HomeBLOGA must read article ‘So you want to be a street preacher?’, by Jimmy Hamilton
November 4, 2017
A must read article ‘So you want to be a street preacher?’, by Jimmy Hamilton
Pastors, Elders, and all Churchman, this is a ‘must read’ article on ‘street preaching,’ perhaps the best I’ve read yet.
So you want to be a street preacher?
by Jimmy Hamilton
I’ve been a street preacher for thirty-six of my thirty-eight years as a Christian. In coming to Christ I was broken, in great distress, I called upon his name and he rescued me. From the very beginning, I had an all-consuming desire to tell others of what Jesus had done for me and to speak to others of this phenomenal message of the Bible. But how to do it was my big question. I was in what could only be described as a very respectable, middle-class church, whose teaching was somewhat superficial (aren’t they all), not to mention theologically Arminian. The church’s views on street preaching were extremely discouraging also. I began to study on my own, via distance learning courses with the Bible Training Institute in my native city of Glasgow, in Scotland. I studied doctrine, coming to see the Calvinist system as being thoroughly biblical. I studied church history seeing a heritage of men who didn’t just sit behind a pulpit desk but took the gospel to the people on the street. The more I learned the hungrier I became and the more I was consumed with a burning desire to take the gospel to the streets. I was denounced from the pulpit by one of the church’s elders for my preaching on the street. But I was not in any way daunted. In fact, the more that came against me the more determined I was to persist. I knew from Scripture, from my studies of history and preaching itself, that this was what was needed. And I had the inner conviction of the Holy Spirit that this was the way for me. I was preaching on the street in Stafford town on one occasion with one or two other church members present. As I opened my mouth to speak, though naturally very shy and timid, I became very conscious of the energy of the Holy Spirit deeply influencing my preaching; I was enabled to explain the gospel very boldly and clearly as never before. I came away from that experience knowing that this was my calling.
Desire & Development:
So why am I telling you all this? Well, if you’re going to be a street preacher there are some things you need to be certain of before you begin. First, that you are a Christian. That you have been reborn of the Spirit of God, that your entire being has been radically altered by the supernatural power of Almighty God. Second, if you have a desire to preach the word of God, you will have a desire to study and learn the word of God. If this is of no interest to you, then forget it, you are not called to preach God’s word. You may not have the best church, the best teachers in the world, but you will find a way to overcome and to learn, to equip yourself. To be as well grounded in the truth of God’s word as you possibly can is a necessity if you are to make it known to others. Are you articulate? I mean can you give clear, simple directions as to how a person might get from A to B? If you have trouble doing that, how then will you be able to direct a sinner to the cross? If God sets someone to the doing of something, whatever it be, and there is a desire to obey, there will be opposition. And that opposition will come from the most unlikely sources, sometimes. In undertaking a street ministry you are about to step out into Satan’s territory, and he is one mean piece of work. What if the opposition comes from within? From family, church or fellow believers? The same principles apply to this as do for discipleship (Luke 14:25-33). You need to know you are of God, that you have God’s calling, and you need his grace to begin and to persevere. Or you will make yourself a laughing stock. I had to wait nearly five years before my course was vindicated by the Lord. Eventually, I had to leave my first church, not because they didn’t like what I was doing, but because they turned in an unacceptable ecumenical direction. My new church, along with Minister and officers immediately recognised my gift and calling and I was sent by that church to minister God’s word.
Exhortation or Exposition?
