Salesmanship and Evangelism

1643578_c5f8c022d8_bI have recently read the following statements: “Preachers are salesmen, it’s part of the job.” “What most fail to recognize is that Preachers are Salesmen! The job … is to make you feel good.” “Although many people don’t like salesman, everybody in this society is somehow a salesman. . . . [E]ven preachers are salesman because they want to teach us about religion and values.”

In our time, literacy is on the decline and advertising is ubiquitous, and so various forms of salesmanship are inevitably grafted into popular metaphors. If the salesmanship metaphor is sufficiently accurate to help us understand evangelism, this is all for the better. I have my doubts, however. At the outset, it is essential to recognize that the comparison between a preacher and a salesman is a comparison only and not an equation. The similarity is that both the Christian and the salesman have something that he thinks his audience should “take” in some sense. But there are critical differences:

1. The salesman aims to sell, whereas the Christian aims to save. Salesmen generally have a profit motive, whereas the Christian receives only intangible rewards (at least as far as earthly life is concerned). The Christian is laying up his treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:20) and preaches out of love for those who are lost (Mark 16:15-16; Luke 19:10; James 5:20).

2. The salesman pitches, whereas the Christian preaches. The difference is in the nature of the appeal itself: The salesman typically does not present his audience with anything analogous to the Christian appeal for repentance (Luke 13:3). The salesman is usually concerned only to ensure that the listener buys a product. Whether the buyer realizes anything about his psychological or moral condition, or decides to change behavior, is typically immaterial to the salesman. The Christian, on the other hand, is fundamentally concerned that the audience member realizes that he has offended God and appreciates the need respond to God on His terms in order to make amends. This point has at least two critical implications, which may or may not have analogies in salesmanship:

First, the Christian has a non-negotiable message. Only by coming to the cross in the way that the Bible describes will the lost be saved, and this is true whether the the lost person is young or old, highly or barely educated, or in sin that is usually considered “serious” or not. Preaching is to be done in love (Ephesians 4:15) and with attention to the current situation of the lost person (e.g., Acts 8:29-36), but not in the spirit doctrinal conformity in order to increase the number of responses (Galatians 1:6-10).

Second, the Christian’s role is to impart normative information and not merely to demonstrate how caring or polite a Christian can be. I have heard the phrase “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day” all throughout my life. My response is that we had better repent of this attitude and pray that the lost people have not become so diffident toward organized religion that they reject preaching simply because it is preaching. The very idea of a sermon in its Latin etymology necessitates words. Only the teaching of the gospel in words can save the lost (Romans 10:13-15). We must have a good influence (Matthew 5:16), yet it seems to me that the Scriptures emphasize the essentiality of preaching just as much as the need for a good influence. Even the classic passage on influence is written to a preacher and starts out by saying “set the believers an example in speech” (1 Timothy 4:12, emp. added).

While I have noted at least one similarity between salesmanship and preaching, allow me to suggest three more exhaustive and edifying metaphors for “the preacher”:

  • The Watchman (Ezekiel 33:6; Jude 22-23)
  • The Builder (Nehemiah 4:1-6; 1 Thessalonians 5:11; Jude 20)
  • The Herald (Isaiah 41:27; 2 Peter 2:5)
  • The Soldier (Acts 22:3; Philippians 2:25; 2 Timothy 2:3; 2 Timothy 2:4; Ephesians 6:20)

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