Is street gospel preaching relevant to modern evangelism?
One had a smart phone and the other had a bag and as they scrolled through their WhatsApp messages and pictures, they would keep erupting inconsistently with the words, “Jesus is the only savior. He is the way, truth, and life. He can save you”.
For about an hour, that sentence never changed and every time they would speak up, they would be laughing at their phone screen, saying one word at a time and they both generally looked joking and just irritating.
And so I interrupted, “Friends, the message you have is great, but you really have to show that it is really important by how you speak it and the enthusiasm you show. But now you are playing with your phone and at the same time shouting and clients are actually irritated and annoyed. Do you think you will really do a great work?”
What did they do?
They laughed even more and now became like they wanted to abuse all the passengers. In their words, “oh you may think you are saved yet it is just religion. What we are talking of here is salvation. Eeeh, are you getting it people? Yes, your religion shall not save you, but Jesus shall…..”
And so many other incomprehensive words they described people! Luckily enough, it was time to get out and, oh, I wish you can understand how people showed signs of relief as if they had been in captivity!
My questions is; are these street preachers seriously concerned with saving people’s lives or something else is driving them?
For God’s sake, the problem was not the message; it was the evangelists themselves.
So today let us look at it deeply; where does street gospel preaching lie? Is it relevant to Christian evangelism? And what went wrong or right with it? Read on.
The Daily Monitor (Uganda) of 11th, November, 2016 featured a photo of one of the known street preachers called Patrick Katamba.
According to that report, Katamba had already spent about 5 years doing the vocation!
Street preachers in Uganda are very many and common especially on busy streets and round-about here in Kampala. And as some have already spoken out, they seem to be a concern to the public, leadership, and even to other fellow Christians.
On 13th, July, 2013, K FM (Kampala) published on its website an opinion from Michael Wandati that labeled street gospel preachers as both noise makers and thieves!
In his words, Wandati had said, “mushrooming preachers in the streets of Kampala, are just the illegal street hawkers and vendors who KCCA should arrest and charge or detain them…These preachers collect and make money, but do they pay revenue out of the money they collect? I doubt if they even tithe or give offertories in their respective churches!”
Just to remind you, the above article of daily monitor included about 6 opinions from 6 different people and were all negative except one. The most common remarks were; noise makers and money makers.
Surprisingly, besides the above negative attitude and opinions about street gospel preaching, such preachers are increasing in number. Actually, Mponye Shawn (2017) posted a photo of a 67th Makerere University Graduate resorting to street gospel preaching as his immediate job or career!
Whether in Uganda, USA or any other nation in the world, street gospel preaching is known and has been around for centuries.
While many Christians support it and many other oppose it, the challenge or puzzle remains; is street preaching acceptable according to bible? If yes, is it still relevant in these modern times of evangelism? Does it bring any good to Christianity and spread of the gospel of Jesus? These are important questions we wanna look at now.
What is Street Gospel Preaching?
Also called open air preaching is a kind of preaching where an evangelist just stands up on the street, in the bus or train, amidst a group of people who were not aware of him and are usually not interested and starts preaching.
I would love us to differentiate this from crusades; yes, crusades are usually organized and have many church members participating and are usually stationed at one spot on the street or compound. By the way, open air preaching and street preaching per se have some differences (not necessary for now).
For street gospel preaching, usually the preacher is one and usually not commissioned by the church but by himself as convinced by his belief or Holy Spirit as most claim.
Our questions today are; is street gospel preaching relevant to the church today? What would Jesus do in our times?
You see, many of us forget the details of the mission that Christ left for us, let us remind ourselves; “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19, NIV).
The great commission was not just to make people listen but to go an extra mile and turn them into disciples. Disciples are simply those who can follow Christ and also teach others to do so.
So let us review street gospel preaching in relation to this great commission
Truly, street gospel preaching is biblical and starting with Jesus Christ and St. Peter later in the streets of Jerusalem (Acts Chapter 2), street gospel preaching has been in play for many decades. Actually, many writers like Jonathan McKee (2015) say that it is a historic method of evangelism that can even be effective especially in winning converts and not necessarily disciples.
Christian critics of street preaching cite disadvantages like; 1. It is ineffective especially in our times; 2. It is offensive against the public; 3. It can be misused to spread wrong theology.
However, the writers at Got Questions Ministries shoot at the above critics by emphasizing that saving even one person makes a difference, every Christian's message to the unchristian world is normally offensive, and spirit-filled individuals should take up the vocation rather than spread the fear that a wrong gospel could be preached respectively.
