Do you know how to napkin?

In an age where attention spans rarely last more than 12 seconds and anything longer than a blog post is too long to read, it's has become increasingly more difficult for a message to get across. Everything has become short-form. To-the-point, nothing-wasted, sound-bites are the principle mode of communication for everything from Tweets to texts to hand-written memos. In this post, I'm not going to go into whether or not this is a good or bad thing, though I do believe there are nearly-forgotten benefits of longer-form communication methods. For now, however, we're just going to roll with the facts and move forward from there.

With all of this short-form media being pushed to our screens, our hands and our doorsteps, it can get overwhelming. So much so, that very little of that media actually makes it into our head. Our brains have become incredibly adept at filtering media - if it doesn't catch our attention immediately it's passed over with the flick of a finger and not another thought.

...then we've got this thing.

Source: iStock

Source: iStock

In most of our houses (and on many of our phones) we have the literal words from the creator, savior and master of the universe... no big deal.

It's sometimes mind boggling to think of what we have at our fingertips and the corresponding time which we invest in it. But look at it! It's a book made up of sixty-six other books, many of which are dry legal codes, prophesies we have trouble understanding, poems about slaying our enemies or letters to people we don't know. It certainly doesn't read like a Harry Potter novel. Interesting point there - the Bible has more words than the first five Harry Potter novels put together. That's a lot of words. When you stack it up next to a 140 character Tweet you can begin to see where people have trouble diving in.

In the past couple of years, a larger emphasis has been placed on missional lifestyle design - in fact, I wrote a book on the subject. The premise is that our lives are a unique blend of personality, opportunity, skill and a multitude of other things that all add up to who we are. As such, most are not called into full-time, vocational ministry though we are all called to be ministers of the Gospel. How this plays out practically is that some will be plumbers, some will be politicians, and others stay-at-home moms. Yet, no matter our vocation or what we choose to fill our time with, we have an obligation to Christ to make disciples.

Think back to the circumstances that led to your Salvation. I would be willing to bet (if I did that sort of thing, ya know) that many of those events that persuaded you of the truth of the Gospel were by the Lord working through another person. While there are testimonies of people reading Scripture and coming to belief through it alone, most often we are led to Christ by someone. This is why evangelism is so important. When opportunity knocks and you have a chance to share the Gospel with someone, a quick way to help them immediately regret their decision to ask is to plop down your family's 2-ton King James Bible and start flipping to John 3:16. By the time the dust settles, you'll be standing there alone. Well... just you and Jesus.

I have one big question for you:

Do you know how to napkin?

Napkin theology is a term that originated with Seth McBee with the GCM Collective. The idea is that if we were somehow able to supplement our telling of the Gospel with quickly drawn sketches on a coffee shop napkin, we'll have a better chance at reaching people. For example, what's easier to understand for someone with no familiarity of Scripture?


Doodles, by their very nature, are non-threatening.

I mean, seriously... doodles? Rather than have religious doctrine laid out in front of you in all its complexity and depth for the first time, wouldn't you rather your friend buy you a cup of coffee and ask the barista for a few extra napkins to doodle on? See, here's the cool part about it - no one expects doodles to convey the complexities. No one sketches a Rembrandt and expects the viewer to stand in awe or examine the play of light and color or admire the details... because you can't. So if you ask an art aficionado to give you a beginner's lesson on Rembrandt and he pulls out a napkin and his sketch pen, you don't freak out. You expect simply to hit the highlights - to ski the bunny slopes. In the same vein, when you pull out a napkin to share the Gospel, your listener doesn't expect incredibly daunting theology to be thrust upon them but rather a crash course. With a napkin, the concept is so utterly familiar that you feel like, at least on a rudimentary level, you can understand it! No one is afraid of a napkin.

Your knee-jerk reaction, as mine was, may be wondering if these doodles cheapen the Gospel. A fair question.

When you are telling the Gospel to a young'un for the first time, you're not quoting Scripture and going through the intricacies of the Trinity. No, you're telling stories. That's what the Gospel is, from Genesis to Revelation - a story of redemption. Is this cheapening the Gospel? Of course not. It's approaching the Gospel with an awareness of the child's age. In the same vein, if you're sharing the Gospel with an adult for the first time, you mustn't focus on their biological age but their spiritual age. Stories and doodles may be just what they need.

Sound bites.

When it comes to telling the story of the Gospel, it isn't enough to be able to know how to find a verse that coordinates with the Roman Road scribbled on the inside cover. You must know your Scripture well enough to tell the story of the Gospel complete with felt-boards and Veggie Tales voice-overs. For many of us, carrying a Bible around all day is an impossibility. Chances are that you'll be approached with an opportunity to share the Gospel during a time when you don't have access to your Bible with it's underlines and notes in the margin. Chances are that you won't be near your pastor or have a handful of tracks to pass out. Chances are, you'll just have a pen and a napkin.

...always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you;
— 1 Peter 3:15b
...preach the word; be ready in season and out of season;
— 2 Timothy 4:2a

This truth further stresses the crucial nature of studying and memorizing Scripture so that we aren't caught with our spiritual pants down. No matter our circumstances, we should be ready to give account for the joyful hope that we have in our Savior.

Even if all we have is a pen and a napkin.