Is there such a thing as a Christian salesman?


What springs to mind when you hear that word?

Pressure? Smarmy? Slick? Greedy? Artificial?

“Oh, I want my daughter to be a salesperson!” What no parent has ever said.

Ever heard a sermon that called young people to a life of selling?

But why not? Is selling incompatible with Christian faith? Is “Christian salesman” a contradiction?

Selling by serving
A major pharmaceutical company asked Lisa Erle Mcleod to shadow hundreds of their sales people to find out out what makes the difference between an average salesperson  and a top performer. (Listen to Lisa’s interview on the EntreLeadership Podcast, Selling by Serving).

She didn’t know the sales figures of each salesperson, but after two days with one women, Mcleod was sure she’d found one of the stars. When this woman walked into doctor’s offices, the receptionists stopped what they were doing and ran to get the doctors! Not a common reaction to most drug sales reps!

When they parted at Phoenix airport, Mcleod wanted to get inside her head a bit and asked her: “What do you think about when you go on sales calls.”

The rep looked around the car as if someone else was listening, in a kind of conspiratorial, “I’m going to tell you the big secret right now.”

The Big Secret
“I don’t tell many people this. But I always think of this one patient. When I first started this job, I was in the waiting room, waiting on one of my doctors, and this little old lady comes up to me, taps me on the shoulder and says: ‘Excuse me, are you the rep that sells this drug?’”

“Yes, Mam, I am.”

“The little old lady turned to me and said: ‘I just want to thank you. Before I started taking this I didn’t have a life. I couldn’t go anywhere. I couldn’t travel. Now I can go and visit my grandchildren, I can get down on the floor and play with them.’”

This high-powered corporate sales rep started crying, “I think about her every day and that’s my purpose.”

Despite being initially focused on lots of other technical data and stats, Macleod was sure she’d stumbled on the magic ingredient. She went back through hundreds of interviews, and found seven reps who all alluded to a sense of purpose.

At the end of the study, the pharmaceutical company asked her to identify the top reps. “These seven,” she said. And she was 100% correct. “And I know your top performer too!” Right again. The Phoenix saleswoman as the company’s top sales rep three years in a row in the entire country.

Noble Purpose
Mcleod’s conclusion was that the way to increase revenue was not so much behavioral – train reps to write better letters, make more phone calls, do better presentations. It was much more about motivation and attitude. Sales people who had a sense of noble purpose, who truly wanted to make a difference for their customers, drove more revenue than sales people that are focused on quota. 

It’s that sense of noble purpose – how can I make a difference to my customers – that can make selling a glorious and God-glorifying Christian vocation.

But that’s equally true of all vocations, including pastoring, preaching, blogging, etc. We can tell when someone is blogging just to increase their page views. We can tell when a pastor is motivated numbers in the pew or dollars in the bank. We can tell when a preacher is just out for his own glory.

But we can also tell when a pastor, a blogger, a sales person, a home-maker, a painter, etc., is motivated by service, is energized by making a beneficial difference to others’ lives. And that’s not only noble. It’s beautiful.

What’s your noble purpose in your daily work?

Selling by Serving, An Entreleadership Podcast.

Selling with Noble Purpose, book by Lisa Erle Mcleod

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What does it mean to “Preach Christ?”

“Strange as it may seem, we are not at all clear on what it means to ‘preach Christ,’” says Sidney Greidanus in the opening pages of Preaching Christ from the Old Testament. Common answers, moving from narrow to broader, are to:

  • Link verses to Christ’s crucifixion
  • Connect sermons to Christ’s death and resurrection.
  • Present Christ as the eternal Logos, who is also active in Old Testament times (especially as the Angel of Yahweh, God’s Wisdom, etc.)
  • Preach God-centered sermons (as Christ is God, a God-centered sermon is Christ-centered).
  • Substitute the name of Christ wherever we see “Jehovah” in the Old Testament (because Christ is Jehovah).

As the New Testament is full of preaching Christ, it must be our guide and model. Gredianus quotes C. H. Dodd’s survey of Apostolic preaching, which identified six core themes:

  1. The age of fulfillment has dawned.
  2. This has taken place through the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
  3. By virtue of the resurrection, Jesus has been exalted at the right hand of God, as Messianic head of the new Israel.
  4. The Holy Spirit in the Church is the sign of Christ’s present power and glory.
  5. The Messianic Age will shortly reach its consummation in the return of Christ.
  6. The proclamation always closes with an appeal for repentance, the offer of forgiveness and of the Holy Spirit, and the promise of salvation.

