JeremiahCry Ministries

The Gospel By Paul Washer

Monday, April 4, 2011

Phil Johnson on Street Preaching


by Phil Johnson

Tony Miano proclaims the gospel on Hollywood Blvd.
My friend Tony Miano proclaims the gospel on Hollywood Blvd.

Street preachers are much-maligned and often despised (orworse) for their work.

The following thoughts are adapted from a comment I made in an evangelical forum where questions were being raised about the validity of open-air evangelism. Several forum participants said they are embarrassed by open-air preaching, loud evangelism, public calls for repentance, placards, and tract ministry. Someone wondered aloud whether "The 'Turn or Burn' Christian who stands on the street corner" could possibly have any noble motive. One thing was clear: lots of Christians have a low opinion of people who proclaim the gospel through signs or sermons on street corners.

I have a different point of view.

rovided his message is accurate, I'm grateful for the "Turn or Burn" guy (as well as the one-on-one evangelist with a pocketful of tracts)—regardless of what his motive is. Philippians 1:18.

Evangelical Christianity has a noble tradition of open-air preaching, and some of the finest preachers in history have done it. George Whitefield did little else. Spurgeon did it, advocated it, and gave lectures on how to do it correctly. Both of them were vilified for it by more "refined" religious leaders in their respective eras. May the Lord save us from that kind of "refinement."

Jay Smith preaches at Hyde Park Speaker's Corner in London. He has an amazing ministry there to Muslim radicals who gather at Hyde Park to proclaim their own message.
Jay Smith preaches at Hyde Park Speaker's Corner in London. He has an amazing ministry there to Muslim radicals who gather at Hyde Park to proclaim their own message.

Open-air evangelism has always had a more or less counter-cultural stigma. People have always been offended by it, because it tends to confront them with the truths they least want to think about at precisely the moment they are trying to do something to avoid thinking about things like eternity and accountability to God.

And therein lies the true effectiveness of open-air ministry, I think. You can't measure the "success" of the street-corner guy by the number of converts he wins. You'd have to be able to know how many men on who drove by him on their way to a strip club or a secret trist and were convicted when they saw his "Repent" signs. And there are no statistics on that.

Old-style open-air ministry
Old-style open-air ministry

There is a guy in Santa Clarita who has some very-well designed signs and spends a lot of time at one or the other of our valley's two busiest intersections. He has been doing it for more than a decade. He purposely makes eye contact with me almost every time I drive by. I have never seen him without thanking God for people like him.

My youngest son is a policeman who patroled Venice Beach for a couple of years. I am thankful for the people who are down there (as Ray Comfort or someone from his team always seems to be) doing some kind of open-air evangelism. Tony Miano is a retired policeman who frequently does personal and open-air evangelism at our local courthouse (and elsewhere), and I'm thankful for his ministry.

It's true that most people who convert to Christianity aren't won to Christ through the methods employed by street evangelists. The average Christian is more likely to win someone to Christ within his or her personal circle of relationships. So if you can't imagine yourself doing open-air ministry, get busy evangelizing anyway.

But let's not miss the equally-true flip-side of that fact: Some people are so deep in sin and degeneracy and so devoid of Christian friendship that if they don't hear the gospel from an evangelist like Tony Miano or Ray Comfort, they aren't going to hear it at all. We should support and encourage what these guys do, because on its own level it can be very effective. Only heaven will reveal how true that is.

And the next time you see that guy on the corner holding the "Repent" sign, buy him a Coke and give him a word of encouragement. If you talk to him, you might find that his "motivation" is very different from what you assumed.

NOTE: Lots of heretics use signs and street-preaching to advance their error and spread their confusion. You have to be careful not to lend your support or casually say amen to people who are corrupting the gospel (2 John 7-11). Thus I chose carefully the words with which I began this post: "Provided his message is *accurate* . . ."

Here are some good resources for wannabe street preachers:

Phil's signature


Mel said...

Thank you for these words of encouragement. As a fledgling street preacher and tract evangelist, I appreciate your "endorsement" (provided my message is accurate). It is all too easy to get discouraged and give up because everyone else in the local church thinks you are a nut, or because you get reviled by nearly everyone you talk to.

