Thursday, July 19, 2012

A New Model of Street Evangelism

Philippians 1:6

"What can a street evangelist do in order to balance Biblical discipleship and evangelism in the context of the local church?  If we hand out tracts with our websites on them, and offer business cards with ways to contact us, haven't we done everything we need to do?  After all, if God is doing a work in someone, shouldn't we trust Him to work in them to contact us?  Philippians 1:6!"

This was my own attitude for many years while doing full time street evangelism.  There is an element of truth to this.  If God is doing a work in someone's life, they very well may contact you in order to hear more.  In our ministry at The Lost Cause Ministries we saw this happen on occasion.  For example, a bouncer from a nightclub in Dallas, TX once called me and left a message saying, "I couldn't get what we talked about out of my head.  I am calling to let you know that I am getting right with God."  My partner, Tim Crawford, had the experience of seeing a man we met outside of a rock concert come up to him in a festival booth about 30 miles away from where we first met him.  While Tim was sharing the gospel with a man at the booth, this other guy said, "Hey man, make sure you listen to what this guy has to say.  I spoke with him a few weeks ago and what he said changed my life."  He had gotten off of drugs and made a profession of faith.

Half of the Job

Handing out our contact information and ministry websites is a good way to see what the Lord is doing in the life of the person you spoke with if you are passing through the area.  What we failed to do in both of these instances was try to get these men into good local churches.  We did half of the job.

Some might object, "What do you mean?  These men were saved and the Lord will take care of the rest."  Yes, He is able to complete what He started.  But let me ask you this question, as I must ask it of myself.  "How much do you love people?"  Do you love them enough to tell them the gospel, hear from them later and then forget they exist?  Is that love?  Do you want to see them grow in grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, or are they only "marks" to target for the gospel so we can get our own personal quota?  If you don't love people, why are you evangelizing? 

Let me ask you this: if I applied your application of Philippians 1:6 the same way to John 6:44, would you do any more evangelism?  Would you have the same hands-off attitude towards evangelism that you do with discipleship?  If you applied it the same way you would have to.  There's another name for this: hyper-Calvinism.  Some of us are Calvinists in our evangelism and hyper-Calvinists in our discipleship. 

What do we see as the predominant model in Acts and the epistles?  People saved and left to flounder on their own or people saved and "added to the church"?  How can we act as if we are doing the Book of Acts if we don't even make an attempt to do this? 

This is as painful for me to write as it is for some to read it.  If you are content to feel better about yourself because you are "doing evangelism" and feel no obligation to see people grow, you are not doing Biblical ministry in the fullest sense of the term.  You are not following Paul's model in the Book of Acts or the epistles. Nevertheless it is common in our circles that people will evangelize for years and never see someone saved, added to any church, or even have a second conversation with someone over coffee or a meal.  If someone can demonstrate from the Scriptures that when the gospel is preached the Lord does NOT ever draw His elect, I'd be interested to see it.  Many we witness to on the streets are His elect.  The problem is, we don't spend enough time in their lives to see the harvest. 

What More Can I Do?

The obvious question is, "Well, what more can I do?"

Answer: Start a weekly Bible study in your area for the people you share the gospel with near your "fishing hole" and invite them to it.  Make copies of half sheet black and white invitations, list the location and time, and start showing up there every week.  Download Paul Washer's "One True God" online (it's free) and print out a few pages at a time, make copies, and be ready to teach the characteristics of God.   Or do a verse by verse study of Mark.  Have snacks available, find someone who would be willing to teach kids and have a kids class available if it is in a home.  Get to know the people you met on the street and continue to bring the Word of God to bear on their lives.  Have a full ministry to them.  Laugh with them, cry with them, and as the Lord saves them (or even if He doesn't) bring them to church. 

There are not many objections to this model of street evangelism\Bible study that I think I could take seriously if I am looking at the Biblical model in comparison.  However, I can anticipate one:  "I am not a teacher."

This may actually be true.  Some might be bold street evangelists who actively one-to-one and don't have a gift of teaching.  So what do you do?  What if you invited someone from your church who IS gifted in this way to teach this class?  1 Corinthians 12 teaches us that we can't all do the same things.  So let someone else do it who can do it. 

If you are called to open-air preach, then you should be able to teach a class.  If you cannot, you may need to re-examine your calling to open-air preach. 

Being Taken Seriously

Sometimes, we bemoan the fact that pastors and other leaders do not take street evangelism seriously.  I bemoan it.  If our churches saw a weekly Bible study filled with people off of the street who are asking questions about the gospel and the Bible, do you think that might have a little bit of an effect on church leadership?  You see, pastors and other church leaders give themselves to the ministry because they love people and want to see them grow in the Lord.  When someone comes along and says that they are called to ministry and yet show little desire to be involved with the lives of those they minister to, it sends a pile of red flags up to anyone who is called to ministry.  "Ministry" literally means "service": service to the Lord AND people. 

Some of you might not believe me on this front.  That's fine.  Here's my challenge in response.  Print this blog post out, take it to your pastor and ask for his feedback. 

