Friday night my husband and I watched The Joneses. It’s about a “family” that moves into a wealthy neighborhood for the sole purpose of marketing products. The cars, the golf clubs, the video game systems, the jogging suits, the frozen hors d’oeuvres—it’s all product placement.
The premise of the movie got me thinking about evangelism—the various ways people try to “sell” their faith. I remember hearing once that a successful high school para-church ministry had a very effective strategy: go into the school and recruit the popular kids; then those kids will recruit all the other kids. It’s the same strategy in play with the Joneses.
And it’s a strategy that flies in the face of the example set by Jesus. Fishermen, prostitutes, tax collectors . . . not exactly the Who’s Who of ancient Galilee.
Still, it’s not the popularity factor that bothers me the most. What is most disturbing about the Joneses is that they form relationships with people for the purpose of selling something. And I think that contemporary “friendship evangelism” techniques promote this same type of deception.
Yes, I know there is a difference between trying to get people to buy a flat panel TV and trying to get them to accept Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. Accepting Christ can enhance a person’s life immeasurably—both now and in the hereafter. (To be fair to the Joneses, though, I expect they really liked their TV and thought their neighbors’ lives would be better if they all had one.)
But the bottom line is that people want you to be in relationship with them because you sincerely enjoy being around them. Any ulterior motive–whether it’s selling sushi or selling Jesus—negates the friendship. Have you ever had a new “friend” who suddenly whipped out the Mary Kay catalog or the insurance policies or the Amway products? Ouch.
This is not to say that there is no acceptable way to sell products or to share your faith. If I walk into the hardware store, please, sell the me the whatchamathingy that goes on the doolybob in my toilet tank. If I walk into your place of worship or ask about your faith, feel free to tell me how your beliefs and practices will bring me joy and make me whole.
I think I have gained a new respect for the Latter Day Saints and the conservative Baptists who come knocking on my door. They believe that their faith will make my life better and they have come to tell me about it. I don’t agree with their theology (and I’m in the middle of dinner), but I respect the fact that they are up-front about their purpose.
There is a proper time and place for selling things. There is a faithful way to share about Jesus. By all means, if you love your iPod show it to your friends and tell them where they can get one. By all means, if your relationship with Jesus brings joy and peace and beauty to your life, tell your friends about it.
What strikes me as most morally repugnant about what the Joneses do is that they become friends with people in order to get them to buy stuff. I simply don’t see how someone who becomes friends with someone in order to get them to go to a particular church or accept a particular set of beliefs has much of a moral high-ground over the Joneses.
Love, writes Paul, must be sincere. Jesus calls us to love each other with nothing less than the love God has for us—a love that is pure, extravagant, and unconditional.