After finishing seminary training, you can imagine my disappointment when no one offered me a church to pastor. So began my 25 year break from pastoral ministry, during which God shaped me for future ministry responsibilities in two small churches in the Northwest.
During the time I worked as a lay person, I had a number of jobs including paint shop manager, construction contractor, logger, long haul truck driver, and sales and marketing for two different major companies. In the corporate world of sales and marketing I learned more about doing church then I ever did in school, pastoral ministry, or in attending and being active in church.
While working in sales I learned that “sharing the gospel” is actually marketing or selling the Good News of Jesus. This concept came to me as I was interviewing for my first sales position. The interviewer, on seeing that I had no sales and marketing background asked my how, or why, I thought I should be given the position. At that moment, the thought came to me that as a Christian I am in sales and marketing already. I’m called to “sell” Jesus to those I come in contact with. True, the “buyer” does not pay me money, but accepting Christ does cost him or her in that they must give their lives to Him. From that moment on, for the next 12 years, God used the corporate world to teach me how to market and do church.
Seventh-day Adventists have an end-time message to give to the world that is both good and bad news. It is good news because it contains the gospel and defines who we are along with our prophetic role. It is bad news because too often we feel compelled to try and convert people to our church before they are converted to Jesus. We know people need to make the decision to be a part of God’s final people, so this is what we push for.
It’s Not What You Think
A number of years ago, the company I was working for placed me on a fast track in marketing. I attended a week long sales and marketing seminar in Walnut Creek, California. During that week one of the things we kept coming back to was, you may know what your customer needs, but you will probably not be able to sell them that product on the first few calls. If you pressure them to buy what they don’t think they need, you’ll fail. No one appreciates being pressured into buying something they don’t want.
Let me take this thought a little further. I am selling products A through Z. Because I have done my home work about the particular customer I’m working with, I know he needs product A. But if the customer thinks he needs product Z, I will probably not make the sale, if I try and convince him otherwise. If I help him with product Z, without pointing out that he really needs product A, I have begun the process of letting him know that, first of all, I can help him fulfill his perceived needs. But more importantly, I have begun a relationship with him that will hopefully lead to my eventually selling him what he really wants and needs. The mantra in sales is: “They don’t care what you know until they know that you care.”
The application of this principle to ministry should be obvious. The clearest expression of how this applies is found in the book Ministry of Healing, where Ellen White says, “Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Saviour mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them ‘Follow Me.’” I fear that too often we get this whole process backwards and then wonder why we don’t have success.
Another important aspect of marketing is packaging. You may have the best product in the world, but if the packaging looks terrible, sales will be flat. This doesn’t mean we should blindly follow the latest trends in Christian pop culture, but it does mean that we should speak to the culture we find ourselves in. What works in coastal California will not necessarily work in rural portions of the state. What works in southern California will not work in rural eastern Washington. Wherever we find ourselves, we need to make our services understandable to those we are seeking to reach. We need to make our worship events the best that we possibly can so people will be attracted by their quality, as well as their content.
I wish I could say this approach to evangelism is easy to implement. It is not! Many of our members view evangelism as a series of meetings that people learn about through newspaper ads, radio spots or bulk mailings. Then, when very few “outsiders” come to the meetings, they say, “well, at least we did evangelism.”
Another negative attitude about evangelism is that it only happens when our distinctive doctrines are proclaimed. True, many need a fuller understanding of God’s Word, but first they need to know that we really care about them. They need to know that we want to help them meet their social, physical and spiritual needs and that they’re not just a notch in our spiritual pistols.
The evangelism challenge is to get our own members to become involved with people outside the church, to make friends in the community. It has been said that a friend is someone you socialize with, invite over to your house and spend time with at their house. You know about their family and they know about yours. Friends help each other meet their needs. Friends have confidence in each other. It is during these times that God opens doors for us to naturally share our faith and possibly lead our friends into a relationship and deeper experience with Jesus Christ.
We can only do this if we pray for God to give us a heart for the lost. With this, we can create opportunities for Adventist members to mingle with their communities. We can do this by providing events or activities that are primarily social in nature, but that allow for deeper spiritual inquiry. We need to introduce and maintain the concept that evangelism is not an event but a lifestyle.
The business of ministry is “marketing” the gospel in such a way that people know they are truly loved by God and by us. People hearts are won when we mingle with them and meet their needs. Then the way is prepared for us to introduce them to Jesus and the message of the Adventist Church.© 2017 - 2018 Church Support Services. All rights reserved. Click here for content usage information.