What sort of reasoning makes people think they can trick me into trusting them? Checking my spam file this morning, I found an e-mail trying to sell me medications by presenting itself as having been sent to me by me. Wow, there’s a trust builder! Of course I’ll go right ahead and purchase meds from that source, since I’m just dying to put substances into my body if only they come from blatantly and stupidly deceptive sellers.
In the church office, we frequently get telephone calls from people pretending they are not selling something. “Ministries” they call themselves, and they’re just sharing, offering exciting opportunities, etc. Liars or, at least, deceivers I would call them. They attempt to bypass the church secretary by pretending to be colleagues of mine so they can talk at me, sensing I have asked that such calls not be put through to me because I do not wish to speak with them and so waste on vacuous sales pitches time I need for work. If our government did not already have so many major challenges to meet so we can begin to recover from the debilitating effects of the previous eight years and more, I might suggest someone should investigate the tax status of businesses catering to the religious market and calling themselves ministries.
Funny, I assume deceivers will deceive and pretenders are only pretending to be reliable. When a legitimate company calls to sell me something under the pretense of not selling but merely informing me of a better way of doing business, I back away because the call smells bad. When a communications company pretends to be making an advantageous adjustment to the church’s account when, in fact, it is enlarging its own share of our business by taking a chunk away from a competitor, I assume the deception means that neither the caller nor the company is to be trusted.
When technical support people stop talking about the problem for which I called and begin repeating obviously canned lines telling me why the problem really isn’t theirs and can’t be fixed anyway, then ask if there’s anything else they can help me with today, I know I’ve gotten the runaround and been dismissed. I’ve already had the experience of being told such a problem could not be fixed for a particular product, then fixing it myself in under ten minutes. I suppose I could have concluded I had worked a miracle, accomplishing the impossible in record time without training (what a genius!), but I drew the easier and more obvious conclusion: that I had been lied to by a support person who either did not know how to fix the problem or had been forbidden by policy even to discuss it (in that particular case, I suspected both were true).
Jesus of Nazareth warned that the person who is unfaithful in small matters will be dishonest in greater matters as well. I guess I will just have to continue to wonder what makes people think they can gain my trust by starting out with a lie. Maybe they believe that if a pitch is clever and frequently effective, it isn’t really a deception but just a good presentation of the truth – their “truth,” of course, being that the sale is the only thing that matters. The world suffers in many ways under that kind of outcome-based, self-serving truth.
The admonition to be faithful in small matters has countless applications. In my own field, ministry of the word surely means enabling the person to do and become, rather than merely selling the product or closing the deal. If so (and it is so), then such ministry must teach and empower, not just persuade and convince. It needs to seek understanding rather than unreasoned assent to prescribed truisms. It should stop selling beliefs and quick solutions and do the harder, slower work of enabling and encouraging people to seek healing and find life through faith, hope, and love.
But how, then, do we know when we’ve succeeded? How do we count our closed deals? We don’t. We must, instead, be content with striving to be faithful in small matters until such striving itself becomes a way of life, a mode of thought, a condition of the soul.