From "Street Preachers' Manual" © 1989 by Rev. Gerald Sutek
Reproduced by permission.
Let all things be done decently and in order.
1 Corinthians 14:40
Truly, to be carrying on the same work that so often in the past virtually turned the world upside down, and to be numbered with the great preachers of the Bible times right up to the present, is a great honor. No street preacher ever needs to lower his head when found out. On the contrary, if he is doing this work decently and in order, he is associating with those whom the Lord titles, "good soldiers of Jesus Christ." Yet, there is no crown except he strive lawfully. One unseemly street preacher can cause great dishonor to fall on the heads of his predecessors, as well as those preaching ethically today.
There is a right way and a wrong way; those who choose the wrong way may gain immediate attention, but their reputation is shortlived. Everyone in the ministry cherishes the stories of our champions in the faith, and thrill at the stories of John Wesley preaching to ten thousand in the cornfield, or Whitefield able to be heard one mile away as he preached publicly. Our blood moves quickly as we read of General William Booth on the streets of London, or J. Frank Norris going and preaching at his own public hanging.
Some, in the final days of this Laodicean period, need to continue this heritage, or it may happen that a whole generation could grow up and pass from the scene without ever having witnessed the public proclamation of the gospel. The children of these last days have the same right as those on the streets in Booth's day. Maybe they will never get on a bus and go to Sunday School. Maybe they will never find the rescue mission on Skid Row. Some of them will be raised in such high society that they will never come into contact with a Bible-believing church. But there may be an obedient street preacher whom the Lord can place in their public crossroad to warn them of their wicked way. I extend an urgent call to preacher boys looking for a place to preach, pastors who have lost touch with true public opinion of their message, young men who desire to spiritually show themselves a man, and to all servants big or small who desire to participate and carry on this richly rewarding ministry, to take up the cross of public evangelism, and let the redeemed of the Lord say so.
Hell and Heaven
On "Fat Tuesday" during Mardi Gras on Canal Street in New Orleans in 1987, we were with a group of preachers who preached to the multiplied thousands present for about seven hours. Anyone called to preach would have been moved with compassion as Jesus was at the sight of this massive multitude. There were seven preachers in our group, but what is seven against an estimated two and a half million partiers on the streets that day? As we preached, sang, and attempted to minister the gospel, I noticed a young man whose message though it did not lack zeal was only one of condemnation: "You're lost! You're going to hell! You better get saved! Jesus is coming! You're going to burn in hell if you don't get saved! You're gonna fry like a sausage and sizzle like a pancake! You're lost! You had better get saved!" With great concern, my partner and I took him unto us and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly after which, he preached with some compassion on how to be saved, and how to stay out of hell, and how to be prepared when Jesus does soon come. Not only is there a Hell, but also a Heaven.
The following are some of the unethical ways of street preaching:
Gravelled Voice: The content of the gospel message itself is an offence to some. Yet, I have heard street preachers preach in such an obnoxious, gravelled, harsh, and brash voice that though they may have mentioned the love of God, it sounded as though it had come from the exhaust of a garbage truck!
Telling Them Off: The street meeting is not the proper place for simply venting your spleen.
Name Calling: Preaching directed at individuals combined with ethnic or derogatory name-calling is not only unseemly (I Cor. 13:5), but it can be illegal.
Facial Expressions: It will take some practice, but you need to wear a neutral expression on your face. No one is going to feel comfortable approaching or listening to a preacher who looks like a gorilla robbed of his last banana! Try to match your expressions to your subject. For example, Heaven expectancy and joy; Hell concern and compassion; Sin - strong against it, yet compassionate.
Personal Convictions: Preach the gospel share your personal convictions with inquiring born-again Christians.
Preaching to Get Arrested: Any idiot can get arrested and probably will. I heard of two guys up in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, both of whom I have preached with, who had their toothbrushes in their pockets as they preached in anticipation of being arrested. Check your motive, He-Man.
Bad Timing: I preached during a parade on Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. I must say, I was tempted to preach on integration, but we rose above the temptation and preached Christ crucified.
No Wisdom: There is not much wisdom in preaching to a captive audience gathered for another purpose for instance, at a little league baseball game or an outdoor music concert.
Too Long: Some preachers don't know when to quit. Too much coal can burn the house down.
Many years ago, I was with a group of preachers in a downtown section. This particular day, the preaching was unusually heavy and harsh. Many green preachers had already "whipped up the air," and the store owners were grouping together in concerted aggravation. Having received several complaints, three police cruisers circled the block, but not able to intervene as yet. The atmosphere was extremely tense. I swallowed hard as the young, zealous preacher harshly drove his point home. I looked to see the next preacher in line. It was Karl Baker a veteran street preacher who was capable of blowing the lid off this boiling kettle! As he stepped into position, I prepared myself for a riot, arrest, tomatoes... ! Karl, using great wisdom, opened his mouth, and at the top of his lungs, sang: "My soul in sad exile was out on life's sea, so burdened with sin and distressed..." After the fourth verse of "The Haven of Rest," the cruisers cruised away and the tension eased. I learned how to behave myself wisely on the street.
