Street Preaching and Angry Screaming: Sharing Faith in the Public Space

   

Foaming at the mouth and screaming at the top of his lungs, I stood perplexed watching the otherwise normal appearing man condemn the masses around him to hell. This twenty-something man stood on his milk crate reading passages out of Revelation into a megaphone, crying warnings of the coming beast, the Apocalypse, and the impending doom for the unrepentant. All of the commotion and clamor came to a head when he began a fervent diatribe, screaming “Homosexuals, gluttons, whores, adulterers—you’re going to HELL!!” That was the moment, the key word, which sent the people around him over the top. “You don’t even know us!” the crowd of people waiting to cross the busy street yelled back at this harbinger of doom. All I could do was stand in shock. Though having been a Christian for years, I had never been witness to such a Bible-bashing, brow-beating, street preacher.

Of course, I knew such people and such methods were used to preach the “gospel,” but I had never been eyewitness to it.

Though I am a Bible-believing Christian, I was appalled and offended. How much more would those who don’t believe in the scriptures or in Jesus Christ be unreceptive?

All Christians and followers of Christ are called to preach the gospel. And they are to do so in every aspect of their lives. The early followers of Christ took this call extremely seriously, preaching on street corners, in markets, in temples, and in synagogues.

When we look at the stories of those who have shared their faith in the scripture, often one finds an account of “street preaching” and the warning against sin. Such a case can be seen in Jonah, a man charged to spread the message of God’s coming wrath in the streets of Nineveh—a major metropolitan of the ancient world. And this man’s street preaching was wildly successful, resulting an entire kingdom on its knees in repentance and prayer.

But we also see men like Paul who preached in Synagogues and in religious spaces. Paul made it a point to speak about Christ and the gospel in the homes of willing people or in receptive public places, such as the Areopagus in Athens—a place of philosophy, thought, and religious worship.

Both these men, though going about their call to spread God’s message quite differently, were called by God to nothing less than to spread the word.

We too have a similar calling.

We are charged to go into all nations and spread the name of Jesus Christ.

But just like many of you, I am not completely sure what that is supposed to look like.

In our culture today, religion is sectioned off from the rest of culture—or at least we in America try to. Western Civilization has truly become secular. Prior to sixty years ago, talking about religion or God in the public space was common and expected. Conversation about religious matters in the work place are often prohibited by employers.

I was never a browbeating, Bible-thumping believer. But I was the super Christian who asked people to not curse around me and always read my bible in the break-room, a pattern only interrupted by an occasional attempt at converting coworkers through arguing the existence of God. Eventually these conversations spilled over into the IN-N-OUT burger stand—my place of endless toil for eight years through high school and college. These eruptions of religious debate and attempts at conversion were more than enough for my manager to ask me to cease and desist such discussions. I complied but played the part of the silenced suffering martyr.

That work place eventually changed me. I was no longer the naive and preaching-eager homeschooled kid. I encountered sexy women and lots of alcohol. And my thoughts became consumed with these things and not converting people to following Christ. My Bible was no longer brought to work but had collected a fine layer of dust under the bed. Just as my Bible was out of sight and out of mind, so was my faith.

I lived no differently than anyone around me.

I look back on those days as a teen in my first job and realize a few profound things:

All the preaching and Bible thumping that I did amounted to nothing. It was my inability to act like Christ that destroyed the message that I was preaching.

It is unquestionable that we need to share our faith.

But often the most ineffective ways in preaching and sharing one’s faith is by screaming and arguing it from a street corner. Can this work for some? Sure. But I find that it most often doesn’t.

In a nation of so many tribes and traditions, the best way to share one’s faith in public spaces is through relationships, community, and living in a way that is visibly different and changed for Christ. Beyond the theological debates and intellectual arguments, many people in this culture of isolation want to belong before they will believe. For years the church in America has done the opposite, demanding that people believe our list of theological concepts, often times dozens of points long, before they can belong.

In my recent experiences, I have seen lives changed for Christ—not by screaming at them through megaphones but by simply inviting them over for dinner and a good time living life together with other friends.

The Church needs to be about creating community and making people feel like they belong while they are being discipled in the ways of the Christ.

And not a people screaming from the rooftops a list of theological principles.

 

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  • Joseph Reger

    You know it does make me sad seeing people on milk crates preaching the word or screaming the "word".. It reminds of the time I was in line at the courthouse outside and this guy and his crew of Godly followers were preaching to the people at the court house as if we were all there for murder or theft even though most of us were there for a speeding ticket or something. It just made me think… How can anyone wanna follow Christ if that's how were supposed to do it? NOBODY wants scripture shoved down there throats especially if they are not of Christ. But like the idea ive shared with you before.. It would be fun to hold up a sign at an off ramp that say "not asking for change but offering it". Just putting that in someones mind for the day could set course for land (Jesus). I totally agree that we need to show God through the way we live and share our lives.

    I always type whatever im thinking all out of order but I to brought my bible to work and sat in the corner and used my lunch and breaks as bible time….. man did i miss the point ahah. As my coworkers would look at me in my own little "christian to good for you" shell.. I thought i was witnessing.. WRONG. No one of the world wants to be badgered everyday in a verbal way about Christ or a scene of you in your own self righteous bubble. Instead they should be able to evaluate you… think to themselves "man he's/she is different, and that's all because of Christ? i want that!" Whether we like it or not, the world is watching our every move.

    Also i tell my youth kids not to curse in front of me cuzz its good practice for them… 😛

  • Thanks for your thoughts and for promoting my articles. Ministry is a tricky business. But I think Jesus is the best example we have.

