Posts Tagged ‘do gospel tracts work?’
I have been totally mute for the last three days.
I’m not sick. Nothing else seems wrong. I just lost my voice completely. Needless to say, I’ve been doing some thinking… If I never get my voice back, how would I share Christ with people I encounter? I have relied upon my voice as the main conduit for this pursuit–if it’s taken away, then what? I mean, laryngitis is, to a talker like me, what a broken leg must be to a soccer player–no way around it: you’re benched. (If you’re reading this and you know me, get all your jokes out–my dad says that having a conversation with me is like trying to take a sip of water from a fire hydrant. Beat that.)
My thoughts led me to a place that I think all of us ought to explore–the practicality and effectiveness of non-verbal evangelism. Many forms exist, but the most versatile one I can think of would be the use of Gospel tracts. You can’t really build a house or provide food for the homeless when you’re on an airplane… Anyway, I admit that Gospel tracts have always rubbed me a little funny. Until I was given these last few days to really think through it, I was never really sure why. The purpose of this post is NOT to bash Gospel tracts or those who use them–I want to make that perfectly clear. Anyone who makes an attempt at sharing Christ is a hero in my book. My hope is that upon reading this, if you’re inclined to fulfill Jesus’ Great Commission, you will have a much clearer understanding of how best to go about it.
Let me state up front that I plainly believe God can use anything to proclaim His message–I am certain many people have entered into a relationship with God because He spoke to them through a Gospel tract. So my argument is not a moral one–rather, it hinges upon the fact that God chooses us to be His messengers, which comes with serious and often over-looked responsibilities. To be sure, I’ve done a lot of reading for this post–I wanted to be as prepared as possible. I am absolutely certain that my opinion on the subject will create some disapproval with some of you, including my friends and even my mentors, but I am convicted enough at this point to make an attempt at sharing my perspectives. So here we go.
Do Gospel tracts work?
Firstly, this is one of those loaded questions that has created a bit of controversy in the church, primarily (though not exclusively) between older and younger generations. I think the problem is the way the question is posed. We often enter this conversation with the statement, “Gospel tracts work,” or, “Gospel tracts don’t work.” These types of statements tend to incite defensive responses because they’re over-generalized and vague–they leave too much open and require instant interpretation/assumption. Be honest, when you’re trying to get a rise out of someone, don’t you tend to ask nebulous questions to which you already have your answer? I believe we need to qualify the question with some thoughtful details. If we do this, then the conversation can remain civil, regardless of whether we agree or disagree.
Let’s craft this question in a way that clarifies our context.
Are Gospel tracts an effective method of evangelism in any situation in the United States, in 2010?
For me personally, this is about the most applicable form of the question because it speaks to the world in which I seek to share Christ; perhaps this is true for you as well. If the question was about a different culture today, such as central Africa, the answer would naturally be quite different; but for this post I won’t be attempting to go into any other realm. Maybe another time. So for this specific question, let’s consider the implications:
Effectiveness implies a measurable outcome. Because of my position, I have had the privilege of meeting and chatting with countless people over the last 23 years (since I first began to teach evangelism) who are committed to sharing Christ, both personally and vocationally. I have yet to hear sadly, anyone who has used Gospel tracts anonymously (by far their most common implementation) report on their effectiveness in any way. This is by definition, of course, since the user does not meet the person who may end up reading it. This fact alone does not mean they are not effective, it just means that the effectiveness is not measurable.
