This morning, I was eating breakfast with my daughter, and a friendly man with a cross around his neck approached me, and asked if he could give me a tract. Mostly by reflex, I said, "Sure, I'll read it," and took it as he walked away. It was a completely innocuous Christian tract: the cover said something like "Are You Going to Heaven?" and inside were the standard Bible verses (English Standard Version). It was published by Crossway, so there was no ultra-fundamentalist stuff, a la Chick Tracts, or anything heretical, as you would find in a Jehovah's Witness tract. But it got me thinking, why did I even take this tract? I could have just said, "No need, man, I'm a Christian." Or even better, I could have invited him to sit down with us to talk. But I didn't. I glanced over it, and left it on the table, in hopes that someone else would discover it.
It makes me think, though. What is the actual effectiveness of these "tract ministries," where people just run around hnding tracts to everyone they bump into, without any sort of engagement? That's the thing: no one that I can think of who has just handed me a tract has ever stayed around to actually talk to me, to find out whether I agree or disagree with their theology. Even some Mormons, who are pretty persistent with their evangelism, have just handed me pamphlets before, with very little actual discussion. Is the theory that, every so often, someone is going to receive a tract at exactly the right time in their life, and immediately surrender to the witness of the Holy Spirit? Then what? Do they just go to the nearest church, and say, "Someone handed me a tract, and I need to start going to church"? It seems like the actual effectiveness of such "evangelism" would be pretty minuscule.
A few weeks ago, I had a nice little chat with some friendly Jehovah's Witnesses on my front porch. Now I don't agree with the vast majority of JW theology, but I had to appreciate the fact that they were willing to talk to me about their beliefs, without simply shoving a pamphlet into my hand and running away. There's a down side to it, of course. They'll probably see me as a potential convert, and they'll probably end up on my porch again someday. And I'll have to explain where we differ in our theology. And that's not always a comfortable conversation to have, but at least it is an actual conversation. Not just a "hit and run."
Another thing that's always bothered me about the tract evangelism thing is the assumption on the part of the person handing out tracts: they aren't bothering to find out if the person they're handing the tract to is already a Christian or not. They simply assume that everyone they bump into "out there" is a nonbeliever who needs to read the gospel. I guess they often figure, if the person is a Christian, they're not the right kind of Christian (since they're not out there handing out tracts). That bugs me, I admit. I'm not trying to toot my own horn when I say that I have probably studied the Bible a lot more than most of the people who hand me tracts. So before you hand me a tract, get to know me first.
In fact, before you begin to evangelize, why not read the way Jesus did it? I haven't read anywhere in the New Testament about Jesus and his disciples handing out tracts. He taught and preached, and healed people, and sat down at the table with them for food and fellowship. Sure, "the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few," but does that justify such an impersonal form of preaching the gospel? I appreciate the wish people have to get out there and share their faith, but are they actually sharing their faith, if they're handing someone a piece of paper, and then moving on? I doubt it. But then again, I'm sitting at a computer, sharing my thoughts, so can I judge too much? Probably not.
(adj.) wild and frenzied; from Greek κορυβαντες (Korybantes)