    As far the curing, I toltally get it with kids and with people you are discipling. But not with those that are not Christians.

  • Good thoughts! When it comes to street preaching, I think of John the Baptist. But he never said, "repent or you're going to Hell" instead he announces the coming Kingdom. That was something that the crowd at the time expected. Now, I just don't think that would work. If we are street preaching, we should offer the Gospel of Jesus not the torment of Hell

  • Indeed, I think preaching the gospel and the love of Christ is best. But how do we preach this. For myself, I am attempting to reach a local college campus for Christ. I am setting up tables that look rather professional and am handing out free coffee, water, etc. This simple need met has led to so many doors opening. So many have asked and discovered Christ. All because I gave them a cup of coffee. It was the Holy Spirit, don't get me wrong. But I firmly believe that for this generation meeting a physical need in service is the best way to preach the Gospel. Now I am rather mild at this point, but my prayer is that my ministry team will be able to serve the students of this college so radically that they are left dumbfounded asking, "why?" And we will be ready to offer them Jesus Christ.

  • Great article. If there is one thing that makes me angry it is street preachers. Part of me wants to go and ask them were the 'Good News' is in what they are saying, most of the times it just sounds like blackmail… believe what I say or you will go to hell.

    The only people Jesus ever gets close to being angry or short with are the religious leaders of the day who shout the odds but nothing to help. Jesus on the other hand when confronted by religious leaders with one of these whores our street preachers talk about confronts the crowd, refuses to condemn the woman and then tells her to go and leave her life of sin.

    This is the kind of preaching we need, the sort that is Christ like, that seeks to love the sinner not scare them into submitting.

  • Jonathan Olivares

    Last night when I was at Scream The Prayer, there was a guy who was preaching in the streets . And right behind him was a guy who was criticizing his technique. Calling him an idiot and other negative words, and it came to my thoughts the cultural aspects of how this preaching could and can not be effective. Personally I grew up in a Latino community, in which this preaching technique is very popular. In fact we go to park, put on a show for kids with a message of Christ, we give them food. And while all this is happening a couple of feet from where the kids are, one of my brothers in Christ has a microphone powered by a small speaker. While he has the mic, he’s evangelizing. When he’s doing this an entire crowd stand before him, and so we single out these people and talk to them about Christ and answer their questions, and concerns.
     In fact, my parents partially, came to be believers because of that type of preaching.

     I feel like almost the street preaching, is not only popular in Latino areas, like mine, but also in low-income areas. And to some of these people this technique of preaching is attractive. But indeed this type of preaching/evangelizing technique by my church is accompanied by actions of love. We give them food, we prayer for them, we ask them if they need help around the house, and some of the sisters do activities with the kids and are patient with them.

  • This type of evangelizing definitely differs between cultures. Obviously, from the culture you were brought up in, it was quite effective, even more so because those preaching did so with actions of love and not just empty words of condemnation. For myself, and the generalized culture to which I belong (white, privileged, middle class American in early 20’s) more often than not, anyone standing on a box with a microphone is a big turn off, whether they’re speaking in a condemning tone or not. I’ve been in such situations with both friends who are believers and others who aren’t and it makes both groups just as uncomfortable. I think the lesson that needs to be taken away from this is that we need to be looking for the best way to reach the people within the specific culture we are in. For you, preaching with a mic in the park is effective; for Jon, handing out coffee and water and being available for people seems to be effective. As Paul said, we must be all things to all people. One technique of sharing our beliefs will most likely not be effective across the board for every people group.  Great input, Jonathan! 

  • Cale Rogers

    I have been a street preaching for about 16 years. Most of
    the criticism I get is from Christians that do not understand the purpose of my
    street preaching. In my situation this type of evangelism is only a part of the
    whole picture. I personally enjoy “one on one” witnessing more but street
    preaching has its place – along with passing out tracts, door knocking along
    with “lifestyle evangelism”. All of
    these fit together in reaching the lost world. I street preach on Friday nights
    when most people are heading out to “party”. This is the time to remind them of
    God’s judgment. This is a sort of plowing the hard ground by bringing
    conviction. When I was on the other side of the fence this type of evangelism
    worked well on me. It is blunt and aggressive and uncomfortable – but so is any
    life saving surgery. Even though my objective in street preaching is not necessarily
    to get people to pull over there have been many that do and are willing to talk
    to me and take a track. If the street preacher’s message is biblically correct,
    though uncomfortable, he may be doing what the Lord called him to do. If this is what the Lord called him to do we
    need to support him through prayer and encouraging words. I hope this helps.

  • Matthew46

    We are charged to go into all nations and spread the name of Jesus Christ.

    I don’t think so.

    Jesus responded, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the nation of Israel.” Matthew.10:[23]
    When they persecute you in one town, flee to another. Amen, I say to you, you will not finish the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. Matthew 10:5
    These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not:
    6 But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

  • Samuel

    Hi, my email is samuelyen232@hotmail.com. If you are still doing this type of ministry then please email me. I would love to learn from you.

  • Samuel

    I agree. Where do you street preach brother? I started last year. I’m from Toronto. You can reach me at samuelyen232@hotmail.com. I would love to learn from you. God bless you.

  • tony

    Really, really? So I guess you would have called Jesus a hater as well when he spoke about judgment, hell and repentance? Or how about when Jesus cursed those towns for rejecting the gospel and comparing them to Sodom and Gomorrah. How about John the Baptist “the axe is laid at the root of the tree..” Or how about those harsh minor prophets? You need to stop making up your own Christianity and conform to the bible which you claim to believe in.

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