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Monday, June 5, 2017

Are You Elmer Gantry?

Enthusiasm sells. It can’t overcome a bad product or weak customer service but it might get you in the door. I’m alway impressed to meet the sales-minded types who strike with enthusiasm.

Christian evangelists are known for their enthusiasm. Some are seemingly “on fire for the Lord!” When a message can change hearts, renew minds, and bring healing of many kinds to life, one ought to bear that message with conviction and excitement!

In a few days, Chicago will be the host region for a conference that will focus on evangelism. It’s happening June 27-29 and will feature dynamic speakers such as Luis Palau, Trip Lee, and Will Graham—a relative of Billy Graham. The event will be held at Highpoint Church in Naperville, Illinois, and it’s sponsored by the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College, in partnership with Mission America Coalition. (

History has revealed some who have preached passionately but left a dark past in the wake of their message. Their personal lives reveal less than faithful convictions in their behavior. I won’t name names.

In 1927, author Sinclair Lewis had a bestselling novel built around a traveling evangelist: Elmer Gantry. Later, Lewis went on to win the Nobel Prize. And his Gantry story later became a well known movie starring Burt Lancaster, who received an Oscar for his role.

Elmer Gantry’s problems included a love for whiskey, women, and wealth. While he was a terrific showman with his “religious pitch,” it was simply a show. He was selling something he didn’t believe in.

This past week, I read an article titled, “I Hated Growing up Evangelical in Sweden, But It Made Me a Better Entrepreneur.” It was written by Andreas Hassellöf, CEO and founder of Ombori Group. As a young lad, Andreas was forced to learn a Christian evangelical pitch and deliver the message on doorsteps.

Fear overtook him in this mission. He got sick to his stomach before his first presentation. He would be sweating before people answered the door. Shock would set in and he’d forget what he was supposed to say. Worse yet, apparently, he didn’t believe the message. Yet he became very good at delivering it. In his words, “I learned to listen for the conversational keywords that could give me a way in, and I gradually figured out how to tune the message to each person I spoke with.”

His “redemptive” advice to readers was that despite how difficult this was for him, it helped develop his skills in presentations as an entrepreneur. Andreas is now an advocate for “product evangelism.” This is way he describes it: “You need to show the same passion and belief that drives religious evangelists. You can’t inspire people with a simple recitation of why your product is amazing, even if your product really is amazing. You need to be convinced deep down that what you’re selling will change your customers’ lives if they accept what you’re offering.”

It is most unfortunate that the message of Good News about Jesus did not ring true for Andreas Hassellöf. Yet his business advice has substance. Those who do not believe in what they are selling should find a cause in which they can believe. I mean…who wants to go to work each day feeling like a fraud?

Maybe there are more Elmer Gantrys out there than we realize.

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Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app.

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