03 April 2011

Street-Preaching

by Phil Johnson

Tony Miano proclaims the gospel on Hollywood Blvd.
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.
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
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.

NOTE: Lots of heretics use signs and street-preaching to advance their error and spread their confusion. You have to be careful not to lend your support or casually say amen to people who are corrupting the gospel (2 John 7-11). Thus I chose carefully the words with which I began this post: "Provided his message is *accurate* . . ."



Here are some good resources for wannabe street preachers:



Phil's signature

50 comments:

Mel said...

Phil,
Thank you for these words of encouragement. As a fledgling street preacher and tract evangelist, I appreciate your "endorsement" (provided my message is accurate). It is all too easy to get discouraged and give up because everyone else in the local church thinks you are a nut, or because you get reviled by nearly everyone you talk to.

I came to Christ after hearing Ray's famous sermon, "Hell's Best Kept Secret" 3 years ago and have been an evangelist at heart ever since. I look up to Tony Miano and Ray Comfort and thank God that I had the opportunity to learn at their feet.

Thank you for your kind words regarding my mentors. I wish more people in the church felt the same way.

The Seeking Disciple said...

I praise God for the street preachers. Their boldness is so admired. I often say to those who would criticize these saints, "And what do you do for the glory of God in reaching the lost?" Often this shuts their mouth. So few testify of Christ to the lost. I pray that God continues to raise up biblical street preachers of the gospel.

Matthew said...

Ps. Phil,

Thank you for this article.
I was saved through an open air preaching ministry. I then open air preached in that same ministry for 2 years. In that ministry's 5-6 year existence I was the only one who VISIBLY came to Christ through it.

We would always take great comfort in R.A Torrey's words, "your greatest crowd is the one you cannot see".

Thanks again,
Matthew

Thomas Louw said...

I did a kind of “street preaching” and mostly one on one evangelism for a year after school. I wish I could be as bold as I was then. The funny thing is the hecklers is the ones I remember most, and fondly.
I also would ask friends to support your local “nut” it takes loads of courage and love for Christ.

The best way you can help him is stand an listen for a few minutes if his preaching or if he happens to stop you and want to evangelise you one to one, listen to the message, check the accuracy and then pray with him.

Thomas Louw said...

If our chief goal in evangelism is the converting of souls, I think we are missing the point.

Evangelism first and foremost is for the glorifying of God.

Proclaiming His glory is shown in the saving gospel. Yes, God is supremely glorified by people who are converted. There is however one thing that give God even more glory, the crucifixion of Christ.

I believe that is why so many street preachers stop, why the majority of Christians stop evangelizing. Their focus is on changing people while it should be glorifying God.

Should we then tell the guy who preachers with the conviction that saving people is the prime motive for evangelism? No!!
Even Paul said if the truth gets preach let them preach, even if the motive is a bit off.

Sarah said...

I always thought that street preaching gave Christians a bad name because it was so in-your-face. It was as if we were confronting people with christianity, and portraying it as a loony-bin kinda religion. But your points make sense, some people may not know anyone christian in their lives so may not ever hear the good news. I still think that christianity needs to be relevant and continually evolve(while being theologically sound of course!) to reach people.

Chris Lovie-Tyler said...

Thanks, Phil. Some good points. You've given me reason to see street-preaching in a more positive light.

Canyon Shearer said...

I am the poster-child for "Street Preaching doesn't work!" as I was won by a street preacher in Hyde Park (though not Mr. Smith).

Don't know what your rules are for posting youtube videos, but here is my testimony (hope this link works, on my phone): http://m.youtube.com/watch?gl=US&client=mv-google&hl=en&v=4zcI285FWnc

Making noise and bothering people,
Canyon

Pierre Saikaley said...

I can honestly say street preaching is scary, but exhilerating. Yes, there is a "foolishness" associated with it. But it is that foolishness that God is using to save the lost, and to glorify God.

I was only involved in it for several months years ago, when I attended a small Baptist church. But I will say, if you have the opportunity to do it, please do.

One thing you will always get out there is opposition. You expect it from the world. But what you don't expect, but isn't surprising I guess, is evangelical Christians who oppose the method, and interrupt your ministry to argue over theology and method.

I remember a friend of mine saying how street preaching has become outdated because our culture is post modern and doesn't even listen to the Gospel.

However, I think he is wrong. Our times need the Gospel to be more public, more bold, more engaging than ever.

It's high time we stopped catering to The Culture™ and continued doing it God's way.

Canyon Shearer said...

