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Guest Post: Dear Street Preacher

Guest Post by R.J. Anderson @rj_anderson

RJanderson_authorDear Street Preacher, I saw you downtown this morning, as I was heading back to my car. A fit-looking guy, early fifties, casually dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt, your neat-trimmed beard streaked with silver. Nothing strange or threatening about you really, except for the shouting. From the way people hurried past you, I could tell they didn’t like it.

At first I thought you were ranting about something political, but then I saw the Bible in your hand. That made me curious. So while all the people around me kept walking, I stopped and listened.

You know, it wasn’t a bad message you were preaching. You weren’t calling down judgment on people, or trying to badger them into joining your church; you were saying that God loves us, that He sent His only Son to earth to save us, and that no matter how badly we’ve screwed up, there is hope if we trust in Him. I feared you might say something creepy or weird, but you didn’t. You were just… loud.

It was funny, though. You obviously felt people needed to hear this message, and you were brave enough to make a spectacle of yourself to preach it. But even though I stood right in front of you and gave you my full attention, you never made eye contact, let alone stepped down from your stool to talk. You just kept shouting at the passing crowds, even though they weren’t showing any interest in what you had to say.

Do you know what that said to me, Street Preacher? It said that you weren’t interested in finding out about me as a person, or engaging in any kind of dialogue. It said to me that all you cared about was trumpeting your sermon to as many ears as possible, whether they wanted to hear it or not. I’m sure you didn’t mean it to come across that way, but it did. So after nearly ten minutes of waiting for you to acknowledge me, I gave up and moved on.

You know, Street Preacher, I believe you meant well. You’re probably a genuinely nice person who wants to help people and honor God. And I want you to know that even though I walked away from you in the end, it wasn’t because I’d rejected what you were saying. The truth is, I agreed with every word of it. I even believe it’s a message everyone needs to hear.

But I also believe that what you were doing today was wrong.

Maybe you were thinking about the apostle Paul’s famous speech at the Areopagus [1], or Peter on the day of Pentecost [2]. Maybe you thought you were following in their footsteps when you got up on that step-stool to preach. But the philosophers of Athens invited Paul to their gathering to hear what he had to say — he didn’t barge into the Athenian marketplace and start shouting at people who were only trying to get their shopping done. And when Peter addressed the crowd in Jerusalem, they were already curious about what was going on with the Christians — he was answering questions they already had, not trying to drum up interest that wasn’t there.

Later on, Peter would write to his fellow Christians, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” [3] Graciously answering people’s questions about what you believe is a lot different, I think, from yelling sermons at strangers who haven’t shown any interest in your beliefs in the first place.

Another problem with preaching on the street is that unless people give you their full attention for at least a few minutes, most of them aren’t going to have a clue what you’re on about. For instance, after I left you and headed into a nearby store, I overheard one of the staff telling another in horrified tones that there was “Some crazy guy out there, yelling about Jesus.”

I’m afraid that’s all most people got from your message today — some guy yelling. Crazy. Sure, they heard you mention the name of Jesus, but what does that mean to them? They only caught a few words as they hurried by, and with so little context, you might as well have been swearing. We Christians disapprove of using the Lord’s name “in vain”, which we understand to mean careless or blasphemous talk about Him. But I wonder — could it also refer to using His name in ways that will only confuse people and make them think worse of Him when we do it?

I heard later that the police came and asked you to stop. I hope you didn’t argue with them, Street Preacher. I hope you didn’t assume that they were enemies of the gospel and that you were being persecuted for righteousness’ sake, because that isn’t what happened at all. You see, our local bylaws state that “if the City receives a complaint about busking on the sidewalk in front of a business or private property owner, the Police will investigate and can require the busker to find another location.” I’m guessing one or more of the shop owners complained about the noise you were making and the customers you were driving away, and I can’t really blame them.

If you still believe God’s called you to street preaching, maybe you should try going to Speaker’s Corner in a park or university campus, a place where speeches are welcomed and people are prepared to listen to them. Or you could wait until the shops close and only the bars and restaurants are open, when there’s nobody left downtown but a few bored teenagers and young adults — they might be willing to have a conversation, if you ask politely.

But if you insist on half-blocking the sidewalk and yelling at people instead of talking to them, I’m afraid your ministry is going to be a lot less effective than you’re hoping for.

Yours sincerely,

The woman in the pink coat

Footnotes: [1] Acts 17:16-33, [2] Acts 2:1-41,[3] 1 Peter 3:15-16

* * *

BIOGRAPHY: R.J. Anderson isn’t trying to hide that she’s female, she just thinks initials look more writerly. Born in Kampala, Uganda to Canadian missionary parents, she grew up reading C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, watching Doctor Who from behind the sofa, and hanging out in her brothers’ comic book shop. She is currently the author of six published novels for older children and teens, including the UK-bestselling Knife (2009) and the Andre Norton (Nebula) Award-nominated Ultraviolet (2011). Visit her website at www.rj-anderson.com or find her on Twitter at @rj_anderson.

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{ 45 comments… add one }
  • Jessica E. Thomas October 7, 2013, 7:19 AM

    But, but, but…

    If the street preacher was getting the gospel message right, what about his behavior was unbiblical? I ask because I recently read through Ezekiel. God asked Ezekiel to do all sorts of strange things, to be and to speak where he was not welcomed, and to prophecy to a generation God knew would not be willing to listen. Jonah also comes to mind, who was blunt, but truthful, and God singled him out for an important work, indicating that perhaps it’s not always about the delivery, but the truth being delivered.

    Those are my thoughts.

    The street preacher probably would have annoyed me too, but even so, I’d have to ask myself why? As a fellow Christian, is he embarrassing me? Is it a pride thing? Do I think I know better than God how to deliver His message?

    Not saying any of the above is true for you. It’s just a tendency of modern Christian culture, it seems, to emphasize the relational aspect of God, versus the wrath of God. But sometimes, we need a shot in the arm of His wrath in order to reclaim a sense of awe. So maybe the street preacher wasn’t all nice-y nice, but does God always have to be nice-y nice? Seems to me God’s also a git ‘er done, b@d @ss sometimes.

