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how we give good news

take a look at these images on the right. pretty normal little pieces of our culture, right? you've got your american idol, a piece of money (albeit a piece that most of us would never really see), and the logo for you tube, the increasingly popular web video site. you might be asking yourself, "what do these things have in common?"
well, i found them in a church. let me explain...
this summer i went on a mission trip with our young people to west virginia.

we stayed at a non-denominational church out there, that was surprisingly big and fancified for rural west virginia. anyway, on a wall in the hallway leading into their gymnasium/auditorium were dozens of different kinds of cards, mostly business card size, with these kinds of logos on them.

they certainly attracted the eye, as well as the hand. knowing that all the youth would want to take these, they asked us not to take them.
i couldn't resist. i knew that i wanted to write about these here and reflect a little about them. the front of these cards, as you see, are interesting and eye-catching. the backs, though, are not so pleasant. the back is all text, edge to edge, vaguely attempting to connect the logo on the front with the Gospel. for example, the american idol one talks a little about idolatry, and the danger of making idols out of anything other than Jesus.
so the idea is that someone could leave these tracts (that is what they are called in evangelical circles) in plain sight in some public place (on the ground, on someone's windshield, etc.) to invite someone to pick it up and see what it is all about. then, the interested individual will turn the card over and (presumably) begin to read the text. when they do, they will read things like,
"I, God, will judge you by the ten commandments when you die. Let's see if you will be guilty of breaking any of them...Have you ever Lied? 'all liars shall have their part in the Lake of Fire (HELL)' (Rev. 21:8) Ever Stolen? 'no thief will inherit the kingdom of God (HEAVEN)' (1 Cor. 6:9-10) Ever Murdered? 'whoever hates his brother is a murderer' (1 John 3:15) Even if you break just one of the ten I will find you guilty of breaking all ten (James 2:10)...."
now, the card goes on to describe that you can recieve forgiveness for such commandment breaking by repenting. but i wonder about these little cards. i wonder about their value for evangelism, which is their main purpose. i wonder about their success. do they create curiousity or resentment? do they produce disciples or detractors?
here's the issue for me. i totally understand that we are to be good news people, people who share the gospel with others. how can we not? we are also, according to the great commission in matthew, to go and make disciples of all nations. i completely believe in that. but i can't help but thinking that these cards are not only a poor way to do that, but also a handicap in the process. in other words, it is my feeling that evangelism methods like this, while they can have positive results (i'm sure someone will write me and say, "it is because of a tract that i got saved"), in general, i think these cards cause more harm than good. they turn people off. they promote judgment. they use fear to try and convert. and that's just it: they are trying to convert, rather than engage.
you see, i believe in an evangelism that occurs within relationships. i believe that we are to share the good news with people that we are engaged with. not just people that are parked in the same parking lot as us who might read a card that we leave, but people who are walking the journey of life with us at some level (work, school, family, sports, hobby, etc.) who might hear the message of our life, a message not of judgment, but of hope, not of fear, but of love.
at least that's how i see it. i am wondering what your thoughts are on this issue...
so much for 22 words!
oh yeah, btw, i technically stole these three cards from the church, so, i'm going to go repent now.


Crafty P said…
"i believe in an evangelism that occurs within relationships. i believe that we are to share the good news with people that we are engaged with."

yup, me too. totally agree. Isn't that how Jesus went about ministry?

Soooooo turned off by cards like that.
I've had a few handed to me (and around me) by friends who tried to "save" me from my own faith.

um, it didn't work. only made me stronger in my beliefs.

take that Jack Chick!
Anonymous said…
And we wonder why the church in America continues to dwindle. I think God cringes when he sees crap like this parading as evangelism. evangelism is about loving people, hanging with them, listening to them and then trusting the holy spirit to bring in the harvest. i tell anyone who will listen about jesus whenever i get the chance, but never outside a relationship into which i've already invested time, prayer and love. it just doesn't make sense any other way. if someone i don't know asks me about jesus i try to find out more about where they are coming from - never just shoot from the hip - you make the gospel look like a knucklehead when you do it that way. if you are being jesus to those in your sphere of influence, they will notice that you are different and sooner or later they will ask you whazzup with that and you will have your chance. or maybe they never will. oh well, sometimes you just gotta trust god.

it's been a dry summer for me - glad to have some meat to sink my teeth into. by the way, i hope to see as much ink on john mccains speech as baraks. hmmm..

peace, julid
greg. said…
i would love to give the old guy equal ink, juli, but he's going to need to take the marbles out of his mouth and really deliver if he is going to compete with obama in the speech category. i'd bet sarah palin gives a much better speech than mccain. in my opinion, its just not his strong suit.
greg. said…
crafty p - nice reference to chick. i'm impressed...
Greg C. said…
I thought this one was cut and dry - sure evangelism has to occur within a relationship and yea, those tracts can make some people think all believers are crackpots. Nothin' like a little fire & brimstone to brighten your day and get you excited to become a Christian. But this post made me really stop and think and I don't think it is so cut and dry after all.
Someone was led to create those things and what do we say if they did it faithfully, believing that that's what God has laid out for them? Heck, they made craftyp stronger in her beliefs (who can argue with that?) and it's launched at least one discussion about evangelism (who can argue with that, either?).
And isn't there some nugget of truth in that stuff?
I walk by at least one person or group of people 'preaching' the gospel every day and I never stop to really listen but I have said "Amen" on more than one occasion (followed quickly by a thought: "most of the people streaming by here must think these people are crackpots."
Evangelism. I'm not very good at it and so am probably not qualified to comment on it. Guess that's why it's a journey.
greg. said…
well, greg c., i appreciate the honesty and tone of your comment. i think that these things are always more complex than simply good or bad. here's a great example:

i had my first 'conversion' experience at age 11 or 12 when i attended a revival where a traveling evangelist was preaching. i remember that his name was rat. i'm not kidding. anyway, he preached for like 45 minutes about hell and how terrible it would be. he described, in vivid detail, the smells and sounds and sights of hell, and he succeeded in scaring the hell out of us. then he asked us who wanted to avoid such torment. of course we all did. then he asked us to come up front and say a prayer with him. so i did. then he told us that we had been saved from our sins.

now, this is a shady way to preach the gospel, don't you think? his game was to scare people into salvation. it is misguided at best and downright devious at worse. but, i must say, it was a part of my journey. it really was. God used that in my life.

i share that story to say that God uses even the 'garbage' in this life for God's purposes. so, i'm not suggesting that these tracts are completely bad and useless. what i am suggesting, however, is that it is a far cry from the kind of evangelism we are called to be about. and what i am also saying is that tracts like this embarass me as a christian and make me want to disassociate myself from the masses. that's just me.

but thanks for reminding us, greg, that God uses whatever God wants to.

even evangelists named rat.

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