High pressure sales tactics or “take it or leave it?”

I’m not saying it is all one or the other, but what do you think the biblical model of sharing the Gospel is more like?

A. High pressure sales tactics
B. Take it or leave it

I submit that it is more like “B.”  Of course we pray for people and earnestly hope for their salvation, but ultimately it is between them and God.  We’re on the Great Commission, not the paid commission.

When Jesus encounters the rich young ruler and tells him what he must do to attain eternal life, the man walks away sadly.  Then Jesus runs and tackles him and preaches to him some more.

Oh, wait, that last part never happened.  The man walked away and we never hear of him again, even though Jesus loved him.

And consider Paul’s journeys.  While he sometimes stayed in the same place for a while, the typical model seemed to be: Preach, get beat up, leave.  Or, at best:

Acts 17: 32-24 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” So Paul went out from their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.

On the flip side, the book of Hebrews does say three times that:

So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice,  do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert . . .

So there is nothing wrong with conveying some sense of urgency to the appeal.

But some evangelism models involve pressuring people to decide, and they border on manipulation — or they jump across the border.  As the saying goes, if I can manipulate people into professing belief based on worldly techniques then someone else can talk them out of it.  And Satan is smarter than I am.  False conversions harm the person and the church.

Consider how few of the typical “converts” of revivals stick around:

 In the Assembly of God’s 1990s “Decade of Harvest,” out of the 3.5 million supposedly converted, they showed a net gain of only 5 new attenders for every 100 recorded professions. When one considers all of our supposed converts, including those who refuse to follow Christ in baptism and who never join our churches, our numbers are much the same. Doesn’t anybody see that there is a serious problem here?

I want to point people to the Bible and let the Holy Spirit do the work.  I reflexively work in key themes to spiritual conversations and am glad to unflinchingly affirm doctrines about the authority and accuracy of the Bible, the divinity and exclusivity of Jesus, the existence of Hell, the minimal facts, etc.  But it is all with an aim to get them to read for themselves.  I trust God to do what He promised:

Isaiah 55:10-11 For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

I also think that in terms of how the world views the church we come across as much more confident in our views if we just lay them out in a rational way instead of using emotional tricks.  People are bombarded with ads and gimmicks and we shouldn’t be a part of that.  2 Corinthians 4:1-6 explains this well:

Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

No tricks or high pressure, just sharing the truth in love.  Only God can make spiritually dead people alive.  We just want to be obedient to his model.

Finally, there are the pearl holding / dust shaking teachings of Jesus.  He told us not to press the issue with those who aren’t interested.  We need to be bold but also to trust his timing.

If you have the gift of evangelism, then get out and preach.  If you don’t, then be ready to fulfill your jobs as apologists and ambassadors to share the truth in a winsome way to a world that desperately needs it. Don’t sugarcoat the truth, but don’t feel the need to win every soul you encounter.  You are being obedient to God regardless of whether the person converts or not.  

Said another way, if you are an Arminian then high pressure techniques are counterproductive.  If you are Reformed, then they are unnecessary.

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16 thoughts on “High pressure sales tactics or “take it or leave it?””

  1. Sadly, there are those who disagree with you and would rather try the high pressure tactics. I recall one group in college that staged some “listeners” around the group and when someone left, they followed with more questions and more pushing.

    You make a good point about the rich young ruler, there is never a case in the Bible where Jesus pursued someone who walked away from Him. When Agrippa walked away from Paul (Acts 26:28), there’s no record of Paul saying “but are you sure?”.

    I think the high pressure tactics turn more people off than it helps. I know it did me for a long time.

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    1. Good points. Just added this to the post — Said another way, if you are an Arminian then high pressure techniques are counterproductive. If you are Reformed, then they are unnecessary.

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  2. I’m not entirely sure I agree. It IS the job of the Holy Spirit to change a person’s heart. That’s for sure. But the Gospel is presented as a command, not an invitation. “Repent and believe the Gospel,” Jesus preached (Mark 1:15). No hint of “take it or leave it.” Paul told the Athenians, “Truly these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). John wrote, “And this is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ …” (1 John 3:23). Most often the Gospel is presented as an invitation. More often in Scripture the Gospel is presented as a command. I don’t know that this makes it ripe for “high pressure sales tactics”, but I’m pretty sure that no biblical evangelists presented it as “take it or leave it.”

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    1. I think I see what you mean. The difference may be definitions. I’m all about God commanding people to repent and believe. But I don’t see the command for endless pressure, especially in light of the pearls passage.

