Lifesavers and Letter Writing

LifesaversI hate when people give advice about evangelism. “What you need to do,” they start, “is buy a five-pound bag of individually-wrapped Lifesavers candy. Then, print about five hundred business cards with the plan of salvation on the back. Staple a lifesaver to each of the business cards, and ask people if they’d like a lifesaver. When they say yes, (because, I mean, everybody likes Lifesavers, right?) then you tell them that you’d like to give them a REAL lifesaver. Then you tell them about Jesus Christ.”

Okay, so that story isn’t mine. But a friend actually had a well-intentioned church member share this bit of evangelistic wisdom with him. It “works” for this guy, surely it would be equally effective in any setting. People can’t resist a “hook” like that. If they had Lifesavers in Jesus’ time, He would have used them, too.

Did I mention that I hate when people give evangelism advice?

So here’s my advice. If you’re a fairly healthy, socially adept individual, please move on; this advice isn’t for you. But if you were raised in church, you’re likely as socially awkward as I am. You might need this.

Sometimes, the hardest part about talking to someone about Jesus is bringing it up. Since we were raised in a sheltered subculture that didn’t help us make connections between our faith and “real life,” we often have trouble expressing ourselves on spiritual matters without resorting to clichés and religious words that don’t really mean anything to anyone outside our circles. To make matters worse, we’ve been trained to talk to strangers about Jesus. That’s easy. We’ve been convinced that the people around us will surely ridicule us for our beliefs, so we’re prepared to take that sort of rejection. Someone calls you a freak when you share your faith? Good for you, you’re suffering for the cause of Christ. But our friends? That’s much more difficult. There’s nothing worse then the “persecution” of being snubbed by your best friend the next time you run into them at Starbucks.

Why not write a letter? Not a letter outlining the four spiritual laws. Not sharing your faith. Write a personal letter telling your friend that you’d like to get together to talk with them about your spirituality. Tell them why you find it uncomfortable. Express your intentions- not to convert them but to share your experience. Tell them that you fear their rejection. Explain your frustration with your own inability to talk about these things without using church words. Tell them that you feel stupid for not being about to talk to your best friend about something that is so important to you. Tell them you’re sorry for being socially inept. Make an appointment with them for a time to talk about Jesus.

I’ve found that talking about Jesus isn’t nearly as weird for our friends as it is for us. They’re not emotionally hung up about it. They can talk about it like any other topic. We’re the ones who make it strange. In fact, I suspect that if you write a letter like this, your friend would respond. They would probably bring it up. They may even hold you accountable and not let you wimp out. If they know it’s important to you, they’ll likely come prepared to talk about it.

But don’t do the Lifesavers-stapled-to-a-tract trick. That’s ridiculous.

10 thoughts on “Lifesavers and Letter Writing

  1. Great story…sounds familiar. I was thinking we could start a movement…”Purpose Driven Candy” or maybe “The way of the Marzipan”….there are a lot of good options. Now you’ve got me thinking….the cheesier the idea the more effective….right?

  2. Excellent post.

    I used to wait tables and hated those tracts that look like dollar bills. This in turn led to strongly disliking the people who left them (often without any ‘real’ money next to it)…and we were supposed to be on the same side!

  3. Those little tricks usually work better for leaders and people already involved in the church. I’ve treated my leaders to appreciation dinners and given them mints, telling them “they’re worth a mint.” They definitely are worth more than a mint to me. They think the idea is cute and they appreciate the free dinner.

  4. Camel Rider,
    They already have “Testamints.” I think the market is saturated.

    Kari,
    I remember those “money” tracts. In those customers’ minds, they were giving you something far more valuable than real money. Funny how unaware they were of what they were actually communicating…

    There was a house in our neighborhood growing up that gave out tracts instead of candy for Halloween. Trick-or-treaters usually ended up throwing eggs at the front door. That was real persecution, wasn’t it?

    Brenna,
    If you had used that “worth a mint” line as evangelism with a stranger, I’d probably make fun of you.

  5. Stepchild…Brenna and I stopped doing those cheesy evangelism things years ago. We make fun of those things as well :-D

    I have to say, however, that “Way of the Master” banana story works all the time…if I want to get a good laugh…

  6. I think what I like about your “advice” is that what you are really saying is two things: (1) live Jesus so that it is natural – the gap between belief and life isn’t so far and (2) be honest – be humble – be real. When we do these things suddenly Jesus can start speaking through us, through our lives and through our words.

  7. I’m sorry for how I wrote that comment. I didn’t mean to speak for you. I should have said that what learned or took away from your excellent post was….

  8. Bryan,
    Thanks. Don’t worry, I find it helpful to hear in other people’s words what it is they hear me saying. I think you got my meaning. In fact, yours was a bit better than mine…

    I think the second point you make (well, I tried to make) is the key. Maybe it is weird to share my faith with a friend; acknowledging that can only help to open the lines of communication between us. I think that’s the kind of honesty we need.

    When it looks to the world like we don’t know how strange and awkward we are, I imagine it’s hard for them to relate to us (or want to).

    Thanks again.

  9. Honest communication is difficult, not just in evangelism, but in life. I regularly find myself having these sort of conversations with my wife when we’re talking about some difficulty we’re having with one of the kids or with a friend. We tend to ignore the elephant in the room or try to find some indirect way of dealing with the problem when I think we would often be better off just being honest and saying, “This is how I feel.”

    That, and I think that the program-oriented nature of what evangelism has become leaves many of our people feeling like they don’t know what to say because they haven’t been through EE, CWT or FAITH. They may not even know all of the Scriptures in the Romans Road, and they can only remember two of the four spiritual laws. After all, those are the “approved” evangelism programs. We’ve lost the concept of what it means to simply sit down with someone and talk to them about what Jesus means in my life and why I follow him.

    Thanks for the helpful post.

  10. Paul,
    I think you’re right. We don’t always value honesty and openness in any area of our lives. How can we expect believers to know how to talk about their faith?

    I think some of it is due to the preaching most people hear in church every Sunday morning. If our pastors insist on talking down to people about matters of faith, it only makes sense that anyone without a seminary degree would feel timid about talking about Jesus.

    I’ve been to churches that know how to talk about Jesus without using any ancient Greek. That’s where the real conversation can happen.

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