My family went to enjoy a baseball game last night, the Washington Nationals and the Baltimore Orioles! It was a fun evening, marred only by the street preachers.
It’s another one of those times that I feel bound as a pastor to apologize to the rest of the world, Christian and otherwise, for our fellow believers who just don’t get it. To everyone who, like my family, had to run the gauntlet of 5 or so screaming preachers from the Metro to the park: I’m sorry.
I’m kinda over making excuses for these street preachers, you know? I used to always point to their good intentions and hope that they were yelling the kind of message that at least person might need to hear, but I’m over it. Next time I’m going to sincerely ask them to stop, even though they won’t, in the most loving and polite tones I can manage.
There are some real issues here that I believe are just WRONG… first, they have not a clue to whom they speak, so why would they open their mouths? Second, they operate on the worst and most negative assumptions about their neighbors, some of whom are really awesome people. And third, they aren’t “biblical” in the sense of preaching as Paul (whom they mentioned repeatedly as we passed by) or Jesus (on whose behalf they claim to be speaking).
Is it a problem to not know to whom you are speaking? Absolutely. The ways that Jesus spoke to people varied greatly, always having to do with the intimate reality of their lives and needs. Jesus didn’t have blanket zingers and one-liners to throw at people with angry shouts and glaring. These street preachers can multiply hurt in people’s lives by piling on accusations and condemnation on some who do not need anything else heaped on them. So much of the time, because their message assumes that the people walking by aren’t people of faith, they are just yelling inappropriate conversion one-liners at people well on down the road of spiritual growth.
Ah, and there was that word: assume. Their assumptions are that everyone passing by them is gross, sinful, rebellious toward God, mean, defiant, stubborn, willfully ignorant, etc. Why do we have to assume the worst of our neighbors, even when they seem different from us? Paul didn’t do that… just look at the way he spoke so respectfully with the crowds in Athens in Acts 17.
And this style of intrusive preach/yelling is not really a the biblical style. These street preachers are not following a biblical example. The closest we could find might be the idea of an Old Testament prophet like Jonah walking three days across the length of Nineveh. But then, Jonah had some serious people issues, too. He was angry when people turned to God… he wanted them to burn. In the New Testament we find no such example of preaching. Even John the Baptizer, probably the most fire and doom preaching you’ll find in the New Testament, was preaching by the river to those who came to listen. He knew his audience and they had asked for a message.
I’m not just out to criticize and blast these street preachers, because despite their not having any way to know their audience, despite their working from such negative assumptions of people, and despite their not continuing any constructive biblical tradition, they just might have some good intentions down deep. So how about we work through some alternatives?
“No wonder God loves you! You rock!”
Want to start a fun conversation that is truly reminiscent of a biblical style of proclamation and message? Start with that that one… “No wonder God loves you! You rock!” I saw a wondrous variety in people at the game last night, all shapes, sizes, colors, religions, economies and more. When some folks on our row left early they offered an almost whole bag of roasted peanuts to Ike. There was a lot of beauty going on in the people at the stadium. It was a rough game for Nats fans, and the park was half filled with Orioles fans… but everyone was gracious and well behaved as far as I could see.
And why not give an affirming, gracious message to people? You know, it’s the whole “For God so loved” thing. Why do we seem so motivated by anger and disgust when our message is a kingdom of grace?
How about giving away free bottles of water on a hot night outside the park? That’s nothing new… lots of ministries have done this in many contexts. And if someone asks, “Why are you giving away free water?” you can answer, “Because I love you!” You do, right? That’s why you’re there, right? Love?
The only down side I can imagine to giving away free water would be some angst from the people trying to sell water outside the park. Maybe go the week before and warn them so they can plan to be selling salty snacks to compliment your gift? And don’t say that you don’t have money for water… all those electric megaphones and battery packs weren’t cheap!
“Can I pray about anything for you?”
How about offering to pray with people? Why not ask if anyone wants to write a concern or a joy over which you promise to pour your heart and prayers? Start with the poorest of the folks who are there to beg for money, the homeless veterans and musicians playing bucket drums. Shake their hands and give them a hug and a few bucks, then ask what you can pray about for their lives and needs. By the way, this is also a great way to get to know the people with whom you’re talking. Wow, imagine having a message of grace shaped by your hearer’s life instead of a pre-printed placard that won’t make much sense to them! Boom, baby!
See, it’s not hard to think of things to do when you drop the ugly assumptions and let some love tenderize your soul. You begin to see people differently, not different from you, but as people you love and are moved to bless, instead of them being scary people who need to be cursed and condemned.
By the way… anyone want to do some of these things? I’m kinda excited to try them myself. Let’s go love some people!