Monday, July 25, 2011

Not that Dreaded Word!

**Warning: These are my personal thoughts on the matter and it's probably one of those gray areas in Christianity. Through this post, I'm not seeking to condemn anyone or tell them what to do. I'm just sharing my personal opinion. 

On Friday, my friend and I were discussing ministry and out-reach opportunities that our church could do. The conversation was flowing great. . . until she mentioned the word I loathe with my entire being. What word is that? To be more exact it's not actually a word but rather a phrase or ideology. That word/phrase/ideology is:
"Tracts/Using tracts/passing out tracts/tract ministry/"
While I'm aware tracts have been--and still are--a long-held favorite of many Christians and churches, I'm 100% against them. If I hadn't piqued your interest before, I'm sure I have now. After all, what kind of God-fearing Christian who longs to see souls saved is against tracts? 

While I have a list that very well may equal a google-plex of reasons why I'm against these tiny booklets, I'm only going to point out a few.   

1. They are impersonal and distant
My main reason for being against tracts is that we use to them to take our place. What do I mean by that? Well, how many times have you seen this scenario? You're at a restaurant. A couple sitting at a table across from you is about to finish their meal. The waitress brings out their check and they pay for it. Just as the couple gets up to leave, the man reaches into his pocket and pulls out a tiny booklet. With an all too familiar ease, he lays it on the table and walks away. Well, that's nice. . . except for the fact that you've sat across from the couple through-out their entire meal and not once did they ever speak to the waitress about anything other than food. Never even cracked a smile. Yet they have the gall to lay down a tract! (I'd also like to point out the couple did not tip the waitress. They must assume the tract is going to help her pay her bills). 

How many times have you witnessed someone engaged in conversation with another person? One of them asks the other, "Have you accepted Jesus as your Savior?" Their response: "Um . . No, not really." The person who initiated the question says, "Well, let me tell you about Him"--then he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a tract. He hands it to the other and says, "You read that and it will tell you how to accept Him as your personal Savior." With that, the giver walks away. 

Or how about passing them out with your payment at the McDonald's drive-thru?

The point I'm trying to make with these scenarios is that we aren't spreading the Gospel. Yes, we do a great job of delivering the tracts, but we're not personally investing in the lives of those we are trying to reach. It's so easy if the person rejects Jesus because we don't have to see it, nor do we have anything to loose. Nor do we risk ridicule. We just hand them that little booklet and go about our business all the while feeling like we've spread the love of Jesus to a hurting world. After all, nothing says "I love you" like leaving a tract to a person who has been in need of a shoulder to cry on all day long (or leaving them something that shows lots of hell fire rather than the love of Jesus--more on that in part II).

When we study Jesus' ministry in the Bible, we see He made personal investments in each life he encountered. He encountered people like Zaccheauses, Levi (aka Matthew), Mary Magdalene, Mary, Martha, and their brother Lazarus. He regularly met with Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, and He spoke with the Samaritan woman at the well. The Gospels are filled with accounts of Jesus actively engaging in the lives of the hurting and broken, the wicked and abhorrent, and the pariahs of society. 

Not only does the tract-tactic provide an impersonal experience to those we are trying to reach, but the "drop and leave it method" goes against the Great Commission. Look at Jesus' words closely:

"All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. . ." Matthew 28:18-20.
I find it interesting that the word used for "make disciples" is Matheteuo. According to the Key Word Study Bible . . . 
"the action of the verb describes much more than the mere academic impartation of information; one is doing more than simply instructing a pupil in developing a certain vocational skill. Rather, the word suggests (in religious contexts) the deep shaping of character and the cultivation of a world-view through a close, personal relationship between the mathetes and the didaskolos, teacher. The teacher is a mentor par excellence who seeks to stamp his image on his disciples and thereby enable them to participate in his life. For the goal of discipleship is not simply the attaining of information, but the experience and enjoyment of fellowship. The adherent in turn seeks to emulate his master and partake of his life, but not at all as a mindless sycophant who has renounced individuality or personality. It is the values and beliefs of the teacher which are embraced and which are reproduced in his followers.  . . the disciple can know firsthand and experience directly (with adaptations made to suit each individual), and even partake of the life of his master."
Based off the Great Commission issued by Jesus, it appears as though He's more concerned with us making disciples through deep interaction rather than just spreading the Gospel and never investing in people's lives.

What gets more interesting is the Greek word used for "teaching." That word is Didasko, which means "to learn, know, or teach. Teach, instruct. Didasko has inherent in it the calculation of the increase in understanding of the pupil.. . the thing aimed at when teaching (didasko) is the shaping of the will of the pupil. . .[it is used] of Christ's teachings; [and] as instruction in the Christian faith and Christian ministry."

So what exactly does the Commission mean when we put it all together? I personally get that we are supposed to go to those people and develop relationships with them, shaping their values through firsthand experience that makes them embrace Jesus Christ and long to take up that life of following Him; so we baptize them, then we further their understanding of who Jesus is by teaching them what Jesus taught, and shape their will to continue being obedient through sound doctrine.

If Jesus is the Light of the World and He is a personal and relational Savior, and if we are being transformed into His image, then we too are a light that needs to shine for the world in the way Jesus does. Leaving someone a tract is the equivalent of leaving someone with an unscrewed light-bulb. Instead of leaving them with a light-bulb (which they may or may not use), let's bring the light to them! 

This post is already a bit lengthy, so I've decided to continue this with a second part. If you'd like to leave a comment, please do so. If you'd like to actively engage in this discussion, then I welcome you to the Shelf Life forum.

Not that Dreaded Word, Part II.

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