Bullhorns, relationships, and repentance | Part 1

At the Cherry Festival last week, as I walked in with my sweetheart, a lady in a long dress asked me if I would like a copy of God’s Word. I awkwardly declined, mumbling something about already having one. And then as I walked out that night there was a guy holding a sign and street preaching. The one sentence I heard was “what should it profit a man to gain the whole world, and to loose His own soul?” I walked faster, because that too was rather awkward.

Now, I appreciate the fact that they were willing to do what they did. Was their heart in the right place? I’m sure it was. But the question, especially for me as someone who plans to spend the rest of my life reaching people, is was it effective?

Maybe it’s because I am in a postmodern mindset or something, but often times I find myself agreeing with two people who totally disagree with each other. I am a fan of the Ray Comfort and The Way of the Master series, and I am also a fan of Rob Bell and his series of short teaching films called Nooma.. In Nooma 009 | Bullhorn [go here if you would like to watch it. It’s worth the time], Rob talks about “Bullhorn Guy” preaching the wrath of God through a bullhorn and handing out tracts. I hope you go watch it – the one point that gets me is when he says, “No one is stopping to hear more, and no one wants any of his pamphlets.” The opposite of what you want to happen. Now the WOTM guys are totally opposed to what Rob Bell said in the Bullhorn Nooma. I agree with aspects of both of their messages.

I think the bottom line of the whole deal comes down to sharing the gospel in a way that communicates the truth of the gospel to the culture you live in. YOU HAVE TO UNDERSTAND THE CULTURE! If you went to another pagan culture, to Africa or somewhere, you wouldn’t just get some tracts and a sign and preach repentance. No, you would learn the culture, dress like them, talk like them, eat like them, build friendships with them in order to “make disciples”. And the same thing should be true here. We live in a post-Christian culture, one who does not understand Christianity for what it truly is, and so when they hear this kind of stuff, it turns them off.

Street preaching like that is simply not taken very well in American culture today.I am whole-heartedly sold out to following the way of Christ, and to sharing the Good News with as many people as possible. But I was extremely uncomfortable with what was going on at the Cherry Festival. Did I disagree with what was being said? Of course not. But the crowd that comes to the Cherry Festival is very liberal, very rich, and often very wary of Christianity. Nobody was paying the guy any attention. They were walking right on by, talking to their friends and enjoying the festivities.

I think the more effective way to reach that culture is that if the friends that they were with at the Cherry Festival were followers of Christ, people who were intentionally building relationships with them, being their friends, and bringing them into the Kingdom of God. People who are leading missional lives.

I am sure those working there that night had a few positive conversations with people. Maybe they even had someone make a decision for Christ. And that is great, praise God if it’s so. But my question is, how many people were turned off to the message of Christ? Did it make it harder for their Christian friends to bring them to Christ? Basically, did the good outcomes outweigh the bad outcomes?

The message of repentance is central to Christianity. I understand that. But I think that the place for it is in a relationship with a person, [even if it’s a brand new 10 minute relationship] and not in shouting it to the crowd. It’s easier to shout it. No messy personal contact with people who have tough questions about the truths of Christianity. No hard work of taking time to build relationships with people. It’s event-oriented evangelism, not disciple-making missional living.

So that’s the part where I agree with Rob Bell. The bullhorn and tracts aren’t very effective in America today, at least not in the Traverse City part of it. If people are going to reject the gospel, I want them to do so based on the truths of the Gospel, and not because I shared it with them ineffectively!

Tune in to the next post for how I agree with the opposite view as well!


~ by lukewil86 on July 22, 2007.

12 Responses to “Bullhorns, relationships, and repentance | Part 1”

  1. Luke,
    I like what you’ve got to say here. Can’t wait to hear your opinion on the other side. I feel we have much in common. Hope God blesses you and your ministry!

  2. Oooh, ooh, ooh. Seriously, you could be a writer. Maybe on the side or something. Because I’ve been completely confused about which way was “better” And it made complete sense in that particular article. Now, I’ve got to incorporate this into my clown act…

  3. Hello,

    I think that the preacher you ran into may have been a complete dork, using methods that no one cares about, and it would be totally impossible for him to turn people off to the gospel. Non-Christians are enemies with God (Colossians 1:21), children of wrath (Ephesians 2), and incapable of seeking God (Romans 3:10-12). How can a guy quoting the Bible make someone more dead in their sin, or more turned-off to their enemy?

    The only way for anyone to get saved is by having the gospel preached to them (Romans 10:14). Nevertheless, there are effective ways to open-air preach, and ineffective ways. I think Ray Comfort is very effective, and he can get people to stop and listen.


  4. They’ll be more on Ray Comfort and WOTM in the next post, but for now…

    I understand that God is the one who draws people to Himself, but while you quote the Scripture saying that people are incapable of seeking after God on their own, I can quote the Scripture that says, “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29.13)

    So if this person is searching for Him, hears HALF the message of the Gospel when he walks by, thinks He’s heard the WHOLE message of the gospel, and walks away not wanting to hear any more about Christianity. Is the person any more God’s enemy than before? No. But the real question is the person any closer to repenting and becoming one of God’s children? I would say no.

