Hi and welcome back! In recent years, we’ve had a few good laughs over the frantic efforts of evangelical leaders to push their flocks to do more personal evangelism, which is Christianese for laypeople selling group membership to others on a person-to-person basis. Some of these efforts are funnier and cringier than others. But they all fail miserably upon contact with actual laypeople. In a recent Christianity Today, evangelist Ben Jack offers yet another of these attempts to mobilize the troops. Dude insists that he’s ‘reordering evangelism,’ but it’s seriously just the same old rah-rah with no substance. However, this particular bit of rah-rah illustrates just how awful evangelical leaders’ advice really is — and how little about it ever changes.
Evangelism as Bad Salesmanship.
As I mentioned recently, evangelism is not a mystic, supernatural process. It’s literally just salesmanship. Evangelicals just tend to be absolutely awful salespeople hawking a lackluster product that people increasingly don’t want.
But evangelicals don’t like that truth. They need evangelism to be utterly mystical and supernatural in nature. They don’t even teach adequate, effective sales methods to their flocks, for goodness’ sake.
Evangelism has no entry bar to participation, no requirements for practice, and most importantly no penalties for failure to make sales (or even, really, for refusal to participate). So theoretically, evangelism can be done by anybody.
And yet most evangelicals don’t evangelize at all.
Today, we’ll check out Ben Jack’s attempt to push the troops onto the sales floor. Unfortunately, it will fail utterly — just like all the other efforts of his peers in leadership.
Sharing Lightning in a Bottle.
Ben Jack tells us in his November 23 post that he has worked as an evangelist for many years. That work experience might be part of why his post looks so incredibly surreal compared to the actual experiences of reluctant soulwinners warming pews across America.
Evangelicalism does boast a few successful salespeople in their ranks. I don’t know if Ben Jack counts as one of them. But if he does, then his success comes down to factors that most evangelicals can’t easily learn or duplicate: charisma, emotional intelligence, a nose for effective salesmanship (as opposed to how evangelicals teach it), and finely-honed manipulation skills.
We can say this with utter certainty: If Ben Jack actually makes any number of real sales for his tribe, a proposition I by no means accept without evidence, then he is not using the tactics taught by most evangelism schools and pastors. He might not even realize that he’s doing anything else, though. The tactics themselves tend to illustrate evangelicals’ tendency toward meaningless rah-rah and vague talking points with no tangible or actionable elements.
Unfortunately, if any fully-indoctrinated evangelical does manage to make sales, if that is indeed what’s going on with Ben Jack, then he won’t be able to pass on his potential wisdom to the flocks because evangelicals wouldn’t accept real guidance anyway.
A Typical Beginning Full of Accusations.
Ben Jack begins by accusing the flocks of not even trying to make sales. He thinks that three factors stop them from attempting evangelism. He writes:
1. Disabled by the fear of man
2. Disempowered by a lack of skill-set or calling
3. Disqualified by sin or failure
Translated from the Christianese, his accusations mean:
- Nervous about alienating loved ones or looking foolish
- Feeling unprepared to make a sales pitch
- Knowing that one’s own hypocrisy will make a sales pitch backfire
And here’s why these are perfectly valid reasons for the flocks to avoid making sales pitches:
- Yes, of course unwanted Jesus sales pitches annoy people and wreck relationships and social capital. Ben Jack himself sure won’t be paying for his followers’ losses.
- Yes, of course the flocks feel unprepared. Their leaders refuse to prepare them adequately, for reasons described above.
- And yes, of course the flocks’ evangelism targets judge the validity of a sales pitch by the example of the salesperson offering it. Evangelicals hate this truth, but they’ve never been able to fully negate it. Since most evangelicals are stone-cold hypocrites and their social circles know it, they’re not going to convince anyone who knows them to Jesus like they do.
Yes. As I said: perfectly valid. Understandable. And fixable, though not for a group that’s rotted from the inside from authoritarian dysfunction, like evangelicals are. Such a group can’t fix any of this stuff. They must try instead to make these objections sound invalid and silly, because they can’t legitimately fix or defeat them.
