The tract as a tool
Vincent Taylor maintained that the test of any theologian is whether he can write a tract!
Standing at a stall in a missionary exhibition of a large Christian conference, I experienced a sense of disappointment as time after time Christians said, "Oh, we used to give away tracts, but it is years since we last did." In a time when there is great spiritual ignorance, and we are looking for ways to open conversations of consequence, let me write in praise of the humble tract!
I do not know of any easier way to share the good news of Jesus Christ than through a short, simple leaflet which fits into my wallet, pocket or bag and is an abiding message ready to go to work and be used of God at any time.
Tracts are the key to open the door of conversation, and then they are a reminder of what the message just shared is all about. It is a self-imposed 'rule' of my life never to go anywhere without tracts, and wherever possible I seek to pass them on to people I happen to meet.
How else could I get into conversation with the person in the garage, if I did not have a tract? As I take my receipt, it is easy to hand back a tract with the words, "May I give you a little gospel leaflet?" Then, looking the person in the eye, I add, "It simply explains how Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners… and I'm sure you would agree, we qualify!" If the reaction is one of seeming interest, I might ask, "Have you ever given serious thought to Jesus Christ?"
Personal evangelism can be tough at times, but if it is one-to-one, rather than within a group, done with a reassuring smile and a confidence in Christ, it can be a thrilling, daily ministry. As an evangelist, I believe that street work is vital for me. I trust it is a blessing to the people I meet, but they are a real blessing to me. They help me not to grow out of touch with ordinary, unsaved people. Even their apathy or antagonism can minister to me, in that it reminds me where people are in their attitudes to the Lord.
Success in witnessing is simply speaking of Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit and leaving the results to God. The tract can be the way to turn the direction of small talk to conversation concerning Christ and can be given away anywhere—in restaurants, shops, on the train or bus or plane, in a queue, to the postman or door-to-door salesman. It may not always be possible to talk with a particular person, but who knows how the Lord might use the printed word as an evangelist, if passed on prayerfully (Isa. 55:11)?
Undoubtedly, many tracts will be discarded, but in days of spiritual ignorance, it is something for which to be grateful if at least some are read. The evangelist can be an example to others in this matter. Enthusiasm is infectious, and when Christians see a spiritual leader with a burden to be constantly about the Master's business, it makes its impact. A university student told me how deeply impressed he had been by the British preacher, Leith Samuel. They were travelling on the same train, and Mr Samuel had approached every passenger offering them a free copy of his Answer to... booklet to read on their journey. There is joy in the heart of every Christian who tells someone of their need for repentance and faith.
Every so often it is good to organise a mass distribution of tracts in a locality; in the shopping centre, the park or at sporting events. George Muller used to give out tracts at public executions! Today we have people 'hanging around' in other places! Many will not have read an attractive Christian leaflet until we meet them. You may be a challenging encouragement to fellow Christians and would-be evangelists as you take a group of volunteers to help in the task.
Tracts know no geographical or political borders. There are Christians regularly sending gospel literature through the mail to otherwise 'closed' countries. Also, for those who live near a seaport or airport or some kind of tourist centre, it is possible to reach people from all over the world. The range of nationalities passing through London, for example, is astounding. These people may have had no previous contact with Christians but may be glad to accept and read a tract offered to them.
Tracts can also be placed in letters of all kinds—when paying bills, or writing to friends or businesses, sending greeting cards or writing to people who have been absent from church for a while. The fact is, many people who would never attend church or read the Bible will read a tract—and in doing so will receive the Word of God. My attitude to junk mail has been transformed by tracts. I used to be irritated by the thirty-second waste of life each unsolicited letter caused. Now I relish opening such mail because of the enclosed pre-paid envelope. They want to hear from me, and, enclosing a tract, I do not disappoint them!
There are tracts for every occasion, every need and every type of person. They can be distributed by anybody, regardless of age, sex, race or education, but the evangelist should set the lead in this. Children especially treasure something which is attractive and will often re-read something they like several times. A supply of foreign-language tracts makes it possible to reach people who could not otherwise be spoken to about Christ
This is not just theory. As a tract writer, publisher and distributor, I can testify to the fact that I frequently receive letters from people who have been converted by this means. Sometimes the tract has been given to them; sometimes it has been found on a train, in an airport lounge, telephone kiosk or the like. They come from every walk of life, from all over the country, and indeed, the world. The Bible promises: "He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully" (2 Cor. 9:6).
A tract may be an inanimate evangelist, but it can be used of God to bring life where once there was death. Hudson Taylor, the founder of the China Inland Mission, was converted through reading a tract when he was just seventeen years of age. Dave Burke, Christian author and pastor, was converted to Christ through reading a gospel left under the windscreen wiper of his car when holidaying in Europe. Mehdi Dibaj, an Iranian Muslim, turned to Christ after reading a tract. He was martyred for his faith in 1994 in Iran after living a life of bold proclamation of the gospel in that Islamic land.
We do not know how the Lord will use another gospel tract, but for some, the gospel leaflet may be the only 'evangelist' they will ever meet.
This article is an extract from Roger Carswell's excellent book, And Some Evangelists, Christian Focus Publications, 2014. Used with the kind permission of the author.