Not for Nutters Evangelistic leaflets (what used to be called ‘tracts’) have seriously fallen out of favour over the last thirty or forty years. For many Christians the very word ‘tract’ conjures up images of nutters on street corners shouting at passers-by or holding up boards which warn of Coming Doom! Those attracting attention by doing such things presumably also press little explanatory leaflets into the palm of any hapless shopper who shows the tiniest glimmer of interest. Later the tracts will be collected by street cleaners.
Well OK. But I am enthusiastic about tracts not because I fit that personality type. What I’m suggesting is a different type of tract – it’s a personal one. Something written by you. And the kind of encounter in which you would offer someone your own personal tract is not impersonal or forced but friendly.
I’m speaking about those brief moments where you meet someone – a complete stranger – and a few words might be exchanged, perhaps of thanks, and off you go into the rest of your day: you purchase something at a store; you pay for your meal at a restaurant; you speak with a teller at the bank.
I concede that these moments of friendly encounter don’t strike every follower of Christ as a potential opportunity to share the gospel. In fact an attempt to merely speak about your faith then and there would usually feel awkward.
We meet several of these strangers every day. They are usually serving us and yet don’t feel the need to serve them. Why?
An Opportunity for Light to Break in
A young woman in our church in Missouri asked Jo and I to pray for her. She was genuinely distraught. She told us that she works in MacDonald’s and that it was wearing her down. She felt that customers had no respect for her, they were rude and impatient. Added to that, they were hungry and irritable and if she made any mistakes they were utterly unforgiving. Customer after customer, hour after hour, day after day. It was soul-destroying. Obviously we prayed for her, but I thought to myself, what a difference Christians could make! Instead of moaning about how slowly they were being served they could serve the person with a smile and a simple word of encouragement. What a difference that might make to a discouraged person’s day. And then if they were able to add to that encouragement by giving the person their own story of how God’s grace has impacted their lives they certainly would be ‘making the most of every opportunity’ (Eph 5.16).
That’s what personal tracts are about. They’re not for your work colleagues or those who are already your friends. They’re for those chance encounters, where your willingness to serve might be the only moment of light breaking into someone’s darkness.
Check out this amusing 18 minute video to find out how you can write and produce your own.
And please feel free to leave a comment on your own adventures.
Rapid conversions When William and Catherine Booth moved into the east end of London in 1865 their goal was to preach the Christian message and bring people to faith in Christ.
The plan was that any converts would join existing churches. But it didn’t really work out like that.
Booth’s preaching was dynamic and urgent. Many, who would never go to church, heard him and many hundreds were converted. But after their conversion they still wouldn’t go to the churches and, if they did, the churches didn’t seem to want them.
Booth began to look for meeting halls and somewhere to create a headquarters for the London mission. But he needed funds.
One minister, writing for a Christian magazine, describes a meeting he attended with William Booth one Sunday afternoon. I’ve edited down his article but it gives us a flavour of the amazing power of the Holy Spirit working in a context of consistent evangelism.
The structure of the meeting was that, after an introduction, several people would briefly tell of their experience of conversion or of adventures in evangelism and then a hymn would be sung, followed by yet more testimonies. At the end Booth preached and prayed.
As you read through this abbreviated account of the meeting, maybe you could pray for similar evangelistic zeal to characterise your life and the life of your church, and that God would similarly begin to bring large numbers of people to a personal and life-changing faith in Christ.
Here we see personal boldness in evangelism, conversations happening in homes, and in the streets. There are several references to the effective use of tracts (short, easy to read leaflets or brochures which explain the gospel) as well as public preaching. Perhaps one of the reasons the churches used to ‘reap’ more was that, quite simply, they ‘sowed’ more. Enjoy!
The Experience Meeting ‘On the afternoon of Sunday, January 31st, I was able to see some of the results of William Booth’s work in the East of London, by attending his Experience Meeting, held in the East London Theatre. About 2 o’clock some of his helpers and Converts went out from the Mission Hall, where they had been praying together, and held an Open-Air Meeting in front of a large brewery opposite the Hall. The ground was damp and the wind high, but they secured an audience, and then sang hymns along the road, till they came to the theatre, taking in any who chose to follow them. Probably about five hundred were present, though many came in late.
The Meeting commenced at three, and lasted one hour and a half. During this period fifty-three persons gave their experience, parts of eight hymns were sung, and prayer was offered by four persons.
After singing Philip Philips’ beautiful hymn, ‘I will sing for Jesus,’ prayer was offered up by Mr. Booth and two others.
A young man rose and told of his conversion a year ago, thanking God that he had been kept through the year.
A negro, of the name of Burton, interested the Meeting much by telling of his first Open-Air Service, which he had held during the past week in Ratcliff Highway, one of the worst places in London. He said, when the people saw him kneel in the gutter, engaged in prayer for them, they thought he was mad.
A middle-aged man, a sailor, told how he was brought to Christ during his passage home from Colombo. One of the tracts, entitled, ‘John’s Difficulty,’ was the means of his conversion.
A cabman said he used to be in the public-houses constantly; but he thanked God he ever heard William Booth, for it led to his conversion.
Three young men then spoke. The first, who comes five miles to these Meetings, told how he was lost through the drink, and restored by the Gospel; the second said he was unspeakably happy; the third said he would go to the stake for Christ.
A sister spoke of her husband’s conversion, and how they were both now rejoicing in God.
A young man testified to the Lord having pardoned his sins in the theatre on the previous Sunday.
Two sailors followed. The first spoke of his conversion through reading a tract while on his way to the Indies four months ago. The other said he was going to sea next week, and was going to take some Bibles, hymns, and tracts with him, to see what could be done for Christ on board.
