I answer the phone and the voice on the other end of the line chirps, “We want to give you 2 nights and 3 days in our luxurious Florida beach-front resort.”

I am immediately suspicious. “What is the catch?”

“There is no catch! This is our gift to you. We just need you to act now to reserve your spot. And then when you arrive, we will need an hour of your time to share all of the perks of the gift.”

“Ah-hah! So there IS a catch! Voluntarily submit myself to an hour of high-pressure manipulative sales pitch? No thank you.” <Click>

Woman with sign giving free hugs

***

I have friends who delight in jumping through all the hoops to get the “free” gift. They have absolutely zero intention of kowtowing to the pressure, and they don’t. I tend to be more of the kind who would rather pay than endure the agony of a sales pitch. Others can’t say no to anyone and get locked into contracts and agreements they didn’t want, don’t need, and would be better off without. I once bought a $3000 vacuum cleaner because of a scheme like this.

I suspect that this time share sales technique has existed for as long as society has. Learning that if it seems too good to be true it probably is is a rite of passage. One bitten, twice shy. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. Etc. But the universality of the time share sales job doesn’t make it acceptable or moral or appropriate to use on our fellow man.

***

A group arrives in the inner city of your state’s largest metro area. They secure a building and start spreading the word.

Now available! Nutritious food, water, medical care, and a safe place to escape summer’s heat and winter’s cold!

Those without a home take note. They are excited and hopeful for the first time in their lives. Finally, a place where they are welcome. The police won’t come by and insist they move.

When they walk in on opening day, they discover the catch. As they gather in the main dining room, a guy stands up at the front and explains the conditions.

“You can eat, drink,  receive medical care and take shelter here, but first you must listen to a [manipulative guilt-laden high-pressure] message about Jesus.”

***

woman giving free hugs

Sound familiar? It should. I’ve seen it everywhere from homeless shelters to soup kitchens to children’s camps/child care (hello Vacation Bible School) to international child sponsorship programs. We Christians are not immune from using time share sales techniques to “evangelize.”

We should not be surprised, then, that the recipients of our time share charity have learned how to say the right things and jump through all the hoops in order to receive the physical benefits of our aid, without any intention of actually genuinely buying into our religion. We should not be surprised when people refuse aid at all because they refuse to jump through the hoops. And we should not be surprised by those who make wild and sweeping professions of one faith one day and another faith the next.

I am NOT saying that we should stop providing charity. Nor am I saying we should not tell others why we do the things we do. The Bible commands us to go into all the world and make disciples. The BIble commands that God’s people care for the orphan, widow, poor, and oppressed. We cannot squirm our way out from under either of these clear commands. But when you look in Scripture, you will not find these two things married the way we marry them.

The Bible never makes proselytizing a condition of providing charity and advocating for justice.

The Bible nowhere qualifies the command to help the widow, the orphan, the oppressed, and the poor. The Bible never says “help the Christian poor” or “help the poor only if they listen to a 30-minute sermon.” God told the Israelites that they are God’s people if they help the poor and bring justice to the oppressed. No qualifiers. No agenda. No strings attached. Just love. Scandalous love. Jesus love. The kind we teach and preach about – the free gift of God, that we do not deserve and cannot earn.

What if by our obedience to God’s command to care for the poor and bring justice to the oppressed, we painted a living-color picture of the unmerited favor of God?

What if we scandalized people with too-good-to-be-true-but-really-is-true generosity?

What if we give until it hurts, and then keep right on giving, just like Jesus?

And what if, in our giving, we pray that someone will ask us why we do it, why we give so much without a catch or agenda?

Then we could explain how God gave to us, and how our love for God gives us love for people and that we cannot help but share it with them. Wouldn’t that be far more powerful than manipulating people to jump through hoops?

God calls us to be something completely other than slick salesmen. God calls us to show others the scandalous grace available in Jesus. Let’s do better.

14 comments

  1. That’s my girl. Well done, Joy.

    What if indeed.

    Reply
  2. This is why I’m madly in love with Nuru International. (nuruinternational.org) It’s an organization that was started by Christians and is motivated by Christian values, but is 100% secular. No Christian sales pitch to receive the loans or training, just do it because it’s the right thing to do.

    Excellent piece, my friend. Making faith part of our sales pitch cheapens that grace big time.

    Reply
  3. That’ll preach, Joy.

    Reply
  4. Aha! Thank you.

    This has been on my heart lately. I’ve been feeling called not to identify myself as Christian – not because I don’t believe, but because it holds more value if others recognize Christ in me, and not a label. This perspective lends itself well to your post today.

    Reply
  5. Lori

    Amen! I love this scandalous grace and love that is available through Jesus. This post so blessed me and came just when I needed it. Thank you!

    Reply
  6. Dena G

    If they know we are Christians by our love (as we so blithely sing), they have no need of knowing us by our proselytizing and our sermonizing or any other “-izing” we attach to our giving. Love this. Thank you.

    Reply
  7. Gunnar Tveiten

    Spot on Joy !

    I *especially* want to point out the evilness of connecting services like school, vaccinations and healthcare to preaching. Send your kid to our school and she’ll learn to read and write, receive vaccination and health-checks, be fed nutritious food and learn about Jesus.

    That’s blackmail. *Even* if the Jesus part is “entirely optional”, it’ll rightly be perceived as “part of the package”. People are willing to accept essentially *anything* in order for their children to be fed, cured and educated.

    Reply
  8. Wow. You’ve touched on something that has been vaguely bouncing around in my head lately. It was still foggy and I couldn’t lay my finger on it, but every time I saw a homeless man standing on the corner holding a cardboard sign, something said, “the ways of getting help these days just isn’t right.”

    Reply
  9. Yes and yes. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  10. Love this. Last year a group of Christian friends in our city started an organisation called Serve the City together. We’re motivated by the love we’ve received, but we don’t mention Jesus once on our website, in our events, with our partners, with our beneficiaries (unless, like you say, we’re asked outright). Some people in our church have really struggled to understand why we don’t. But it’s about serving out of love love love, not from any other agenda. Thanks for explaining it so much better than I usually can.

    Reply
  11. Sarah T.

    You made some excellent points! We are to serve without conditions and give without reservations. We are to be aware of what our purpose is in charity and not coerce others to buy our scam. However, the fact is we have a message that is so much more worthy, powerful, and true than a time-share scam. There is a fine line between forcing the gospel on someone in order to meet their physical needs and sharing the perfect, everlasting good news with the lost.

    You gave the examples of church camps and VBS as ways of forcing the gospel on people, and I have to disagree. In the name “church camp” we are stating that we are sharing our religious beliefs. In the name “vacation Bible school” we are stating that we are teaching the bible. There are no gimmicks. It’s honest in the name of what is being sold.

    God has called us to love the poor AND preach the gospel. You can’t do one without the other. Sure, there are methods that are better (such as making sure you have a mutual friendship rather than using the poor to build your status) but we are to listen to what God has called us to and obey. Ask any gospel mission, church camp, and charity and you will find that there are people who genuinely fell to the knees of their Savior because of their work.

    Reply
  12. My heart echoes your thoughts. I’m reminded of a quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.”

    Reply

Leave a Comment