One of my guilty television pleasures is watching The Apprentice. Why ‘guilty’? Because, to be honest, I watch it mostly to laugh at the antics of the contestants. As the years have gone on it seems that the producers have increasingly and deliberately selected from the thousands of applicants those who will make the most entertaining television – rather than those who are best qualified. There’s the outlandishly arrogant ones, there’s the utterly clueless ones, there’s the know-it-all’s who can’t actually do anything – and yes there are also a handful of capable people each year. Personally, I’m most impressed by the gifted sales people, who can sell you a biro pen. I’m in awe of their skills, because if my family livelihood depended on my salesmanship then they would be going hungry pretty quickly.
Unfortunately I think that many of us have imbibed this idea that an evangelist is a sales person for Jesus – flogging off forgiveness for past indiscretions and offering the hope of future bliss for free! However, this can be a huge hindrance.
For a start we will be tempted to change the message to make it more appealing to people – downplaying or bypassing altogether the hard truths of sin, hell, judgement and repentance – as no salesperson wants to be stuck selling something that no one is interested in purchasing.
Even more problematically, we will start to fear that unless we are the best possible salesperson, with the perfectly wrapped gospel presentation, accompanied by the perfect music and media performances, served with the tastiest snacks and finest coffee, delivered with the best stories and the cleverest arguments, complimented with the perfect smile, suit and life – then we cannot be effective spokespersons for Christ.
What’s so wrong with such a mindset is that it assumes that the weight of responsibility for winning souls rests entirely upon our shoulders and our skills. On this view Jesus is not in His rightful place as the Lord of salvation – rather He’s simply a vending machine or a consumable product. However, that’s just not what the Bible teaches.
I’ll never forget attending the Evangelical Ministries Assembly in the Barbican Centre, London, several years ago. Rico Tice (founder of Christianity Explored ministries) was on the platform teaching on evangelism. He took us to this passage in 2 Corinthians 4:4-6
“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers so they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”
Rico then pointed out that the process of evangelism is very simple: “We preach Christ; God opens blind eyes”. Then he got us to stand up in the auditorium. Multiple times all 1000+ of us were instructed to bellow out: “We preach Christ” – and responded “God opens blind eyes”.
You see evangelism isn’t about us, it’s about Jesus. We are called to be signposts that direct people travelling along to broad road off onto the narrow road leading to the city of God. Simply signposts. Sure you can be a neon signpost with LCD screen, lasers, fog machine, etc. – but a plain wooden one with some painted words will do the same job just as well! We are not here to point to ourselves – but rather to point away from ourselves to the saviour.
Rather than seeing ourselves as salespeople or marketers, the Bible defines us as witnesses who invite people to take a look at the person of Jesus. Like Andrew to Peter in John 1, we can share with people our discovery: “Come and see: We have found the Messiah” – the one in whom the greatest hopes and answers to the biggest questions of life are embodied. Like the Samaritan Woman in John 4, we’re able to say: “Come and meet the man who told me everything I ever did” – the one who has embraced us in spite of our many frailties and failures. Evangelist Glen Scrivener suggests that a very simple way to witness to Christ in ordinary conversation with people is to share a word of testimony: “Without Jesus I could never have got through … that cancer diagnosis, that bereavement, that miscarriage, that depression, that redundancy, that betrayal…”. We’re not selling a product to customers, rather we’re introducing our best Friend to our friends.