So, The Rector Wants an Elevator Speech

Everyone who has ever been in sales or customer service knows the value of being able to succinctly state why they believe their product or service is worth another’s attention. When I trained people to perform either job, one element of the course was the development of “elevator speeches,” short 20-40 second statements conveying value and meaning. Students hated doing that! It’s hard. You have to think. You have to dig deep and ask the question, “Do I really believe what I am about to say.” Oh, sure, parroting something is an option. In so doing one often sounds insincere and rote. To be convincing, both to yourself and others, you have to mean what you say.

Recently, a friend of mine on the staff of the parish church I attend, related that the Rector had challenged the staff to come up with an elevator speech about why they are a Christian. I smiled because I knew what my friend was going to say next, “It’s hard.” It’s hard, not because of lack of faith, but because one has to put some real thought into it. You are on the spot and it’s like describing air. The task brings to mind wonderful images from C.S. Lewis’ “The Last Battle.” Narnia is disappearing from existence and its inhabitants stream through a tiny doorway allowing them to escape the destruction. As they pass through the doorway one-at-a-time, they come face-to-face with Aslan, the Great Lion and Christ-figure. Silently, they stand before the great judge and stare into his eyes. One question and one question only is posed to their heart, “Do you love me?” If their heart answers “Yes” they go to their left, Aslan’s right and go deeper and farther into his world. If the answer is “No” they go to their right, his left and simply fade away.

To me, the Rector’s challenge to develop one’s elevator speech is the equivalent of staring into Aslan’s eyes. Your brain and heart have to work together to form a reply. To me there are certain requirements as one attempts this given the subject at hand:

  • You have to be able to complete the statement on a 10 floor elevator ride with no intermediate stops…say 50 seconds.
  • When the doors open, it’s done.
  • No trite biblical quotations
  • No vague talking points from sappy movies
  • No words that require explanation to someone who doesn’t speak churchy, religious lingo such as “saved,” “redeemed,” “heaven,” “hell,” etc.
  • No putting the listener on the spot
  • Have some personal element that another could relate to

Let me give you an example of what it should NOT be:

“I’m a Christian and I know if I died right now I would go to heaven. You see, ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’ Once I could confess that I was a sinner, I accepted Jesus in my heart so I would be redeemed and be spared the perdition of hell. Won’t you join me? Don’t you want to go to heaven if you died right now? Just close your eyes and say, ‘Lord Jesus come into my life. I confess you as Lord and Savior’.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but that does not exactly whip up any intellectual, emotional, or spiritual interest for me at all. It would make me pray that the elevator would stop quickly and I could exit. Sadly, it is something I have heard more than once in my life. Keeping this in mind, crafting a statement is difficult because you have to dig deep and you should have skin in the game. It must well up from your own heart as you look into the eyes of the Great Golden Lion.

In the days that have elapsed since my friend related the Rector’s challenge, I have struggled to formulate my own elevator Quid ego Christi discipulus. Why I am a Christian?

As a white male, growing up in the Southern U.S., there was not much choice to be made in the area of religion. I did not know what a Muslim was and there was only one Jewish family I knew. Buddhism and Hinduism were a world away – exotic and not real. Atheists, well, we did not talk about them. In reality there was one religion, Christianity, with it’s many denominational variations. So, I was culturally predisposed in faith practice. Given that background and my earlier conditions, let me take a stab at my elevator speech:

“Truth is, I am a Christian because I was born in a predominantly Christian culture and raised by a Christian family. I was exposed to Christianity from an early age and it was the norm. As I grew, I abandoned it but something pulled me back: a community of people demonstrating Christ’s love and selflessness made the difference. I am my most authentic and peaceful when I give in to Christ’s unconditional love. I am surrounded by others whose love for me allow my imperfections to fade and the better part of me to emerge. It is in Christ’s love that I am able to love when it would be easier to hate and to serve when it would be easier to walk away.”

It took 30 minutes to write that first draft with revisions. It just does not say what needs to be said even though it is completely true. It is 50 seconds long. I need to shed some of the vestments we dress our faith in. Let me peel away some vagueness and try again:

“Being a Christian was not much of a choice. Where I grew up, everyone was. It meant as much as being white, black, fat, or skinny. As an adolescent, subtle messages said being a Christian meant being someone I was not and I tried my best. At age 16, I discovered an Episcopal Church. There I learned I had value. I learned that Christ loved me as I was and I was to love others as they were. Hard as that is, His love, His people made it possible. Falling in love with Christ was not like being born again, it was like growing up and seeing with new eyes.”

A little better. Forty-five seconds. I felt something writing those words. A bit more real for sure but still not all it could be. I must keep trying.

Trying to break down what should be the most transformative experience of one’s life into a 45 second statement is silly in someways and I don’t know that we ever nail it. It must be what the Church Councils experienced coming up with the creeds. When all is said and done, I believe the best elevator speech simply may be:

“Want to know why I am a Christian? Come and see. Hang out with me for a while and I will let you decide if I am a Christian or not.” 

That’s only 7 seconds. It is the most risky thing you can say. You trust, that with God’s help, you will demonstrate the promises made at your baptism. You are intentional about doing the best that you can. Where you fall short, you will pick yourself up and try again…and again…and again. You give up the idea of being perfect. You let yourself slowly transform by imitating Christ, being nurtured by other loving, faithful people who screw-up as much as you do, and being refreshed with scared food. You begin to live out the words we say so often, “With God’s help, I will.”

So, give it a try. Try constructing your own elevator speech about why you are or are not a Christian. If you practice another faith or no faith at all, try explaining why in 50 seconds or less. As you enjoy your introspection, there are so many questions that would profit from this exercise:

  • What do I love about the deity that I worship?
  • Why did I fall in love with my spouse?
  • Why do I support the political candidate I do?
  • Why do I do the work I do?
  • Why do I go to the church I attend?
  • Why do I like/dislike (a racial group, a religion, a socio-economic group, a gender, a sexual orientation, a political party, etc.)?

May your struggle to answer these questions be a fruitful one.


Lent: rewiring our ideas about God

As Lent begins, I am looking for new ways to begin experiencing faith.  The primary channel I’ve chosen for this year is combing the Internet for stories of contemporary Saints and Wonderworkers who show that the miraculous still occurs.  It may not be those biblical or mythological miracles where the the Sun is stopped in it circling of the Earth (sic) in Jerico or the raising of Lazurus after three days, but miraculous events still occur.

If miracles do still occur as the result of devoted human effort and thought, then what can I do to participate in them?

As a first step, I share with you this blog post entitled: Can You Forget How to Believe in God?  Here Paul Wallace, Physics Professor and Minister, explores how we wire our brains with beliefs about God just as we wire our brains to perform a task like riding a bicycle.  He presents the case that we can choose to rewire our concepts, as well, resulting in profound realizations and abilities.

Whether or not your tradition observes Lent, may this season provide you the venue to challenge your concept of God, your relationship to God, and the demands that relationship makes on your life.  As People Of the One God we face choices:  If you are a Christian, remember your Baptism and the vows made by you or for you.  If you are Jewish, contemplate the nature of God’s demands upon a People uniquely appointed as His own.  If you are Muslim, contemplate Allah’s revelations of Peace through the Prophet and your daily role to live in that Peace.   If you are of another tradition or a non-theist, Lent can still offer you a period to slow down, reflect, and marvel at all that surrounds us and our role within it.  May this Season open new doors for us all.