Better link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O1CNJ5V6kt8

Johnny Dialectic said...

Doug Wilson's admonition to go to your elders and be overseen in this is essential. Not everyone is called to preach.

Also, the old idea of open-air meetings ought to be rediscovered.

Daryl said...

I suppose you could say that street preaching and blogging have a commonality in that very often it's the unseen lurkers, who don't comment on a blog or openly respond on the street, who are the target audience.

Dean Olive said...

My wife and I were in San Fransciso a few years ago. On a Saturday, while waiting in line for an hour in the financial district for a street car, we heard a street preacher. He was a faithful preacher of the gospel. Others passed out tracts. My heart was lifted up to hear the gospel of Christ so clearly proclaimed.

Jason M said...

Awesome blog. I was actually saved through Ray Comfort's ministry, though not the open air part of it. Since then I have had a passion for sharing the gospel with people, whether its using tracts, talking to people one on one, open air preaching, or even blogs. Besides, the greatest sermon ever preached was done in the open air. The Sermon on the Mount.

Tony Miano said...

Thank you, Phil, for your continued support of the biblical presentation of the gospel, through open-air preaching.

You truly blessed the start of my day.

Thank you, brother.

Jon Speed said...

Phil,

Thank you for clarifying your position on open-air preaching, and qualifying it a bit with the note on "as long as they are preaching the gospel". There are some who do not.

I've been blessed to be doing this since 2004 and have seen great fruit. Thankfully, the present movement seems to be largely Reformed and maturing rapidly in areas such as local church accountability, theological depth and a thorough and full presentation of the gospel.

For anyone interested in learning more, check out Go, Stand, Speak Ministry's documentary DVD featuring Eric Holmberg and their "Street Preacher: A Day in the Life" DVD. These DVD's give a solid doctrinal and philosophical basis for open-air preaching.

donsands said...

I admire those who are gifted in sharing the gospel out in public like Ray Comfort, your friend Tony, Todd Friel, and others.
There are those who may be a hinderance to the gospel who do the street preaching, because they come on very self-righteous. And that's the way it is in every portion of the Church. The pulpits have good preachers and not so good preachers as well.

There is an open air preacher in Ocean City MD., who really is quite incredible to see preach to the people walking on the Boardwalk. http://www.randyhofman.com/sandsculptures.htm

I can remember the days when a friend and I would go door to door in our churches neighborhood. It was always a blessing to share the gospel, and invite people to come to church, and come to Christ. Not many came, but the experience filled the heart with joy. There was a bit of fear before going out, but always joy afterward.
Our Lord is so good if we simply desire to share the love of Christ with others from a grateful heart, which understands, "But for the grace of God, there go I."

Thanks for the post.
Thanks for the good post.

Allen said...

Thanks for the post Phil. You made my day. We are finding fruit in the ministry of street evangelism. A nearby coffee shop helps further the conversations. It can and does work provided the methodology is loving, graceful, Christ-centered, and engaging. Your encouragement is appreciated immensely.

Anna "Banana" Jackson said...

Thank you so much for writing this.

Years ago, after watching the Nooma video "Bullhorn Guy" (by the now self-proclaimed heretic, Rob Bell) I was so discouraged about the way the Christian world, as a whole, perceives street preaching.

One of the best street preachers I've ever seen was EXACTLY the OPPOSITE of what Rob Bell was making parody of. The guy stood on the box, pleading with the crowd with tears in his eyes. He wasn't shouting, angry, or yelling. He was reasoning, gently with MUCH compassion on the lost.

Scooter said...

Thanks for a convicting post Phil. I confess that I'm one of those y00ts who would have at least snickered at street preachers. I understand why, but that still gives me no excuse.

I've seen several examples of street preaching in my life, but only one that was truly good. He would stand in the open air forum at my college and faithfully preach. He would endure the ridicule and gladly answer any genuine questions from onlookers.

Robert Kunda said...

I always thought that street preaching gave Christians a bad name because it was so in-your-face. It was as if we were confronting people with christianity, and portraying it as a loony-bin kinda religion.

I thought the same thing as well. As an new convert, my view toward these guys was similar to the view I held as an unbeliever... repulsion. However, I've come to believe that the repulsion then was a dislike of the conviction of sin, and even now, I think my knee-jerk "offense" at the guys that do this is not a dislike of what they're doing, but a dislike that I lack what it is that drives them.

Solameanie said...