    • R.J. Anderson October 7, 2013, 7:49 AM

      The thing about Ezekiel’s ministry was, the people of Israel were God’s chosen people. They were already in a covenant relationship with Him, because under Moses and Joshua they had promised to serve and worship Him alone, and to keep His laws and commandments. God in His faithfulness told Ezekiel to warn Israel that judgment was coming because of their sin and idolatry and rebellion, and that it was his responsibility as a prophet of God to convey God’s message of warning to His covenant people. The OT prophets existed in a unique situation and a unique relationship with God — that is, they were specially commissioned by God to deliver a specific message He had imparted directly to them at a specific time for a specific people, whether that was Israel or the people of Nineveh or whoever. Furthermore, their ministry was given at a time when Christ had not yet come, and the Scriptures as we know them were not fully complete. There was no other way, and no other opportunity, for those people to hear that message.

      But the citizens of my hometown in Ontario are not, and never have been, in a covenant relationship with God akin to the relationship Israel had with Him under the Law of Moses. They are Gentiles, who may or may not have any religious affiliation or belief or knowledge of the God of the Bible at all. For that reason, I believe, the examples of how Paul and Peter and other apostles in the New Testament witnessed to mixed multitudes and groups of Gentiles are a far better and more accurate parallel to modern North American evangelism than taking an example from the Old Testament prophets like Ezekiel or Jonah. And I see no example anywhere in the NT of Jesus or the apostles going into a public space where they were not expected or welcome, and shouting their message to the crowds. They went to the synagogues where religious discourse was going on; they went to the philosophical arenas like the Areopagus; they talked to the crowds that had already gathered around them wanting to ask questions or hear a message.

      I think perhaps the best example of all is Jesus Himself. Did He ever chase down people who were reluctant or disinterested in His message, and badger them to listen to what He had to say? The Pharisees came to Him with questions and challenges and they got it with both barrels, but they came to Him, he didn’t run around after them. And furthermore, He spoke to them as to the religious leaders and teachers of Israel who had the holy Scriptures and ought to have known better. It’s not the same situation at all.

      • Jessica E. Thomas October 7, 2013, 8:04 AM

        Since I didn’t see the street preacher, I’m lacking the important context to truly judge the situation; however, just based on your description, it doesn’t seem he was badgering, or running after people, per se. Being annoying, perhaps. But not flapping his book in people’s faces and saying, “You’re going to hell if you don’t…”

        And I’m not sure I’m comfortable saying Jesus *only* spoke to people gathered around Him. Jesus did send disciples out, two by two, to other cities to preach, and if the city didn’t welcome the message, Jesus told them to dust off their shoes and leave. Which you already know, I’m sure, only mentioning it because it’s an NT example of Jesus purposefully reaching out with His message rather than expecting crowds to gather around Him via word of mouth.

        I suppose that’s why I’m hesitant to say that street preacher’s behavior was “wrong”. It feels like too strong of a statement to me. Not what I would do, certainly, but wrong in the sense of sinning against God? I’m unconvinced.

        • R.J. Anderson October 8, 2013, 2:05 PM

          I don’t believe, and I’m quite sure I didn’t say, that he was sinning. I believe he was “wrong” in that he was going about his ministry in a poorly judged and less than wise way that was making his preaching much less effective than it could or should have been. And I do think he and his listeners would both have benefited by a more Biblical pattern of ministry.

          Re Christ sending out the disciples: He did so “to all the towns of Israel”. This again was part of their covenant with God, that they were given the first chance to hear or reject the message of salvation. However, we aren’t given any specific details about how they went about it, or where in each town they went in order to deliver the message. I don’t know that it’s safe to assume they simply stopped in the busiest part of town and started shouting, given that in every instance where an apostolic sermon or a public teaching by Jesus is actually recorded, no such thing was going on.

      • Jill October 7, 2013, 8:07 AM

        Jesus approached people, and he preached at people. So did John the Baptist. Not everything was one-on-one. We don’t honestly know all the stories of people who came to Christ through simply listening to his sermons that he was probably shouting (no mics in those days, and I’m sure he wasn’t always in an ampitheater).

        • R.J. Anderson October 7, 2013, 6:55 PM

          I didn’t say everything had to be one-on-one, but it does seem a shame to miss / ignore an opportunity for one-on-one contact when it’s literally right in front of you. And yes, Jesus preached to crowds, but again it was crowds who were following Him specifically to find out more about who He was and what He had to say, often on the basis of the miracles they had witnessed and/or the invitation of others who were amazed by His wisdom and insight. Whether He shouted in those contexts or not isn’t the point. My point is that a stranger shouting a gospel message at crowds of hurriedly moving people who can’t even hear 75% of what he’s saying is going to be a great deal less effective as an evangelist than a person who goes to a place where people are staying put, reachable on a one-to-one level, and/or already interested in listening to religious and philosophical discourse.

      • Kevin D. Johnson October 7, 2013, 11:16 AM

        All of humanity is in a covenant (read: relationship) with God (Isaiah 24:5; Romans 1:18-21) and the problem here is not that of the street preacher’s uninvited voice but rather the unrepentant nature of most people who refuse to acknowledge and obey God in repentance. God does not invite relational dialogue with people but instead “commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30) and the preacher’s heralded message should reflect that whenever and wherever he speaks.

        Jesus had a particular message for a particular time and his example while noteworthy must be seen in the wider context of the salvation of the entire world summed up in the command to go and make disciples of all nations. There is nothing in Matthew 28:19-20 that says, “Well. Wait for a legitimate invite, especially if the lady is wearing a pink coat off in the distance.”

