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The Infamy Of The Edsel

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

The Ford automobile named for Henry’s own son made its debut in 1957 after unprecedented hype. They had started planning and developing the Edsel back in 1955 based on consumer research, polls, and interviews. Ford thought it had tapped into the heart of the buying public with a car that would win its heart. It turned out to be a disaster in every way one can measure such–it was too big, too unreliable and poorly-made, too unattractive, too expensive, and, well, too weird. Even the name is strange. When Ford’s marketing department polled people about how they liked the name, many asked, “Did you say ‘pretzel’?” (info from “The Flop Heard Round The World,” Peter Carlson, Washington Post, 9/4/07).  While today the Edsel has become a collector’s item, selling for as much as $100,000 or more, it will forever live among the automotive lemons’ Hall-of-Fame lineup that includes such stellar machines as the AMC Gremlin, Ford Pinto, Chevy Chevette, Yugo GV, and De Lorean DMC-12. 

Marketing can be a mean business. Especially is it risky when you take a proven, respected name and attach it to something that dishonors and degrades it–like “Ford” and “Edsel.” So many researchers have sought to identify why the Edsel was such a colossal failure, but the answer often goes back to the problem that “with too many hands working on the Edsel, the project had no direction” (“The Edsel Proved Why You Should Never Design A Car By Committee,” Chris Perkins, Road & Track, 1/23/17). 

What does all of this have to do with God and the Bible or Christ and the church? Well, several things.

  • Jesus is the Perfect Man who offers something unique that cannot be outdone–salvation which is located in His body, the church (Eph. 1). This is what we have to offer this world, and this is what the world needs. 
  • Sometimes, we spend too much time in gimmickry, marketing hype, and mining for felt needs, and at the end of the day we wind up offering a cheap, poor, and disappointing product that dishonors and degrades His perfect name. May we ever respect the warning of Galatians 1:6-9. 
  • It is easy for us to lose sight of our mission and sense of direction, if Jesus is not the heart of our mission, purpose, plans, and activities. As disciples, He leads and we follow (Luke 9:23-26). 
  • We never want, as a church or as an individual, to sully His precious name by our association with it–whether by ungodliness, worldliness, legalism, mean-spirited, hateful behavior, doctrinal compromise, etc. I suppose that David’s name, as king of Israel, defamed God for a long time after his sin with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 12:14). We should disdain the very prospect of such.
  • It’s not too late to correct even infamous blunders. Ford is not defined by the Edsel. It went on to produce some automobiles that more than restored its good name. That can be true for churches and individuals. Jesus would not have gone to the trouble to admonish Ephesus, Sardis, and Laodicea if they were a lost cause. The same is true of Euodia, Syntyche, the man in 1 Corinthians 5, and others.  There cannot “un-be” an Edsel, but there can be a brighter future.

The Ford Edsel became the focus of a great many studies by the likes of John Brooks and Bill Gates. Its failures helped many industries, not just the auto industry, learn from its basic mistakes. I think there’s insight in it for the greatest “business” of all–i.e., soul-winning. May we get the greatest name (Jesus) to the greatest audience (the world) through the greatest message (the gospel)! That’s a guaranteed recipe for the greatest success (salvation)!

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By preacherpollard

preacher, Lehman Avenue church of Christ, Bowling Green, Kentucky

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