I say to minister God’s word because that is the recognised task of the preacher. There is a difference between exhorting and preaching. Sometimes an exhorter becomes a preacher. The gift of preaching is a charismatic gift sovereignly dispensed by the Holy Spirit as he wills. It is the ability to open up the word of God, to explain its meaning clearly and to expose to the minds of the hearers the divine counsel. And, of course, to challenge and apply that revealed truth also. I see and hear some men on the streets and they are not preachers, expounders of God’s word, but exhorters. Exhorting people to believe the gospel. They speak about the gospel, Bible doctrines and so on, and they give reasons to people as to why they should believe the good news about Jesus Christ. This is fine as far as it goes, but it’s not preaching. It is quite legitimate for a man to witness to his faith in such a way and people have doubtless come to faith through such exhortation. This exhortation was done a lot in Wales in back in the days of revival. Men realised they were not preachers but they realised they could do something and so they would go out amongst the public exhorting people to believe and be saved. And many did. But preaching is a God-given ability to break open the word of God. The preacher doesn’t simply give people random thoughts that come into his mind as to why his hearers ought to believe. The preacher takes a text of scripture, it may be a phrase, a verse, or portion of the Bible, explain and apply it to those who will hear. But in terms of working on the street, it is different than from behind a pulpit desk, though the work is still the same. In a church situation the preacher has the time and leisure to read the word of God and in his preaching build up arguments, explain the minutia of his passage. No such leisure is given the street preacher. But, nonetheless, he takes time to prepare just the same. He will find a short evangelistic or pithy phrase or verse of scripture and he will open it up and apply it as he goes. But all he says is packed full of gospel truth because he doesn’t have a static congregation. He may have someone for just a few minutes, but they will go away with saving truth nonetheless. Let me give you an example. “Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). It is short you see, and it summarises the gospel, and he can he repeat it over and over, using it as a hammer to break the rock of sinful hearts. And he expounds it as he goes along. What is the gospel? Number one: it’s about a Person, Christ. Number two: what did he do? He died. Number three: Who for? The ungodly. You see there is order, he is not just giving people his random thoughts, what comes into his mind. It is the word of God people’s minds are being exposed to. And it is that alone which God has promised to use and bless, and nothing else, the faithful preaching of his word. Now a man may start off as an exhorter, perhaps that is all he can do, he does his best. Well and good. But who knows, perhaps along the way God will bestow upon him the gift to preach. He can pray, as surely he must, and he can ask God for the gift to preach his word. But do keep in mind that there is a difference between the two, exhortation and exposition. The next time you hear a street preacher, stop, and listen, and ask yourself the question, what is he doing? Is he simply exhorting people, or is he expounding the text of scripture? Sadly, and I hear not a few men on the streets who ought not to be there exhorting even. This is one of the reasons that the task has a bad reputation. The price of freedom, it’s not always as tidy as we would like it to be. Alas, here lies the importance of a man being sent by his church, this way it is not he himself who judges whether he has the God-given gift and ability to be on the street, either exhorting or preaching. But God’s people, the church.
Stymied or Sent?
This leads me to my next point. The sending, how shall they preach unless they have been sent (Romans 10:15)? There is a biblical principle here that is undeniable, and that I agree with wholeheartedly. But, there are exceptions, always. But they are the exceptions, not the rule. It may be sometimes a church lacks discernment, (of which there are very many in these days of decline and apostasy in the West). Perhaps a man could be failed to be recognised and given the encouragement and support he ought to have, because of church politics. Believe me, these things and worse happen in churches, and reformed ones too. If you think not, hang around a bit. Or maybe because the Minister is afraid of his position? Or maybe he just does not like you. All these things I have seen, do believe me. Maybe the man himself needs to be made aware of his gift and calling that is evident to all except him. Then there may arise the issue of readiness, he is not ready yet. He needs at least two theological degrees and ten years to get them. I was reading a newspaper article a short while ago about a very talented soccer player. He was transferred to a very important team, never to be seen again for a long time. What had happened to this talent was the basis of this newspaper article? The answer given was they had over-coached him, ruined him. My point is you can go on and on learning (and you must), but never do anything with what you are learning. The theological course I took back in the day was started by Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in South Wales. There was no certificates, degrees at the finish. The idea was simply to produce preachers, that’s all. I had already started preaching before commencing the course. All the faculty members insisted that the studies, the essays required must in no way hinder my preaching. That was the thing they wanted me doing more than anything else, preaching. If God’s called you to preach that’s what you should be doing. The coaching can be done in the background. Too much learning can make you useless on the street, maybe even turn you into a cerebral turkey, or a professional student, instead of a street preacher. You can quote Hebrew and Greek in a church building but it won’t get you nowhere on the street. Drug addicts, drunkards and other ne’er-do-wells normally don’t understand English, never mind Hebrew and Greek. My own Minister, church officers and the faculty members of the College were a great strength, encouragement and support to me. Alas, not all street preachers enjoy that same support, very few. There are times a man has to do what a man has to do, as John Wayne once said. There are times when a man has to walk alone.