    As you’ll see in the next post, my issue isn’t with the message of sin, repentance, and judgement – the issue is whether or not a street corner is the best, most effective avenue to preach the message within a post-Christian American culture.

  5. I agree with you, which is why I’m excited for a class only on personal evangelism, and how to do it for different groups. I still don’t like the Africa analogy thing though, but I know what you mean. Where Paul says “I have become all things to all people so I can bring them to Christ” (It’s in the Bible somewhere) it seems to me that it is a machiavellian scheme. One shouldn’t have to fake who they are to win someone, authentic is the key. I know that’s not your point at all, but it still bugs me.
    I do like the anti-bullhorn thing, I want to leave the library to see what Rob Bell has to say about that…I should have brought my headphones.

  6. I also listen to Rob Bell (you can also listen to his sermons at http://www.marshill.org/teaching/index.php) and WotM.

    I’ve been struggling with these two approaches as well and falling more on the Rob Bell side myself. Looking at the big picture, I suspect that for every person who was brought closer to God through a street preacher we could find 1,000 who were pushed farther from God through that method.

    Something you said also reminded me about the Great Commission. It seems to me that Jesus’ plan was not for us to try to make as many “Christians” as possible hoping that, by shear odds, some of them would become “disciples.” But rather that we would make as many “disciples” (followers) as possible and, by shear odds, some of them would become “Christians.” The point is that street preaching MAY be a good way of making “Christians” (getting someone to say a prayer), but it seems to be a terrible way of making “disciples.”

  7. Danny: It’s not about changing who you are (core beliefs). It’s about changing how
    you communicate those beliefs in a culturally contextualized way. Besides, if it
    is Machiavellian scheme, then Machiavelli really had a Jesus Christ-ian scheme.

    Brodie: Absolutely! Sometime I am going to write about how we have dangerously
    divorced decisions from disciples. I would argue that a person could get
    more prayers from one-on-one stuff too. But I digress.

  8. Wow, Luke’s blog got popular…and that’s a good thing. 🙂 Anyway…

    I’ve got to second Andrea–you should be a writer (you can do that while being a church planter, right?), and this is helping to clear up the confusion I’ve had for awhile. I’m looking forward to your second post to see both sides of this…

    I have known people who are really big on the type of stuff you saw down at the Cherry Festival (for example, I think I might know that lady that offered you a Bible…I know this one lady was down there a lot, and she’d be wearing a long skirt/dress, so it might have been the same person…), and I know others who think that a tract is worthless and that the greatest influence is through raising Godly children (which is important, but if every Christian’s goal is just to have their children be Godly, then there’s not a whole lot of growth…just replacement). I’ve been able to see the point of those who aren’t for the open-air-preaching, giving tracts to everyone type thing, especially the question you asked at the end–is this making it harder for Christians to reach their non-Christian friends. But I’ve also understood the point that if you don’t spread the word, it’s not going to get out. If the only people who I lead to Christ are my children, then my husband and I would have probably something like 6 people that we had led to Christ, and while that is good, it’s not a whole lot! And frankly, most of the people I know that aren’t engaging in street evangelism aren’t really engaging in anything even bordering on street evangelism!

    So, I’ve been perplexed by the different sides and how they fit together. But I think I just might agree with you. 🙂

    Until your next post,

  9. Danny–I agree with what you said. 🙂 But I also agree with Luke that being a part of hte culture doesn’t mean being fake. I can’t stand being fake or beind around fake people, though….”I’d rather be hated for how I am than loved for who I ain’t” as some country song I’ve never actually heard says.

  10. Luke,

    Certainly Jesus, Peter and Paul and those guys did a lot of street preaching, as well as one-on-one witnessing. The results for them personally (from a human perspective) were disastrous (death penalty). I really don’t think it was culturally acceptable for them to open-air preach either, but God certainly used it to save people. I don’t think they were worried about whether someone heard only a portion of their preaching.

    One other thing is that I really don’t know what the sinner’s prayer has to do with being saved. Nowhere in the Bible does it mention praying a prayer for salvation. It talks about belief, repentance, faith, etc. Probably millions of false converts who prayed a sinner’s prayer will end up in hell, because they never really repented and put their faith in Jesus.

    This is a cool discussion. I hope my comments haven’t come off sounding mean or anything.


  11. Bill: Amen! Every time I here about “the sinners prayer” I just think, “Gee, where is that Scripture again?” Then I remember… II Opinions 3:16 😉 I mentioned “the prayer” in response to Brodie, who used it in a negative connotation. The rest of your comment I’ll address more in the next post.

    And don’t worry, your comments haven’t sounded mean… this is why I created this blog, so that we can discuss and debate and try to figure out how Christ would live in 21st century America. So keep the comments coming!

    Yours for souls,


  12. If one person was saved as a result of that street preacher, or the lady in the long dress, was it worth their efforts?

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