“So, how did you come to know Jesus?” I asked.
It was National Training Event mission and I was attending a men’s barbecue (long story, don’t ask). We were all standing around in the minister’s backyard, eating prawns, drinking beer and punch, and enjoying the warm summer night. I was in conversation with an older parishioner in the church who had a very interesting life story that spanned three continents.
“How did you come to know Jesus?”
“I read this book,” he said.
“Really? What book was it?” Possible titles flashed through my head—A Fresh Start ... Mere Christianity ... Simply Christianity ... perhaps More Than a Carpenter. But it wasn’t any of those.
“A biography ... well, an autobiography. Of a monk.”
This got me thinking. As Phillip Jensen repeatedly pointed out during our five-day conference on evangelism, “Evangelism is just the proclamation of the gospel.” Of course evangelism can be done through writing. Where would the world be if God had not given us the gift of writing? Oral tradition would be stronger and perhaps our memories would be sharper, but we would lose some of the clarity and precision that comes from having an enduring form in which to preserve knowledge—a form that transmits easily through space and time so that we, in the twenty-first century in the land Down Under, can read something written in Ancient Mesopotamia four thousand years ago. The Bible exists primarily in written form and therefore writing is an ideal medium for evangelism. Through writing you can evangelise someone on the other side of the world twenty years in the future. Writing allows you to take your time in crafting a phrase or fashioning and argument. Writing gives your reader the opportunity to read and re-read at his or her leisure.
But writing has limitations that balance its advantages. The relationship between writer and reader can bridge space and time but lacks the intimacy of relationships in contemporary space and time. Unless there is some form of personal relationship, the reader can never discuss a point further with the writer. Writing also narrows expression into one stylised form, bound by the rules of characters, alphabets, syntax and grammar; it cannot make use of oral tools like pitch and tone, or visual tools like hand gestures or body language. This leaves the door wide open for misinterpretation so that, a simple statement like, “Jesus is the only way that you can get to heaven; all other religions are false,” can be met with rage and accusations of bigotry and intolerance.
Furthermore, writing is a bit of a dangerous activity when you think about it. Someone once told me that writers oscillate between self-flagellation and arrogance—self-flagellation when it’s not working or when writer’s block gets in the way, and arrogance because of the sin of pride. The problem with writing is that one’s ego always gets in the way. When I finish writing this article, I know I’ll secretly be gloating over my success and achievement; I’ll be fishing for compliments—*ahem*—feedback from others; and, of course, I’ll be applying subtle pressure on you, Dear Reader, to peruse my scribblings right to the very end. That sort of behaviour might be all right if I had just written Ulysses or The Da Vinci Code but it’s not a good mentality to have when I do evangelism. I need to be mindful and humble before the word of God—I need to acknowledge that I rely and depend on my Lord and Saviour. Even though, to tell the gospel, I need not launch into a prolonged explanation of 2 Ways to Live, I must not commit either of the twin errors of adding to or subtracting from God’s word or else I will suffer dire consequences (see Revelation 22:18-19). Writing is a dangerous activity. So approach with care.
That said, there are myriad ways in which you can do evangelism through writing. In order to give my ideas some order, I’ve grouped them roughly into three categories. But don’t let my imagination confine you—let it be a springboard for you to come up with ways of your own.
- Articles, columns, letters to the editor (for beach mission, for mission week on your campus, for fliers or broadsheets advertising events, for your campus magazine, for websites, for your local newspaper);
- Essays and books;
- Speeches, sermons, talks to be given by someone other than yourself;
- Gospel outlines;
- Bible studies for those approaching the word of God for the first time;
- Sunday school, youth group, Scripture, Kids’ Club lesson outlines.
A didactic form allows you to clearly teach and explain the gospel. However, it may also cause some people to switch off.
- Blogs (“blog” stands for “web log”; blogs usually take the form of an online journal but they can also be used for social commentary, news reporting and special interest writing);
- Testimonies (biographies, autobiographies, interviews);
- Newsletters, letters, emails, cards, invitations;
- Chat forums, ICQ, MSN.
Personal forms have the advantage of allowing you to tailor your explanation of the gospel to a very specific audience, eg. Jews, university Arts students, cooking enthusiasts, your best friend. (Note that “tailoring” does not mean “changing”.) Being less didactic means you can share the gospel in a way that’s more accessible and friendly than any of the means listed above. However, be aware of the limitations of writing and the limitations of online relationships.
- Fiction (for adults and for children);
- Poetry, song lyrics;
- Scripts (for film, radio, stage and comics);
- Reviews (of books, movies, theatre productions, comics, etc.)
The creative form is even less didactic and therefore may be more appealing. However, because of its subtleties, it can lose clarity. Don’t expect your audience to know immediately what you’re talking about if you sing, “There is love in the red letters,” or if you utilise the language of allegory.
Over the years I have had plenty of opportunities to evangelise my family and friends, using the medium of writing or something else. I have never seen any of them come to a real relationship with Christ. But I need to remember that, no matter how brilliantly I might argue or how eloquently I might wax, it is God who changes (or does not change) the hearts of men and women, not me. The pen might be mightier than the sword but nothing is mightier than the Lord of all.