Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

The art of attraction

THROUGH THE YEARS I have met some Christians whose creative ways of sharing their faith have been inspirational.

Like the bookbinder in then-Communist Russia who used to type out his personal testimony and then insert it into the library books he mended and sent back for loan, at considerable risk to himself.

Or the Western believers smuggling Bibles and other resources behind the Iron Curtain who—when they knew that they were being followed by secret police—sought out as many services as possible to attend at state-approved church services. They figured their “tails” might just hear the gospel as they sat a few rows behind them.

Then there was the late Bill Bright, founder of Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ), who would tell people who called his phone number in error that actually they hadn’t misdialed, and then seek to share the four spiritual laws with them.

Despite such stories, sometimes I am more appalled than inspired. Take my recent working visit to a public library, during which I had to visit the restroom. There, tucked behind the pipe leading to the urinal, lay an evangelistic tract.

Surely the average guy has something less lofty than spiritual matters on his mind while standing there, I thought. And who on earth is going to reach down and pick up the leaflet? At least the “urinary tract” evangelist should have left a pair of disposable gloves behind.

Then, a couple of evenings later, Marcia and I were eating pizza at a restaurant when a couple with a small child came to the table next to us. We were dawdling, so they finished before us. As they left the little girl—probably three or four—came over to our table and handed us a piece of paper with a photograph of a rose on it.

It turned out to be an evangelistic tract (one of those with tiny print inside, which suggests the creators are cheapskates or have no communication-and-design experience). I smiled and thanked her, and she promptly gave me a second copy. Then she and her parents left without ever speaking a word to us.

Both incidents left me thinking of the importance of the manner in which we present our message. The difference between “attraction” and “a tract shun” is in how you say it.

I realize that my negativity about these two situations opens me to the rejoinder by famous evangelist D.L. Moody: when someone objected to his style, Moody remarked that he preferred the evangelism he did to the evangelism his critic didn’t.

And then there’s the “tract churches” I have heard of in remote parts of India. There, villagers have reportedly come to faith and started their own fellowships after missionaries passing through without time to stop scattered tracts out of their vehicle’s windows.

Yet I can’t help feeling that, whenever possible, a somewhat more relational approach to sowing seeds is more effective. One such way was developed not far from where we live, back in the early days of social media, when this part of the Florida Panhandle was ground zero for Spring Breakers.

Going out onto the beach in pairs, photographers would snap photos of the student vacationers. They would leave them with a business card with details of a website where they could find their picture and share or download it. The site also included commentary and questions about the meaning of life, inviting the visitors to click on further links to learn more.

The old adage about being “winsome to win some” comes to mind.

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