I was recently in a department store in the women’s swimsuit area with two of my favorite women in my life: my wife and oldest daughter. I was doing my best to be helpful in the search for a new swimsuit for my 16-year-old. She and my wife were not immediately next to me when in my peripheral vision I noticed a nearby female shopper begin to move closer to me. As I awkwardly flipped through hanger after hanger of potentially suitable swimsuits, this nearby shopper handed me a small, thin booklet and mumbled something I couldn’t quite understand. Something about heaven, maybe? I think so. I think she was wanting to tell me something about heaven. Sort of.
And just like that…I had been Jesused. Or something.
I looked at the cover of the small booklet just long enough to know exactly what it was. It was an evangelism tool this woman had gotten from her church (the name of the church was printed on the front) to give to unsuspecting, ladies’-swimsuit-shopping men like me. Such tools are commonly referred to as “tracts”. They’re used in places like restaurants, shopping malls, street corners, and even toll booths.
But why was she handing me this little booklet? And why was she mumbling? And why didn’t I feel happy to receive it? Perhaps she was giving it to me because clearly I needed Jesus. I mean why else would a full grown man be rifling through women’s swimsuits, seemingly on his own? I suppose I could chalk this up to her throwing a lifeline to a creeper. I suppose. Or is this her habit on any given night? At any store whatsoever? To anyone with a functioning hand that will take her little booklet from her? I may never know.
What I do know is that I’m not a huge fan of the tract. Here’s why:
1. They’re like grenades and the only people who like grenades are the ones throwing them. “Here, I don’t really want to get close enough to your life to talk on my own, but I am willing to toss some literature your way. You do know how to read, don’t you sinner?”
2. They’re offensive. Now, I know that Jesus and the message of the cross is inherently offensive, so I’m not trying to side-step offense. It’s just that handing someone a tract always seems a little like…I don’t know…condescension. “Here. This book has stuff I know and you don’t. If you’ll read it, you’ll know what I do. And if you’re lucky, you’ll be like me.”
3. They often skip the most important part of evangelism, which is relationships. Obviously that old lady who cornered me with Jesus in that store didn’t have the time to get to know me or who I am or what I think and believe. And maybe I should lay off and just be thankful she did something, but isn’t sharing your faith more effective when you meet people where they are? Isn’t that how Jesus did it?
What do YOU think? Am I being too hard on a sweet old lady? Am I being too hard on tracts?