Hercules or Herman
The style of preaching in camouflage or army fatigues with combat boots, a concealed weapon, and a three day growth of beard may be macho or Herculean, but as a street preacher, I'm not impressed. The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, and if you have to have that appearance to bolster you, there must be something spiritual lacking somewhere.
On the other hand, Peewee Herman would not have been invited to a street meeting which I headed up. The worst style of street preaching I have ever witnessed was done by a fellow who had been a homosexual prostitute, and had definite feminine tendencies. He had never delved into that sin to the point of reprobation that is, he never preferred the male over the female but even after his conversion, he became grossly effeminate whenever his preaching became intense. He pranced as he held his limp palm up, and preached with a repulsive "fairy" whine. He asked me for instruction, so I told him to stand perfectly still, cup his hand to his mouth, draw himself to his full stature, and preach from inside. Not long after, he developed into one of the most courageous street men I have ever had the privilege of working with.
Hecklers, Heretics, and Handouts
Jesus sent his disciples out two by two. He knew what He was doing. One man preaching may have a real problem with a heckler. Since the goal is to keep the preaching going at all times, the partner not preaching at the moment deals with the heckler.
For several years, we preached every Saturday morning at a flea market. We preached across the street, but lobbed our voices into the crowd. One week, a Catholic had the misfortune to rent the booth directly across from our artillery barrage. He quickly became irritated and began calling back remarks. The next week, he gestured with his hands. The next week, he came across the street, trying to engage the preacher in conversation, but my partner intervened. He told us we had no right to "blankety-blank" do this. My partner asked him if he was a Christian. He said, "Of course, blankety-blank." He said he thought this ought to be kept in the church. This was advice we had NEVER heard before. Finally, the next week, he called the police and filed a complaint. When the police came, he ran over and gave them the whole story. The police told us that if we preached in that spot again that day, we would go to jail. Being not readily familiar with the law in that area, I stopped. It appeared to many observers that the Catholic won.
We drove to the police station the next morning and discovered, by talking to the Major (second in command under the sheriff on duty) that we were perfectly within our rights in preaching on public property at that time of day with no P.A. system. We returned the next week and the Catholic never did. Who won? Well, we were not there to win anyway, but to preach the gospel. We were as kind as possible, yet firm. If we stopped every time anyone objected, we would rarely preach.
We were in the same location at another time when a queer, strung out on drugs, shouted obscenities and started across the street. Again, I was preaching, so my partner ran interference. My partner tried to witness to him. They had quite a heated spiritual battle that spilled over into a fleshly confrontation. The queer violently grabbed the wooden sandwich sign my partner had on, ripped it off, and began to whirl it over his head as an offensive weapon. By this time, the entire flea market had come to a standstill, the traffic had stopped, and my partner was in the middle of the street ducking as the queer attempted to do him in. All the while this was happening, I never quit preaching. I now had scores held captive to hear the preaching. Finally, my partner found his opening. With one punch in self-defense, he decked his opponent. The queer stumbled off, saying he was going to call his husband. I continued preaching as several folks came across to help pick up the pieces of the sign. Some showed concern for my partner and others offered to testify, if it was necessary, on our behalf. We had done all we could short of stopping preaching to deal properly with the situation, yet there was a physical conflict.
This brings up a difficult and delicate point what to do when an unavoidable, physical conflict arises. Before you jump to any pious conclusions, let me be a bit more personal and pointed. Suppose you have your family on the street with you during a street meeting and someone is about to touch your wife or little girl? Is physical self-defense in order, or is there yet debate? I believe that Hebrews 11 states that there is yet debate. The illustrations here are from the Old Testament, but they establish a principle that transcends dispensations. Verses 32-40 teach that you have an option to suffer for the glory of the Lord thereby obtaining a better reward or to resist with the result of possibly prolonging your ministry. This is an individual decision without absolute right or wrong. Jesus said in Luke 22:36, "and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one."
Someone may argue, "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal" (2 Cor. 10:4). The warfare is not against flesh and blood, but principalities and powers spiritual. We cannot use carnal weaponry to get someone saved or to fight the devil, but physical self-defense is an altogether different subject. Few would argue that if our nation or family were in physical jeopardy, we should not physically provide protection. The same logic must apply to our own temple. Stephen chose not to resist. Maybe it was impossible or maybe he was on another spiritual plane than most of us. But, nevertheless, the principle remains that you have an option, legally and spiritually, to physical self-defense. Calvin, Cromwell, and the Swiss and Scottish reformers all resisted physically, yet, Foxe's Book of Martyrs never records a resister. "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God."
Heretics, regardless of brand, race, flavor, or nationality, are all alike and should be dealt with in the same manner. They are just sinners. Titus 3:10 cannot be improved upon. Deal with them quickly about salvation. Give them two shots at the most, and then move on. Do not stop preaching to deal with a heretic.
The rule for handouts is never take them. There are hardly any exceptions. If you take handouts, you class yourself with the Moonies, Hare Krishnas, and other cults. Handouts, in some places, can be considered soliciting. "My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus." (Phil. 4:19)
In conclusion to this chapter, remember that you are an ambassador and representative of the Lord Jesus Christ. Your behavior reflects on His Body and may continue to reflect for all eternity. (2 Cor. 5:20)
Next chapter: Legality of Street Preaching