Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy -- meditate on these things.
"Francis of Assisi is alleged to have said, 'Preach the gospel always; if necessary use words.' That may be a great medieval sound bite, but it falls short of what the Bible teaches about evangelism."
I used to like that quote, and the evangelism models it leads to, and felt comfortable in thinking that the street preachers (and other more direct evangelism models) had no place in actually making a difference in people's lives.
But, while spending the summer at the Ocean City Beach Project (speaking of community in my last post, OCBP was a good community experience for me, not perfect, but perhaps that is what real community is) in 1997, we went to New York and traveled on the Staten Island Ferry and there was a lady who was (almost) yelling at the people, talking about heaven, hell, God, Christ, etc. and I couldn't see anything good in what she was doing - various people were turning away from her and making comments about Christianity, etc. Apparently, none of the other students that I was with seemed to care much, and my original tactic was to avoid her by going to another part of the boat, but she ended up in the same section I was... At one point our eyes connected, and I asked her if she thought she was doing any real good in anyone's life. She sat down and we talked for a while. She said that she didn't always know if it was any good, but that "[God's word] shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it. (Isaiah 55:11)" and that she didn't always preach, but some days she felt a prompting to bring her bag of tracts and speak to the people on the boat. (She worked in the city, and so rode on the ferry every day). I was not at all convinced that God was pleased with her actions, though I did appreciate that she didn't simply preach every day, but desired to follow God and believed that He had certain people for her to talk to. But, as we were talking, a rough looking guy came up in tears, (Rob, from last week in the Dominican would say that he "had his skirt on") and said how much the words had struck him, and talked about circumstances that he was going through, and how life looked hopeless in different ways. I don't know about the long term effects on his life, but at least the short-term, we prayed for him and his wife and his job and I believe that God did speak to him that day. And to me too - as I no longer look disdainfully on people preaching on the street. I am still not convinced that it is the "best" way, and I don't really ever expect to find myself preaching, but definitely God uses those that do.
The second thing that God taught me about evangelism was when a number of us went to a "Contagious Christian" conference put on in Pittsburgh by the evnagelism director of the Willow Creek Church. There were various things that were good that weekend (including a strong validation of the gift of discernment that God has given me - I look back on that weekend whenever I start to doubt that maybe I'm just crazy and probably just making up things when I see into people's (particularly the "random" people on the street) hearts and minds), but as far as evangelism goes the only quote I remember is "there are all kinds of Christians to speak to all kinds of non-Christians". He gave various examples of people in his church, from the praying 90 year old woman who hardly ever made it out of her house or spoke to anyone to the street preacher to the guy who was the most relational guy he ever met, etc. The question the workbook asked was, "What kind of evangelizer are you?" I think it is probably stated a little strongly, as I do believe in diversity of gifts, and that while we should all seek all gifts, in the end, God gives different gifts to different believers.
"Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.
For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will. For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.
For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many." - 1 Corinthians 12:4-14
Back to Total Church:
"Before they are preachers, leader, or church planters, the disciples are to be lovers! This is the test of whether or not they have known Jesus."
The authors go onto say that though doctrinal orthodoxy, ingenious strategizing, commitment to preaching, innovative approaches to planting, are all important and necessary in their own way, it is "our cross-love for each other than proclaims the truth of the gospel to a watching and skeptical world."
We were talking the other night with some friends about church splits and why does that even happen at all and particularly "ugly" conflicts. Certainly, there will be differences of opinion, and even differences over important and essential truths (is there any truth that isn't important? Maybe.) But, why would it ever have to be ugly? I suppose the easy answer is simply "sin", but I think to trivialize sin is a dangerous course of action, and we shouldn't expect sinful actions to drive our community, but love, forgiveness and walking out our faith in holy fear.
One challenge to the street preachers is the example of a street preaching friend of the authors:
As the conversation began, it was clear that George thought we were selling out in some way. But as we talked about sharing our lives with unbelievers, about evangelism that was 24/7, about opening our homes, George's tone changed. At the end of our conversation he admitted, "I'm not sure if I'm up for that kind of commitment."
I love the end of Ephesians 3, particularly the King James Version, that so clearly shows how big God is, and how much He desires for us. He doesn't merely pray that "Christ would dwell in your hearts by faith, and to be filled and know the love of Christ," nor merely that God can "do anything", but he prays much bigger statements than that:
"That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.
Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen." -- Ephesians 3:17-21