I work in marketing for a nail gun company, which basically means I spend a lot of time trying to find new ways to tell people how to nail things (yes, I understand what an innuendo is). Beneath all the wide-ranging and increasingly ridiculous tasks I get dragged into, my job is simple: figure out what the customer needs and give it to him (or her, nail guns are fun for the whole family).
Bear with the slightly cult-like comparison, but I find marketing Christianity a lot harder. There are so many different facets to faith, there are so many needs that God can meet. And if my job has taught me anything it's that I can have a product that I think is amazing, but if it doesn't connect with someone's needs in a way that is real to them they aren't going to want it.
"You know what I hate about Christians?"
I'm still not sure of the right way to answer this question. At the time I opted to stare awkwardly with a mildly amused half-smile on my face. Fortunately he ignored me and continued talking.
"They're terrible salesmen."
This from a guy who lost his Mum when he was four, and who's main experience of Christians was being told it was 'part of God's plan.' Understandably he didn't particularly like the idea of being part of a plan that involved his mother dying before he had even started primary school. Nor did he see the appeal of a God who masterminded said plan.
Although their hearts were in the right place, by trying to explain his mother's death and bring God into it they missed his real need for a relationship, for comfort and for the space to grieve her death for what it was - a gut-wrenching tragedy. Sometimes we are so quick to come up with all the answers that we don't see the bigger picture.
"The worst thing about Christians is when they force their beliefs on you."
I think part of the problem is that the heart behind it sometimes gets misunderstood. I have spoken to so many people who feel like 'evangelism' is just a fancy term for brainwashing people and recruiting them to build up numbers and take over the world. There's something about the 'recruiting' vibe that gives me the creeps a bit too.
To be honest, I have my questions about evangelism, I have my doubts. I struggle with the who, what, when, where, how and even the why. I don't like the 'us and them' mentality. I don't like how we use the collective 'non-Christians' label in a way that makes it sound like there is something fundamentally wrong with them, as if we aren't talking about individual, real people.
I'm also afraid of getting it wrong. I have seen the results of people getting burned by overly-aggressive conversion attempts. I don't want to come across as judgemental or turn people further away by trying to force something on them. I know I don't actually have the power to change someone's entire belief system and I don't think faith, or life for that matter, is one-size-fits-all.
So rather than pushing my own agenda, I have tried to adjust my focus to look for the need. Not what I interpret their need to be, not the blanket 'everyone needs Jesus' need that we place on others. I mean the needs that are real to them in that moment.
Sometimes that will mean being open and honest about my beliefs and my experiences. Other times that will mean simply listening, encouraging or just plain old butting out. I try to remind myself that it's not actually about me.
And if all else fails, there's always nail guns.
First published May 8, 2014
Casey Murray works in marketing for a company that sells nail guns, where she eats large amounts of chocolate and wears pretty dresses in an attempt to avoid becoming 'one of the boys.' In her spare time she likes having inappropriate conversations with friends and writes to try and make sense of it all.
Casey Murray's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/casey-murray.html