I read about a recruitment campaign the Jesuits ran in Oz. They hired a PR firm to come up with an attention-grabbing tagline that would draw people to the Jesuits’ website, where the Order’s vocation could be explored in more depth. And what line did they come up with?
“What are you doing on earth for Christ’s sake?”
The day the new ad campaign was launched, it was all over the national newspapers, and their website crashed
That night, the Jesuit telling this story said,
“When I told my Jesuit community about the language the bright young things in the advertising agency used to describe our vocation, they all roared with laughter. Then one of the older Jesuits said more seriously: ‘Of course we aren’t selling anything. We’re offering a way of being in love with Christ, with our sisters and brothers, and with the world.’”
That made me think.” Even more when a friend commented later:
“As Christians we are not meant to be sales people for the Gospel – but we are called to be loving, free samples of it for others.”
That really struck me. Because a lot of the time people in pulpits, bible studies and groups urge us to ‘spread the good news’; to be evangelists and missionaries – even if only to our unsuspecting friends and neighbours! Mission is urged on us very much like a soap selling exercise. ‘Get out there! Tell them about Jesus … and all the wonderful powers of cleanliness, abundant lather and fragrance of roses he has!’ No wonder we are not so keen. Or maybe we are too keen and that is the trouble. While you are selling something – even faith – it is me, the seller, who does the talking, the explaining, the proving and the impressing. They (the potential buyers) just have to listen. Of course this can be ‘effective’— in the sense that some people are in such a mess with their lives that any clear, straight-forward, simple, logical explanation of ‘life’ can seem a relief and a way out of their many dilemmas. The salesman is so convinced, convincing and sure. That is very attractive when you are confused. Sadly, it is not so attractive when you cease to be confused. When you have time to reflect and to ‘think for yourself’ and not simply in the way the salesman tells you.
The idea that we are meant to ‘live’ the gospel and ‘be’ a walking, talking, example of it, sounds much harder — especially if you are a salesman type, that is, you have the gift of the gab, sound reasonable and half decent and seem to have the best of intentions. Because it is not that you are selling a lie. You do believe that faith is the best way to live life to the full and that the Christian faith is a tried and tested spiritual path that really does what it says on the tin. But isn’t that so often the issue with Christians. They may believe but often they don’t live the gospel. We are hypocrites. Or at least we probably need to spend as much time showing our faith as telling people about it. We come back to S. Francis of course and his classic injunction: Preach the gospel at all times; if necessary use words!
Mission cannot be simply about persuasion. Evangelism is not about US telling THEM. Some people say it’s impossible to get people to come to church nowadays. The whole secular culture and material context of life today means people do not have the sort of openness to, or interest in, things of the spirit that we once had. Maybe that is true. But Mission starts in our heart. In our prayers. In our way of being a church. Our way of being with others. It is not necessarily about ‘relevance’ or mentioning a lot of the things which we think people want to hear. But it might be about showing God’s love in our welcome, in our inclusiveness, in our listening, in our care for people and our determined action to see God’s justice done. Church is strange if you have not grown up with it. How easy do we make it for newcomers? The church needs to be a free sample of love —an experience of Christ’s love — as much as we are a give-away free sample of it. ‘Me’ as a person and ‘me’ as a church member have to be all of a piece. Everything has to add up. The experience has to ring true from start to finish. And on the second encounter too. Why we have to imitate Christ is because He was truly different. We have to be different like Him. People have to notice that.
Material culture always lets you down. No matter how expensive the object or experience, no matter how exclusive, precious, envied or long-desired — the joy in it dies. It doesn’t last. You always need another, or a different material other, to repeat that same satisfaction — or to prolong the pleasure you once had.
Are we up to being free samples — giveaways — of God’s transformational, different, love? The love that redeems the world. It’s a very tall order. But no amount of soap selling will work half as well. Only by us being give-away free samples of God can we show by our lives the reality of our faith, and draw others to Him.
Our job is to be — in our own unique and special way — so like Jesus, so different, so obviously someone ‘touched by God’ that people just want to know more, to stay, to explore further. Then we will all become, in the true sense, missionaries. And our church a ‘mission church’. That would be a great result!