A Christian radio talk show host has a contest every so often where he invites his listeners to call in and present the gospel to him as if he’s a non-believer. Listening to type A personalities bulldoze their way through a one-sided conversation has its entertainment value, but so does watching a car accident.
I was in sales for 25 years. I started as a cold caller – Someone who knocks on the door of a business without an appointment, gets through the gatekeeper, pitches the owner and closes the deal in one call. The hardest part of my job wasn’t understanding what my product could do or verbalizing how my service would benefit a business. My tallest hurdle was dealing with the aftermath caused by the droves of rookie salespeople that preceded me.
Most of the salespeople in my field were poorly trained. They didn’t understand the technology they were selling. Neither did they bother to inquire as to the needs of the businesses they were trying to sell. Salesmen were concerned with their own interest and in many instances offered advice which proved detrimental to the customer. Once an incompetent salesperson muddied the water the damage was done. It would be between 6 months and 2 years before a customer would sit down with anyone after having a bad experience.
Evangelism isn’t any easier than sales. Christians are no better trained or equipped to deal with objections than any of the ill-prepared sales people that preceded me in my sales career. Each time I hear a pastor tell a congregation to share their faith, I want to stand up and yell, are you nuts? Please, please let’s first start training people how to be available, reliable, trustworthy neighbors; students of the word, and, after that discipleship process is done, teach them how to evangelize the same way you would train a salesman to sell.
There is a reason not everyone is cut out for sales. It’s hard. You have to be quick on your feet. You need to be ultrasensitive to what the other person cares about. A sale is very delicate and can be lost by the misuse of a single word or misinterpreted expression. There is no reason we should think everyone is cut out for evangelism. It’s true everyone has a story. It is also true not every story is entertaining. The hard truth is, unless you have gone through something extraordinary, no one wants to hear your story – certainly not on the first call.
The success of the sale is due in no small part to the order in which the information is presented. Anyone can plant a seed, but seed planting occurs at the end of the gardening process. Furthermore, if everyone is planting seeds properly, why are God’s houses so empty? A good gardener isn’t concerned with the seed. He is obsessed with the soil.
The nature of soil, if not regularly influenced by water, forms a hard crust over the surface. A similar hardening occurs to the human heart over time. The environment will condition the soil with moisture in tropical climates and encrust it in desert regions. Likewise, the environment has much to do with a person’s willingness to trust. Someone living in the spiritual desert will look on those in the rainforest as gullible and they will be right, while the tropical dwellers will note the defensive posture of those residing in the desert and will also be right.
Before we attempt to remove the speck from the eye of another we must first remove the log from our own. As important as it is to plant a seed of truth in the heart of a non-believer it is paramount to first thin the overgrowth of weeds in our own. For example, most Christians believe God to be in charge. Such a belief of the Christian conveniently relinquishes any responsibility for the lost. God gave us the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 16:19), and the devil is free to roam the earth until Jesus Christ returns (I Peter 5:8). Until then, God, though ultimately in charge, has left our individual destinies in our own unskilled, free willed hands.
Let us assume for time’s sake, the Christian has effectively weeded his garden. The first thing he will note on the evangelism stage is the heart of the unsaved seems to be encrusted with cement. When someone tries to sow a seed even into a crack, the rain will wash away the seed long before the soil is softened. The good news is no one’s heart is too hard to work.
I noticed during the replacement of a driveway only one individual worker, after finding the weakest point of the pavement, hit it in that spot until it broke and allowed him to create leverage to crack surrounding pieces of pavement into manageable slabs for removal. The workman did not have to break the entire paved surface. He merely had to penetrate one point.
What is the equivalent weak point in the human heart? The disbelief in God? No. Most people believe in a higher power. And no one can blame non-believers for rejecting man’s version of religion or the droves of misguided zealots telling them they’re wrong. Believers and non-believers differ on one critical issue: Truth.
In a recent debate, two expert representatives not only did not agree, they argued whether or not an event even occurred. Afterward it hit me. If the leaders can’t agree on today’s news, what gives credence to tomorrow’s history? How can we assume what we have been taught is true?
We were all taught the old adage, “Those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it.” If that is true, why are we force-feeding our kids man’s version of history which is anything but objective? The real history of America has as much offensive failure as it does victory. If you cannot rely on history where do you turn? Be true to yourself? How can you do that if your basis for truth is a lie, or at least highly unreliable?
Much of the darker truth in the history we have been taught has been omitted to make people appear better than they were so we could feel better about ourselves by association. History has long been used as a tool for the reigning power to blind people by blanketing them with a false sense of pride. If history were true, wouldn’t it mirror the same qualities inherent to the people who made it? It would appear good and bad, glorious and shameful, running the gamut from weak to strong, rich to poor. It would at least have a running theme of shortsightedness.
The next step an evangelist needs to understand is as much prophetic as it is psychological. A person without a strong belief system, when confronted, has a tendency to become emotional and offensive. For example: If someone said to you, your mother doesn’t love you, they would either be right or wrong. Hearing these words would not set off your emotions because you know that you know how your mother feels about you. If, however, you were adopted and never new your mother, these words would likely strike a nerve.
When a person believes something and has evidence to back it up, they won’t get emotional or belligerent because they have a strong foundation based on evidence for what they believe to be true. Those who don’t have evidence, as much as they believe, react emotionally and will often attack when confronted.
The most heated conversations I have had have been with other Christians who did not know their history and doctrine. My error was not in saying something disagreeable. My mistake was not prefacing the facts with a statement of how people react when truth is told to someone with a faulty belief system. By forewarning someone of their own impending emotional reaction to something that contradicts their belief, you better the chances of maintaining common ground if and when the conversation becomes confrontational.
There was nothing more intimidating than knocking on my first door as a young salesman. There was nothing more crushing to the spirit than being escorted out of a business for attempting to share valuable, unbiased information. After many objections and rejections my skin became like armor and I could handle anything thrown my way. It became fun because I was not easily offended when someone contradicted me because I now possess a strong belief system supported by evidence in both my work and my faith.
Through experience and training I was even able to address the initial objection due to the shortcomings of my predecessors. I was able to tell the customer why they were so angry and how they were well within their right to be so. Saving souls is more about plowing than planting. Sharing the good news of God’s love through Jesus Christ is easy. Preparing the ground for the seed is hard and takes a truly committed soul willing to callous his hands with a plow.
Focusing on a specific area of weakness by exposing the unreliability of history will soften the hardest of hearts. Suggesting the concept in which the nature of history should correspond to the nature of man opens the door for a non-believer to consider the Bible to be a source of truth. Explaining what occurs psychologically and emotionally when someone with a faulty belief system is confronted, buffers confrontation and rejection.
People without training and experience who go through a community recklessly insisting others see their point of view are usually wrought with rejection. In sales, we call that burning leads. God said in 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” This statement implies man’s potential for evangelism is 100%.
I’ve heard it said regarding being born again, if you are born twice you die once, but if you are born only once you die twice. If we continue to do what we have been doing, this addition to the previous statement may regrettably hold true: burn the lead – fan the fire. It would be regrettable if the lake of fire was fueled by the trophies of our negligence.