Last week I went on a little road trip to Buffalo to watch the Toronto Maple Leafs play the Buffalo Sabres. On the walk from where we parked to the HSBC Arena I could see some young men in their twenties handing out some sort of flier. Thinking of the kind of crowd that gathers for a hockey game, I assumed this would be a flier advertising for a nearby pub.
My insatiably curious nature led me to extend my hand to see what was being handed out. To my surprise, it was a ‘Gospel Tract’, which read ‘Eternal Life is a FREE Gift.’
I no sooner had put the tract in my pocket for future inspection when I noticed that one of the young men was wearing a sign (with an Old Testament reference that I didn’t quite catch on the walk by) and was preaching about the coming judgment and our need to repent.
In the two sentences I heard while passing by, I didn’t hear anything that was out of step with what the Bible teaches. To their credit, the guys handing out the tracts were quite pleasant, and weren’t the least bit aggressive. Part of me was impressed by the courage of these young men. But, quite honestly, another part of me was a bit embarrassed by their approach.
Perhaps those reading this blog post will tell me I’m just a coward when it comes to boldly sharing my faith. Hey, that’s what blogs are about–you get to tell me when you think I’m offside, nuts, or just plain wrong (just do so lovingly please).
I certainly do not want to be unkind by referencing these audacious young lads. But I am eager to hear what you think–are ‘Gospel Tracts’ a helpful way to communicate the good news of Jesus Christ?
Of course, I realize that open air preaching is not some new phenomenon. The call from the young man to ‘repent’ belongs to a rich history of preachers from George Whitefield to John the Baptist to the ancient prophets of Israel. My question then, isn’t so much about what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, as it is about the helpfulness of such an approach in our day.
Some might say that the spiritual need of our day is no different than any other day. I would concur with that. But our day is different. Bibles are more readily available today than at any other time in history. The Scriptures are available in more languages today than at any other point in history. The internet puts over a billion people a Google search away from learning something about Christianity. In North America, at least in Buffalo, NY, there are hundreds of local congregations for citizens interested in Christianity to choose from.
So, I think it’s worth asking: Does street preaching attract or repel people? I don’t doubt that God could use such means to transform lives. Most Christians I know appreciate that the Message has power (Romans 1:16). But is there a better way, a better context, a better backdrop, for sharing the Christian message with others?
That’s what I’m looking for–a better way–not a formula, but an approach that honours the person I’m seeking to reach. I worry that those who passed by the young men felt little else but condescension.
I wouldn’t want anyone to regard me as being condescending to them. It’s possible that I’ve made people feel that way in the past. That’s not good. And so here I am asking you: Are there things we do or say in error, or in haste, that contributes to the hardening of an individual’s heart towards Christianity? Can we mess up, at least temporarily, someone’s approach to Christ?
I realize that God can work through my errors. I recognize that God’s plan is not thwarted by my shortcomings. I’m so glad about that!
I just don’t want to cite God’s sovereignty in salvation (Romans 9) as my justification for being reckless in how I present Christianity to others. I want to be respectful. I want to be compassionate. I want to be patient. Those who shared the Good News with me modeled all of those qualities. I don’t think the ways and manner of the messenger is irrelevant here. I’d love to hear how you are working this out in your life.
Back to the ‘Gospel tracts’—most of the ones I’ve read present a rather awkward string of Scripture references. And in such a limited medium, some essential truths are invariably omitted. I do appreciate, however, the pragmatic advantage of placing something small, concise, and coherent in the hands of those willing to entertain what Christianity teaches. If you’re interested in such a resource, the best I’ve seen is by John Piper. The pamphlet is called ‘Quest For Joy‘. I love that title. We all want joy. John Piper gets us heading in the right direction.