Investment pitching and Gospel preaching

So here’s my question for this post; do we consider matters of finance implicitly more important than matters of faith? We would never verbalize it as such, but do our actions (or lack of actions) suggest this is the case?

Grab a coffee and settle in, this one requires a bit of a back story.

Starting your own business, I have rapidly discovered, is expensive. Or maybe it’s just the kind of business I’m trying to start. I have had to deal with an unfathomable budget just to get the RazerLift prototypes developed to a point where it’s almost market-ready. I won’t say exactly how much (that’s obviously a little too confidential) but suffice it to say the total amount of money would have put a major dent in our mortgage.

So where did I get that money? My wife and I work part-time and neither of us were born into wealth, so it’s not like we had the money just sitting around. We certainly have stretched ourselves financially, but we’ve also borrowed a bit of money from others. I also managed to secure a government grant (through AITF).

But a lot of the expenses have been covered by investor capital. Some of the investors have made a fair bit of money in their lifetimes through previous business ventures and investments. Even though they have significantly more financial capacity than you or I, they do not just hand over large chunks of change to any random person with an idea. They want to know about your product/service, your business strategy, your background and much more.

And many of them get a lot of requests for investment. In fact, some of them have almost made a career out of investing, so they go out of their way to cross paths with companies that need investment capital. Even so, they are still quite picky.

Over time a set of loose standards has emerged with regard to what the process looks like. How do you approach an investor? What information do you provide to the investor? What format? How much time are you allowed? And so on. A key component in the process is something called “the pitch.” If you’ve seen Dragon’s Den or Shark Tank then you have some idea of what a pitch is supposed to look like, though the entire process – in my experience – is far less dramatic. Essentially you have 10 minutes of time, a laptop and a powerpoint called a “pitch deck.”

Over the past few months I have spent ridiculous amounts of time preparing that 10-minute presentation to ask people to give me some money. I have gone over it again and again, slightly changing the wording of what I say, and the presentation of the data on the screen. I have been critiqued by others, and I have some future critiques awaiting me.

And I know that the investors will respond with a volley of tough questions. In fact, I have prepared a number of additional slides after the closing slide in anticipation of the many challenging questions I expect to receive. How does the cost compare to other products on the market? Tell me more about the patent. Where did you get your market data from?

You may not be an “Accredited” investor but I bet you would ask the same questions. If I was sitting across a table from you and asking you to invest, say, $1,000 in my business would you want to ask some questions? If I told you this was a high-risk investment with a chance that you’d never see that money again, would you try to poke holes in my business plan? If I told you that you wouldn’t see any money in return for at least two years (if all goes well) would you ask for some kind of market feedback?

I bet you would. You ought to. Every investment pitch ought to be critically examined, analyzed, critiqued and dismantled piece by piece. And they typically are.

But my experiences with preaching have been completely different.

I’ve had several opportunities to speak at various churches over the years. I’ve spoken on various topics and I usually make sure something I say is challenging. I enjoy presenting a subject from a perspective that others probably haven’t thought of and might even consider blasphemous. However, I am careful to only say what I am very sure falls within the bounds of Orthodox Christian theology. I go to great lengths to ensure that what I say is consistent with the letter and spirit of the Bible.

I may have spoken roughly a dozen times at different churches (I don’t keep count) but I can safely say that I only ever recall a single occasion when somebody approached me after my talk with some – let’s be polite and call them – “clarifying questions.” A healthy, engaging, but incredibly respectful conversation ensued. It was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had speaking in churches.

But it only happened once. Ever.

(On one other occasion I recall an elderly gentleman, when prodded by somebody else, admitting he would have “worded it differently.” That’s the only other occasion that comes to mind where some form of disagreement was expressed, but that hardly counts.)

Excluding that one occasion, nobody has ever responded to my talk with a volley of tough questions, tearing apart my assumptions and challenging my data. I am not accustomed to any negative feedback of any kind. Even if people agree, they will only rarely make suggestions for my presentation style, my use of illustrations, correct my terminology and so forth.

And it is my understanding that full-time pastors don’t get this kind of pushback either. At least not in my experience, but my experience is obviously limited. So it’s not just me. It almost seems to be the case that when a person stands behind the pulpit somehow they are not to be challenged. They are not to be questioned. Even if we disagree with them, we keep our disagreements to ourselves.

But when a person speaks in church they are claiming, at least implicitly, to represent the message of God to the world. They are claiming, in a sense, to speak on behalf of God. Religion strives to answer the deepest questions of the human condition and Christianity in particular claims to address the deepest flaw in the human condition; our inherent tendency to mess things up. This is an important message. Everything in life is rooted, in one way or another, in our answers to the basic existential questions of existence, so anybody speaking on behalf of any religion is making claims of very great significance.

Far greater significance, I would suggest, than any dollar figure that has ever been tied to any investment opportunity that has ever been presented in the history of the world. Compared to the deepest longings of the soul, what is money, anyway?

Between investment pitching and Gospel preaching, it would seem that it is far more important that we get the latter right than the former.

Yet our responses to these two strongly suggests we have the two backwards. We either don’t question, or we don’t speak up to challenge, those who would persuade us about life’s deepest mysteries and longings. We give them a free pass, in a manner of speaking, but we would never dare sign a check for an investment without exerting significant effort on our due diligence. Where is our “spiritual due diligence?”

I’m not suggesting people should invest without questioning; on the contrary! I enjoy being able to demonstrate that investing in my company is a wise (though high-risk) investment. I take pride in being able to address all the pushback I get. Under no circumstances should we part with our money unless we have good reason to do so.

Rather, I am suggesting we should exhibit some of that same caution and skepticism toward anybody trying to persuade us of any religious claim (even Atheists!) as we exhibit toward those trying to persuade us to part with our money. Preachers should have to defend their messages just as much in entrepreneurs have to defend their pitch deck. But it seems spiritual matters get a pass for some reason.

And this applies all the more so if the person is sharing a message you agree with! We should be the most on guard when what we are hearing sounds reasonable and agreeable. That’s when we are least likely to put on our thinking caps.

As an added bonus, when a person has taken the time to carefully investigate a subject before presenting it, there is actually a sense of personal reward when somebody has questions and wants to know the basis for your truth claims. It is so refreshing to be asked a good question that you know you can answer!

So next time you are sitting in church listening to somebody preaching, write down tough questions and ask those questions after the service. Challenge. Probe. Look for holes. Make suggestions for improvement.

In short, demonstrate that you do consider matters of Faith to be at least as important as matters of finance.