One thing that does need to be kept in mind is that before there were reformed pastors, there were street preachers. In Great Britain at least. If we go back to John Wycliffe’s days, who contested then with the official clergy that they alone were not the church of God, but the congregation, the just, those for whom Christ shed his blood. He held tenaciously to the free and immediate access of believers to the grace of God in Christ; to the general priesthood of all believers. It was as a result of this that like-minded believers gathered and preachers were sent out from county to county and town to town, preaching, not just in churches, but also in churchyards, marketplaces and public thoroughfares. They contended with great emphasis that for the ministry of preaching, the Divine call and commission are perfectly sufficient; that the true installation of the preacher is that by God himself. I believe that heaven will testify of many who are there because of a wandering preacher who was never commissioned or laid hands on by men, but most certainly by God. And whose preaching God has owned in ways that this generation of preachers knows nothing of. I think it can be safely argued that without these fourteenth-century street preachers the Reformation of the sixteenth-century would not have been possible. Wycliffe was persecuted, some the street preachers were burned, but they could not extinguish the life created by this movement. So I call upon despisers of street preachers to think again, modify your attitudes, show some respect. One more thing, Dr Martyn Llod-Jones during his ministry strongly advocated that evangelism should be done solely by and through the local church. I don’t altogether disagree. But, I think that he was taken far, far too literally. And the result has been twofold. One, where are all the back street town and city Mission Halls and such that used to feed the Reformed churches? They are no more. And two, sadly, evangelism is not being done by and through the local churches. Not to the extent it once was, in this sadly sin-blighted land, where lawlessness increases by the day; religious apostasy abounds; the unrequited blood of unborn infants; the explosion of a degraded and perverted human sexuality, that in the United Kingdom cries out for and provokes the judgment of the Almighty. How any Christian in their right mind can hinder in any way the gospel preaching of a sincere and serious brother, defies reason.
Christ & Him Crucified:
There are only two classes of people in this world, from God’s perspective, the saved and the perishing. And there is but only one means God has appointed to save the perishing, the preaching of the cross. It was while at the above College, one of the faculty members, asked our class one day how we saw our calling to preach. He went around the class one by one. They all without exception, like parrots, squawked, “to teach the flock and build up the saints.” It didn’t go very far when the said professor stopped them, “wrong”, he said, “you are all wrong!” “The salvation of souls, that is what should be at the front of your minds every time that you preach.” “Every sermon ought to be evangelistic” (Dr M. Lloyd-Jones). You can do no greater hurt to your hearers than to allow the cowardly or despisers of the cross to deflect you from this. Your calling is not to please men, win their applause, to please their ears or sing them a song, you are called to save men’s perishing souls. If you are not convinced that men are dead, not a little bit, but totally dead in their sins. If you are not convinced to the depth of your being that the only way these perishing sinners can be made alive is but by the Holy Spirit empowered; God-ordained means; the preaching of the cross; you will never convert a flea. In a word, you must preach Christ. You must be convinced in your own mind that preaching alone is God’s ordained method (1Corinthians 1:22). Your calling is not to engage in social work, but to preach. In University campus, in the marketplace, wherever men are gathered, to preach and to preach Christ. There are those in religious, and yes, even Christian circles who today disdain preaching very much. At best they think it to be a secondary, even irrelevant activity. The liberals, the snowflakes, you will encounter them all. They will tell you of the world’s needs, the earthquake zones, the starving, the storm lashed regions where the needs are so great. “You should be helping those people,” they will tell you, “not preaching.” Preaching is the church’s, your primary task, preaching that saves men’s souls from eternal damnation, something much worse than any storm, earthquake or disaster imaginable. It is preaching that brings new and everlasting life to men’s souls, nothing else. If you are not convinced of that, do not begin until you are.
Fruit & Faithfulness:
The question will be asked of you sooner or later, what fruit have you seen in this ministry? Is this the best way of doing this? Why don’t you just tell them that God loves them? You need to build friendships with them they will tell you. You shouldn’t judge people. And so on it goes on, and on, and on. I was once asked by a young lady while I was preaching, why I was doing what I was doing. I thought that that was obvious, but apparently not. We don’t do this was her reply, we give them doughnuts, we do treasure hunts. Yes, she was serious. She was her church’s mission leader even. This is what we’ve come to, liberalism in the church gone nuts. So how do you gauge your effectiveness, fruitfulness in terms of your calling? That’s not as easy, or as black and white as some would perhaps assume it to be. Souls saved, professions of faith made? If someone were to tell me tomorrow that they had professed faith in Christ as a result of my preaching yesterday, I would be happy, encouraged, but not too much. If someone were to tell me tomorrow that they had come to faith as a result of my preaching ten years ago, and that they are still going on with and serving the Lord. Then, I would be rejoicing, jumping up and down with the angels in heaven. But if your ministry is a peripatetic ministry, i.e., a travelling preacher, and there is room for such a calling in the New Testament. Trust me on this you will never be loved and accepted by the reformed church as such until God removes the blindness from their eyes to see it. But if that is your calling then mostly you will be sowing seed, you may return after many days and find it has borne some fruit. You might not. There are times when God lifts the curtain and gives a peek behind the scenes to see what he is doing, for our encouragement. But rest assured you’re in this for the long haul, it can be a long, long, hard road, with many disappointments and hardships along the way.