According to writer Neal Wooten in his 2013 article Why Street Preaching Is Wrong, the concept of the gospel is centered on conversion and making disciples and not on a ‘vulgar’ or forceful way, but on every effort to blend in and be attractive rather than repulsive.
In his words, he writes; “I have never seen or heard a street preacher claim that they reached people with their message. But isn’t that the reason for witnessing to people? Isn’t the goal to bring people to God, not drive them away? Why would you rejoice in upsetting people instead of saving them?” And so he concludes; “yes, we are to share the word and witness to others, but only when it’s productive. This is why street preaching goes against this very concept”.
What do I think?
About preaching, I believe God asks us to be wise, tactical, friendly and yet assertive where it needs to be. And also, the bible is clear that our job is to preach and God changes the hearts of those we preach to and thus in this respect, street gospel preaching would make sense. But, surprisingly, it doesn’t!
For God’s sake, there is no point in today’s street gospel preaching. It is ineffective, annoying, spreads wrong gospel sometimes and does not reflect the church’s dignity or respect anymore. Actually, I personally think street gospel preaching does more harm than good to the Christianity.
Yes, it portrays Christians as disorganized, very disrespectful, unsure about their God, lazy and thieves as some have already highlighted citing street preaching as another business.
The bible says we should preach the gospel in season and out of season, whether people love us or persecute us, but the same bible says we should preach to cities and people that welcome us (Matthew 10:14). If this seems like contradiction, I think God was simply asking us to be wise, reasonable and make quite impressive decisions.
Yes, it is possible to be persecuted by a part of people or city that has seen another part of the city or people get helped by your message. In this case, it is wise to stand strong against such opposition and keep on blessing those that are embracing the gospel (a good example is John and Peter’s stand against the council, Acts 4).
The challenge is; actually, street gospel is not as hurtful to outsiders like it is to fellow Christians. Isn't this another surprise? (we shall need research on this).
The fact that most street preachers have no one to report to or are not accountable gives a big chance for unsound doctrine, behaviors, and other personal traits and ambitions to slip through into the public.
Without pretending (this is for Kampala’s case), imagine if you asked for an opinion from 10 non Christians in relation to street gospel, what would be their opinions?
I confidently want to say that 8 0r 9 out of ten or even all of them would tell you they don’t like it at all. Tell me; is our gospel about just annoying people or saving them?
In the great book, unchristian, author and researcher David Kinnaman writes that, recently, there has been rising negative perception about Christians and Christianity by outsiders. And he warns that whether their perception/accusations against Christians are true (which they indeed are, sadly!) or false, we should not take them for granted for they really affect the conversion rate (the ability of the church to win people to Christ).
Yes, we cannot say that we are just doing our job if people develop negative perception and can no longer recognize the face or picture of Jesus in us every time they meet, see, hear or come across a street preacher.
As cited by David (You must read that book if you really would love to know what is happening to the church’s image and how to help), Paul asks evangelists to “live wisely among those who are not Christians and have conversations that are both gracious and effective” (Colossians 4:2-6)
I am sorry to confess that most street gospel preachers are abusive and offensive especially against people that show up as Muslims or as belonging to other religions, their message is ineffective, are disorganized and non regulated, annoying, irritating, and sometimes disrespectful and do not in any way represent Jesus’ preaching since even their words don’t reflect Christ’s wisdom.
Talking about alternative ways to do effective evangelism, author Jonathan McKee in his awesome 2015 article, Does Street Gospel Evangelism Really Work?, suggests door to door evangelism, starting with immediate circle (friends, co-workers, family, school mates etc), and strangers in a more tactical, friendly and considerate manner and disciple them where possible, be relational and relentless just as Christ used to be.
What is our take home?
Personally, I don’t support street gospel preaching. As a believer who intends to see people get saved, I don’t think street gospel preaching represents that cause.
My reasons, as already highlighted, include; it is ineffective, very disturbing to others, offensive and disrespectful, not controlled or monitored, can be misused for personal gains or even wrong gospel, and wrongly represents the church and Christians as disorderly, jobless (lazy), unsure of their God, and lovers of money.
At this point, it is important to clarify that the above accusations may necessarily not be true, but as we earlier emphasized, Perception Is The Same As Reality In Relation To Public Affairs. And so alternative, creative, tactical, friendly and very effective means should be employed by concerned Christians and churches to spread the gospel and disciple as many as we can and not necessarily through street preaching.
That is all.
Thanks and God bless you
The Complete You Ministry, www.nemvicx.com
Has this article helped you? I mean, have you benefited from reading it? Then share some love by sharing this article with your other friends. Yes, use the Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google Plus icons available here and share with your other audience. Thank you so much.
For questions, post your comments below.