Stuart Scammell, Cardiff, Wales
Street preaching is not an easy task, but it is one that can be clearly seen in the New Testament. No doubt when Paul met people in the ‘market daily’, in Acts chapter 17, he would have preached and certainly, in Acts chapter 8 verse 40, ‘Philip . . . preached in all the cities’. Quite how they did this we are not told but I know that neither of these men, who were greatly used for God’s glory, would have been shy about telling out the gospel. In fact, Paul describes it as, ‘the power of God unto salvation’. With something so precious that is designed to save the ‘whosoever’, we must be careful how we handle it and be zealous to share it.
I have been blessed with a loud voice, but I must be careful how I use it. A message of love shouted at people gives a mixed message. We need to be winsome, yet heard!
There is no set way to go about street preaching. Some preachers are happy to go alone into the town centre but, while I admire their courage, I would always prefer to go in a group. A group shows that there are a number of people who are likeminded. It allows some to distribute tracts to the passers-by, while another preaches.
People make choices about whom they will approach. They may base these choices on age, gender and so on. When I go preaching, there is a lady present who is in her eighties and she is excellent at engaging people in initial conversations, far better than I could ever be. If the conversation has an in-depth question, she will often ask me to field the question and then go back to what God has made her very good at, namely, giving out literature and engaging others in conversation.
Street preachers have different styles. No one style is right or superior to another. The vast majority of people don’t have half-an-hour to stop and listen. Most may stop for a minute or two, some for five as they eat a sandwich in a rushed lunch hour; some may stop longer on a bench as they wait for a fellow shopper. My advice is to be short and use an obvious gospel verse, such as Ephesians chapter 2 verse 8, where we can focus on the words grace, saved and faith. This should mean that we quote the verse repeatedly, that some may remember it (at least in part), that we don’t complicate the gospel, and we get to the point.
The first time I went to preach on the main street in Cardiff, I went early and walked up and down the crowded pedestrianized street in trepidation, praying. I didn’t feel that I was equipped to preach on the street, although I had felt called to do so. I stood there feeling totally inadequate. Some of the older ladies that regularly support the work appeared. They greeted me warmly and there was a real sense of togetherness, and this made me feel that I was part of a group that loved the gospel. I felt ready to preach.
Using a board is good as it is a focal point for the preaching; a magnetic board allows a verse of scripture to be displayed that is appropriate to the simple message being preached. This is useful, as some people can’t stop to listen but do read the verse as they walk past. Some people, out of curiosity, will come over, photograph the verse using their smartphones, and walk on. This is great because on their phone they now have a verse from the ‘holy scriptures’, which 2 Timothy chapter 3 states are able to make them ‘wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus’, v. ??. It is worth ensuring that contact details are on the board, as they may wish to enquire further at a later date.
We need to be flexible, and carefully consider how we are going to answer any questions. Some people are excellent at dealing with heckling. We must remember that God has enabled people in different ways. Some listeners will raise questions designed to disrupt the preaching, while others will be genuinely seeking answers. Discernment is needed; getting into an argument is not always the best way, as we could win the debate and lose the person. Often, genuine questions or statements link back to something that someone has been taught in the past.
I remember one day waiting to preach. The preacher didn’t have a verse to display, so someone put John chapter 3 verse 16 on the board. The word ‘begotten’ was omitted. As the man was speaking, a lady came striding towards the board. At first glance it was obvious that she had a life full of difficulty. She paused for a moment and declared that this was ‘wrong!’ The preacher told her that it was true, as it was the word of God. The preacher tried to continue. The lady insisted that it was wrong and that there was a word missing. She quoted the verse loudly and inserted the word ‘begotten’. She explained that it meant that Jesus and God were exactly the same in character, and this was so important, otherwise He could not go to the cross for us. By this time, she had attracted a crowd, and many were listening. The preacher agreed and talked with her for a few minutes before she hurried on her way. I felt very encouraged, not just that many had heard something of the gospel, but that the lady had recalled the verse that someone, maybe many years ago, had explained to her, and she had recalled it perfectly. The Spirit could use that for the salvation of the crowd who had listened.
It is important that we have literature to give out. It needs to be chosen carefully. It needs to be simple, as more complicated issues may well be for a later date. A tract that some accept may be the only Christian literature that they will ever read. We must assume nothing, and the word of God must be quoted in it. The Spirit will use the ‘sharp sword’ to cut where He will.
It is important that we understand our target audience, as we live in a multicultural society. Literature in different languages is very often useful. This is readily available through various sources. We live in a country where people are searching for something, although they don’t know what, and the ‘world’ has rejected God. When we stand in the city centre supporting the preaching and handing out literature, we can expect many rejections. Some people find this hard. It is important to remember that we are experiencing what the Lord experienced in a far more extreme way. The very people who witnessed His miracles and had benefitted from them stood in a crowd and bayed for His blood. He taught in Luke chapter 10 verse 16 that when people listen to us explain the scriptures, they listen to Him, and so, when they despise the word of God, they despise or reject Him, and through doing that reject the Father also. Yet He was willing to go to the cross, so I should, at least, be willing to go to the street and suffer some ridicule for Him.
Once, while preaching in Cardiff, I had just opened with the words, ‘I’d like to tell you something from the Bible, which are words from God!’, when a man in his sixties, very middle-class, started shouting at me using foul language. He persisted so much that I thought it not honouring to the Lord to shout over him. When I spoke to the man, I pointed out that I had said very little, and that it was just the mention of the Bible that seemingly had provoked this alarming reaction from him. I also pointed out that however loud my voice was, it would not be heard ten or so shops away. I asked why he got so angry and had not just walked on. Once he had calmed down, he was embarrassed about his reaction. It turned out that he had been brought up in a Christian family and actually knew the truth but had walked away from it all his life. He was, as the man described in Romans chapter 1, one who did not want to ‘retain God in his knowledge’. A good conversation ensued. I have often found that those that want to talk don’t know how to and start with an aggressive line. There will be thousands that walk by! There will be those that seem totally indifferent! It is generally the ones that must comment and make a derogatory remark, that are closer to the Kingdom as something has touched their conscience.
I would like to encourage you to consider this work. If you don’t feel equipped for preaching or speaking to others, you can give out tracts or stand facing the preacher helping to form a crowd. This makes it acceptable for others to stop. Just being there is a great encouragement. We don’t think of the Apostle Paul as someone who needed people standing at his side to achieve what he did for the Lord, yet he could talk with great affection in Philippians chapter 4 of ‘yokefellow’ and ‘fellow labourers’, especially the women. These are a great example that we can all follow and be part of truly ‘going . . . to preach the gospel’.