        There are many instances of open air preaching we can point to in the text of Scripture. Maybe you can tell me the relationship Jonah and Nahum had with Nineveh? But, beyond that, your own limited viewpoint of the biblical passages preclude you from seeing them. Just as an example, Paul went to the synagogue because it was the public forum for Jews for both civil and religious matters and was not at all limited to religious functions as your post most certainly assumes.

        Long story short, you’ve adopted a view of the relevant passages of Scripture that is limited and overly selective and you fail to see or mention the covenant relationship God already has with his creation that gives every Christian preacher not only the opportunity but the right to speak to those around him the word of God commanding all men to repent.

  • janet October 7, 2013, 7:25 AM

    I feel the same way, RJ, even though I don’t have a pink coat. I think reaching people is about relationships and you don’t build a relationship (generally) by standing on the sidewalk yelling about Jesus. Jesus met people where they were, both physically and spiritually, and ministered to them in the ways that touched each one where s/he was. That’s paradoxically both the easiest (because we all know people as individuals, at least to some depth) and the most difficult (because we often feel uncomfortable talking to them about Jesus’ love and help for their lives.) We come along side them and talk with them quietly and personally, meeting their eyes and praying for their needs. We don’t yell at them from the sidewalk.

    The saddest thing about this for me is that it tends to push people away from God and, as you mentioned, label Christians as “crazy.” We do God no service by this, even if we mean well.


  • Jill October 7, 2013, 7:59 AM

    This post really irritated me. How could you possibly say that what this preacher was doing was wrong? God doesn’t give a rip about your idea of social niceties or what you consider to be the “appropriate” method to preach the gospel. He calls people to do crazy things from a human perspective, and he uses crazy people to bear the gospel. Perhaps I’m a bit sensitive to this topic because my dad was saved by one of these annoying, yelling, obnoxious street preachers. It was obviously what he needed to wake him up. When it comes right down to it, you have no clue how many people this preacher woke up. You don’t know how many people carried his message in their brain the rest of the day–just that little piece that they snatched as they walked past. Perhaps the man didn’t stop to speak to you because the Holy Spirit didn’t put it on his heart to do so. After all, you didn’t need to hear the message.

    Or maybe you’re the one who’s right in this situation. Perhaps the street preacher isn’t following God’s promptings at all and needs to attend charm school. How will you know, though?

    • Jill October 7, 2013, 8:02 AM

      **I should adjust this to say that my dad was saved by God through one of these obnoxious street preachers–not the preacher himself. That was an unfortunate way to phrase that.

      • R.J. Anderson October 7, 2013, 6:29 PM

        God in His grace may use methods which are not ideal, or even ministers who are not godly (not saying that the preacher through whose ministry your father was saved was ungodly — I mean other kinds of preachers in a different context), to bring people to Himself. But just because a particular method or minister meets with some success doesn’t prove that it was the best method or that God approves of everything the minister does.

        That being said, I have no idea in what setting or context your father was reached. It may be that the particular street preacher who spoke to him was doing so in a perfectly appropriate location and time and was preaching in such a way as to connect with his audience. The street preacher about whom I am speaking, however, no matter how earnest his intent, was not.

        A lot of people in this thread seem to think I was somehow embarrassed by this man and felt the need to disassociate myself from him. If I had felt that way, I wouldn’t have crossed the street and willingly stood five feet from him, all by myself, for ten minutes listening to him speak.

        I actually wanted to encourage this man as a sister in the Lord, and find out what had brought him to town, and what local church he fellowshipped with. I wanted to give him some suggestions about other (equally public) places he might go in town, and what kind of people he might find there who would be better prepared to listen to his ministry. Because it was clear from the kind of message he was preaching and the place where he had set up, that he was an out-of-towner who had not done his research and didn’t know his audience.

        It wasn’t until those ten minutes had passed without eye contact, and three younger girls had come up and sat on a bench front of him (giggling and elbowing each other all the while) without receiving the slightest acknowledgment from him either, that I started to realize there was something even more wrong here than a simple mistake of place or time — this was a view of evangelism which actually disregarded the individual and was ignoring opportunities to make one-to-one contact. And that started me thinking about the Biblical pattern of how Christ and the apostles spoke to crowds, and under what circumstances, and whether our current methods of street preaching really fit that pattern or whether we need to reconsider the way we do public outreach.

        People seem to think I am condemning all street preaching. I am not. I am saying we need to think more carefully about how to do it effectively, with wisdom and discernment that considers the preparedness of our audience and the best time / location to find people willing to listen, and not merely assume that shouting the gospel in any public place at any time of the day is good evangelism.

        • Jill October 7, 2013, 7:37 PM

          Granted, I didn’t experience the street preacher as you did. I wasn’t there. Nor was I there when my father heard the street preacher that had an impact on his life–he simply told me years later not to condemn preachers whom I considered obnoxious, and then he explained why. He needed an aggressive preacher yelling the truth on a street corner in order to hear it. Some people do. As far as I’m concerned, it isn’t up to you or me to decide what is ideal and what isn’t. What might be ideal for an academic female, for example, might not be ideal for a young man. God sends preachers, preachers preach, and some hear and respond to the gospel. As Paul says in Romans, faith comes through hearing, and hearing through the words of Christ.

          • R.J. Anderson October 8, 2013, 5:54 AM

            it isn’t up to you or me to decide what is ideal and what isn’t.

            Quite right. As mere human individuals, we have no right to judge another person’s motives or criticize their methods. But doesn’t the New Testament have anything to say about this? I think it does, and that’s why I gave the examples (and verses) that I did. You’re absolutely right that faith comes through hearing, and that the word of God is the key. But how can people “hear” if the speaker’s unwise approach or poorly timed delivery needlessly drives them away? And how can we claim to be obeying Peter’s injunction to share our faith with gentleness and respect, if we aggressively force our message on people who have neither asked for it or shown any willingness to hear it? Do we really think it is our job to do the work of the Holy Spirit, and hammer conviction into people’s hearts?