So now let’s move smoothly into the gaslighting phase of Ben Jack’s exhortation!
Ben Jack Identifies The Big Problem Here.
Hilariously, Ben Jack decides that The Big Problem Here is that evangelicals just aren’t focused on the correct order of operations. They’re not centering Jesus enough in their efforts.
See, they’re doing it this-a-way:
Method → Messenger → Message
[. . .] Our evangelism math concludes that if we can supply an effective enough method it will lead to our people becoming messengers of the message.
But they should be doing it this-other-way:
REORDERED: MESSAGE, MESSENGER, METHOD
See, see, if they do it this way then it starts with the “message.” And evangelicals don’t start with the “message” because they are just not Jesus-ing hard enough. He writes:
When we take the time to talk through the gospel, explore its truth, wrestle over its intricacies, marvel at its wonder, delight in its hope, respond to its invitation to repent, and live in its reality, we are changed. [. . .]
Simply put, the best evangelism equipping and encouragement is found in knowing the gospel deeply. By its truth and power we become more than people with a message delivered by a method, we become the living embodiment of the message (2 Cor 5:17-21).
Oh boy. Where even to begin…
KO in Round One.
I’m struggling to remember a single time I have ever heard any evangelical leader or read any evangelical writings that worked like he’s claiming here. I’m coming up blank.
Every single time I’ve ever, ever, EVER encountered any evangelical talking about evangelism, it has always ordered operations that way Ben Jack likes best. I’ve never, ever seen any evangelical try to start with what he calls the “method.”
Maybe a few Disqus or YouTube randos make these mistakes, but it’s not something anybody really teaches. I don’t think even those randos would say that’s an ideal way to score a Jesus sale.
IF some evangelical leaders tend to focus on salesmanship skills (“method”), it’s because they think their flocks feel unequipped to start a sales pitch. That’s because they are, as mentioned earlier. Their leaders won’t change that with what Ben Jack dismissively refers to as listicles like “the four spiritual laws.” Granted. But just because someone focuses on one part of the shebang right then doesn’t mean that’s their entire focus forever regarding the whole shebang.
Suffice to say that most evangelists are totally convinced that they are starting with the “message” part of the equation. I’d really like some examples of evangelical leaders making this mistake before I accept it as a serious problem within evangelicalism.
Yes, Yes, But What Does It Look Like?
Even more than that, I’ve never seen any evangelism teacher advise that salespeople focus on their own behavior or glorify themselves in their sales pitches — the “messenger” end of Ben Jack’s equation. He thinks that evangelicals shy away from issuing sales pitches because they don’t feel “called” to evangelism (that’s Christianese for feeling like Jesus personally told them to do something).
To fix this problem, Ben Jack advises evangelicals to see themselves as “the living embodiment of what the message is.”
Okay, but how?
What does it look like to be “the living embodiment” of Christianity?
And how are evangelicals currently not doing that?
To me, this criticism doesn’t sound valid at all. And Ben Jack kinda knows that, I think, because he offers some talking points to totally solve evangelicals’ hypocrisy problem before leaping into his post’s ending.
(We’ll talk more about those non-solutions tomorrow. For now, I’ll just note that none of his suggestions are new, and none have ever worked.)
This stuff about being a “living embodiment of the message” is just a load of blahblah from the blahblah factory. His non-solutions can’t be put into lived reality because they’re not tangible in any way at all.
The Funniest Part.
In his conclusion, Ben Jack takes for granted that now, finally, laypeople in evangelical churches will feel mobilized to go sell their li’l hearts out. Now, they can finally concentrate on learning evangelism skills — such as the tribe teaches them, anyway.
He doesn’t actually have any problem with the methods themselves, incidentally, though he earlier talked about them dismissively and with what I perceived as scorn. He offers several suggestions of ones he thinks are effective. The cynical side of me thinks that all of them are written or distributed by business associates of his, but it doesn’t matter either way really.
