Sell or Tell?

I’m not much of a TV watcher, really.  That’s not an indictment on what’s on TV; not that I’m smug in saying that I don’t like what’s on TV, more that I just get easily bored as I seem to have less and less in common with much of what is popular these days.   (I’m even falling into the old-guy mode of calling “celebrities” by the wrong names and confusing one with the other.) That being said, I was flipping through the channels and after watching the History Channel actually airing a show about HISTORY, I landed on one of my guilty pleasures.. the informercials.

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I’m fascinated in a train-wreck sort of way by these things! They’re just so obnoxiously, garishly WONDERFUL!  Too loud, too tacky, and such obvious, scripted knockoffs of one another…And then I started to think.. about how the two shows and their deliveries were complete, polar opposites. And, as always, this led me to think about the gospel, and the church..and how this fits.  And it does… perfectly.

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See, the guy on the History channel was passionate, but he was stating facts. Real, historical events. Facts. He didn’t feel any great need (and frankly, I would have been skeptical) if he had been over-the-top in trying to “sell” me on the history of the events he was describing. They happened, and he was simply telling me why it happened, what it meant, and why I should care.  He was trying to TELL me something.

On the other hand, the infomercial guy was also stating facts, but he was over-the-top in his embellishment because, well, he was trying to convince me and SELL me something.

And then it hit me.. this is the state of the church today.

There are two types of men standing behind the pulpit (or sitting on a stool behind the plexiglass stand) these days.  Sell or Tell?

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One view is that the role of the Pastor is to proclaim the real, historic, news of the gospel. That Jesus Christ, very God of very God, begotten not made, the second person of the trinity.. in order to save men from sin, was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.. lived a sinless life, died an atoning death, was buried, rose again on the third day, ascended into heaven, sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty making intercession for us, and will come again to judge the living and the dead.

The men who proclaim that truth and who believe that preaching the very written words of God are both sufficient and *effective* as promised by God to be used to turn men to faith in Christ… these men sound an awful lot like the guy on the History Channel.  Since God has ordained that the means He would use to awaken His people to faith is the simple, spoken words of scripture, their faith is in that promise, and faith in the proclamation of scripture.  The call here is for people to BELIEVE… so they TELL!

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On the other hand, there are those who believe the role of the Pastor is “life change”, who   “cast vision”, in an attempt to “live missionally” as they have a “coversation” about faith in “community”.  Since the goal here is to create a vision, convince people of its worth, and call them to join it (with both funding and effort) this isn’t a simple proclamation. This isn’t telling people what happened, it’s SELLING.  And like any sales organization, you need a vision and a spokesman. In this case it’s not simply enough to state the facts so that people believe, you need to convince and call people to action! It’s not just something to believe in faith, but something to DO… so you SELL!

I know it’s going to be very easy to mischaracterize this as “cold/dead knowledge” vs. “passion and excitement”.  Or “intellectual ascent” vs. “living faith”.  Nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is, BOTH the Historian and the Informercial guy were extremely passionate.  The difference is in what they based their faith in; the reality of the event, or the skill in the speaker to sell a vision.

As a test, I’d like you to find videos of several well known Pastors. Ask yourself if this isn’t true….

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The more “SELLISH” (Sham-wow, “infomercialish”) the speaker is, the less he is actually speaking about the birth, life, death, burial and resurrection of Christ and the more likely he is to be selling you something. (A vision, a program, a “new” way to solve your problems/get what you want, a “secret of the bible”, a push for cash, or a call for free labor.) Is he preaching about Jesus, or about himself, his church and his programs?

The more “TELLISH” (History Channel Guy) the speaker is, the more likely he is to be actually proclaiming the gospel of faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sin.

So, does the speaker sound more like the infomercial guys or the History Channel guy?  Does he sound more like the TV News Anchor, or the commercials following him?

And can I make one last challenge for your consideration?

What does God, in scripture, define as the role of the Pastor.

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Feeding the sheep by preaching the word.*

“[Jesus] answered, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4)
“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2 Timothy 3:14–4:4)

In other words, feeding the sheep. The sheep. The sheep. The SHEEP! (Get it? Not the goats. There is absolutely no biblical grounds for saying that the church “isn’t for us, it’s for the lost.”  That’s not Jesus. That comes from guys who are trying to sell you stuff.

And what are they to feed the sheep?

The word of God.

So next time you listen to a sermon, receive a flyer/marketing card, watch a commercial or see a billboard, ask yourself.  What are they selling and who are they telling you about? How hard to you have to look past the marketing of people, programs, and products to find Jesus?

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* Chris Rosebrough at has done great work in this area.

3 thoughts on “Sell or Tell?”

  1. I’ll never be able to see a televangelist again without thinking of the Sham-Wow guy, haha. My mother-in-law calls them “snake oil salesmen.”

    Unrelated to this post:
    I was having an interesting discussion yesterday about the story in Exodus 1 of Shiphrah and
    Puah, the midwives who would not kill the male Hebrew babies as Pharaoh had commanded them. It would seem that they deceived the king when they told him that the Hebrew women were just so tough, they were popping the babies out before the midwives could get there. Then, twice in the same chapter, God’s approval of these women is expressed. The same holds for Rahab, who saved the Hebrew spies by lying. She is lauded for her faith in Hebrews 11.

    One side of me loves these stories of gutsy women out-smarting oppressive authorities to save lives, but they leave me with a lot of questions about situation ethics vs. moral absolutes. Then I wonder, how to these examples relate to people in more recent history like Harriet Tubman and Gisella Perl who have lied to save lives. (I don’t know why they’re all women, by the way – just coincidence!) Have you written anything related to this topic? If not, would you consider it? I really enjoy your intelligent, yet down-to-earth perspective on things.

    Sorry for posting this on an unrelated article…I didn’t see a way to email you privately. You can take this down if you’d rather not have it attached to this article. Thanks!

    1. Thanks Kelly! These guys would be entertaining if what they were doing wasn’t so incredibly damaging. I had someone tell me once that they enjoyed listening to Jessie Duplatis because he was “hilarious”. I agree, the guy is a great story teller.. I just wish he’d take up standup comedy and leave the pulpit! 😉

      I’ll certainly consider the topic you listed above. Thanks for the idea!


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