  • Abimael Jr October 7, 2013, 8:26 AM

    Well.. This is a very interesting people.
    It’s hard to say because in the same manner , the preacher can be inconvenient or disturb, in other hand, he could say a word, a short phrase or just “Jesus loves you” and such phrase could reach a heart.
    Well. I am from Brazil.. Things are “little different” here. My church usually have “small cruzades” (or short cruzades , sorry by my English) and , so far I know, they are reaching objectives and goals that are : let people know about Christ and some of them really repent and start new life in Christ.
    But a single preacher, really it is very difficult. I know a friend of mine that one day was shot by some tomatos that some people shot him.
    My guess that the proper strategy should be have some people help him, spreading some flier (panphets) to invite people to hear him or go to a special service in the church.
    I agree with you that some eye contact really helps and fix attention of the people.
    Your text is very interesting but, again, it is very difficult to judge.
    First because Jesus just said that we should go to the people (Mark 16.15) – he did say to “wait until they come” . If we just wait until they came, they really do not came , because they don’t need .
    Second, because I just can imagine the love that this preacher have for the sinners that he can “shame himself” and “expose himself” in the streets for the others. I think that it is very similar a mother that have a son that is cocaine addicted . She try say to son to avoid the drug or to go to a “rehab” , but the son does not want. Then , she try follow him and sometimes talk with the “drug dealer” , trying to avoid that they sell drugs to his son. Sometimes he start follow his son’s car , shouting, “don’t go! don’t go”. She cries sometimes , she ask God by her son. She ask other people to pray by her son too… And a lot of other things that we – people does not have sons addicted – would not do .. but she does and will keep trying . Just because she loves him.. For us, maybe we would just say “why do this”, “why do that”, “he is just a vagabond, a lazybones” .
    So, it is paradoxal but I think he is and was very brave.
    Perhaps, in the next time (if the event of the text was real) you see him again, you can talk to him at the end, trying making him home suggestions to attract attention of the people, or new forms of communicating.
    Perhaps that we really could see in the spiritual world, and really see people living in sin, without Christ and “how ” it is really is , we would act like the mother I mentioned above.
    I really like your text .. it makes thing about it.

    • R.J. Anderson October 8, 2013, 5:57 AM

      So, it is paradoxal but I think he is and was very brave.

      I think so too. I genuinely admired his willingness to put himself out there for the sake of the gospel.

      Perhaps, in the next time (if the event of the text was real) you see him again, you can talk to him at the end, trying making him home suggestions to attract attention of the people, or new forms of communicating.

      That’s exactly what I had hoped to do – to encourage him and give him some suggestions on the best way to approach the people in my hometown and perhaps some better times and places to do it. But he never gave me the chance, or any hint that he might be willing to talk to me once he was finished, and eventually I had to give up and move on.

      Thanks for your comment.

  • Ike Obidike October 7, 2013, 9:02 AM

    Sometimes we miss the message is a piece and this might be one classic case. I guess the writer, while highlighting it but only slightly is talking about “selling a very good product but wrapped in an ugly paper.”

    The message of the preacher was not in doubt, for most people, I guess but the way he delivered it made him least productive. In a less abrasive manner, I believe more people would have stopped long enough to hear him out. And possibly seek Christ.

    I enjoyed the piece, maybe because I share the same views about street preaching. Like Pope Francis recently said, “You can’t find Christ in first class seats.”

    • R.J. Anderson October 7, 2013, 6:47 PM

      I didn’t really feel that this man was being abrasive or “ugly”, as such. Yes, his voice was loud and the people on the street and nearby shops didn’t appreciate it, but that same loudness of speech could have been perfectly legitimate and useful in a different venue (like a Speaker’s Corner or other forum for public discourse, as I mentioned).

      A bigger problem in this case was that not only was his location and timing poor, but his message was tailored to a completely different audience than the people he was actually addressing (a section I had to cut for length explained this – he was talking about God’s mercy to drug dealers and prostitutes, to an “audience” of well-heeled retirees who were mostly ex-farmers and businesspeople come to shop and attend a play at the local theatre). Certainly many of those people needed to hear the gospel and be saved — but a message that actually addressed their particular situation and needs would be far more effective.

  • Joy DeKok October 7, 2013, 9:43 AM

    I’ve seen Street Preachers too and have hurried by – embarrassed by their behavior. Not once did I consider their calling or passion – only how they made me feel. I gave them a break by wondering if they were mentally ill although their message was the same one Jesus came to share – the same one I am called to share. I did my Christian best and prayed for them. They glanced in my direction and away. I assumed a similar opinion – they wanted crowds – not me. Years later, I wonder. . .what if they saw more in my eyes and attitude than I realized. Perhaps they saw a believer or or perhaps and far more likely an annoyed person ready for a confrontation – something they didn’t want or need. Honestly, they annoy me – all that shouting. I prefer to whisper the message on my blog or in my books or into the lives of people I love and know. I like my witnessing safe and proper. I resent their courage. I resist their passion. I resent their calling. I really do not like their messy presentation. And in all my pondering I am ashamed – not of them, but of myself.

    • R.J. Anderson October 7, 2013, 7:17 PM

      I’ve been part of street preaching teams personally, and seen street preaching done in a setting and in a way that I felt was truly valuable and worthwhile. I’m all in favor of Christians sticking our necks out in public for the sake of the gospel, if there’s a genuine opportunity there. I just think we need to be wise and discerning about the place, the time, and our audience before we do it.

  • JJ F October 7, 2013, 12:53 PM

    as one who is involved with street preaching, we (the team I am with) have seen many people come to the Lord and trust Him. Street preaching needs to be done. We need more street preachers. The world is a dark place we need the light to be shining.

    • R.J. Anderson October 7, 2013, 7:11 PM

      We absolutely need the gospel to be shared and faithfully presented, without compromise, to a lost world. The question is, what are the best ways and methods of doing it, and was this particular street preacher going about it in the most effective and Biblical way? I don’t think he was, despite the fervor and merit of his message. Street preaching can absolutely be done well and effectively – but the preacher has to consider his audience and choose his time and location with wisdom. Otherwise there is a danger of merely confusing and unnecessarily offending the very people he hopes to reach.

