I am not a good salesman. If I had to make a living selling things to people, I would probably starve.
That’s why I hate contact evangelism (talking to strangers about Jesus). It feels like salesmanship to me. Every capital-E evangelist I’ve ever met—the people who write the books about evangelism—always seem like they’d be really good salespeople. If they weren’t converting people to Jesus, they’d be breaking records selling Ginsu knives. They know how to establish trust with strangers quickly, and how to use their charisma, boldness, and well-rehearsed pitch to get someone they don’t know to make a life-changing decision in twenty minutes or less.
There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, I’m really glad there are people out there who can do that. But it’s a skill set I don’t possess (despite years of InterVarsity training). I make evangelism coaches cry. I practice the pitch, I pray, I decide to be bold and take a risk, and . . . I mostly just make people feel awkward. And my palms sweat a lot.
I hate contact evangelism.
But then I had an experience that completely changed how I feel about talking to strangers about Jesus.
This past spring, I had an infected tooth. I named it Apocalypse Tooth, because when it acted up, atomic bombs could be dropping from the sky and I wouldn’t have noticed. After several very painful, very sleepless nights, I made an emergency appointment with an oral surgeon to have it removed. The worst part? I had to stay off painkillers for 12 hours prior to the surgery. I’d been going bonkers on the painkillers. Apocalypse Tooth laughed at me. It was an evil laugh.
Once I arrived at the surgeon’s office, I was in so much pain that I couldn’t stand still. I am not kidding. I could hardly see straight. When the receptionist said, in her perfect receptionist voice, “Have a seat, and we’ll be with you as soon as we can,” I just about lost it. “Can I at least get laughing gas until the doctor can see me?” I asked. But she wasn’t going to budge. She ratcheted her receptionist voice up a notch. “We’ll get to you as soon as we can,” she said. I sighed. I stifled a scream. Then I jumped around in little circles on one foot.
Yeah. It was that bad.
As I sat down, head between my legs, and tried not to moan too loudly in agony, a total stranger tapped me on the shoulder. “You look like you’re in a lot of pain,” she said. I moaned again. “If you’ll let me,” she said, “I think I can help you. I can teach you some acupressure techniques that will relieve your pain until the doctor can see you.”
I didn’t know this lady from Marilyn Monroe. I didn’t know a thing about acupressure. But I was desperate, so I let her help me. What she had me do must have looked pretty ridiculous—tapping the middle of my forehead with two fingers, and so on—but it helped. It really helped. I was able to breathe again. I was so glad she was bold enough to talk to me.
Now, if I had sat next to this lady on the bus a week before—pre–Apocalyse Tooth—and she had said, “Can I teach you some acupressure techniques that are effective for pain relief?” I would have given her a strange look, muttered “No thanks,” and promptly gotten off at the wrong stop and walked the rest of the way. But at that particular moment in my life, I was open to receive what she had to teach. She was a godsend. And I mean that literally. God sent her to me. I was so thankful.
And now, when I’m looking for people to talk to about Jesus, I no longer see myself as a bad salesman. Instead, I see myself as a groovy acupressure therapist. I’m not trying to get people to accept something they don’t really want. I don’t need charisma, or a sales pitch. Not really. I’m looking for people who are at that particular point in their life where they are looking for relief—from anywhere. Their usual answers, coping techniques, and defense mechanisms have failed them. They are in such spiritual, emotional, or relational pain that they’re open to solutions they wouldn’t normally consider. And I have a life-giving, spiritually healing, pain-relieving answer for them. If they’re ready to receive it, I’m happy to offer it.
Image by twentyonehundred productions team members Matt Kirk and Laura Li-Barbour.