your audience’s knowledge, interest, and opinion of your product in order to be a successful salesman.
We do have an audience when giving the Gospel. It is perfectly normal to want to know about your audience before giving the Gospel (there are plenty of examples in the Bible of this). But, the question is: how do you view your audience?
How do you view those who need the Gospel? Usually, people talk about converts. A convert in this context is, “a person who has been persuaded to change their religious faith or other beliefs.” Giving the Gospel becomes about how many people we can get on our side. We see those who are unbelievers, and we want to win their souls, or be a soul winner. Now, there is nothing wrong with wanting to give the Gospel. However, are we just giving the Gospel in order to keep track of how many souls we have won? Is it a competition? Therefore, the unbeliever becomes nothing more than someone to use for our own glory as we parade around the numbers we saw saved.
Jesus uses a different word: disciple. Matthew 28:19-20 is the classical passage where Jesus commands us to go make disciples. A disciple is “a follower or student of a teacher, leader, or philosopher.” It is a human in a relationship with someone over them. A Christian disciple is someone who is in a relationship with Jesus as His follower.
Mark 1:16-20 is an excellent story illustrating what a disciple is. Jesus didn’t call Simon, Andrew, and John to the shore to sell them something or to change their beliefs. Instead, he calls them to follow him. He calls them to step into a disciple-Lord relationship with him. It is more than just changing a belief system. A disciple is in a relationship. Is the church just a place with people with similar beliefs? No. It is referred to as the body or a community working together (I Corinthians 12:12-27).
“Uncommericializing” the Gospel
It is a sad reality that most of the efforts today of giving the Gospel reflect a sales mentality. We, the salesmen, try to sell a product to our customers.
Did Jesus have the same mentality? John 4:1-42 gives us the answer. Jesus, the Savior of the world, offers himself as living water to heal sinners and be in a relationship with them.
Do we see the difference between the two?
Let’s make it practical: Dinner at a restaurant
You are sitting at your table, and your server approaches. You order drinks and food. When the food arrives, something is wrong with your order. You tell the server to take it back and get it right. After the server leaves, you whisper to your spouse, “There goes her tip.” The conversation, then, gets enthralling at your table. The server asks, “How is everything?” You quickly respond, “Great!” Then, you go back to your conversation. Before you realize it, there is a slip of paper in front of you: the bill. You quickly pay the amount, then before you leave (in order to fulfill your Christian duty) you place a tract on the table with a meager tip or even no tip.
Did you know this is a common occurrence: Christians eating out, leaving a tract, and not tipping their server? In fact, I have talked to many servers who have confessed to me because of this action, they want nothing to do with Jesus.
How would Jesus interact with others while eating out? Would he care about the server? Would he be up in arms if his food wasn’t exactly how he wanted it? Would he complain at a long wait time? Would he leave a tract? Would he tip?
Jesus wants a relationship with people more than knowing how many tracts we passed out. Jesus cares about the server who may be living an immoral life. He would make sure she left with a smile. He would make sure she knew she was appreciated by the tip given. Jesus cares about the homeless, the orphan, and even those who blatantly live in sin.
Jesus is known as the friend of sinners. In the way we give the Gospel, are we highlighting that? Are we willing to wash feet over giving a tract? Are we willing to be witnesses of the relationship we have with Jesus in order to invite others into that relationship as disciples?
Commercials usually get ignored or turned off when they become annoying.
Is our Gospel a real estate commercial? Or is our Gospel about the redeeming relationship found in Jesus?
2 thoughts on “Commercialized Conversion”
I wish I could answer your last question, but I find evangelism very very very difficult. It actually starts with relating to people. I have no friends, only acquaintances. If it’s hard to witness to people you’re friends with, imagine with strangers.
This is a very good post. It highlights something I’ve personally learned within the last few years regarding evangelism. This is that, in order to win another to Christ, we must be living examples of Christ. We must, as Christ did, meet the individual where they are and just BE. We shouldn’t try to force something onto them that they cannot discern through your actions and behavior. How are we BEing Christ unto others? Much to think about. Tracts by themselves (without relationship, discipleship) do not work.