The media hasn't helped the image of street preaching. I can remember a few years back when the national news media ran stories on an Appalachian family whose young children were the street preachers. They apparently took biblical passages to shout and scream out of context, meaning that the kids would scream at the top of their lungs to passersby that they were going to "HAY-ELL" if they didn't repent. Of course, the two pre-teen boys in question were very rotund and helped the media paint them with the crazy hillrod stereotype. I certainly winced at the story when I saw it aired.

But for every case like that, I am sure that we will see many in eternity won to Christ through street preachers, whether they screamed or not.

FortC said...

Another question to consider is whether or not the only goal of the public preaching of the Gospel is the conversion of the lost. I think that there is good reason to believe that God can and does use the accurate public proclamation of God's word in other important ways such as restraining evil in the surrounding culture.

N. Cognito, Phd., Thd., MD, DD, etc. said...

Thanks for this encouraging article. Our Pastor, Rob McCurley, preaches in in downtown Greenville, SC every Friday at noon, to, as you can imagine, mixed reviews. But his faithfulness to spreading the Word in this way is refreshing.


Here's a link to an interview he did about this practice:

http://vimeo.com/2630153

http://vimeo.com/3075986

Frank Rollberg said...

Thanks Phil this has been an encouragement to me and a blessing today. Thanks for supporting us who do street preach and present a biblical gospel. God Bless

Fish with Trish said...

Thank you for posting this!

Shane Dodson said...

Thank you for this well-reasoned article, Phil.

There is mocking, jeering, and other more direct forms of hostility that we meet whenever we lift our voices to preach the gospel...but our Lord is also faithful to always provide sources of encouragement. I have lost count of the amount of times we have been personally approached by a brother or sister in Christ and given encouragement.

Your article is also a great form of encouragement.

Thank you!

Charlene said...

Thank you for posting this, this needs to be said. I tend to think that the gospel is just is "irrelevant" today as it was in Paul's time because sinners are just dead in their sins. The apostles were just as reviled then as street preachers are now. Back when I thought I was saved I used to think open-air preachers were only giving Christianity a bad name as were folks who handed out tracts....then I got saved. Now I realize there are good and bad street preachers and now I know how to evaluate their message. I am SO grateful for the accurate guys who are on the front lines doing battle every day. But since there is no way to track how many people are converted after hearing open-air preaching, do we really know that more sinners are converted through personal relationships? There are so many hearers that hear the seeds of the gospel in the open-air that perhaps only eternity will tell...

Morris Brooks said...

These street preachers, those who really preach the gospel, are another means of God's grace. How will they hear without a preacher? However they hear, in church or out, is the extension and manifestation of God's benevolency to them.

bp said...

Amen. Wonderful words. I understand why unbelievers are embarassed by such things, but cannot understand why Christians are. But then again, a close relative (a Christian) recently said he really believed in Francis Assisis's quote, "Preach the Gospel, if necessary use words." So maybe that prevalant idea is part of the problem.

Tony Miano said...

@bp: Something to let your Christian friends know who lean on the Assisi quote. He never said it. Catholic scholars have combed through Assisi's writings and ancient writings about Assisi. They were unable to find any credible evidence that Assisi ever made the statement. It is merely legend, and a bad one at that (Romans 10:14-17).

Rob said...

Thanks so much for this very helpful post. I've felt some of that same uncomfortable edge when around street preachers, yet at the same time found myself led to immediately pray for them, as they are doing something I could probably never do well.

Ransom said...

Good post, Phil.

It's too bad, though, that for every Ray Comfort or Tony Miano or any other decent street preacher, there seem to be a passel of Ruben Israels or Jesse Morrells, whose theology is suborthodox or whose method of communicating with people is putrid. (I have to wonder some times whether these guys are more concerned with proclaiming the Gospel to sinners, or provoking a reaction so they can claim to be "persecuted for Jesus' sake.")

Chris said...

Thank you Phil for the great article. Very important and very encouraging. I also want to thank you for choosing a photo I took on Hollywood Blvd of Tony. One of my favorites. I've learned much from Tony and I thank God often for his discipleship. Keep pressing on!

Sincerely Chris Yarzab

donsands said...

"They apparently took biblical passages to shout and scream out of context, meaning that the kids would scream at the top of their lungs to passersby that they were going to "HAY-ELL" if they didn't repent."

I remember seeing this fools. It does more harm than good, for sure.

Made me think of my protesting abortion clinics days. I met some nasty so-called Christians out there. The Gospel was not what they were all about, that's for sure as well.

