When I was 15, I became a Fuller Brush salesman. I went door-to-door selling cleaning products and I did well. Before that I sold Christmas cards door-to-door to earn a brand new bicycle; I loved that bike!
In college, I did telemarketing during summer break and sold water distillers door-to-door.
Do You Like Salesmen?
Some people like salesmen, but most people don’t—I don’t. You might think I would, but I avoid them and say ‘no thanks’ quickly, and if they persist I shut the door or hang up on them because they are bullies. They’re not interested in me or my needs; they are only interested in their agenda of providing me products or services whether I like it or not. And when I don’t cooperate, they don’t try to build a relationship, they just go to the next person because selling is a numbers game.
Most people feel the same way about Christian ‘witnesses’. People are not being impolite when they don’t want to hear our salvation pitch one more time, and they get irritated when we persist against their will. So would I! Christian witnesses can be real bullies!
My Witnessing Career
In the fundamentalist church where I grew up, we didn’t really do witnessing. Instead we invited and cajoled people into coming to church; it was then the ministers’ job to preach a hell-fire message against sin and give an altar call. Often we would surround the few sinners in the crowd and cry and beg them to go to the altar and get saved. If they did go forward, we would go with them and help pray them through.
One Sunday we had a guest preacher, and I spoke with him afterward. He asked me how many souls I had won; I hadn’t won any because I didn’t know how. He shared with me a simple approach to witnessing which got me started, but soon after that I adopted the Roman Road method from fundamentalist leader John R. Rice.
By this time I had a car and I became a witness. Mostly, I picked up hitchhikers. There were a lot of hitchhikers back then, and I picked them up all the time—and I witnessed to them. Not all of them were happy about it. Some would even have me pull over and let them out, but I didn’t care because witnessing is a numbers game. I had been a good salesman and now I was a good witness.
When I went off to a Christian College, it had a large personal evangelism program and I was ecstatic. On weekends, we were invited to churches within driving distance and went door-to-door witnessing and taught the church members how to do it. We called it an invasion.
On my first trip, I was eager to learn better witnessing techniques from my trainer, but she wasn’t very effective—she simply warned people that Jesus was coming back very soon and they had better be ready! After that first trip, I had good results with the Roman Road. My first summer, I went with a college team on a witnessing mission to Philadelphia with good success.
Not long afterwards, the college program introduced Evangelism Explosion. I thought Evangelism Explosion was the greatest witnessing tool in the world; now I consider it to be very simplistic and manipulative.
When I Retired from Selling Jesus
Within a few years, I was teaching Evangelism Explosion classes in the leading church of our denomination. It was during this time that I became disillusioned with being a Jesus salesman and decided that introducing others to Jesus should not be a numbers game; it should happen through relationships.
This decision really changed things. Next time, I will share how.