The Temptation of Salesmanship

By Matthew Raley

As the Orland Evangelical Free Church raises funds for a new facility, I am in charge of communicating the vision. I have had many struggles with the fundraising process, most of them in the small hours of the morning.

Fundraisers, as a rule, shouldn’t confess their doubts, but should project certitude. This building is God’s will. They should not admit that the future holds uncertainties, or wonder aloud about communication ethics.

Furthermore, in our case, response to the vision for ministry that we’ve articulated has been positive. In many cases, passionately so. We’re getting this response because the ministries that will be advanced by a new building are the fruit of decades of prayerful work by many, many believers in this region.

Why bother confessing pastoral struggles when the laws of fund raising forbid it and when support for the project is already strong?

Simply put, I don’t feel that people should accept my certainties until they’ve heard my struggles. Here is one: how to show leadership when so many people are used to salesmanship.

There are similarities between the two.

Both salesmen and leaders have to present a strong case for their proposals. They have to show passion, and they have to transfer that passion to others through articulate presentations. In the final analysis, they have to move people.

But there is a crucial difference, one that goes to the heart of what a pastor is.

A salesman aims his message at people’s existing priorities. The customer wants a red car. She likes red. She wants to see the red cars the salesman has. The salesman who walks her over to a yellow car and spends five minutes extolling the virtues of yellow is an idiot.

If I’m a salesman-pastor, my goal is to sell the new building. I speak to the most immediate, tangible priorities the people have, and show that the building will scratch their itch. Y’all want larger space, better lighting, no more leaks? Have we got the plan for you!

But a leader aims his message at what people’s priorities must become.

The people in any church have narrow priorities. Some are devoted to their families, but not engaged with the community. Others are passionate about learning the Bible, but need to put that learning into practice. For most, the weekly grind of life forms horizons that are too near, and they need to see how the Kingdom of God calls them further.

So, if I’m a leader-pastor, my goal is to draw people out of their narrow corners to embrace new priorities. I show how scripture calls us all to personal growth, and how it calls us to be part of corporate experiences of God’s power. For a leader, the building is a secondary product of this kind of spiritual growth — an important indicator of whether something real has happened, but only an indicator.

We are living in a time of salesmanship, not leadership. Many of those who are supposed to lead — pastors and politicians all the way to artists and intellectuals — have given up their callings and opted for the easier course of selling.

We are now smaller, uglier, and more cynical. We expect communication to be manipulative.

But in the struggle to communicate I have two certainties.

First, the believers in Orland are constantly striving to enlarge their Kingdom priorities. They have given more time, money, and prayer to their ministries every year. They are seeking training, giving counseling, crossing generational and cultural lines to build each other up.

I am certain they will see the need for larger kingdom priorities not as manipulation, but as encouragement. I return to this confidence as a way of keeping my tone with Christ’s people respectful.

Second, I am certain that the Lord will notice his people changing their priorities, and that he will provide the facilities we need — in the time and the manner of his choosing. We will see God move — the greatest sight of all.

To sell a mere building would be to settle for considerably less.

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