It’s important to remember that not only are evangelism methods not effective, but the evangelicals purchasing them don’t even know how to assess effectiveness — and wouldn’t care if they could, because evangelism methods are only judged by how closely they align with evangelicals’ beliefs. The publishers, writers, and distributors of evangelism products sure think they work great, and these products definitely adhere completely to evangelicals’ beliefs. That’s all that’s important to the evangelicals purchasing them.
As long as evangelicals buy these ineffective products, we can count on their creators to continue to produce and sell them. These products’ main benefit is enriching their creators, not helping evangelicals make sales.
Oh Wait. No, THIS is the Funniest Part.
I almost forgot to mention the most cringey part of this post. See, Ben Jack tries his damndest to weave zombies into his post at various times. Yes. Zombies. He compares the making of a sales pitch to a zombie attack. I’m not kidding. He writes:
Viewers are now so well versed in how to survive a zombie outbreak that if a real zombie apocalypse hits I’m sure we’ll be fine. However, ask the average person whether they’d rather have an encounter with a zombie or a Christian trying to evangelise them and I wonder which they’d choose? Then again, ask the average Christian whether they’d rather fight off a zombie or have to talk to someone about their faith and we might be on equally shaky ground…
He made that reference so later in the post he could accuse evangelical laypeople of not evangelizing correctly and thus being zombie-like:
When we focus on process more than person, we start heading into the realm of what I call ‘zombie evangelism’, where people head out (at worst, fairly mindlessly) looking for ‘victims’ to feast upon with a tried and tested gospel method. But in the non-more important task [sic] of offering the world life, we shouldn’t be mindlessly shuffling zombie-style towards them, ready to consume with our method. We should be revealing to them in word and deed the precious gift of life that we now have by the power of the gospel that is available to them also.
See? It all comes down to how hard the salesperson Jesus-es. If evangelicals Jesus hard enough, then they won’t be zombies! Yay Team Jesus! Boo zombies!
(You don’t wanna be a zombie, now do you…?)
Egad, this comparison was just so cringey.
Not Changing Anything.
Later in the post, Ben Jack compares evangelism to the message carried by those two guys in the movie 1917. Ohh, he wishes his product was anything like that (as do his readers, no doubt).
For now, I’ll just say this:
Evangelical laypeople know something their leaders don’t want to admit. They might not even know what it is, exactly, but they know it all the same. Through their behavior, they reveal this truth they know-without-knowing:
Their message isn’t really that startling or great-sounding to their targets.
And their targets already know the sales pitch, and they neither need nor want to hear it again.
The flocks know this, too:
If they push ahead to make yet another unwanted sales pitch, all they’ll do is annoy and alienate their targets — for no return at all for themselves or their tribe.
They may not know why their leaders keep exhorting them to push themselves at others, though. This, too, is a topic for another day.
Which Way Did His Followers Go?
Ultimately, the kindest thing I can say about any evangelism exhortation is that the flocks will simply ignore it, just like they ignore all such exhortations.
Very clearly, they want no part of the social costs of unwanted sales pitches. They don’t care about how important their Dear Leaders try to make these pitches sound, or how dazzlingly they reword the tribe’s existing teachings, or even if they insinuate that disobedient evangelicals are zombies.
Ben Jack can throw as many cringey references into his post as he likes. He can offer as much reworded blahblah and intangible suggestions as he wishes. It won’t matter.
Evangelicals still won’t wanna evangelize after reading it.
NEXT UP: How this same guy advises evangelicals get over accusations of hypocrisy. However, his suggestions don’t seem to center on not being hypocrites. Just wow. I haven’t seen this kind of cognitive dissonance in a long time. And you’ll get to see it too — tomorrow!
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Last note: It’s possible that Ben Jack reached for zombies as his cringey comparison because that’d have some significant meaning for his tribe. They like to think of themselves as “born again,” and of themselves as truly living compared to their enemies. In fact, they think they’ve gained eternal life. A zombie, being an undead creature, would probably be a really awful idea to them. But the more I think about the similarities between zombies and well-indoctrinated evangelicals, the more I seem to find.