A few years ago I began reading a series of books by Malcolm Gladwell, a British-Canadian journalist. My favorite was called Blink, which he describes as "A book about rapid cognition, about the kind of thinking that happens in a blink of an eye." Essentially he discusses thought processes and consequent actions based on the first split second of new perceived information.
One chapter especially struck me. In it, Gladwell describes Bob Golomb, a car salesman with sales numbers over twice that of the average car salesperson. He said the following about his success:
"You cannot prejudge people in this business" he said over and over when we met, and each time he used that phrase, his face took on a look of utter conviction. "Prejudging is the kiss of death. You have to give everyone your best shot. A green salesperson looks at a customer and says, ‘This person looks like he can’t afford a car,’ which is the worst thing you can do, because sometimes the most unlikely person is flush,’ Golomb says. “I have a farmer I deal with, who I’ve sold all kinds of cars over the years. We seal our deal with a handshake, and he hands me a hundred-dollar bill and says, ‘Bring it out to my farm.’ We don’t even have to write the order up. Now, if you saw this man, with his coveralls and his cow dung, you’d figure he was not a worthy customer. But in fact, as we say in the trade, he’s all cashed up. Or sometimes people see a teenager and they blow him off. Well, then later that night, the teenager comes back with Mom and Dad, and they pick up a car, and it’s the other salesperson that writes them up.”
Gladwell applies Golomb’s insight to greater truths in our culture. I believe we can also take this lesson in salesmanship and incorporate it into how we share our faith.
Evangelism is something that comes very easily to some, scares the living daylights out of others, and finds most of us somewhere in between. No matter where you land on that scale, I think one of the biggest challenges we face as we share our faith is the very same as that of those “green” salespeople. To some degree we have all looked at someone, and based primarily on appearances, take our first split-second reaction and decide that our Gospel message probably won’t sink in. We don’t even bother speaking to them.
1 Timothy 2:1-6
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.
Bob Golomb develops great relationships with people and has had a great deal of worldly success by “giving everyone his best shot”. The Great Commission of “go and make disciples of all nations” carries considerably more weight in its urgency and outcome than selling as many cars as you can in a month.
Paul, inspired by God, urges us that “petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people”. All people. “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” All people. “Christ Jesus... gave himself as a ransom for all people.” All people. We need to “give everyone our best shot”. We should never let an opportunity to share Christ slip away because of an assumption based on a first impression. There are a lot of people out there who are very different from you, from me. Christ, however, does NOT say, “Spread the Word of salvation to those who you are comfortable approaching, and who look like the type of people who will listen. Otherwise, don’t waste your time.”
Consider how many people in the bible may have missed out on salvation if a good first impression was a prerequisite for the gospel being shared: Rahab, Zacchaeus, Mary Magdalene, the lepers, the woman who washed his feet, the woman at the well. People who never gave favorable first impressions fill the pages of scripture.
There is obviously quite a bit of difference between us spreading the gospel and Bob Golomb selling cars. Please don’t take the analogy too far. After all, the Holy Spirit is on our side, and will do all the hard work for us! Do understand this simple application: When presented with an opportunity to share the gospel, “You have to give everyone your best shot.”
We need to be so careful not to dismiss people based on physical appearance or assumptions based on first impressions made in the blink of an eye. Consider Christ.
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.