Recently, Carol and I were in Nashville TN. One evening we were walking downtown enjoying the sights and sounds of the crowded streets. There were a group Christians in front of us, all of them wearing the same t-shirts with "Jesus" written on the back and they were passing out Chick tracts, which are written and published as evangelistic tools, and poor ones at that, if I may say so.
As we walked behind the group and watched, individual members of the group were approaching unsuspecting bystanders and attempting to get people to take the literature they were offering. Some refused (apparently they had seen this before), others took a tract, looked at it, and threw it in a nearby trash can, while others pocketed it while they were focused more on their children on the busy and crowded streets.
I had some friends in college who were into passing out evangelistic tracts in the hope of converting the anonymous sinners who traveled among them. They would leave tracts in phone booths (that was a while ago), in the stalls of public restrooms, and even on tables in restaurants as they were leaving. It was a nice and easy kind of evangelism. Actually, engaging someone in conversation was not necessary. All one needed to do was to get the basic information of the need for the gospel into the hands of these anonymous sinners, and then count on the Holy Spirit to do the rest. Then the tract evangelist could return home feeling they did their part in being obedient to Jesus' command to offer the gospel to others. Yes, indeed... it was easy evangelism. It was also lazy.
A big myth in modern Western society is that all that is necessary to make the right decisions in life is information. Give people the right information about the hazards of smoking and people won't smoke. Offer our young people sex education and they will act in a sexually responsible fashion. Indeed, we in the West have set things up so that employment is difficult without having the right education first. People don't know how to be pastors until they go to seminary, teachers can't educate others until they are educated. All we need is the right information, and the logical and correct decision-making and behavior will follow.
I am all for education. I think having information is important. But information in and of itself is far from sufficient. The whole notion of apprenticeship was meant for the purpose of not only getting information on learning a trade, it was being in relationship with someone who was a master of the trade. The relationship between the master and the apprentice was just as important, if not more so, than the information itself. It was also on the job training.
What does all of this have to do with passing out Chick tracts in downtown Nashville? The practice of walk-by, lazy evangelism assumes that all people need is the information about Jesus and their need for Jesus, and they will respond in accepting Jesus. No building of a relationship is necessary-- just input the right data, and the desired outcome will happen.
When one reads the Gospels, it is clear that Jesus was not a lazy evangelist. He spent much of his ministry doing the hard work of building relationships with people, eating and drinking in their homes, so much so he was accused of being a drunkard and a glutton in the company of the wrong people (Matthew 11:19). Jesus saw no one as an anonymous sinner, but an individual made in the image of God, someone deserving his personal attention.
Building relationships with people is hard work and requires much time. For those who desire to share their faith, spending time with people over coffee and dialogue, learning who they are and what they are about is not easy and quick. It also requires, not just the sharing of one's faith, but of listening as well-- listening to why people do not believe in Jesus and considering their beliefs as well. If I desire to share what I believe with someone else, it is at the very least a considerate thing to listen as the person, now a friend, shares their faith or the lack thereof with me. For those of us who believe in evangelism, and I do believe in evangelism, it must be a dialogue, not a monologue, and there I suspect is why lazy evangelism is so attractive. Lazy evangelists really do not want to have to consider those who challenge their faith. They don't want to have to respond to the doubters whose doubts are serious and not unreasonable. They also don't want to have to consider that they indeed might be wrong. It is far easier to walk down the streets and hand out the information about Jesus rather then walk in the way of Jesus who demonstrated God's love for others by being with others and spending time with others. If what he had to say was credible to people, it was because of the way he embodied in his life what he taught. For Jesus, there was no walk-by, lazy evangelism. If Jesus were in Nashville, he wouldn't be passing out information about himself to strangers on the sidewalk; he would be in the bars and taverns and restaurants eating and drinking with those who the self-righteous wouldn't dream of spending time with.
I suppose if Jesus were seen coming out of a bar in downtown Nashville, someone would probably give him a Chick tract assuming he needed to read it.
I wonder what Jesus would think of his kingdom message reduced to a small comic book?