I’ve also known for a long time that evangelical expectations of one’s path to and role in ministry irritate me. I have babbled on to Jeremiah about this for a couple of years, and I’m not certain I’ve ever gotten much better at articulating my frustration. Last night, however, a fellow blogger posted something on Facebook about feeling his personality doesn’t fit certain expectations for ministers, largely because he doesn’t possess the salesman vibe which seems highly valued by many Christians.
As I continued to ponder his brief statement on his experiences, as well as my own, I realized that “salesperson” pretty accurately describes what is expected of both those interested in ministry and those already there. I also realized that liturgy is possibly the strongest corrective we have in our armory against the many problems brought by a sales-centric way of doing ministry.
The idea of comparing a minister to a salesperson isn’t particularly novel, especially if we’re talking about sketchy televangelists. This goes beyond obviously disingenuous scumbags, however, to also describe the kindest and most humble of evangelical ministers—and not only in the context of evangelism. In particular, I think sales aptly describes our obsession with “leadership,” which can often revolves around vision-casting. Coming up with a plan (for the church generally, for a sermons series, etc.) is a very important part of many evangelical ministers’ jobs, and then, of course, to be a good leader you also have to persuade others to follow. This, too, is essentially sales.
Similarly, the same charisma that makes you a good “leader” tends to get you noticed by someone in ministry as a potential minister yourself. If you aren’t noticed on your own, of course, you also have another option: sell yourself. By grooming yourself into the desired mold, networking, etc. you gain recognition from your youth worker, college minister, or pastor and are from that point encouraged and empowered on your journey to practice the art of spiritual sales, perhaps also collecting a seminary degree along the way (which will likely emphasize some of the same skills). If, of course, you can’t seem to meet expectations—because your personality is wrong (i.e., you are awful at sales) or because you feel slimey to be self-promotional—you might have trouble finding a place in ministry.
The problem with salesperson ministers is that selling things takes time and energy better spent on other needs. And that people idolize charismatic preachers in unhealthy ways. And that other “leadership traits” like being assertive are really more stereotypically male than particularly Christian. And that sales is hard to do without putting up at least a bit of a facade, making it unhealthy for ministers, too… The list could go on. But there is no need. You get the gist.
Aside from considering how this may deter very capable people from entering into a profession which they would enjoy and could use to serve others, I think there is a very important question for us to ask here: why? What is the reasoning behind this sales emphasis and what would be the antidote? I’ve decided that a great deal of the rationale for preferring this sort of minister is simply that evangelicals want someone to help their churches decide what needs to be done and to do it. This typically requires someone with a certain level of decisiveness, charisma, and other characteristics associated with “strong leadership.” These same characteristics, of course, help one garner the support necessary to enter ministry to begin with. But what if being a salesperson wasn’t a requirement? How could a church operate so as to make a salesperson minister completely unnecessary?
And then it dawned on me: Liturgy.