  • Tony October 7, 2013, 3:14 PM

    I don’t know. . .it doesn’t really seem like what this fella was doing was all that wrong. Maybe a more personal approach would be more effective, but then, I hate being addressed directly. I’d be more likely to stay and hear him out if he DIDN’T make eye-contact with me. . .so, to each his/her own I guess.

    Overall, though, I don’t see the problem here. He made people uncomfortable, but so what? You’re bound to do that when you talk about Jesus regardless of how you go about it.

  • D.M. Dutcher October 7, 2013, 5:06 PM

    It’s probably more about the different styles of evangelism, masculine and feminine.

    The feminine mode tends to open dialogue and build consensus, being more about recognizing the person and their needs, and sharing truth through empathy. The masculine is more about the idea than the person, and the idea is proclaimed or defended when it is challenged. The idea is proclaimed and objections are raised and answered, apart from the person’s state of mind.

    With that kind of guy, standing there waiting for him to recognize you as a person doesn’t work. You tell him to pipe down, agree with him, or challenge him; aka focus on his idea.

    I don’t think either mode is good or bad in itself. The feminine mode is more popular these days, and probably has better safeguards in that you are less likely to act like an ass. It has problems though reaching people who focus on the idea of Christ over needing empathy, and can feel smothering. The masculine style has its own issues, but tends to work where personal connection is impossible or not able to be achieved easily; written media among others. It fails hard if the person is wounded or needs validation first, as opposed to someone who has his life all together.

    Different tools for different occasions, I guess.

    • R.J. Anderson October 7, 2013, 7:03 PM

      I’m really not partial to touchy-feely dialogue and consensus per se. Indeed, I’m more inclined to think that the truth is what matters and that truth is bound to offend some people if it’s delivered faithfully at all.

      However, I’m concerned that sometimes we deliver our message in an ineffective or even Biblically untenable way, which gives needless offence to people and sets up unnecessary barriers to the gospel in their minds — when we could be presenting that same message with greater wisdom and far greater effectiveness in a different context where it would at least be more likely to be understood, even if not accepted or believed.

      I have nothing against public preaching — I think it would be quite unbiblical to take that view. But I am questioning street preaching in the particular way that this man was doing it.

      • D.M. Dutcher October 7, 2013, 9:31 PM

        But from what you wrote, I don’t think we see the offense. His crime seemed to be not recognizing you or preaching in a public place. If he was accosting people, damning them to hellfire, clearly mentally ill, or combative, I’d see your point. But the main wrong it seemed was that he didn’t notice you when you waited to talk to him, and it’s hard to argue he was ineffective or damaging the faith from what you gave.

        • R.J. Anderson October 8, 2013, 6:08 AM

          I honestly don’t care whether he noticed me personally (though I should have liked to introduce myself, find out more about where he was coming from, and try to encourage and help him if I could), but I did think his focus on continuing the sermon indefinitely while ignoring what could have been a meaningful one-on-one opportunity for conversation was a shame, and potentially a case of misguided priorities on his part. Did it bother, hurt or offend me not to be acknowledged? Not at all. But it might have deeply troubled someone who was seeking and hoping to talk to the preacher about spiritual questions, only to find themselves overlooked. People shouldn’t have to yell back at a preacher to get his attention.

          But that was a minor point compared to the rest of the letter. Are people really not interested in considering whether this approach is Biblical or not, or asking themselves whether there might be more prudent and effective ways to reach people with the gospel than this particular street preacher was using?

          • D.M. Dutcher October 8, 2013, 8:31 AM

            There will always be someone who criticizes your approach. Maybe he did good just in reminding people the Gospel isn’t confined to free speech bubbles or subject to Canadian niceness, and that it’s about mercy for sinners, not an accessory for the righteous. Maybe if he did everything right by the current mores, he’d actually be ignored, because the mores are subtly designed to tame Christianity by locking it into certain areas.

            As long as he’s not being a visible occasion of sin, you leave it between him and God. God is the one who makes the seed grow, not man or how he does it.

            • C.L. Dyck October 8, 2013, 3:53 PM

              “the Gospel isn’t confined to free speech bubbles or subject to Canadian niceness”

              I’m sensing you don’t really believe “Canadian niceness” is an authentic thing anyway, D.M., which would render this a straw man. 🙂 But what you’ve expressed here is in fact the rallying call of Canadian evangelicalism.

              If it’s no sin to preach on the street, then how is it a sin to seek inroads?

              Would I be sinning if I wore a burqua in order to do missions in a country where that’s the law for women? Or should I put my foot down and say the Gospel isn’t subject to burquas? Should I go with my head uncovered on the argument that God is the one who makes the seed grow, not man or how he does it?

              What about in Chinese culture, where it’s legal to share one’s beliefs with adults, but not with children? Should I say the Gospel isn’t subject to culture and try to start a children’s ministry? Or be willing to follow the call of God to go anyway, go differently than I might want to, and step out of my comfort zone and speak of Christ to the parents?

              Of course the Gospel isn’t subject to cultural mores. They’re just tools we can use to get to people. The Gospel is in us — in our knowledge of and obedience to Scripture — and in the Word of God. The inroads are the open doors God places before us.

              “As long as he’s not being a visible occasion of sin, you leave it between him and God.”

              The problem is, the secularists didn’t. He was accosted by the police for noise disturbance.

              Which is why it pays to know the law and how to work around it. Which is what R.J. was hoping to help him with. Personally, my criticism is that she could have tried harder. Tug a sleeve or something. Get a piece of paper and hold up a sign that says “I NEED TO TALK TO YOU.” Bring him a coffee. Do something to get actively onside with the guy. Do the thing she’s saying he should have done–find out who he is and take the inroad to meet his needs.

