Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Why Church "American Style" Is Not For Me (Part 1) by Tony Miano

Well, it's time.

I've held off on writing this series of articles for as long as I could. I don't know how often I will write these articles. They will appear as I sense a need to write them.

Warning: these articles will be pointed, at times. For that reason no person, church, or ministry will ever be mentioned by name. I will leave it to you, the reader, to decide if you have ever come across churches and/or ministries whose names could be inserted into the text.

Don't bother e-mailing or calling me to try to ascertain the identity of the principals in any article. I won't tell you. I'm not writing a gossip column. But it's time to talk about what many Christians around the world already know. The American Church is desperately sick.I know there are very fine churches throughout our once-great country. I know there are pastors and congregations who are truly committed to the truth of God's Word, to authentic worship (although the word "authentic" is abused by churches that are anything but), to biblical evangelism, to a Christ-centered philosophy of ministry, and to fulfilling the two greatest commandments.

I know there are no perfect churches.

So long as human beings are involved in ministry, churches will be flawed. However, I know there are churches around this nation that are doing everything they can to glorify God in everything they do.But let's be honest, shall we. Churches such as I've described above are very hard to find these days. Oh, but how easy it is to find churches that a lost and fallen world love.

How easy it is to find churches where man is worshiped, where the Word is mishandled and even maligned, and where the philosophy of ministry is described with highly pious words, but are little more than pragmatic forays into the world. How easy it is to find churches where cowards instead of shepherds stand in the pulpit afraid to talk about sin, judgment, hell, righteousness, holiness, godliness, and the dreaded "D" word--doctrine.

Here's a reason why church "American style" is not for me.

A dear friend of mine did something very loving and kind for a church he doesn't even attend. He had 2,500 tracts printed that included the church's name and contact info on them. My friend hoped that his gesture would serve as an encouragement to the church and enhance the church's evangelism efforts. He delivered them to the church without fanfare and without expecting anything in return. I'm amazed my friend's heart fits in his chest. It is that large.

My friend received the following e-mail from a member of the recipient church's staff. The name of the church has been changed.

I just saw the tracts you had made, and I am excited that you are seeking to take a secular holiday and sanctify it.In the future, however, please do not include One American Church on any materials without asking first. While we donʼt want to hinder others from using this form of evangelism, we have chosen as a church to avoid tracts. We used to get phone calls frequently about tracts. Not in regards to the offense of the gospel, but quite often concerning them left laying on floors, hidden in awkward places, and littered from people dropping them after being handed them. Others were offended at the deceptive nature of many tracts as well (being illusory towards one thing to bait and switch someone into reading). I know people meant this for good, but they hurt the work of the gospel through One American Church.Again, thank you so much for caring deeply about people embracing the truths of the gospel, but I hope this helps you see why we would prefer our name not be attached.

Now, should my friend have checked with the church first before printing the tracts? Probably. I will concede that contact with the church before printing the tracts might have saved my friend a few bucks and hurt feelings. But, in my friend's defense, he never expected to receive the above response. I don't like it when my friends are hurt. That being said, I'm sure the church staff member that sent my friend the e-mail had no intention of hurting my friend's feelings. He was merely articulating his church's policy as nicely as possible.

Now, let me deal with some of the content of the e-mail.

First, with less than 2% of Christians in America sharing their faith, I seriously doubt that the church received a plethora of complaints regarding gospel tract "litter."

Second, contrary to what the staff member wrote, the offense was likely the fact that the gospel was on the literature. If the literature invited a person to a free concert, picnic, marriage or financial seminar, carnival, or movie night at the church no offense would have been taken. Why? Because it is the gospel that is offensive to the unbeliever (1 Cor. 1:18).

Third, the author of the e-mail said that gospel tracts hurt the work of the gospel at his church. How can a gospel tract hurt the work of the gospel?

Fourth, any church that conducts any of the before-mentioned activities should be extremely careful when trying to remove the splinter out of a tract-distributing brother's eye, before surgically removing the "let's get the world to like us before we share the gospel with them" plank out of their own eye. Tread lightly and check your church's activities calendar before accusing those who use creative gospel tracts of "bait & switch."

In closing, I would like revisit Point #3.

Gospel tracts hurt the work of the gospel?I would agree that a gospel tract that offers a lost soul purpose, their best life now, or a wonderful plan for their life; or that encourages a lost soul to pray a prayer and ask Jesus into their heart; or gives a lost soul the false assurance of salvation without addressing sin, righteousness, judgment, hell, regeneration, repentance and faith is a gospel tract that hurts the work of the gospel.

Sadly, the American Church has become infamous for tracts such as these.

But a well-written, Christ-centered, biblical gospel tract does anything but hurt the work of the gospel.

Spurgeon also said, "When preaching and private talk are not available, you need to have a tract ready. . . Get good striking tracts, or none at all. But a touching gospel tract may be the seed of eternal life. Therefore, do not go out without your tracts.'

K.P Yohannan, founder of Gospel for Asia, had this to say about the effectiveness of gospel tracts in India. "How much does salvation cost? The Bible tells us that salvation is the free gift that God gave us that first Christmas—His Son, Jesus Christ. But what about those who still don’t know about that gift? One of the easiest ways for them to hear the Good News is by reading a simple Gospel tract."

Billy Graham once said, "Nothing surpasses a tract for sowing the seed of the Good News."

The Lord used a gospel tract to bring the gospel to China. How? Missionary Hudson Taylor was saved after reading a gospel tract.After George Whitefield read a gospel tract called The Life of God in the Soul of a Man he said, "God showed me I must be born again or be damned." He went on to pray, "Lord, if I am not a Christian, or if I am not a real one, for Jesus Christ’s sake show me what Christianity is, that I may not be damned at last!'

Then his journal tells us 'from that moment . . . did I know that I must become a new creature."

So, to my dear brother in Christ who was discouraged by the e-mail he received, chin up my friend. I'm sorry that you were subjected to church "American style."

Keep distributing those gospel tracts. The greatest preachers since the printed page was invented have used them for the glory of God. So, you are in good company; and I am sure you will one-day hear the Lord say "well done."


Joseph A. said...

I just typed in "I love gospel tracts" in Google and your blog was one of the first sites to pop up! Gospel tracts are great to reach those who don't have time to conversate. It also can get the Gospel to those who would be ceaselessly argumentative otherwise if you were presenting the exact same words on the tract in person. ;P

WayneDawg said...

*Gospel tracts are great to reach those who don't have time to conversate.*

This is very true.

When we were in Atlanta this past weekend street preaching and witnessing, I handed a tract called "Are you good enough to go to Heaven" to a fast walking young man who was in a group of four.

These guys were dressed in hip-hop fashion and looked pretty tough as they walked on by.

The young man took my tract without looking at what it was. As they strolled on by I turned to watch them as they went and the young man with the tract turned to talked his buddies and then looked down at what he was holding.

When he saw what it was, and what it said on the front, he looked at his buddies, turned around to see if anyone was near him and then quickly put the tract into his coat pocket the way someone shoplifting would at a store.

Here was a guy who knew what he had,could have thrown it on the ground as many others before him had done, but chose to keep it and read it later when no one was around.

This guy would have never talked to me in his group of four...he may have one on one...but now he had a tract that explained to him what sin is, why God hates it and what he must do to have that sin forgiven and spend eternity in Heaven.

Thank God for tracts.