“It felt like church in there,” my friend said as we rushed outside.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I mean, all that attention, those testimonies, the lifestyle they were pushing … it felt like church!” She sighed as she fiddled with her keys to open the car door.
The thing is, we hadn’t been at a church or religious event. We were quickly driving away from the business district hotel which had housed the “red carpet event,”—aka, the pyramid scheme—we had just attended. And in that moment, I had a bit of a “before-and-after” realization myself: but this “before-and-after” had nothing to do with some wonder-product. Instead, it was about how I share Christ.
I thought back to earlier that evening when the audience was released from the hour-and-a-half presentation. My friend and I were immediately surrounded by members of the company, asking us about what we do, what our goals are, and what our dream jobs are. I’m not going to lie, the attention was wonderful; but it was empty.
Every time I tried to ask them a question about themselves, they immediately related their answer to the product. When I told them what I hoped to do, they told me about someone with a similar goal who was very fulfilled by selling the product, and how doing so enabled their dreams! When I began talking to my friend about her ill mother-in-law, I was interrupted by a higher-up, asking me shallow questions.
Are We Selling Jesus?
The obvious agenda of the people at the event was not the best strategy to gain my interest. But it made me think back to every evangelism event I had participated in. Every time a new person wandered into my small church. Every moment a friend of mine who wasn’t a Christian mentioned something spiritual.
Was I genuinely loving them and meeting them where they were ? Or was I trying to sell them some life-saving product?
Though the “event” had a charming, Aziz Ansari-esque host and emotional testimonials, I walked away unsold. Likewise, I often get caught up in how funny/interesting/entertaining church should be, particularly when bringing new friends. It is so easy to forget that the most interesting presentation in the world won’t convince people, not long-term. What truly persuades people is genuine relationship.
Jesus Himself asserted this with “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another,” (1 John 3:14). It isn’t that an excellent church service with gorgeous quality media and talented sound technicians is a waste of time. These things are merely tools to get people toward the real thing: relationship.
Looking for Relationship
The people at the pyramid scheme event didn’t really want a relationship with me, I was just a mechanism for their goal of selling their product. They didn’t seem interested in my dream to be a writer, or my friend’s dream of being a lawyer, except that these are both rather expensive dreams that could really use the help of “blah blah blah” product to support us.
Often, when I try presenting the Gospel to others, I treat it like a sales pitch. I give people the basic facts, the before-and-afters and the promise of a new and better them. But if God had wanted to sell mankind on Him, I am pretty sure He could have found better salespeople. From what I read in the Bible, angels are pretty intimidating and convincing.
But how often has a friend of mine expressed fear or frustration, and I take advantage of their vulnerability and give them the “quick fix” answer rather than be Christ to them?
Now, I know there is a fine line here. I’m not talking about timidity in sharing, but rather such a deep confidence in Christ, and who He is in us, that we BE the body of Christ and love people. That can involve sharing what Christ has done for us, but it also can involve just listening and asking questions.
The thing that often stresses me out the most about Pyramid Schemes (outside of the awkward social functions) is the fact that everyone involved makes their living on commission. Their livelihood depends on cold calls, convincing people they have a need in their life, and that they should consider selling this product as well. So what a joy we have in Jesus, because our livelihood has no dependence on commission whatsoever.
The freedom Christ has afforded me is that I am a child of God by birthright, not by performance. So I don’t have to go spread the word about Jesus in order to earn my way to heaven. There is no promise of a Lexus if I convert nine people, and thank God for that. So why do we—why do I?—approach people with a sense that I must bring up Jesus in every conversation? I get to: and from that freedom comes the truest evangelism.
I’m still working on this. Sometimes I get excited and do the “Jesus name-drop,” or in an awkward pause say something like, “so, how’s your heart doing?” But the times I have seen someone radically, genuinely evangelize, I am always struck by how natural it is. I once watched a man with dreadlocks down his back stand in front of a group of hippies and spiritualists, many of whom had been burned by the Church, and welcome them to his home, expressing his hope that during their time there they “experience who Jesus is in a new way” before calmly listing that day’s activities.
He then walked around and introduced himself to everyone he could, asking them questions about where they come from and what had brought them there. The care in his face was evident, and it is the sort of care I would imagine was on Jesus’s face when He was talking to the Samaritan woman at the well; the kind that is really and truly present and engaged. He wasn’t trying to fix them or get them on board. He was just there, having a conversation, telling them they were important because God found them important. What’s really interesting is he would have done the same to me or any of the other believers as well. Evangelism wasn’t something he put on or attempted, it was just part of who he was.
So, next time I am in church and I see a new face, I will remember what it was like to sit in that hotel ballroom with five over-eager faces watching my every move, and I will do my best to speak to them with sincerity, not with an agenda. I will ask questions with genuine interest, not trying to steer the conversation in a particular direction. I will be vulnerable and honest, not be positive for positivity’s sake. It just took one person to illustrate to me what true evangelism looks like; maybe now I can be that person for someone else.