Last week I was hanging out with a ninja and an angel, soliciting candy donations from the neighbors. At one of these homes we were engaging in conversation, but the residents seemed a little nervous. I would be nervous if a ninja was at my door too, so I didn’t think too much of it. Then I noticed the husband of this lovely couple quickly grab something off the table and stealthily slide it into each of my kids’ sacks–I think he may have been a ninja in street clothes. It sure looked like a piece of paper.
When we got home the kids were sorting through their sugary loot when one of them held up a piece of paper and said, what’s this? I only needed a quick glance to determine the answer–it was a tract. It was comic book-style, featuring an arrogant golfer, but even comic books can’t compete with candy on Halloween.
St. Francis saved me during my teenage years. I still remember the feeling the first time someone shared his sage wisdom with me–“Preach the gospel always, if necessary, use words.” (Imagine my shock when years later I found out it is unlikely St. Francis ever said this! Oh well, I’m sure someone said it sometime.) This quippy saying lifted a heavy weight off my shoulders. See, I had been brought up to believe that I actually had to talk to people about my faith. I was given a whole tool belt of evangelistic methods–from the Romans Road to the cross on a napkin illustration. But the truth is, I dreaded the thought of actually engaging someone with one of these. The closest I came in high school was a five second “conversation” on the back of a bus headed for a tennis match.
But once I saw the light of “lifestyle evangelism” the weight lifted. I realized that I didn’t really have to tell anyone about Jesus, I just had to show people the gospel with how I lived. Yeah, I didn’t do such a good job of that either, but whenever a friend or youth pastor said we should share our faith I could quickly retort, “Well, it’s most important we share the gospel by how we live.” Bam!
My kids have experienced gravity from the time they were born. Neither of them emerged from the womb only to float to the ceiling. Sometimes they’ve learned about gravity the hard way–like falling off a bike or being hit by a ball that was tossed into the air. Despite their undeniable indoctrination into the law of gravity, there was a day when we read a book about gravity and then had a conversation about how it worked. They had experienced it, but they didn’t know its name, how it worked, or why it worked. However, when they heard about it they had no problem believing it because they had experienced it in an undeniable way. To really know gravity they needed someone to tell them about it, but if things were floating around the room when they heard they might have thought gravity was a load of crap.
The tract in my kids Halloween bag and my misappropriation of the gospel preached through lifestyle are equally problematic. One assumes the gospel is merely a proposition to be believed without the flesh of relationships and community or the commitment of being a disciple of the King. The gospel of lifestyle assumes the gospel is purely about actions and that there is nothing to be proclaimed or explained. The life and practice of Jesus severely dispute both of these approaches.
There is a time and place to proclaim the gospel when relational engagement is impossible for a variety of reasons. There are times when we need to love people with the love of Jesus without speaking anything of our faith or the name of Jesus. However, neither of these should be our default. Rather, as followers of Jesus we should live our lives individually and collectively in such a way that when we are able to authentically share about our hope in Jesus people respond like my kids did to gravity. They have no trouble believing it because they have undeniably seen and experienced its truth.