Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Teaching and Selling
distributed 11/2/01 - ©2001

There's a big difference between teachers and people who work in sales.

The difference has nothing to do with academic degrees. It does have some bearing on the fact that one group gets a salary, and the other works for commissions.

The core of the difference has to do with the intention of the individual for us. A professor wants us to learn ideas. A salesperson wants us to make a decision about spending money. Students ask their teachers, "Will that be on the test?" In sales, the test has to do with who is holding the cash at the end of the day.

Both teaching and sales can be reputable professions. But those who excel in one area may be dismal failures in the other.

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In the unique job expectations for clergy, strengths in both teaching and sales have to be combined with other skills in areas like counseling and administration. One of my seminary professors gave me a valuable insight into how teaching and sales mix as parts of pastoral ministry.

In the introductory preaching class, we were told to have a clear statement of purpose for every sermon, a purpose that could be expressed in a single sentence. There were three acceptable ways to start that statement:
    1) to teach ...
    2) to convince ..., or
    3) to persuade ...

My preaching prof was aware that pastors move back and forth between teaching and sales roles. Sometimes, it is appropriate and necessary for a sermon to teach about an idea, or to convince the listeners about the validity of an idea. Other times, though, the pastor moves into a different style and tries to persuade the audience, to get them to make a choice or take an action.

The preacher needs to use different methods to accomplish those goals. Persuasion is not achieved by lots and lots of teaching. More and more information does not lead anyone to make a choice. Persuasion takes sales skills, not teaching skills. Teaching and convincing happen in the head. Persuasion happens in the heart and the guts.

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In my work with Eco-Justice Ministries, it has been exciting to connect with hundreds of pastors and church leaders who are trying to engage congregations around eco-justice issues. In my conversations with those leaders, it seems that churches have two core problems that keep us from being effective.

  1. We often deal with eco-justice with styles best suited for teaching or convincing. It is rare that we move into persuasion, into that difficult level of calling on people to make choices about how they will use their resources, and how they will live.
    Our churches have sermons and classes and newsletter articles about economic globalization, climate change, and environmental racism. We fill lots of heads with facts and figures, with intellectual perspectives and knowledge about political agendas. But we rarely move into hearts and souls with a call for decisions or even (gasp!) conversion.
    As we convey our message, the members of our churches might more appropriately ask, "Will that be on the test?" than "What do I need to do?"
    When we are being most effective, our ministries will mix information and transformation. We will put our persuasive calls for conversion on a strong foundation of teaching and convincing. But it is essential that we see the sales pitch and the call for action as the focus of these efforts. We're not going to make much progress toward a more just and sustainable world with a crowd of well-informed, but unmotivated, people.

  2. When we do bring a sales approach to our efforts, we're not good at "closing the deal." Lots of us know how to ask for a decision. Few of us are gifted in getting the decision.
    Closing the deal requires that we actively engage those other folk. We have to have an intimate feel for what they want, for what motivates them. We need to be able to communicate how the "product" we have to offer helps them achieve their deepest desires. And we need to be willing to push into risky territory when we ask folk, not to "consider" a proposal, but to decide. Not "do you want it?", but "when do you want it delivered?"
    That's a hard stretch for those of us who are better at teaching that at sales. But it is a skill that we must cultivate if we are going to be effective in our efforts to bring our eco-justice convictions into the life and ministry of congregations.

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Teaching, convincing and persuading are all part of the complicated job of ministry. May God strengthen our skills in both teaching and selling, and help us to discern the best balance among those approaches.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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Eco-Justice Ministries ended all programming on July 31, 2020. This site is an archive of writings and resources.
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