A thin young preacher stood on a public sidewalk in New York City
with only a Bible in his hand. He was surrounded by hardened,
brutally violent gang members as well as everyday passers-by.
Next he did something UNTHINKABLE. Although visibly nervous,
he lifted his voice above the polite, acceptable, normal level
usually found in public and began to preach.
At first it was awkward, even halting, but slowly it became stronger.
He now shamelessly proclaimed the gospel of Christ. A cocky
young gang member stepped forward, pulled a knife, pressed its
razor sharp blade against the tender flesh of the preacher’s throat
and threatened to cut him into a thousand pieces if he continued.
Not only did the inexperienced street preacher continue that day,
but he persisted until, in the months to come, many of those same
gang members turned their lives over completely to the Lordship
of Jesus Christ—including the one who had threatened to cut him
into a thousand pieces. The preacher’s name was David Wilkerson.
Unimaginable Love For Jesus
I was eighteen years old and had just become a Christian only a few months earlier.
Someone gave me a book called Run, Baby Run. I devoured it. It was the story of
Nicky Cruz, the exact gang member who had threatened to kill David but was
gloriously saved as a result of Wilkerson’s street ministry. Very shortly thereafter I
saw the film version of the same story, The Cross and the Switchblade.
I was absolutely awe-struck by the scene I have just described. I was not so much
moved by his courage to stand up to the threats of the gangs, but by his courage
to stand up in a public place outside of a church, and preach about his Lord Jesus
Christ. To me this demonstrated an almost unimaginable love for Jesus—to be
willing to look like a fool and unashamedly declare the gospel of the Kingdom! What
love. What courage. What faith!
Of course then I had no idea God would call me into similar ministry. I had no inkling
at the time that God would call me to preach at all, that would all come later. All I
knew was a deep, deep respect and admiration was planted in the depth of my soul
for anyone who could stand up in a public place and preach about Jesus. Not only
did God call me to preach, the very first ministry I served with after Bible College
was David Wilkerson’s Teen Challenge doing street ministry in Europe.
Fools For Christ
So it has always puzzled me that some Christians react quite negatively about
street preaching. I’ve had Christians come up to me while I was preaching and say,
“You’re doing more harm than good.” I normally ask them if they think this is an un-
Biblical method of reaching the world with the message of Christ. At this point they
usually say, “Well, no but…”
That is because even the lukewarm know that not only is the New Testament
replete with examples of Jesus and the apostles preaching open air, there are
many specific commands to do that very thing. I’m not overly sensitive about this
because I’m fully persuaded it is God’s chosen method of reaching a lost world, no
matter how foolish it may look.
I think the Apostle Paul must have faced similar opposition, and his response
perfectly answers the issue: …We have been made a spectacle to the whole
universe, to angels as well as to men. We are fools for Christ, but you are so
wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are
dishonored! (I Corinthians 4:9-10)
He stated categorically that we are definitely made a spectacle to the whole
universe and are indeed fools. If you read the entire passage, he alluded to the
fact that compared to him the members of the Corinthian church looked like rich,
wise, honored kings. But then he brought it all into sharp, crystal clear heavenly
focus. WE ARE FOOLS FOR CHRIST!!!
In other words he fully acknowledges the fact that this kind of ministry looks
completely foolish, but he had counted that cost and steadfastly decided that for
JESUS it was absolutely worth the price. Then he challenged those wise and
honored Corinthians with the following words: “Therefore I urge you to imitate me!”
I have often thought of this example while out there in the rough and tumble
atmosphere of street ministry. Most of us can remember the O.R. scenes depicted
in the old TV show MASH. Explosions thundered too close in the background, lights
dimmed and flickered, blood squirted from patients into surgeon’s masked faces,
medical staff bellowed urgent orders, and wounded patients moaned in pain. And
that was just a TV show.
Can you imagine the real thing? Very few of us would feel comfortable in a real
operating room. The sights, sounds, and smells would make most of us faint. But
who among us could charge, “Surgeons do more harm than good.” We all know
that isn’t true. They save the lives of tens of thousands of people every year.
Most Christians only think of Christianity in the context of the atmosphere in their
beautiful churches. The building is lovely, the pews and carpet are soft, the air is
conditioned, and people are polite and dignified. They love each other and share
sweet friendship. Everyone sings, the pastor preaches and people say, Amen! And
that is all as it should be. But real evangelism is not always pretty, because it does
not take place in the hallowed confines of a church. Jesus said, “Go into all the
world and preach the gospel to every creature.”
The Bible says we are involved in a very real spiritual warfare and people are dying
and losing their souls everyday. In evangelism we go out onto the front lines to
rescue those thrashing around in darkness and a sea of sin. Evangelism takes
place in the kind of places where you can hear the filthy, lewd language spewing
from the mouths of the ungodly. You can smell the strong alcohol on the breath of
the inebriated. Where very vocal skeptics mock and argue every point.
The atmosphere can often be very hostile towards Jesus and His message. There
are some people who just simply hate God and just hearing the gospel stirs them
up and they can become quite combative.
A Great Privilege
This is where the lost live and if we are to reach them with the light of the gospel we
must be willing to go there and declare His words. Preaching inside a church does
not appear foolish; preaching on the street does. But it is necessary to obey Christ
and save the lost. Because side by side with the ungodly, in that same
environment, there are others who are sick of their destructive lifestyle.
They long to be free and are desperately seeking the answer. They hear the
wonderful words of Jesus, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you
free.” They are convicted and drawn by God’s Spirit, and come seeking to know
more about how to be saved.
After more than two decades of street ministry I still count it a great privilege to be a
fool for Christ, and I am more committed than ever to that calling. I want to thank all
of you who believe in this ministry. I want to especially thank all of you who take the
time to even encourage us in our work. And of course much thanks to those of you
who support us financially. Without your faithful support we could not carry out this
God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who
believe (I Cor. 1:21).