A young man of the name of John, sometimes called ‘Young Hallelujah,’ told of his trials while selling fish in the streets; but he comforted himself by saying, ”Tis better ‘an before.’ He had been drawn out in prayer at midnight on the previous night, and had dreamed all night that he was in a Prayer Meeting.
A converted thief told how he was ‘picked up’ and of his persecutions daily while working with twenty unconverted men.
A man who had been a great drunkard, said, ‘What a miserable wretch I was till the Lord met with me! I used to think I could not do without my pint, but the Lord pulled me right bang out of a public-house into a place of worship.’
A young woman said: ‘I well remember the night I first heard Mr. Booth preach here. I had a heavy load of sin upon my shoulders. But I was invited to come up the stage. I did so, and was pointed to Jesus, and I obtained peace.’
Another told of his conversion by a tract, four years ago, on his passage to Sydney. ‘To my sorrow,’ he said, ‘I became a backslider. But I thank God He ever brought me here. That blessed man, Mr. Booth, preached, and I gave my heart to God afresh. I now take tracts to sea regularly. I have only eighteen shillings a week, but I save my tobacco and beer money to buy tracts.’
A stout man, a navvy, who said he had been one of the biggest drunkards in London, having briefly spoken, was followed by one known as ‘Jemmy the butcher,’ who keeps a stall in the Whitechapel Road. Some one had cruelly robbed him, but he found consolation by attending the Mission Hall Prayer Meeting.
Two young lads, recently converted, having given their experience, a dock labourer, converted seventeen months ago, asked the prayers of the Meeting for his wife, yet unconverted.
A young woman gave her experience very intelligently. It was a year and a half since she gave her heart to the Saviour; but her husband does not yet come with her.
The experience of an old man, who next spoke, was striking. Mr. Booth had announced his intention, some time back, of preaching a sermon on ‘The Derby,’ at the time of the race that goes by that name. This man was attracted by curiosity, and when listening compared himself to a broken-down horse. This sermon was the means of his conversion.
A young man told how his sins were taken away. He worked in the city and, through a young man talking to him in the street, he was able to see the way of Salvation, and rejoice in it. He used to fall asleep generally under preaching. ‘But here,’ he said, ‘under Mr. Booth, I can’t sleep.’
A blind girl, whom I had noticed earlier singing heartily in the street, told of her conversion.
Then Mr. Booth offered a few concluding observations and prayed. The Meeting closed by singing. Such is a brief outline of this most interesting Meeting, held Sunday after Sunday.
I could not but wonder at the change which had come over the people. The majority of those present, probably nearly five hundred, owed their conversion to the preaching of Mr Booth and his helpers.
In the evening I preached in the Oriental Music Hall, High Street, Poplar, where five or six hundred persons were assembled. This is one of the more recent branches of Mr. Booth’s work, and appears to be in a very prosperous condition. I found two groups of the helpers singing and preaching in the streets, who were only driven in by the rain just before the Meeting commenced inside. This is how the people are laid hold of.
Shall this good work be hindered for the want of a few hundred pounds?’i
More next time.
For the first part of the Salvation Army story click here
i. George Railton, General Booth (London: Hodder and Stoughton 1912) 59-64
CH Spurgeon, the great evangelistic pastor of the 19th Century once said, ‘Fervent lovers of souls do not wait till they are trained, they serve their Lord at once.’[i]
Hudson Taylor was no exception to this rule of Christian leadership and immediately began sharing the gospel with those around him.
He had already become convinced that China was the place where he would, at some future point, serve God. He therefore began a process of self-discipline that, frankly, ought to challenge every potential Christian leader today.
Taylor’s own testimony of his late teenage years, is rich with instruction – honouring parents, trusting God, being open to correction, personal integrity, diligent study and a willingness to serve.
The Crucial Role of Parenting in the Global Mission
His parents, also, were parenting in faith. They could have discouraged his desire to leave England. After all, it is possible to serve God in England! They could have discouraged him from a ministerial career. After all, you can serve God and take up a regular profession!
Did the mother that prayed so earnestly for her precious son trust the wisdom of God in taking him so far away? This would require faith, pure and undefiled.
Taylor writes, ‘My beloved parents neither discouraged nor encouraged my desire to engage in missionary work. They advised me to use all the means in my power to develop the resources of body, mind, heart, and soul, and to wait prayerfully upon God, quite willing, should He show me that I was mistaken, to follow His guidance, or to go forward if in due time He should open the way to missionary service.’
‘Take my feather bed away!’
He continues, ‘The importance of this advice I have often since had occasion to prove. I began to take more exercise in the open air to strengthen my physique.
My feather bed I had taken away, and sought to dispense with as many other home comforts as I could, in order to prepare myself for rougher lines of life.’
Giving out tracts, visiting the poor ‘I began also to do what Christian work was in my power, in the way of tract distribution, Sunday-school teaching, and visiting the poor and sick, as opportunity afforded.’
‘After a time of preparatory study at home, I went to Hull for medical and surgical training. There I became assistant to a doctor who was connected with the Hull school of medicine, and was surgeon also to a number of factories, which brought many accident cases to our dispensary, and gave me the opportunity of seeing and practising the minor operations of surgery.’[ii]
But Taylor’s self-imposed preparation for service was not limited to the physical and intellectual arena. He knew he must grow in faith. And he, therefore, began to exercise his faith in the area of giving and trusting God for money.
For the next post in the Hudson Taylor Story click here
For the first part in the Hudson Taylor Story click here