We are all growing in our understanding of how to do ministry.  It's a never ending process.  If we don't grow it's a sign that death has come to our ministries.  Let's pursue Biblical ministries for the glory of the Lord and for the sake of His Bride, the Church. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Open-Air Preaching Dream Team

Alistair Begg

Last month I had the privilege of hearing Alistair Begg preach at the North Syracuse Baptist Church.  He brought an excellent message on Romans 1:16-17, a very thorough and able message on the gospel.  At the end there was a Q&A and most of the questions had to do with evangelism: how to do it and why there is such a weakness in this particular area in the church in spite of the glorious truth of Romans 1:16-17.  Frankly, it was surprising since serious questions about evangelism in a venue like this are about as common as serious questions about one's favorite police officer or judge on death row.  A speaker of Mr. Begg's caliber usually draws deep theological questions.  This line of questioning is intellectually stimulating but very comfortable since it doesn't require much of anyone.  

One of the questions came from a friend of mine named Robert Gray.  Robert is retired from the US Air Force (Major).  He has guarded presidents of the United States and nuclear weapons in his role in the USAF's version of the Military Police.  He has been touring the USA and the world since then preaching the gospel in the open-air.  Robert is theologically sound, a voracious student of the Word of God, and a man of prayer.  He is the real deal.

His question was, "Considering the heritage of open-air preaching in church history, why don't we see more of it?"  It's an excellent question, especially considering the fact that Begg is a native of Scotland where there have been some fantastic open-air preachers, such as Robert Flockhart and some of the Covenanters (e.g. Alexander Peden).  Begg's answer was a mixed bag.  He rambled a bit, explaining that in the 1970's he used to open-air preach in Edinburgh with Campus Crusade.  However, he said that: 1) he didn't know of anyone who open-air preaches and 2) he doesn't know anywhere it would be effective.  He suggested that there are better means today, such as Twitter and Facebook.  He did admit that the "point is well taken."  It was a confusing answer to a straightforward question which did nothing but make a lot of comfortable Christians feel more comfortable.  

Ironically, Robert and a team of 20-something open-air preachers just returned from Scotland this week where they preached in the city of Begg's birth (Glasgow), Sterling, and Edinburgh.  The reports from this trip are nothing short of amazing.  Steady, consistent crowds gathered on the streets in the central business districts everywhere the men went.  Around 15 people professed faith in Christ and they were referred to solid local churches.

Check out this video from Glasgow just last week.  Note that it seems to be working. 

2012 Thunder Over Scotland Tour from Shane Sands on Vimeo.

The Seminary Answer

So what's the deal with Alistair Begg?  How does such an intelligent, gifted man know virtually nothing of open-air preaching in the 21st century? 

I told Robert later that Begg gave the seminary answer to the question.

In seminary, evangelism is either relegated to trendy, cool methodologies (right now the "missional" term is the thing) or to old stand-bys such as Campus Crusade's four spiritual laws or some convoluted mish-mash of methodologies meant to take the best from all and scrap the objectionable.  In other words, seminary training on evangelism isn't much better than what you can get in an average Sunday School class in a local church.  Or it might be far worse.  Someone who has taken the Basic Training Course from Way of the Master has a far more coherent and Biblical method of sharing the gospel than what is offered in most seminaries. 

Robert and others like him have a crazy idea.  Remember the whole KISS acronym?  Keep It Simple, Stupid.  We have a Bible, there are people on the street, and in a postmodern society that rejects absolutes and meaning, preach the gospel and watch people interact with it real-time.  After all, Jesus and the apostles seemed to think it worked as did many major figures throughout church history (Spurgeon, Whitefield, Wesley, Flockhart, Peden, Moody, etc.).

Abuses Do Not Disqualify the Methodology

So why don't men of the stature of Begg acknowledge or support the Biblical nature and call of open-air preaching?  I suspect the abuses have a lot to do with it.  James White agreed to accept an invitation to speak at an open-air preacher's conference in 2010 after much soul searching because of the antics of some misguided Pelagians in a venue where White used to go to witness.  Their lack of local church affiliation, a common issue in street preaching circles, was also a concern for White.  I am glad he agreed to come anyway because we all were greatly blessed by his message on Isaiah 6.  Discarding open-air preaching because of the bad theology of some in the camp would be like discarding pulpit preaching because there are preachers like Kenneth Copeland, Joel Osteen, Jimmy Swaggart, and Ted Haggard.

I think the church as a whole would be greatly blessed if men of the stature of Begg, White, John MacArthur, John Piper, Mark Dever, C.J. Mahaney and many others would  take to the public square and preach the gospel.  I know these men are busier than I have ever thought of being, but arranging to have some of them preach in a free speech zone on a college campus would be a great encouragement to the entire church to do evangelism.  We would all probably learn something in the process. 

Here is my open-air preaching dream team. 

Ray Comfort
John MacArthur
Alistair Begg
R.C. Sproul
James White
C.J. Mahaney
Mark Dever
John Piper
Paul Washer
Phil Johnson

Todd Friel
Steve Lawson

I hope no one misunderstands me.  All of these men have made valuable contributions to the Body of Christ.  We are all stronger for their work.  But one area that has been weak within the Body in recent years is evangelism.  Watching James White handle a heckler at a secular university or seeing Mahaney preach the cross in a similar environment would go a long ways toward motivating the Body to do the same.  We would also have excellent examples of open-air preaching to emulate.  It's a pipe dream, I know, but we can all dream. 

Someone with a whole lot more money than I have could put something like this together.  Maybe they could call it Together for the Gospel.  That sounds strangely familiar--might already be taken.   Kinda catchy though.