Imagine walking downtown in a big metropolitan city on a nice clear night with your spouse. It’s date night and you’ve been anticipating some time away with just your sweetheart without the kids. As you two flirt and laugh and hold hands, you round the corner and there’s an awful sound that pierces through the air and puts your romantic time on hold. “You’re going to Hell! You’re a wicked sinner! Repent! REEEPPPEENNTT!” says a man with a poster of all the different types of people God “hates.” He’s pointing his finger at passerby’s as they scurry along, trying not to make eye contact with the crazy man shouting on his stepstool. Suddenly, as if his spidey sense goes off, he turns around to you and your spouse. He lifts his finger, opens his mouth, and begins berating you two. As you also walk past him quickly, you look to your sweetheart and say in a quiet voice, “Some good he’s doing. He’s simply turning people off to Christianity.”
Unfortunately, most of us don’t have to imagine the above scenario because we’ve lived it. In today’s time, some Christians look upon street evangelism as an archaic and even offensive manner of sharing the truths of the Christian faith because of men who use the street to condemn others instead of loving them. This begs the question though, is street evangelism (aka public evangelism) still an effective means of obeying Christ’s command to “Go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel to the whole creation”?
An Historical Method
Street evangelism goes all the way back to the days of the prophets and Jesus’ apostles. Evangelist and former law enforcement officer, Tony Miano, notes in his article, “Are There Examples of Street Preaching in the Bible?”, that Ezra (Nehemiah 8:1-8), Jonah (Jonah 3:1-5), Amos (5:10), John the Baptist (Matthew 3:1-2), Jesus (Matthew 5-7), the Twelve (Luke 9:1-6), among others shared and preached the Gospel in public places. In other words, they participated in street evangelism. The Bible records one of the more famous stories of street evangelism in Acts 2:1-41. On the day of Pentecost, Peter stands up and delivers a Holy Spirit filled message on the crucified and resurrected Messiah in public, resulting in three thousand Jewish men, women, and children coming to faith in their Jewish Messiah, are baptized, and added to the Christian church.
Not only does street evangelism appear in the Bible but in subsequent history as well with men such as George Whitefield, John Wesley, Charles Spurgeon, and Cornelius Van Til. History testifies that many came to saving faith in Jesus Christ and were added to the church through public preaching and evangelism. Today, God has raised up a new generation of street evangelists such as Ray Comfort, Robert Gray, Scotty Smith, Mike Stockwell, Al Baker, Leon Brown, Eddie Roman, Brad Snow, Jon Speed, Shawn Holes, Josh Williamson, among other godly men. Unlike the unbiblical and unqualified men we so often associate with street evangelism, these men of God continue the biblical and historical tradition of taking the message of the Gospel out to the streets in a way that is winsome, loving, and bold. With such a rich history of public evangelism, there should be no objections to this ministry. However, there still remains two main objections to this great practice and it is to those we now turn our attention.
“People don’t come to Christ through street evangelism! It’s not a beneficial method.”
Anyone involved in street evangelism for any length of time have most likely heard this objection directed at them. The underlying thinking behind this objection is that we don’t see people come to Christ when engaged in public evangelism. This may sound good on the surface, but when we look deeper, we see that it is not only false but also reveals a lack of trust in our Sovereign God. In 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14, we see that God has chosen His elect, and that the means by which He calls them is through the preaching of the Gospel. When Christians head to the streets, beaches, markets, squares, and college campuses with the Gospel, the elect who are still in their sins hear, and their hearts are softened. The seed of the Gospel falls onto good soil and begins taking root (Mark 4:8). God not only ordains the ends (the salvation of His people) but also the means by which He accomplishes His ends (evangelism).
The Bible and history gives us a wonderful record of many who were saved by hearing the Gospel from the lips of an open-air evangelist or a Christian sharing with them one to one, such as Phillip and the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8:26-40. I’ve been blessed to see people come to know Christ through my times on the street sharing and proclaiming the Good News. However, this objection is flawed because biblical and evangelistic effectiveness are not measured by results or immediate conversions. It is measured by simply being faithful to share the message of eternal life with those who are willing to listen and then leaving the results up to the Holy Spirit, for He alone has the power to raise sinners from spiritual death to spiritual life (Ephesians2:1-10). If effectiveness is measured by numbers, then Noah and Jeremiah were utter failures because the number of people who listened to them were small indeed. In fact, it is said that no one heeded Jeremiah’s words. Yet, they were successful and effective because they obeyed the voice of God who told them to preach. In the same manner, we too are effective when we preach, even if it seems like no one is listening, because we have obeyed the One who, with all authority, commands us to “Go” (Matthew 28:18-20).