I came to Christ after hearing Ray's famous sermon, "Hell's Best Kept Secret" 3 years ago and have been an evangelist at heart ever since. I look up to Tony Miano and Ray Comfort and thank God that I had the opportunity to learn at their feet.

Thank you for your kind words regarding my mentors. I wish more people in the church felt the same way.

The Seeking Disciple said...

I praise God for the street preachers. Their boldness is so admired. I often say to those who would criticize these saints, "And what do you do for the glory of God in reaching the lost?" Often this shuts their mouth. So few testify of Christ to the lost. I pray that God continues to raise up biblical street preachers of the gospel.

Matthew said...

Ps. Phil,

Thank you for this article.
I was saved through an open air preaching ministry. I then open air preached in that same ministry for 2 years. In that ministry's 5-6 year existence I was the only one who VISIBLY came to Christ through it.

We would always take great comfort in R.A Torrey's words, "your greatest crowd is the one you cannot see".

Thanks again,

Thomas Louw said...

I did a kind of “street preaching” and mostly one on one evangelism for a year after school. I wish I could be as bold as I was then. The funny thing is the hecklers is the ones I remember most, and fondly.
I also would ask friends to support your local “nut” it takes loads of courage and love for Christ.

The best way you can help him is stand an listen for a few minutes if his preaching or if he happens to stop you and want to evangelise you one to one, listen to the message, check the accuracy and then pray with him.

Thomas Louw said...

If our chief goal in evangelism is the converting of souls, I think we are missing the point.

Evangelism first and foremost is for the glorifying of God.

Proclaiming His glory is shown in the saving gospel. Yes, God is supremely glorified by people who are converted. There is however one thing that give God even more glory, the crucifixion of Christ.

I believe that is why so many street preachers stop, why the majority of Christians stop evangelizing. Their focus is on changing people while it should be glorifying God.

Should we then tell the guy who preachers with the conviction that saving people is the prime motive for evangelism? No!!
Even Paul said if the truth gets preach let them preach, even if the motive is a bit off.

Sarah said...

I always thought that street preaching gave Christians a bad name because it was so in-your-face. It was as if we were confronting people with christianity, and portraying it as a loony-bin kinda religion. But your points make sense, some people may not know anyone christian in their lives so may not ever hear the good news. I still think that christianity needs to be relevant and continually evolve(while being theologically sound of course!) to reach people.

Chris Lovie-Tyler said...

Thanks, Phil. Some good points. You've given me reason to see street-preaching in a more positive light.

Canyon Shearer said...

I am the poster-child for "Street Preaching doesn't work!" as I was won by a street preacher in Hyde Park (though not Mr. Smith).

Don't know what your rules are for posting youtube videos, but here is my testimony (hope this link works, on my phone):

Making noise and bothering people,

Pierre Saikaley said...

I can honestly say street preaching is scary, but exhilerating. Yes, there is a "foolishness" associated with it. But it is that foolishness that God is using to save the lost, and to glorify God.

I was only involved in it for several months years ago, when I attended a small Baptist church. But I will say, if you have the opportunity to do it, please do.

One thing you will always get out there is opposition. You expect it from the world. But what you don't expect, but isn't surprising I guess, is evangelical Christians who oppose the method, and interrupt your ministry to argue over theology and method.

I remember a friend of mine saying how street preaching has become outdated because our culture is post modern and doesn't even listen to the Gospel.

However, I think he is wrong. Our times need the Gospel to be more public, more bold, more engaging than ever.

It's high time we stopped catering to The Culture™ and continued doing it God's way.

Canyon Shearer said...

Better link:

Johnny Dialectic said...

Doug Wilson's admonition to go to your elders and be overseen in this is essential. Not everyone is called to preach.

Also, the old idea of open-air meetings ought to be rediscovered.

Daryl said...

I suppose you could say that street preaching and blogging have a commonality in that very often it's the unseen lurkers, who don't comment on a blog or openly respond on the street, who are the target audience.

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