The prophet Isaiah was called in a time of appalling declension in Israel. But his ministry was fruitful. The fruit? Utter devastation and dereliction, the nation ending up in exile (Isaiah 6:9ff). The people were to hear and see, he was to lift up, cry aloud against their transgressions (Isaiah 58:1). It was to be a message of sin, warning, and judgment to come. Not an easy, comfortable commission. You’re not going to change your nation or the world either. The Prophet’s preaching God assured him would harden the majority by the operations of his wrath. That’s what you are faced with in the West today. The message is not one of grace and love for all. But the word is to be preached promiscuously, sharply to all who hear whatever their response may be. And for many, the more they understand you the more they will set all their God-given powers against the Almighty and his Son Jesus Christ. Just like Pharaoh of old, “who is the Lord that I should serve him?” Of course, it didn’t deter Isaiah, but then he was called. Does this put you off, discourage you? Then maybe you’re not called? I’m just being realistic, you need to know what you’re getting into before you begin. In every generation, everywhere, God has his remnant, his chosen, his elect, and we comfort ourselves in this, that they will be saved. I do not have to drive myself into the ground seeking to produce fruit, I have only to be faithful to my calling and to God’s precious word. I was encouraged by an elderly man many years ago. He related this to me. A youngster, sixteen years of age, was invited by a friend’s family to a gospel service in England. This preacher expounded the text “if any man loves not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed” (1Corinthians 16:22). The youngster left that service apparently unmoved, untouched. He moved with his family to Canada sometime later, enjoyed a successful farming career, and a good number of years retirement. In his early eighties, the Holy Spirit in mighty power brought that text back to him in saving power in his own living room, breaking, convicting and converting him. The point is, you might not see the fruit of your ministry in this life. You’re called to be faithful, that’s all. There’s always a difficulty in bringing the model of the Great Awakening to our own situation. They had revival we are faced with decline. So the ‘success’ rate needs to be seriously tempered. This work we’re called to has always been and I think always will be difficult. For churches, presbyteries and Ministers love to eulogise the Whitfield’s and the Wesley’s very much, quote them abundantly but don’t you dare to seek to emulate those whom they eulogise. They won’t want to know you (they only love the dead ones). Or, perhaps, if you strike gold, God sovereignly granting you a vein of gospel success, success, that is, in their terms, then they will excuse you, love you, embrace you and even give you a warm smile. Then you will be the best thing since sliced bread. But until we will continue to be the Cinderella’s of the church. That’s another reason I tell young men who have an inclination to preach on the streets that they must be prepared to stand alone against all comers, sometimes, sadly, very sadly, even their own churches. If you can’t do that, then don’t even begin.
Caring & Cautiousness:
If and as you engage in a street ministry you will get the opportunity, doubtless, of encouraging other believers. You’ll come across poor souls that have been damaged by church experiences and won’t return for love nor money. Seek to bind up their wounds, point and draw them to Christ the great healer. Don’t scold. You’ll come across back-sliders who find it so hard to return to the Father’s house. Encourage them. You’ll come across some of the poorest, damaged souls who will come at you not so much asking for help, but screaming abuse at you. It’s only as you respond with the soft answer that they begin to melt and then the tears come and the sorrows come pouring out. Minister Christ to them. The street work is a great work, there is nothing like it, believe me, I still love it after all these years. Then you will come across others, men and women with the same burden for souls as you yourself. You may be given the opportunity to counsel them in the best way forward, though for them not necessarily the same as for you. Perhaps as your gift and ability develop you will be given opportunities to preach in other churches, besides your own. Your business there is to encourage, not to scold or correct, that’s their Pastor’s job, not yours. There are other forms of evangelism besides street preaching. Some are called to plant churches. There too you may find some usefulness, in encouraging those engaged in such a work. Or perhaps even given the chance of instigating someone to start such an endeavour. But having done so you would have a responsibility to return often to encourage and strengthen those involved. Whatever the ministry be it is always about edifying, building up. You live and minister in a world of broken, ruined souls who have already been abused by many others, the work on the street is an opportunity to present them with a ministry that truly presents them with hope, the only hope, Christ. There will be times when you’ll be judged as harsh. Well, you must examine yourself. A minister once said to me that when we’re criticised, and not for the best intentions, there will always be a grain of truth in it. Don’t just ignore it. But in preaching for conviction of sin we’re always going to be open to such charges, it is inevitable.