God says in Isaiah 55:11, “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” This is God’s promise to the street evangelist that His Word which pours forth from their mouth will accomplish exactly what God wants. What does He want? People to be saved and that is what happens when the elect children of God hear the Gospel which is “the power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16). So, do people come to Christ through street evangelism and therefore is it beneficial for the church of God? The biblical and historical record both give a resounding “YES!” to this answer.
“Street evangelism turns people away from Christ and His Church!”
This is the sibling of the first objection. The underlying thinking is that people will be so repulsed by the street evangelist that he or she will want nothing to do with Christ and His Church. This flawed objection misses one critical piece of information: the unbeliever doesn’t seek after God (Romans 3:10-18), hates God (Romans 8:7), and does not want God (John 5:40). The non-Christian is already turned away from God through his or her sin and is running, not walking, toward death and Hell. What they need is to be lovingly confronted with the demands of God’s holy Law, the Ten Commandments, and given the beautiful cure of the Gospel (Galatians 3:24). The sinner won’t come to God for the same reason a criminal won’t go willingly to the police; their guilt. They need to be arrested by the Holy Spirit and converted and that comes from Gospel proclamation (John 6:44).
The non-Christian is already turned away from God through his or her sin and is running, not walking, toward death and Hell. What they need is to be lovingly confronted with the demands of God’s holy Law, the Ten Commandments, and given the beautiful cure of the Gospel.—@lamont_english
This objection is just another way of saying public evangelism isn’t effective but we’ve already seen that both the Bible and history, past and present, show that to be false. As PCA Pastor Leon Brown, who is himself a street evangelist, said of public evangelism, “If it’s ineffective, tell me what is effective?”
There is a story about evangelist D.L. Moody who was confronted by another Christian concerning his method of street evangelism. The Christian didn’t care for how Moody went about sharing the Gospel so he asked this upset Christian one question. “How do you do it (sharing the Gospel)?” The critic answered by saying he didn’t. Moody’s reply was pure gold. He replied back, “It is clear you don’t like my way of doing evangelism…but I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it.” Many who are critics of street evangelism fall into the same category of that critic. They themselves are not verbally sharing the Gospel with others which is something every Christian is commanded by God to do (1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1). Robert Gray, another street evangelist, says, “I have found (that) Christians who make such a claim that people are repelled by biblical Christians evangelizing don’t share the Gospel and/or don’t read or understand their Bibles.” These may say they seek to live their lives after Christ, and by that evangelize, but holy living is to be paired with Gospel proclamation. Living a Christian life is good but is not evangelism in the strict sense of the word. Evangelism is verbal proclamation of the everlasting Gospel.
Some may ask, “Well, don’t some people get upset because of street evangelism and therefore, it’s not good to do?” We need only turn to Acts 17:32-34 where the apostle Paul is proclaiming the wonders of the Gospel in Athens. What were the responses of the unbelieving crowd? “Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, ‘We will hear you again about this.’ So Paul went out from their midst. But some men joined him and believed…” In 1 Corinthians 1:18, Paul tells his readers that the Cross is foolishness to those perishing but for the Christian, it is the power of God. He also states in 2 Corinthians 2:16 that to some, the Christian (and street evangelist by implication) will be an aroma of death and to others, an aroma of life. Once again, this objection completely crumbles under the light of God’s Word and the historical record.
Always Abounding in the Work of the Lord
The Word of God, along with history, shows that one God’s primary methods of reaching lost sinners is through street, or public, evangelism. So instead of the Church heaping scorn upon the brave men and women who take to the streets to rightly share the Gospel, the Church should encourage and pray for them. Pray that God would continue using them to bring the lost to the Savior. Ray Comfort says “Another word for evangelism is love.” So, if you’re a Christian and you’ve given the objections above, it is time to put them away as well as your fearful disobedience, and in love for God and neighbor, reach out to the lost whether it be on the streets or the campus or next door. Finally, to all the biblical street evangelists across the globe, “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58). May God increase your tribe!