I keep up with street evangelists. I like them. I like them even more if they are under the authority of their local church, commissioned by their local church, and sent out by their local church. Did I mention their local church? If you know me personally or know my past, I was a street evangelist. I don’t use the word was in any kind of negative connotation. I look back on my days of street evangelism as a worthy work unto the Lord and good experience for equipping people to do the work of the ministry here in the local church.
It seems that my generation of Christians don’t get street evangelism.
This article is interesting in that a Christian who obviously practices lifestyle evangelism lies about and against a Christian who obviously practices street evangelism. This tale of two evangelists struck me hard in the gut because I realized that one Christian lied against and about another Christian because he doesn’t believe what he is doing is biblical. Now, Roger Williams says that’s not why he filed a police complaint against them. I don’t buy it. Maybe you believe him, but I don’t. I believe he does not believe what Acts 17 was doing was biblical or he could have just been scared. One of the two, possibly both.
I understand that I’m judging him, but from what I’ve researched I believe I’m judging him rightly. I’m not saying he’s not a Christian, but I am saying that he has helped put (along with false charges by the police and a Muslim woman lying about what she saw) four innocent Christian Street Evangelists to go to jail for the night. It ended up costing $4,500 for bail, litigation, plane tickets, and hotels. In all of this, remember we are to love our enemies, but also make use of our citizen rights (like what Paul did with his rights as a Roman citizen).
Before I continue, let me say how much I appreciate Jason Smathers of Witnesses Unto Me for documenting much of this. It is the work of blogs like his that give a platform to abuses by Christians (Ergun Caner in the recent Liberty University controversy) and by universities.
Williams told Witnesses Unto Me that this was his second year at the Arab Festival, however, he told police this was his tenth year. Last year Williams came with seven other volunteers to the festival for the first time with Impact International, an organization that has been volunteering at the festival for 11 years now. This year, Williams came with 50 others from Trinity Baptist Church. Roger believes that Acts 17 misunderstands the very chapter of the Bible they are named for. Roger believes that the example of evangelism in Acts 17 shows a relationship being built before the Gospel is shared. This was the method used by Trinity Baptist Church, they came and served the Arab community by volunteering, built relationships with Arabs, then shared the Gospel with them as opportunities arose. Williams insisted that his difference of opinion on evangelistic methods had nothing to do with his filing a complaint with the police against Acts 17.After Roger’s trip to Dearborn in 2009, he believes God gave him a burden for the Arab people. In the last year he spent 30 days teaching in an Arabic speaking country, which he didn’t want to name for security reasons. He is currently working on his undergraduate degree at Trinity Baptist College. He plans to continue strait into his masters degree to equip himself for long term service in an Arabic speaking country teaching English as a means to share the Gospel.
David Wood of Acts 17 doesn’t believe Roger Williams is the sort of person who should be involved in missions. As of publishing, the Dearborn Police have not commented on whether or not charges would be brought against Roger Williams or Amal Alslami for making false statements to a police officer. Nabeel hopes to talk with Roger directly to confront him in the spirit of Matthew 18 and seek his repentance.
One Christian didn’t get street evangelism. In fact, watching the raw video of the event unfold it looks like he’s scared crap-less. As if Christians carry video cameras to mess around with people. No, the video camera is a powerful weapon. I would as a rule recommend every Christian going out to do street evangelism be with a team or with another person. And make sure that other person has a video camera so that it’s not just one word or even the word of a discriminatory police department against your word.
And I can’t blame him or my generation of Christians for not getting street evangelism.
For these reasons.
Post-Modern thought dominates youth. I recently went to Inception, which is a great movie, but it has no absolute conclusion. The conclusion is in the interpretation of the viewer. You couldn’t get away with this kind of storytelling twenty years ago, but the wind has changed direction. The concept of “proclaiming and witnessing to the absolute, objective truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ to ‘all those nice’ people with ‘those really sincere’ beliefs they hold close to their heart” is utterly foreign to the Christian.
Relativistic Morality is entrenched in our culture. You don’t believe me? I had a Christian upbringing, a supernatural salvation, and since then I’ve been in ministry. All of these things didn’t prevent me from being blindsided to the habitual sins based on morally-relativistic echoes emanating from American culture. When relativistic morality is combined with post-modern thought (which I don’t think is evil by the way, it is what it is and eventually, like every fad in the philosophy 101 classes of American Universities, this too shall pass) you have quite the worldview on your hands.