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      1. Which is why I said “I’m not entirely sure I agree.” I think that believers, speaking the Gospel in the terms that the Bible presents it, can be perceived as “high pressure”. I think it’s the same as saying that homosexual behavior is a sin and being perceived as “homophobic”. Neither applies. But if I believe that the people with whom I’m sharing the Gospel will be damned for eternity if they don’t repent, I probably need to maintain something between “take it or leave it” and “high pressure tactics” simply out of genuine concern for God’s glory and their souls.

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      2. The command of “repent and believe” is upon the listener, not the evangelist. It’s got nothing whatever to do with high-pressure sales tactics. You disagreed with Neil because you lost sight of who God was talking to – unbelievers. (Yes, we Christians need to do some repenting of our own from time to time, but that’s not what we’re referring to here.)

        God says to believers, “Go and spread the Word to all nations.”
        God says to non-believers, “Hear the message. Repent and believe.”

        Those who apply high-pressure tactics forget that we’re not Mormons or some other organized church whose bottom line depends on getting more people through the doors on Sunday morning. We need to remember Jesus instruction that when people reject our message, they’re rejecting Him, not us. It’s important not to take such rejection personally or allow our ego or self-esteem wrapped up in it. A Bible-believing, Jesus-preaching church doesn’t maintain a list of “top evangelists of the month.” It doesn’t offer commissions and sales bonuses to those who bring in more converts.

        We also need to bear in mind that while we’re concerned about the eternal fate of others around us (and rightly so), that each man must ultimately decide for himself where he wants to end up. Hell is a perfectly appropriate destination for those who insist on being rulers in their own right, who want full control of their own lives, who think that human knowledge and understanding will enable them to “figure it all out.” It’s a perfectly appropriate place who disregard God’s instruction about the way the universe operates and who believe it’s possible to re-create Heaven on Earth, who think that human beings are inherently good or perfectible. (Such a doctrine rejects the Bible’s teaching about original sin and therefore, the need for salvation through Jesus.) People who cling to such ways will be judged as evil in God’s sight and be consigned to be permanently separated from Him.

        Once we’ve made such individuals aware that there is a better way, all we can do is love them from a distance if they reject the Message. This lesson is one that I’ve had to learn over and over myself.

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      1. Today we know that God commanded it because of the Scriptures we have where MEN of God spoke the COMMANDS of God. John, Peter, Paul, these all spoke of it in terms of command. Repeating the command that God gives that all repent is not outside of our authority since we are simply pointing out the command that God gives. It’s His authority.

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      2. Yet, still, assuming I am evangelizing to a non-believer, I can preach what God commands, but I myself cannot command that they heed God’s command. I can only encourage the non-believer to do so. I can only say, “This is what God commands. Take it or leave it if you want, but here are the consequences of either choice.” At that point, it is STILL “take it or leave it” on the part of the listener. Just sayin’…

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      3. We might want to differentiate between sharing the gospel on one level, and actually preaching the gospel. If we are preaching by the power of the HOLY Spirit the text as we are commanded to do, then the commands we preach and teach are binding upon those who hear. What we are not to do is make sure they follow up on all of it. Again, the preacher does command to “repent and be baptized” “repent and believe in Jesus Christ to be saved.” But the Spirit must move in the hearer for that person to respond to the command in the affirmative. Perhaps the difference here is the problem that many face. They believe that since the text was preached with the force of command, that they too should carry out sharing with the force of command.

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  3. Hi Neil,
    Great thoughts and I can use some for my sermon this week, which is on the woman at the well going back to her village. Here is her high-pressure tactic: “Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” I’m trying to get my congregation to invite people to join us and “hear” about the LORD. No pressure. Just come and hear the truth proclaimed. I don’t believe in the high pressure emotionalism that is so often used… but I did know a guy who shared the gospel with a high school friend and that friend didn’t accept Jesus as his Savior. That night, the friend was killed in a car wreck… 🙂

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    1. Hi Pastory Timothy,

      Thanks! I use the woman-at-the-well story as an intro to apologetics and evengelism classes. In addition to what you noted, I emphasize that she didn’t know that much, but she knew enough.

      The car wreck story is tragic, but makes me glad I’m Reformed ;-). I read that one of the reasons the “high pressure” tactics increased was that some famous pastor lamented not being more aggressive the night before the great Chicago fire.

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      1. BTW, the guy that told that story would use it as his BIG emotional plea to get people to walk the aisle. I also think it makes them feel like they are God in that situation… meaning that they are the ones responsible for seeing others come to know the LORD, not the LORD.

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  4. Neil,

    I think the article as written was well done. I think also that some of you guys here are trying to read more into what Neil is saying that what is actually there. The point is that we are not called to browbeat someone to accept the truth. We proclaim the truth and it is up to them to accept it or reject it; browbeating someone will not convince them.

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