Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Preach the Gospel at All Times...

In the Bluffton Packet, Wed. June 17

You’re probably shocked to hear that despite being a full-time youth minister and very part-time pastor’s corner columnist, I still find myself in need of extra cash. The combination of an iTunes habit and having to replace my car last year after accidentally breaking it (note: when your engine overheats, stop driving. Immediately.) occasionally leaves me… financially challenged. Fortunately, I am multi-talented and when there are no more quarters to be found in the seat cushions, I call a generous local restaurant and beg for a few shifts. Waitressing is a profession I’ve held on the side since I was fourteen. As my father prophesied when I told him I wanted to major in Theology (right up there with art, music, and English in terms of earning potential), “Well, you can already wait tables. So you’ll never starve.”

I’d rather be playing dodgeball or leading a Bible study, but when necessary I’ve always enjoyed waitressing as another outlet for my obnoxious extrovert tendencies. And, although giving directions to Harbor Town and assuring people that alligators, as a rule, do not eat people (unless you’re from Cincinnati) can get old, Hilton Head affords a lot of neat interaction while re-filling sweet tea and delivering burgers. Plus, I went to college in Ohio, so I can usually connect geographically on some level with my guests (“Yay Buckeyes! I agree, this is the year The Browns are gonna make it…”) Serving food is far from glamorous, but it’s fun. However, there’s one aspect that drives me crazy, even more than the usual server annoyances like kids running around under your tray full of hot coffee or scraping gum off the bottom of a table. It’s the fact that every few days when I go to collect the bill or tip off a table, tucked
anonymously in the check holder is a little religious tract, explaining the steps to accepting Christ as my savior and attaining salvation.

You may be surprised to hear this coming from a professional Christian who spends most of her days (as well as many lock-in-filled nights and weekends) trying to convince teens that life’s questions can be answered in Christ. In no way am I saying that sharing the Gospel is a waste of time and high-gloss paper. However, some ways of sharing are more effective than others.

I’d like to know what tract-droppers imagine happens as they pile back into their SUV’s with their doggie bags. Do they fall asleep at night feeling that they’ve successfully followed Christ’s commandment to “Go and make disciples of all nations”? “Yes” they think to themselves. “That brochure we left for that server will mean one more soul saved from eternal damnation!” Do they imagine that I run into the kitchen, tract in hand, exclaiming “Everybody! We’re on a twenty- minute wait, running out of mashed potatoes, expecting an inspection from DHEC any minute and a guest just said we’re out of toilet paper, but I just got a piece of paper that says someone named Jesus who lived 2000 years ago loves me and died for my sins. Let’s all stop and say this prayer together!”. We then all break into a round of “Kumbaya,” hug, and bring Bibles to the Triangle after work that night. This is just not how it works.

In reality, servers take these tracts and either throw them away or shove them into the pockets that contain the Amway and MaryKay promotional materials they’re given as well. This is occasionally accompanied by a few expletives, asking if being a Christian means tipping 8%. As a Christian, this grieves me because my prayer for my co-workers is that they know that Christ is more than a product to be sold like Amway or MaryKay; He is a person madly in love and seeking a relationship with us all.

I realize that the lack of four-color printers at the time of Christ leaves us to wonder whether He would’ve saved time and effort by using tracts, but I think that despite technological differences, we can look at how Christ lived and see that He shared his message through relationships, sitting with tax collectors and prostitutes and conversing with them. Through this people came to understand that truth is more than an idea, it’s a person. Sociologist Rodney Stark set out to investigate how Christianity spread and discovered that it was primarily through personal contact. In The Rise of Christianity, Stark’s extensive research claims that “the primary means of its [Christianity’s] growth was through the united and motivated efforts of the growing numbers of Christian believers, who invited their friends, relatives, and neighbors to share the 'good news’.”

Does that mean you can’t share Christ with the person serving you coffee or chicken finger basket? Of course not! But research and the example of Christ himself shows us that this is done best through a relationship-- asking someone’s name, if they have kids, personally inviting them to a program or service at your church. The encounter with your joy will speak much louder than any nameless tract ever will.

Alison Griswold can be left a tract at St. Francis by the Sea where she is the Director of Youth Ministry, or at a Hilton Head Island restaurant.


  1. Tracts are allright... but only if you have already been sharing Christ with your server to begin with, such as asking him/her if there is something you can pray for while you bless your meal (i know, an ancient practice as well) or just getting to know them and inviting them to be a part of a service or some outreach that your church is doing (like a beautiful day for single moms or holiday outreach). And, whatever you do... please, PLEASE do not leave a tract and a tip that is not at least 15%, perhaps more- tracts are a very very bad substitute for monetary tips...

  2. Thanks Alison...for such a blog...So do I follow your blog with much more expectations...