My friend Tony Miano proclaims the gospel on Hollywood Blvd.
Photo by Chris Yarzab © 2008
|Street preachers are much-maligned and often despised (or worse) for their work.|
The following thoughts are adapted from a comment I made in an evangelical forum where questions were being raised about the validity of open-air evangelism. Several forum participants said they are embarrassed by open-air preaching, loud evangelism, public calls for repentance, placards, and tract ministry. Someone wondered aloud whether "The 'Turn or Burn' Christian who stands on the street corner" could possibly have any noble motive. One thing was clear: lots of Christians have a low opinion of people who proclaim the gospel through signs or sermons on street corners.
I have a different point of view.
rovided his message is accurate, I'm grateful for the "Turn or Burn" guy (as well as the one-on-one evangelist with a pocketful of tracts)—regardless of what his motive is. Philippians 1:18.
Evangelical Christianity has a noble tradition of open-air preaching, and some of the finest preachers in history have done it. George Whitefield did little else. Spurgeon did it, advocated it, and gave lectures on how to do it correctly. Both of them were vilified for it by more "refined" religious leaders in their respective eras. May the Lord save us from that kind of "refinement."
Jay Smith preaches at Hyde Park Speaker's Corner in London. He has an amazing ministry there to Muslim radicals who gather at Hyde Park to proclaim their own message.
Open-air evangelism has always had a more or less counter-cultural stigma. People have always been offended by it, because it tends to confront them with the truths they least want to think about at precisely the moment they are trying to do something to avoid thinking about things like eternity and accountability to God.
And therein lies the true effectiveness of open-air ministry, I think. You can't measure the "success" of the street-corner guy by the number of converts he wins. You'd have to be able to know how many men who drove by him on their way to a strip club or a secret tryst and were convicted when they saw his "Repent" signs. But there are no statistics on that.
Old-style open-air ministry
There is a guy in Santa Clarita who has some very-well designed signs and spends a lot of time at one or the other of our valley's two busiest intersections. He has been doing it for more than a decade. He purposely makes eye contact with me almost every time I drive by. I have never seen him without thanking God for people like him.
My youngest son is a policeman who patroled Venice Beach for a couple of years. I am thankful for the people who are down there (as Ray Comfort or someone from his team always seems to be) doing some kind of open-air evangelism. Tony Miano is a retired policeman who frequently does personal and open-air evangelism at our local courthouse (and elsewhere), and I'm thankful for his ministry.
It's true that most people who convert to Christianity aren't won to Christ through the methods employed by street evangelists. The average Christian is more likely to win someone to Christ within his or her personal circle of relationships. So if you can't imagine yourself doing open-air ministry, get busy evangelizing anyway.
But let's not miss the equally-true flip-side of that fact: Some people are so deep in sin and degeneracy and so devoid of Christian friendship that if they don't hear the gospel from an evangelist like Tony Miano or Ray Comfort, they aren't going to hear it at all. We should support and encourage what these guys do, because on its own level it can be very effective. Only heaven will reveal how true that is.
And the next time you see that guy on the corner holding the "Repent" sign, buy him a Slurpee and give him a word of encouragement. If you talk to him, you might find that his "motivation" is very different from what you assumed.
Here are some good resources for wannabe street preachers:
- Doug Wilson answers a question about street preaching.
- A great series of blogposts by Steve McCoy.
- Tony Miano in action.
- Spurgeon on street preaching.
- Spurgeon on open-air preaching.
- "Open-Air Preaching: A Sketch of Its History" (from Spurgeon's Lectures to My Students, lecture 17).
- More remarks from Spurgeon on open-air preaching (from Lectures to My Students, lecture 18).