Christian in the Car Lot

Salesmen get a bad rap these days. According to a Gallup poll, we trust congressmen more than that man in a suit who slinks about the car lot.

This widespread distrust is merited in part. Salesmen work under enormous pressure to make sales, and since failure to meet sales goals equals no commission or the pink slip, they often resort to aggressive behavior to survive. While these business “sharks” do prowl the economic sea (i.e. your neighborhood or mall), there are salesmen who meet their goals without biting your leg off.

Great salesmen see you as a person, not their next meal.

They are knowledgeable and passionate about their product.

They understand you have needs that their product can fulfill.

You just called me a what?

Believe it or not, if you’re a Christian, you’re in the sales industry, employed by a Heavenly Boss. You’ve been given a commission to fulfill…a Great Commission:

And Jesus came up and spoke to them [the eleven disciples], saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18–20)

Jesus was not making a suggestion to His disciples—He was giving them a job with a tangible goal. Throughout the book of Acts, we see the eleven apostles also commissioning other disciples (most notably Paul and Barnabas) to spread the Gospel. This great mandate was intended to be practiced by every believer.

It’s been nearly two thousand years, and the commission still stands: everyone is a salesman. If you have a personal relationship with God through His Son, you have a product to sell. Clientele to engage. And goals to meet.

How are you doing?

Let’s examine the characteristics of a good salesman.

The Eight Habits of Highly Effective Salesmen

Forget all those “sharks” who leave you dizzy with useless products in your hand (if they haven’t already bitten it off). Every good salesman:

  1. Learns about the client and his individual needs. Selling a product that doesn’t address the actual problem means a return and/or business with a competitor.
  2. Builds a rapport with the client. Relationships equal repeat business and a pleasant experience for the client.
  3. Intentionally engages his market. Salesmen who lie around waiting for a sale to fall in their lap may have something else fall into their lap (like an ACME anvil).
  4. Understands his “niche” market. Advertising a tractor outlet on a downtown Atlanta billboard isn’t the greatest idea.
  5. Engages his client as an equal, not an inferior. This is what distinguishes a “shark” from a good salesman—no one likes being treated like an ignoramus.
  6. Knows his product. He is passionate about his product and understands its potential to fix problems.
  7. Overcomes objections to the product. When a potential client brings up concerns about the product, the salesman can address his objections with an intelligent rebuttal.
  8. Does not quit after a bad engagement. That’s just asking for the pink slip. A hardcore salesman understands that every prospective client has a free will.

Well-rounded salesmen who apply these strategies make high sales and foster loyal clientele.

If you are a Christian (hence a salesman), you can apply all of these habits to your witnessing life…

“…I Object, Your Honor!”

Maybe you’re just a tad disgusted at equating a good sales interaction with a good witnessing experience. Those tips are nice, you’re saying, but what’s that got to do with my faith?

Before I draw the parallel between sales and witnessing, let’s establish some big ideas:

  1. Every human being is in the market for the Gospel.
  2. You are selling a relationship, not a product.
  3. You cannot save anybody.

Unless you have Clarence Odbody for your next-door neighbor, he needs your product. Desperately. And your product is a lifesaving relationship with God Himself. Now, you can beg him to accept it, you can argue with him, you can persuade him, but you cannot save him anymore than you can make someone open up their wallet and buy into Jesus. (Unless you’re holding him at gunpoint—bet that would be an effective tactic!)

Let’s kill two of the biggest myths about witnessing:

  1. You should wait for people to ask you about your faith.
  2. Don’t use words; just live out your faith and people will accept Jesus when they see your example.

Myth No. 1 assumes that people know (1) they have an eternal problem and (2) Jesus is the final solution. Yes, everyone has a conscience that testifies to their sin, but passages like 2 Corinthians 3:15–18 and 4:3–6 testify to a “veil” or spiritual blindness that is removed from the unbeliever only when he turns to God. Besides that, there are many products that claim to fix their problem: Hinduism, Islam, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses. Some products even fix the problem by claiming the problem doesn’t exist (e.g. Atheism and Buddhism, both of which deny original sin).

Myth No. 2 remains one of the most widespread lies still hovering around the pulpits today. Nowhere in Scripture do we see the spoken word separated from salvation (Romans 10:14–15, 2 Corinthians 2:15–17, 2 Corinthians 4:13–14). John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, and Paul all proclaimed the message of Christ’s sacrifice verbally while leading righteous lives.

Drawing the Parallel

Now that we have cleared the air a bit, let’s see how the eight habits of effective salesmen translate to the discipline of witnessing:

  1. Learn about the client and his individual needs. Everyone has a story and a reason for being where they are. To be an effective witness, you need to understand where your “client” is coming from so you can tailor your presentation without distorting the product: a relationship with God through Jesus.
  2. Build a rapport with the client. You are reaching out to your “client” ultimately because you care about his future. Show it by investing in him with your time and resources.
  3. Intentionally engage your market. Don’t wait for your client to find you; seek out the lost and present the Gospel. Chances are that he doesn’t understand the value of your product.
  4. Understand your “niche” market. Concepts like sin, sacrifices, and holiness have all but disappeared from the cultural backbone. You need to understand what kind of people you are sharing the Gospel with and what areas will need explanation. (The Sermon on Mars Hill is a brilliant example of this cultural awareness.)
  5. Engage your client as an equal, not an inferior. You were once dead in your sin, too. Share the truth, but with “gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:14–16).
  6. Know your product. Do you realize the benefits of being reconciled to your Heavenly Father? Study your product so you can passionately share why it’s the greatest thing in the world.
  7. Overcome objections to the product. Our secularly-educated culture has been conditioned to dismiss the spiritual dimension, absolute morality, and Biblical accuracy. You need to be apologetically-minded (equipped with solid answers) to clear away any misconceptions that are keeping your client from understanding and accepting this lifesaving product.
  8. Do not quit after a bad engagement. There is no secular discipline that subscribes to this attitude; why should we trivialize soul fishing by shelving it after one bad experience? Not everyone will accept the product. Your Heavenly Boss has given you the command to preach the Gospel, and He will bless your engagements. Even the seasoned salesmen Paul and Apollos recognized that they could only plant seeds and water them—not cause them to grow (1 Corinthians 3:6).

Go and Do the Same

I admit, when I first considered this topic—paralleling witnessing with selling—I was a little disturbed. However, the further I examined the traits of good salesmanship and applied them to my faith, the more I realized that this fits the Biblical mindset. Laissez-faire proselytization will not do—ultimately, my laxity belittles the eternal destination of a human soul. We need to witness with intelligence, concern, and tenacity.

Thinking like a salesman has radically transformed how I think about sharing my faith; hopefully it has also given you food for thought and application.