Greidanus concludes that “a quick scrutiny of these six elements indicates that preaching in the New Testament church indeed centered on Jesus Christ – but not in the narrow sense of focussing only on Christ crucified, nor in the broadest sense of focussing only on the Second Person of the Trinity or the eternal Logos.”

For the New Testament Church, preaching Christ meant preaching “the birth, ministry, death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus of Nazareth as the fulfillment of God’s old covenant promises, his presence today in the Spirit, and his imminent return. In short, ‘preaching Christ’ meant preaching Christ incarnate in the context of the full sweep of redemptive history” (Greidanus, 4).

What did you really learn at College?

Probably not a lot of History, or Science, or Math.

But you probably learned a few much bigger lessons that have shaped your whole life.

Author Stephen Dubner, of Freakonomics fame, returned to Appalachian State University to thank his three favorite professors  for these three life-changing lessons he learned in their classes.

  • No matter what you are or who you are, don’t blame your equipment.
  • Be willing to learn from everything and everyone.
  • Know your audience/medium/customers.

What’s especially intriguing is that none of the professors could remember teaching these lessons! Which makes me wonder what lessons I am unconsciously teaching my students.

When I look back to my University and Seminary days, it’s true I can hardly remember anything I was taught in formal lectures. I was definitely taught to think and write a bit better, but I struggle to recall any lecture content.

Like Dubner, though, I did learn life-lessons that continue to influence my own life and ministry:

  • The character of the teacher matters more than the content of his teaching.
  • Striving for simplicity, brevity, and clarity is the hardest work but the greatest service.
  • Passionate teaching makes for passionate hearers.

The podcast touches on this last point when Dubner asks what makes a successful student. One of the professors answers: “You gotta want it. You gotta bring something to the table. If you want it, you’ll get it. You gotta learn to be passionate about something. If you don’t have any passion in life, who cares?” Students take heed!

What three life-lessons did you learn at College?

Listen to The Things They Taught Me (NB: there’s a semi-bleeped word around 10.22-10.24)

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8 lessons I learned about preaching from painting my kitchen

This could actually be retitled, “ONE lesson I learned from painting my kitchen,” with the post shortened to one line, “Don’t even think about it.”

However, you’ll want your money’s worth, so here are my eight painful lessons:

1. Estimate a time and triple it. It’s not the actual painting that takes the time. It’s the preparation, the sanding, vacuuming, cleaning, covering, taping, etc. The ratio of prep time to painting time is probably about 10:1. About the same for preparation and preaching.

2. Know your limits. I did quite well using the paint roller on the wide kitchen walls. I should have stayed with that rather than taking on the facings and window frames as well. As in painting, if you bite off more than you can chew in preaching, you can mess up a lot of the good work you’ve already done.

3. Clean up mess immediately. It’s so hard to stop and clean up drips and sprays when slapping on the paint. But delay means drying, and drying means chisels instead of tissues. Preaching mistakes are best corrected and cleaned up immediately rather than have worse problems to deal with later.

4. When you are getting angry and frustrated, stop. Anger does not improve painting or preaching.

5. Don’t take shortcuts. Spray painting seemed such a timesaver. But despite wearing a face mask I ended up not only with a white nose, but white nose hairs and nostrils too. I dread to think what my lungs look like. My kids favorite proverb on Saturday night was, “A hoary head is a crown of glory.” If you don’t want to wash your hair with turps, stick with good old-fashioned paint brushes. Similarly, not every modern promise of faster and easier sermons beats tried, tested, and trusted methods.

6. Don’t spread the work over multiple days. A couple of concentrated periods of time produce far better results than catching the odd 30 mins here and there.

7. Your wife is not always your best critic. Sometimes she sees you are so crushed by the DIY disaster, that love takes over and she assures you that really are the next Leonardo Da Vinci. Ditto some sermons.

8. Stick to your calling. Just as I don’t want a painter as my preacher, I shouldn’t ask a preacher to paint my kitchen.