Both common sense and Scripture would indicate that our methods ought to be measurable. See Acts 2:41 and Acts 2:47 where Luke offers, among other measures of effectiveness, an account of the people turning their lives over to Jesus. PLEASE don’t misunderstand my rhetoric here–numbers are only one metric when it comes to assessing our methods–don’t be one of those people who only care about numbers! It’s just as important, however, to refrain from the attitude that measuring our effectiveness is somehow wrong or unBiblical. God calls us to fulfill His Commission and He expects us to be faithful to all of Scripture while doing it. See also Luke 10:17-20 where the disciples return from a short-term missions trip with a report of the effectiveness of their efforts (note even here Jesus is careful to remind the disciples that it isn’t all about the numbers…)
2. Any Situation
I know–this one is a bit vague. Let’s catalog quickly the situations where Gospel tracts have recently been used most often: Handed out in public venues, left in a conspicuous location like a gas pump or park bench, on bus and airplane seats, and (I cringe when I think about this one) as a tip at a restaurant. Though not an exhaustive list, this gives us some scenarios to discuss. Beyond the fact that it’s impossible to assess the effectiveness of these examples (see above), I am inclined to search for a Biblical precedent for this strategy. Over and over again, we find two primary methods of evangelism in Scripture. I would describe them as Macro and Micro. (Others exist, but these are the most prevalent.) Preaching and teaching fall into the Macro category (we find a great example in Acts 2:14-41 of Macro-evangelism.) Interpersonal dialogue is what characterizes a Micro approach (John 4:1-26, Acts 3:1-10)
Whether Macro or Micro, virtually every method of evangelism I find in Scripture shares one common principle: personal engagement. Sometimes this leads to long-term relationship and sometimes the connection lasts only for moments. Either way, the evangelism in the Bible clearly shows us an inherent responsibility to engage, human to human. Using Gospel tracts in the absence of intentional interaction has become the ‘easy way out’ methodology of evangelism. It tends to make the user feel good about ‘spreading’ God’s Word, but it moves us in the opposite direction of what we see in Scripture.
The testimonies of every one of my non-Christian friends who have received a Gospel tract in one of the above-mentioned situations are the same: A. “It made me laugh,” or B. “Who in their right mind thinks that leaving this thing as a tip was a good idea?” Every one of them moved a little further away as a result. I know I’m making a strong statement here, and I certainly don’t mean it to be antagonistic, but it is an accurate account of my experience. Just because you consider yourself less than ‘relational’ doesn’t excuse you from engaging, human to human. God cares way less about your own perceived abilities and much more about your obedience and availability–just look at Moses: Exodus 4:10-12. For some, this is a very difficult notion. My encouragement to you is this: 2 Corinthians 12:9-10. Trust Him–He’s got you covered.
3. In The United States, in 2010
Originally the word ‘tract’ inferred a tome-like work–the tract itself was but one volume in a larger body of work. They were used even in the pre-printing press days to communicate political and religious messages, most popularly in Europe. They were kind of like Twitter, but with much, much slower distribution. In this epoch, tracts were incredibly powerful and effective. Entire movements were spawned on the basis of tracts (check out John Milton’s Areopagitica.) In a culture where print media was the only form of mass communication, tracts proved to be massively influential.
We live in a vastly different culture today than when the tract was first introduced. The question now becomes: Do we use Gospel tracts because they are effective today, or because they were effective at one point in time, and we just lack the desire to innovate? It’s an age-old matter, really. It’s the same proposal made by the proponents of electricity to those who preferred candlelight. The innovation didn’t render the former methodology completely ineffective, it was the result of discovering a better way of doing things.
In Western culture today, I believe we have better ways of doing evangelism than anonymously distributing Gospel tracts.
The Better Way
I believe that we have a Biblical blueprint from which to build and implement incredibly effective ways of sharing the Gospel. I believe God can use anything to proclaim His message, but His desire, in His infinite Grace, is to use us; not because we are capable, but because He wants us to share in the joy of His Kingdom work.
I believe YOU are the best method of evangelism in our culture today. When you begin to share the stories that God is writing in your life that strengthen your faith, you will inspire a genuine curiosity about God. Explaining the Gospel is a simple matter of responding to that curiosity. It doesn’t require more than your own willingness.
As for me and my missing voice, well, I have to believe God still has a plan… Talk to you soon-