              • D.M. Dutcher October 8, 2013, 5:13 PM

                Oh no, I believe in it. But the pressure to be nice can sometimes be a tool of control as well as an expectation of civility.

                For your examples, it depends whether or not the law is unjust or needs to change. You have to make a judgment whether to obey men or obey God, if a situation requires you do to one or the other. Sometimes the willingness to disobey can be a more effective witness than the actual preaching, and some times even good conformity can be bad. I’m thinking of the Orthodox in Russia accepting political measures that empower them but link them to Putin in bad ways.

                It’s really to individual conscience.

                • C.L. Dyck October 8, 2013, 6:50 PM

                  “For your examples, it depends whether or not the law is unjust or needs to change.”

                  There’s a clash there in cross-border thinking too. We’re on a common-law system, which means laws get changed by burden of precedent over time through the judiciary, and our Parliament tends to sit back. Legally speaking, we are Sisyphus. So most regulatory control is at a policy level, like the noise by-law RJ mentioned. Policy is largely hidden from the voting populace, and we have to be extremely vigilant about watchdogging it.

                  “You have to make a judgment whether to obey men or obey God…”

                  Yep. All the time. For instance, it’s technically a hate crime to say homosexuality is a sin in our pulpits.

                  It is to individual conscience, and so while I’m willing to talk about perception of street preaching, because I think it should be mentioned that it’s different here than in the States, I’m not willing to say the guy was in the wrong.

  • C.L. Dyck October 7, 2013, 7:14 PM

    It’s not masculine versus feminine, and it’s not about personal opinions of how to preach. It’s lack of cross-cultural understanding. This didn’t happen in America.

    My husband and I were mentored for three years by a Canadian preacher who was a travelling open-air evangelist in his youth. He was trained in oratory and overpowers a microphone even now. I took my teenagers street witnessing in the city with a group of students and preachers last summer. That’s not the point here.

    Americans are fond of assuming Canada is just like them except Communist and in need of social liberation. Actually, we have the same amount of freedom, but in different areas and in different ways. We’re more regulated; you’re more monitored. It’s actually easier and safer to duck around “official policy” here, and that’s not to imply that official policy bans Christianity — not at all.

    There’s nothing inherently wrong with street preaching. R.J. pointed out how to do it in her community so it would be heard instead of rejected due to cultural disconnection.

    If the nonverbal is 70% of human communication, as social scientists say, then these nuances can indeed drown out the spoken message of Christ. And so the first rule of missions is cultural training.

    R.J. wrote: “…they might be willing to have a conversation, if you ask politely.”

    The kind of unilateral self-expression R.J. described is accepted in America as free speech for the sake of free speech. And, I suppose, free assembly for the sake of free assembly.

    But public discourse in Canada implicitly carries the expectation that mutual engagement will be sought, and that people will leave each other alone if the conversation is not wanted. Our Charter’s free speech provision is written that way and our common law carries that precedent. Thus a place like a Speakers’ Corner — its existence makes the opening move of creating an invitation to be heard. For that matter, as a young-earth creationist, I’ve had my letters to the editor printed in the city paper, and handled very respectfully. It exists as a forum for that purpose and all views are welcome.

    But, besides our different approach to dialogue, the Canadian gut-level reaction to Christianity has been shaped by a history of the state using religion to overrun other cultures, both European competitors and the indigenous, in the colonial effort. And we are also quite aware of the American penchant for confusing historic Christianity with Republicanism and/or exceptionalism.

    The guy’s behaviour could be superficiality of mission; the misconception of a newcomer that Canada’s just like America; or a naive Canadian who got trained in an American bible college and told this was “God’s way” of doing things because it’s the American way of doing things.

    In any case, the guy comes in and nonverbally presents a first impression of assuming American cultural supremacy (apparently primarily interested in exercising free speech for its own sake), rather than behaving like someone Canadians can perceive as interested in genuine ministry. He’s just made the Gospel appear like it’s merely an excuse to push American values, not a transcendent and needful truth. In speaking to lost souls whose only experience of the Gospel message may be submerged in media stereotypes of American politics and lobbying, this is potentially a big error of communication.

    So, the Canadian reaction: We got done being a colony in 1982 when we repatriated the Constitution, so thanks anyway, ‘Merica. Now get your right-wing religious nutbar colonization effort off our lawn.

    Even the evangelicals may react that way, much as we may appreciate the words of the message for their own value, because we also tend to have no taste for the Americanization of our historic faith. And because we understand that this man has just made the expression of our actual beliefs to our beloved neighbours more difficult, not less.

    The rest of the world tends to think differently than Americans. Finding out how and why requires listening and learning with a humble and teachable heart first, and speaking in the acceptable time.

    • R.J. Anderson October 7, 2013, 7:25 PM

      Thank you for this insightful and excellent comment! You’re right that there is a cultural aspect at play here — I don’t actually think the preacher was American or even necessarily influenced by American teachers, but he was certainly from out of town and therefore unaware of the most effective place and time to present his message, as well as oblivious to the needs and nature of his actual listeners. (Among other things, he was preaching an urban, poverty-based message to a middle-class rural audience.)

      A great many commenters seem to think I am against street preaching in any form, when my point is that it’s a shame to see it done badly and ineffectively, especially when I think a more Biblical pattern of public evangelism would be far more fruitful. Thank you for understanding the essence of what I had to say, and contributing so helpfully to the discussion.

    • Jill October 7, 2013, 8:12 PM

      That’s great that you’ve given us the cultural analysis, but where did this become an us vs them version of preaching? Where in the article did the author say this man was an American? It’s as though you’re implying the commenters here are simply being rude, obnoxious Americans and that’s why they don’t get it–because we’re American supremacists?! We just want to push our ideal of religion onto the unassuming Canadians? And what’s all this about Canadians being communists? The author gave us none of this information–didn’t even tell us what a Speaker’s Corner is or detail the free speech laws of Canada.

