Street Evangelism in the Modern World
For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you. (1 Thessalonians 1:8).
Many church leaders tell us that open air evangelism in the form of preaching or door-to-door evangelism is outdated, that it no longer works because people are post-modern, because people no longer care about heaven and hell, and that promising or warning them of such things means nothing to them. We are told, therefore, that we must engage in lengthy ‘friendship’ evangelism so that lost friends will feel comfortable with us. We will also need to use apologetics to convince people of the validity of Christ and his gospel. It seems, therefore, that many of our churches see very few professions of faith and true conversion. It seems that many of our Reformed churches are very weak on evangelistic outreach.
Certainly we need to build strong, loving, and growing relationships with non-believers, and there is a time and place for apologetics. I am not saying that street evangelism is the only weapon in our arsenal. I am saying, however, that it is one too often neglected today. Some will say the commands to evangelize are given only to the Apostles, after all, Jesus is speaking to his disciples in Matthew 28:18-20, Luke 24:44-49, Acts 1:8, not to the general covenant community. However on the day of Pentecost, after the one hundred and twenty had been praying ten days for the coming of the Spirit, in fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy, all of them bore testimony in various languages of the mighty works of God in redemption. Indeed, the sons and daughters prophesied, young men saw visions and old men dreamed dreams. In Acts 8:1ff we read of the brethren being dispersed due to persecution, except for the Apostles, and the brethren went about evangelizing (the literal Greek word used in Acts 8:4). Then Paul commends the Thessalonian believers for sounding forth the word in Macedonia, Achaia, and beyond, stating that because of their gospel work he needed to say nothing. Clearly then, due to the fullness of the Spirit present in the early church, the church leaders and lay people were evangelizing as a way of life. Some still may object to one-on-one, street evangelism today, saying that times have changed. Have they? Dr. Peter Jones repeatedly makes clear in many of his books that the prevailing western world view today is neo-paganism. That is precisely what Paul faced in Corinth and Ephesus.
I wonder if the real reasons for our failure to engage in one-on-one, door-to-door, street evangelism are our laziness, cowardice, and pride. I am speaking from my own personal experience here. I suspect the root cause is our pride. When I seek to engage people in a questionnaire in hopes of sharing the gospel with them, and when I am rejected or mocked I find it especially humiliating. This blow to my pride fuels my innate laziness and cowardice, and I simply find other things to do. I tend to avoid the pain of rejection at all costs. I have come to believe that this humiliating rejection and mockery is very good for my personal sanctification. It helps me, though admittedly only minutely, to experience the sufferings of Jesus when he was despised and rejected by men, when he was like one from whom men hide their face. In fact, due to Christ’s command to make disciples of all the nations (noting that this begins with evangelism and moves forward to teaching) failure to evangelize and disciple is sin. We are failing to obey and honour Christ when we fail to evangelize and disciple people. Have you ever heard your preacher say that it is sin if you fail to tell others about Jesus?
Not all Christians are evangelists, but all, especially ministers of the gospel, are to do the work of an evangelist (2 Tim. 4:5). Every church needs people gifted in evangelism, and others who do the work of evangelists so that the church may have new life breathed into it. A church merely built on strong preaching and teaching is dying even as it lives. Have you ever wondered why churches built only on strong preaching tend to die or fall off significantly after the great preacher has left? Such churches attract people who like good preaching but too often do little with what they hear. Churches, however, built on evangelism will have a vibrancy and excitement about them – not unlike the atmosphere in a family when a new baby comes home from the hospital. I am not minimizing the need for strong preaching and teaching. I am not suggesting that diaconal ministry is unnecessary. Both are important. It seems to me, however, that many of our Reformed churches are strong on preaching, teaching, and theology; and many are now strong on mercy ministry, but we still are generally very weak in evangelistic outreach.
Pastors, I know you hear this all the time, but it still is true – what you do, how you model your life and ministry, speaks loudly to your congregation. If you are not sharing the gospel regularly with people, then don’t expect your people to do so. It is time that we applied our Reformed theology to the work of evangelism. If you believe men are dead in their sins and cannot believe the gospel on their own volition, if you therefore are committed to pray fervently and expectantly for their salvation, then go out to the streets of your community and ask God to direct you to people who are open, prepared, and ready to hear the gospel. Perhaps most will not be interested, but look for the one or two, three or four who are. Expect God to save people. You are probably a coward like me, so make it easy on yourself. I have found older people and the poor, as well as immigrants, very open to hear about Christ. So I urge you to set aside a few hours one afternoon per week, or perhaps Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon, asking one or two from your church to go with you, and simply go to the streets with a questionnaire, gospel tracts, and the joy of the Lord on your face. Plunge in and see what God does. As you gain confidence by the Spirit, you will then venture into deeper, more difficult waters, like your affluent community.
One other thing – I suggest you set aside one or two weeks per year for an intensive evangelistic outreach in your community. I learned this years ago by doing evangelistic work in one or two places. It wonderfully focuses your entire congregation on the work of evangelism, bringing much new life into your church.
Rev. Allen M Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut.
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