In caring for others you will need to be cautious also. The dangers are many, and there is a Devil, and he is still busy. And you’re on his territory. If he can bring you down he will. Never, never get yourself alone with the opposite sex other than your own spouse. The number of men who have fallen in this area, the path of redemptive history is littered with them. Even other peoples children, not on your own, there are some very evil children, believe me. Your enemy, the Devil, is an expert sportsman, he knows his prey, how to bait the hook, set the trap. He knows your weakness, he has been at his business a long, long time. He has studied human nature. He knows what you’re made of. So you need to pay heed to the Saviour’s words, “watch and pray.” You need day by day the full armour of God. You need to put it on on your knees. You need protection from unreasonable and wicked men, ungodly powers and authorities. Every day and every preaching situation is different and the enemy comes in different route every time. One of the most dangerous times is after a great success or victory. Immediately your guard is down. Then he comes in like a lightning bolt to take you down. Be caring but be cautious.
Stipend or Support:
I guess something should be said about the street preacher’s keep. This also is a difficult issue. If you live in the United Kingdom you could well starve to death. However, it fairs somewhat better for the brethren across the pond. The American Christians do seem to have a bigger heart for street ministry. I have no real experience of other countries so I cannot comment on them. If you’re not supported financially by your own church then usually a tent-making ministry is the next best option. You could, of course, take employment with a para-church missionary society, but that has a lot of tensions, towing their party line to keep their supporters on board etc. Also, there is not much room for a preacher who has serious reformed convictions. I only know of one brother in this line of work in these parts who is fully supported by his church. This is exceptional. Financial giving for frontline evangelism is at an all-time low in the British Isles. I myself have over the years had to take employment to make ends meet for short periods of time. I have noticed that some brothers appeal for support through social media outlets. How this works for them in practice I’m not sure. Then there are some who frown upon such practices. But in fairness, if people are not made aware of a Christian worker’s genuine need how will they know that there is an opportunity to give. How many would testify, “if I’d only known, I would’ve gladly given.” So you have to go with your own conscience on that one. I think though that when others are supporting you, whether a church, or individuals, and whether it’s regular or one-off giving, that puts a responsibility on you to be a very good steward of that support. To use it carefully, wisely and well. For this lack of support for street ministry to be rectified there would need to be an outbreak of revival I think. The frozen love of Christians melted to tears of sorrow for a world of ruined sinners. Sadly, they think it’s only at such times that God is actually working. The tendency is to be dismayed and therefore somewhat blinded to the reality of God actually working just as much in the years of decline. For he is as much responsible for the one as he is for the other. But the street preacher mustn’t let himself be dismayed by this state of affairs. This simply casts him upon the Lord all the more. This will grow his faith to look to the Lord to provide a way for him. I myself have been quite staggered at the ways in which he has provided for me myself. In times of doubt, I have to keep reminding myself of those former experiences and rebuke myself.
Privilege & Pride:
There has always been and I think still is today an awful pride and selfishness in the church. Paul addresses this in the New Testament, speaking to the Corinthians (1Corinthians 1:26-31). He speaks of the seriousness and urgency of the gospel ministry over against the squabbling selfishness and pride of the Corinthian Christians. He could do so today in many places. He reminds them that they were just ordinary people, nothing special, not nobles, not high-fliers. You see whatever your station is, your gifts are, everything you’ve got, except your sin, is from God. So what place is there for pride (1Corinthians 6:9ff)? What have you got that you didn’t receive? So if God uses you in any capacity at all you need to remind yourself that it was God’s doing not yours and the glory is his too, not yours. It’s this attitude alone that will keep you in a place of usefulness. Your place in Christ? Who put you there? God did. He gave you light, life and liberty, he called you. If you don’t keep yourself beneath the shadow of the cross day by day you will end up spiritually useless. In the light of that cross let it pour utter contempt on all your pride. “I will not boast in anything, no gifts, no power, no wisdom; but I will boast in Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection” (S. Townsend).
There is much hardness and bitterness that can enter the soul of the street preacher as a result of the rejection that he encounters. But this must be dealt with in the same way as any pride that would creep in, nailing it to the cross. There will be fellow preachers who will reject you, Pastors who ought to know better will look down their theological noses at you. There will be others of your own fraternity who will criticise you (normally behind your back), and even disown you perhaps. You may incur trouble with the authorities, be arrested, arraigned and jailed for preaching the gospel. Other Christians will disown you, they will say it was your own foolish fault. If ever a church needed serious suffering it’s the church in the West today, for that’s the only thing that will purge the church of her self-righteous respectability and bring God’s true people together, and show just exactly how small she really is, a tiny flock. But in the meantime, you must continue on in your course doing what God has called you to do. If God is for you who can be against you? So go to it, and let all the rest go to heaven.