      But, yeah, I suspect I don’t get it because the rest of the world thinks differently than I do–which is basically that there are different styles of preaching for different personality types (not cultural types, but personality types), and that faith comes through hearing the words of Christ. What I take from your comment is that there is a really complex reason why one person (the author) doesn’t prefer a preaching style, but it says nothing at all about God and what he can do and the way he might reach somebody who is not like you or the author. God is neither Canadian nor American, yet he sees past all these post-colonial religious hang-ups and examines us as individuals.

      • R.J. Anderson October 8, 2013, 4:39 AM

        I’m amazed at how many people seem to think I was personally offended and hurt by this man’s failure to make eye contact with me or speak to me, or that I found his “style” of preaching embarrassing or otherwise not to my personal taste. Neither of those things are true.

        My point in mentioning his lack of engagement with me was that street preaching is fruitless if you are so focused on delivering the message to as many people as possible that you miss the one-on-one opportunities that are right in front of you. My point in mentioning his poor choice of location and approach is that even the best and most faithful message will be ineffective if nobody can hear enough of the message to understand what you’re saying. And I also think he was speaking without any idea of his real audience or their needs, despite his zeal for the gospel.

        Can God use a message in spite of all this? Of course, because God is gracious. But why would we deliberately or carelessly make it harder for people to hear and respond to the gospel message, when we could preach the word more effectively by considering our audience and choosing a more appropriate venue? The apostles tailored their messages to the needs and understanding of their audience (i.e. Paul’s “To an Unknown God” speech) and spoke at times and places that were appropriate and effective as well.

        It boggles me how many people here seem offended and even angered by the idea that we should use wisdom and discernment in our preaching, and consider our audience. Do we really believe that it is impossible for Christians to make mistakes in the way we present the gospel, or that there is nothing we can learn about how to do it more thoughtfully and effectively? Do we really think it is impossible to give needless offence to unbelievers by clumsy and ill-timed delivery of a sermon, or that it isn’t better to deliver a message where it can be heard and understood by a few than to shout it at a confused and bewildered many? That was what my letter was about. Let’s proclaim the gospel by all means, but let’s do it wisely.

        • Jill October 8, 2013, 7:50 AM

          Personally, I wouldn’t like to be engaged one-on-one with a street preacher. With a friend or acquaintance, sure. To each his own.

      • C.L. Dyck October 8, 2013, 6:47 AM


        “where did this become an us vs them version of preaching?”

        I said there are nuanced communication differences that people tend not to be aware of, not a versus.

        “Where in the article did the author say this man was an American?”

        Neither she nor I said that. I said maybe this or that, but primarily that the guy acted like he held an American understanding of public expression, which is more individualistic than Canadians’. R.J. said she didn’t see it that way, and I’m not the eyewitness. So that settles that.

        “It’s as though you’re implying the commenters here are simply being rude, obnoxious Americans”

        No, it’s as though you’re implying your subjective inference equals my stated meaning.

        And here I thought you read my blog, where I call America my other home country. Your flag is flying there in my photo posts. I even said it looks pretty.

        “and that’s why they don’t get it–because we’re American supremacists?!”

        You’re right, that so totally sounds like me, Jill. In fact please point me to the quote because I want to frame it. Dang, that’s pithy of me. I just can’t remember writing it.

        I opined “lack of cross-cultural understanding” in reference to the situation in the OP, not the commenters’ responses. I said I disagreed that it was merely S.J.’s opinion or a gender difference, and stated what I thought it was.

        You may not like how the wording felt to you, but please remember the rule of play you yourself set was that God doesn’t give a rip about your idea of social niceties or what’s an “appropriate” method of communication. Either that’s true and to be lived by, or it isn’t.

        “We just want to push our ideal of religion onto the unassuming Canadians?”

        If the Canadians were pushovers, you and I wouldn’t be having this discussion.

        “And what’s all this about Canadians being communists?”

        Tongue-in-cheek summary of a common conversation we have. Canada’s a politically socialist secular society, so there’s a recurring perception we encounter with Americans about how that affects our level of religious freedom and expression.

        “The author gave us none of this information–didn’t even tell us what a Speaker’s Corner is or detail the free speech laws of Canada.”

        One of my American friends has a saying about readers: “If they really want to know, they’ll look it up.”

        “it says nothing at all about God and what he can do and the way he might reach somebody who is not like you or the author.”

        I felt you and others were handling that sufficiently.

        Let me close this by saying I think Canada could stand to learn some things from the American view of free speech. Most of my friends, by the way, are American. They are brilliant, kind, friendly and warm. And often surprised to find out there’s any difference at all between us, which I take as a compliment to us, not a strike against them.

        Cat, Quiet and Unassuming (Canadian) Wallflower, signing off.

        • Jill October 8, 2013, 3:07 PM

          CathiLyn, I’m sorry if my response came across as being rude or combative. I felt you used intentionally inflammatory language (such as American cultural supremacy) in your comment, and I was responding in a suitably inflammatory way back at you. I’m generally okay with that kind of debate; I don’t get offended easily. I hope I haven’t offended you.

          Here’s the thing: I already know that Canada has different free speech laws than the U.S. does. I don’t know the letter of the law, but I’ve read articles about the differences. However, R.J. didn’t approach her article from a Canadian perspective–as in, “this isn’t the best way to preach the gospel in Canada”. She couched it as a general “this isn’t the best way to preach the gospel”, while full well knowing most of her audience is likely to be American. Therefore, your comment came across as condescending towards Americans, implying that they just don’t get it because they can’t see outside their own little American free-speech bubble. You also imply that there is a standard American way of preaching the gospel, but that just isn’t the case. It may be that there is a general Baptist or Southern Baptist way of preaching, but this country is made up of immigrants from all over the world. Personally, I attend a very conservative Lutheran church that would never train their preachers to stand on a street corner and shout. They are far more intellectual and subtle and quiet. Most Americans I know choose churches based off their personalities. They may say they attend the church with the “correct” doctrine, and yet I’m willing to bet it’s personality-based most of the time. I can only assume that, along with your cultural personality, you Canadians possess individual personalities. In fact, I know this is so because I’ve spent a lot of time in Canada and know people from Canada.