Public Speaking has always been feared more than death. In the church we are always short of people to teach classes. This is because most people don’t want to go up there. Most people aren’t leaders. Most people are followers. That’s okay, just follow Jesus well. That’s the point. And Jesus gives us teachers, apostles, evangelists so we can be equipped to do the work of the ministry. But, suddenly in street evangelism you are not surrounded by all your buddies. You up on a stepladder surrounded by every different worldview. You are not in a “safe” environment. You may even be killed because of the gospel. You will be persecuted for doing nothing more than pleading with people to believe the gospel. Open-air preaching done correctly is not open-air screeching. This stereotype is hard to break. Unfortunately even in my own church, I see that stereotype used to promote “a better way of evangelism.” when in reality visiting people who fill out communication cards is actually another way of evangelism not any better.
Modern American Christianity is the enemy of the church. MAC is nothing more than a deadly joke to Christians in other countries. “Don’t send us anymore missionaries.” they will say. We have created a culture in which the combination of shallow theology and decision regeneration have created a glut of people who identify themselves as Christians who never have been Christians. The horrible assumption that the gospel is a “one-time” thing and that the evangelistic (directed to the non-Christian) sermon and the edifying (directed to the Christian) sermon can not be preached at the same time has intensified the downward spiral of hypocrisy in the churches that call themselves Christian. I would add that the lack of actual disciple-making has made the next generation of leaders horribly unprepared for the mission field of America over the next fifty years. Even the most intimate, intense discipleship I’ve seen from one pastor to one future pastor is nothing compared to the discipleship the 12 disciples received from Christ. How many senior pastors would take 3 men who want to be leaders (whether they will be elders, businessmen, preachers, counselors, evangelists, domestic or foreign missionaries, etc) and show them throughout the week how they apply the gospel in every facet of life. It is no wonder that the youth pastor turnover rate is 18 months and the senior pastor turnover rate is 3 years.
Evangelism is hard. Regardless of whether you are doing lifestyle evangelism or street evangelism. If you’re not doing it as a way of life and intentionally doing things to reach people, it’s not real. Real ministry is day in and day out, in season and out of season. There is planning involved, there is prayer involved, there is strategy involved and there is much sacrifice. We often view evangelism as happen-stance. That it is supposed to happen accidentally. “Oh, if I get a chance” or “If it comes up”. The justification lasts long enough for us to forget that we are actively and intentionally passing over the opportunity for us as Christians to be missionaries in our neighborhood. The justification lasts long enough to get rid of the guilt.
There are more reasons, but that should suffice for now. This entire post was created because of this tale of two evangelists. How can we reconcile two different methods of evangelism? The answer is that we don’t need to.
They are not in competition. In fact, they are to work together. Different people will be reached in different ways through the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Does that mean showing your love for your neighbors by serving them?
Does that mean like Christ turning the natural conversation into a spiritual conversation?
Does that mean building relationships?
All of the above. All of the time. With All people.
In John 4, it is noon and Jesus is thirsty. He asks a woman to let the bucket into the well (which was at least 100 feet deep) so he can have a drink and she asks him a question, why would He (a Jew) interact with her (a Samaritan)?
Jesus is tired and thirsty. A good justification? Normal everyday life. Just like our everyday normal life, whether it be getting coffee, filling up the tank, or walking in the park. Jesus has things to do, He’s been teaching his followers all day, and now this woman is asking about why a Jew would talk to her. If a Jew drank from a Samaritan’s vessel, the Jew would be continuously unclean. The traditions of the day are to supersede the love of God? Let’s look at these justifications again.
Physical justification: “I’m too thirsty and tired to talk about this.”
Spiritual justification: “I’ve just spent the whole day teaching, not right now.”
Cultural/Traditional justification: “Damn Samaritans, I’m only going through Samaria because it’s the quickest way. I’ll get my own drink.”
Thankfully, Jesus doesn’t buy into in any of these justifications (unlike you and me) and instead goes after her to turn a Samaritan harlot into a worshiper of God.
If only we’d do more than believe this. If only we’d do this.