I so appreciate Ray Comfort. he is a fine witness for our Savior, and an encouragment to share the truth to the lost. And also I love to watch Todd Friel on 'Wretched' on Wednesday nights, when he visits college campus' and shares the truth of our Lord. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FY6CXOAIsTc

bp said...

I didn't know that, Tony, thanks.

Coram Deo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Coram Deo said...

Bullhorn guy?

...I don't think it's working, I think it's actually making things worse... - Robbed Hell

I guess if everybody is going to heaven, then maybe bullhorn guy is wasting his time, but I'm not sure what he could be making "worse", except for possibly somebody's trip to the brothel, or bath house, or whatnot.

In Christ,
CD

James Hogan said...

It is remarkable how often we(alright, mostly speaking of myself here!) don't give such preachers of the gospel their just due. Sadly, there are so many "preachers" out there not preaching a true gospel...I remember speaking with some such on my university campus. Their sign displayed all the people God hated(including "skateboarders" and "Calvinists" - I think I made the list three times) and while it drew everyone's ire, that's pretty much all it drew. That's what most of my Christian friends and I identified with "street preaching", sadly.

What's amazing though, is the times a faithful preacher spent three days at my university(his name was Tom Short)...he always had large crowds around him. Most were there to mock him. But he treated with their questions in a reasonable fashion and with the power of the gospel. I do thank God for preachers such as these!! My prayers go out to you all.

Matthew said...

@donsands

Gross idolatry! Faith comes from hearing by the word of the unseen Christ, not from abominable idols. μετανοέω

Mark said...

Great article. Way to step up to the plate Phil. Thanks.

donsands said...

Not sure what's up with your comment Matthew.

here's another hero I thought of that may bring embarrassment to others at times:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_qOdkTNoCU

fisherwoman said...

Phil you said the average person is more likely to win someone to Christ within their own families or circle of relationships. May I add,only if they open their mouths and preach the Gospel to them as well! Street witnessers get bombarded with questions like "so how many were saved"? when those asking the question, if you drill them, do not share the Gospel in any way, and when pressed, will find that it is just too offensive to share the Gospel. More so --to share the Law that brings the knowledge of sin?? Most of my critics are within the "church". There ya go. Open your mouth and speak boldly if you are a believer-as you should!

stratagem said...

The person who does street preaching in the little town near us seems to be one of the ones who is off on a tangent, his storefront "office" covered over with small print oddities about the "third heaven" and KJV-only stuff. He stands out with a cowboy hat and a large wooden cross with a sign that says "cross is preached." I always wonder as I drive by as he preaches to no one (literally), if I should admire him or pity him. Confusing.

Ray Comfort, Todd Friel, on the other hand I unreservedly admire.

scott said...
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scott thompson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
scott thompson said...

Soul- winning is a joy ! I was nervous when I started street preaching , but I soon found out that the Lord was in it ! He blesses us everytime we go . I love giving out Gospel tracts to those who need the Good News of salvation through the blood of Jesus ! Thanks for the comments !

R W S said...

Street preaching has to be done first and foremost for God's glory. It is also vitally important to clearly be linked to a local Church and the street preacher be one under the authority of his Pastor and Elders.

No everyone is called to this valid ministry but all Christians are called to be witnesses.All should know how to share the gospel effectively and be a supporter of missions.

Galatians110 said...

Well put, Phil!

No matter what kind of evangelism we are doing, one must be very careful not to allow pragmatism to creep in. Our goal should be faithfulness to the Scriptures, not notches on our Bibles. Whether one seems to be seeing many conversions or few, we need to be mindful that the Gospel is ours to proclaim, and it is not ours to edit.

Simon Cox said...

I've been preaching and giving out tracts for 35 years all over the world. Sometimes full time, mostly in my younger days and as I got older part time. God gives grace and victory. I've endured hardship and have seen over 1000 souls won to Christ. I won one Tongan man 27 years ago to the Lord and found out 3 months ago that he became a fulltime evangelist for all those years. Street ministry is my passion and even today took a friend out who had never been before and won 5 people to Christ, by Gods grace.My motto has always been " be bold and you will make a fortune, be timid and you will come to nought."People are wonderful and Christ puts great love in your heart for them and they need Christ desperately.I like that word in the gospels where the guys stand before Jesus and say "did we not prophecy and cast out demons and do miracles and He says, depart from me I never knew you. " Most christians think those guys were doing those things and Christ rebuked them. That is not the case. The truth is they were called to do them and didn't and on the day of judgement they will try to say they did.