          Again, I apologize if I offended you. I thought I was responding in kind to your comment.

          • Jill October 8, 2013, 3:14 PM

            I should also add one more thing: if you detected a gut-level emotional response to your initial comment, this is something that is likely to happen because many Americans are taught in school and universities to have an intense guilt complex for being who we are. We’re taught that everybody in the world hates us and that we ought to hate ourselves, too, for being uncouth, imperialist pigs who want to ruin everybody else’s culture. At least, this was a strong message I received from public schools and universities.

            • C.L. Dyck October 8, 2013, 5:01 PM

              “I felt you used intentionally inflammatory language (such as American cultural supremacy) in your comment, and I was responding in a suitably inflammatory way back at you.”

              That’s not intentionally inflammatory language from me, it’s just trying to describe a painful reality about Canadians and how our secular people think. Unfortunately, the immediate response of finding that inflammatory is what skewers a lot of very well-intentioned Americans in their desire to minister here. It’s a shocking thing to hear. It’s not nice, it’s not fun, and it’s not the neighbourly welcome they expected. It’s very, very challenging and heartbreaking.

              So when I say it takes humility and listening, I’m not saying Americans specifically don’t have that, I’m saying nobody has that. Nobody. It takes more from us to enter a mission field than we can ever imagine. It involves a total emptying of self and understanding, and peace only comes by the gift of God in equipping us.

              “I’m generally okay with that kind of debate; I don’t get offended easily. I hope I haven’t offended you.”

              No, the thing I like about you is that we can get fired up and exchange words. I had an insomnia night, which left me terse; still having a weird time since my Grandma’s passing.

              “However, R.J. didn’t approach her article from a Canadian perspective–as in, “this isn’t the best way to preach the gospel in Canada”. She couched it as a general “this isn’t the best way to preach the gospel”, while full well knowing most of her audience is likely to be American.”

              And I don’t think that it does translate correctly into American thinking, which is what provoked me to speak up. I saw her bio and her comment that she’s from Ontario and kind of went, there’s a subtext here and I’m not sure the author’s accounted for it. The assumption that we’re all the same is convenient shorthand for Canadians too.

              “many Americans are taught in school and universities to have an intense guilt complex for being who we are.”

              Would Iran be apologizing if they were the king of the world? No. We’re glad it’s y’all and not somebody else. If we’re not, we should be, because seriously dudes.

              “Therefore, your comment came across as condescending towards Americans, implying that they just don’t get it because they can’t see outside their own little American free-speech bubble.”

              Everyone lives in a bubble until they step outside it. There’s an American one and a Canadian one, on the level of larger generalities, with regional and denominational variations. (I’m nothing like a southern Ontarian. Different worlds.) No culture’s more right than the other. They all have pitfalls. I think the only way to see clearly is to leave for awhile.

              We spend a fair bit of time Stateside every year, whereas most Canadians’ impression of Americans is filtered through your own media stereotypes, which tend to emphasize partisanship and caricatures. We’re also subjected to a passive-aggressive cultural policy that uses protectionist language about Canadian culture, and American culture as a scapegoat. Our TV has a required Canadian content ratio. Our school/university dialogue is rife with complaints about American commercialism and how it will destroy our unique and precious way of life. (Eyeroll.)

              Which is a highly-regulated small economy’s way of bitching helplessly about a highly competitive large economy next door and nothing more. But what it does is helps create a broad-brush impression in Canadian minds, one that’s particularly focused on your religion/state discourse and the more extreme media examples as a “threat” to our secular balance.

              So, then, a street preacher shows up in a small Ontario town and starts stumping American-style. And the passersby experience stereotyped knee-jerks… even though his practice isn’t American; if anything we collectively get the tradition from the British. Irony.

              I suspect a big part of the conversational disconnect is, R.J. and I are saying “find inroads” and you all are like “past what obstacles? You’re making them up.” Our culture is structured as a partition wall, not an open field. It’s a European hand-me-down in some ways. So we automatically look for doors instead of forging paths. But it’s probably the wrong language for communicating to Americans, because in order to preserve your best values, walls have to be torn down when they start getting built.

              And sometimes it’s very, very important for Canadians to hear “what walls? You’re making them up.” It’s the thing we don’t question enough.

    • Jessica E. Thomas October 7, 2013, 9:21 PM

      I say let the guy do his thing (speak truth) and let God do the saving part. That simple. Ain’t none of my business. (Now I’m talkin’ ‘merican.)

  • Samuel Choy October 7, 2013, 7:37 PM

    It doesn’t seem to me that R.J. was criticizing people who street preach in general, but was critiquing one man in one place in time. And she does bring up an important point: it is a good thing to remember the audience and the context in which you give the message. Some people simply “don’t get it” unless someone screams in their face. For other people, though, that approach would shut them off to the gospel for a very long time, if not forever.

    • R.J. Anderson October 8, 2013, 4:40 AM

      Yes, exactly. Thank you.

      • Samuel Choy October 8, 2013, 8:40 AM

        Oh, and I hope this is not too inappropriate because it’s way off topic. I listened to audiobook version of Knife a few months ago and enjoyed it very much. I look forward to reading more of your books.

        • R.J. Anderson October 8, 2013, 9:28 AM

          Well, that’s the nicest off-topic response I could have wished for, so I’m not going to complain! Thank you very much indeed.

  • Robyn LaRue October 8, 2013, 8:26 PM

    There’s a book that had tremendous impact on me titled Gentle Persuasion (Joseph Aldrich, I think?) I’m not sure it’s in print any more, but it’s a different attitude toward evangelism based on relationships. I wish I had a copy to give to the street preacher. Context matters, and so does the leading of the Spirit. Still, I have to say I really admire anyone with the guts to do that. I’d be standing on the corner squeaking into my sweater.

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