One of the most viewed and discussed posts I’ve ever written is a personal story about dealing with some pretty horrible street preaching I witnessed at Fresno State. If you haven’t read it yet, I’d encourage you to check it out. It’s the story of one of the most emotional days I’ve had in years, of continuing to attempt communication with the preachers and repeatedly failing, and finally how God used my friend Gabi to demonstrate the love of Christ to a throng of angry atheists.
I was catching up on one of my favorite podcasts the other day, Greg Koukl’s show Stand to Reason. This is one of the few podcasts I never miss an episode of and it’s had a major influence on my life. So I’m listening to the show and the first caller asks for Greg’s take on street preachers, particularly the kind who don’t seem to show God’s love very well. You can listen to this episode by clicking here, downloading either of the MP3 options and then skipping to 21:19. I’m going to summarize Greg’s two main points here though, in case you can’t listen to it yourself. I’ll also add a point from a recent blog post from STR’s newest staff member, J Warnor Wallace.
This post isn’t just relevant to street preaching. I think these tips are relevant to any pro-life advocate who wants to communicate to an apathetic world about one of the worst injustices we know about. I’ve seen a lot of pro-life communication, both in person as well as online, that feels similar to the kind of angry street preaching I’m talking about.
#1: It’s really hard to do street preaching well, and it’s really easy to do it badly. And if we’re going to do it badly, it would be better to not do it at all
Public proclamations used to be the way communication was done. For that reason, it didn’t seem odd or out of place. That’s not true anymore. Communication looks very different now than it did just 100 years ago. This is part of the reason that street preaching looks so weird to people.
That doesn’t always make it ineffective. There are a few guys that do it really well. I think Ray Comfort is very effective and Greg has also mentioned Andrew Rappaport several times on his show as being a good street preacher.
But generally speaking, for most people, street preaching is no longer as effective as other means of communication. And if you’re not going to do it well, it’s better to not do it at all. Don’t add harm, when you could help in other ways.
#2: The Bible clearly instructs Christians to act differently than mean street preachers
First of all, Jesus didn’t sound like an angry street preacher, unless you have a very different interpretation of the Mount of Olives discourse. Yes, He called the pharisees “whitewashed tombs,” but notice when that happened: during Passion Week. It was at the end of Jesus’ public ministry. It’s not how He started his public ministry.
Notice the instructions for Christians in Titus chapters 2 and 3:
Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.
Titus 2:2-8, ESV
“I bet the street preachers didn’t find that verse,” Greg remarked on the show.
Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.
Titus 3:1-3, ESV
May that last sentence never be true of us. As Greg explains, there is a difference between giving offense and taking offense. Some street preachers appear to go out of their way to say something true in an unseeming manner. That is not biblical.
#3: Evangelism shouldn’t look like a protest
This one comes from a great blog post from STR’s J. Warnor Wallace. The entire thing is very relevant, but I don’t want to be guilty of plagiarism, so go read the whole thing. Here’s just one section to give you the main point:
Think about it for a minute. If I told you I saw a group of people walking back and forth in a limited geographic area carrying signs and talking to anyone who was willing to engage them, what would you think I was describing? A picket line? A protest event? We have a cultural context for this kind of behavior; it is the behavioral language of protest. Before I even get close enough to see what’s written on those signs, I’ve already started to interpret the behavior of the group and it’s not a favorable interpretation. Protesters are generally regarded as angry people who want an injustice to be righted. Most of us want to avoid protesters and few of us think of picket lines as the location where winsome interaction is likely to occur.
Consequently, this is why I think 40 Days for Life vigils may be better off without everybody holding signs, even nice signs that say “40 DAYS FOR LIFE” and “Pray to End Abortion.” It looks more like a protest than a prayer vigil. And that’s coming from the guy who started the first Fresno 40 Days for Life campaign and personally bought 50 of those signs for our volunteers.
Question: What do you think? Is there a place for the kind of street preaching that I’m advocating against? Have you had good or bad experiences with street preachers? What are the best methods for modern street preaching?