A few years ago I was interviewed by David Swanson of Christianity Today about Street Preaching. I think my answers are still valid. Your comments are welcome of course.
What led you to preach on the streets of Dublin?
A few things: Primarily the command of Jesus in the great commission and his promise to be with us. Also, a love for the lost that are not attracted to church and greatly deceived by what the media says about Jesus. In Ireland virtually nobody can explain why the Lamb of God was slain at Calvary. I am also aware that time is very short and the work is very great. Because he went up that hill for me, I can be bold for him. I often think that the first 2 letters of God are GO while the first 3 letters of Satan are SAT!
Here in the USA, there has been an effort to reinvent church so the "unattracted" people will, in fact, be attracted to church. Do you think this is a valid effort, or is street preaching more effective?
In a church, Jesus-focus can shift to church-focus and the message of Ephesians 4—where the work is done by "the saints"—can be filtered out as leadership is elevated higher than servanthood and all works are checked out for approval, leading the saints to clam up and becoming spectators.
Jesus went to seek and save the lost, and I don't see him passing out flyers for the upper room meeting but healing, preaching, and ministering where people were. Many pray for seats to be filled by incoming sinners, while I often pray for them to be emptied by the outgoing saints.
Many of the street preachers I have encountered portray a very one-sided Jesus: angry and bent on sending people to hell. What do you think a person's perception of Jesus is after encountering your street preaching?
When I speak of hell, I normally speak about it being a place I deserve. This gets people's attention because they expect me to be self-righteous and tell them they deserve hell. I also say how Jesus went there for us and speak of holy God's love for us in doing this.
I imagine you have experienced many different reactions to your preaching. Do you have a favorite story?
One night I was in a busy pedestrian zone in Dublin called Temple Bar. As I held high the name Jesus, a French atheist started asking questions. I felt the Lord told me not answer him while he began to give his opinion about the Bible being untrustworthy. I asked the Lord silently whether there was anything about this man I needed to know and then, without hesitation, I asked whether he had a sore chest. He immediately stopped talking and his eyes widened. I told him that God knows everything about him, loves him, and sent Jesus to take his sin on the cross. He slowly moved off, and when he got to the end of the street he turned around and stared back at me. I knew the Lord had given me a "word of knowledge" and that this impacted him much more than my reasoning with him would have. To God be all the glory.
Another time, after my wife preached, a young heroin addict asked how he could get this new life. We prayed with him, he repented, and over the following days we had ongoing contact. Two years later I was on the street witnessing and he came up to me with his fiancé. They both were fervent for the Lord and testified to the great work God was doing in their life. Needless to say I was blessed and encouraged beyond measure. Hallelujah!
Do you think more pastors should get out of their churches and spend more time preaching on the street corner?
If the Lord leads them to do, I would be delighted. To stand up for Jesus publicly is life changing and it would bring great new vision into any church.
If a family never goes out but only meets with its own members it goes a bit weird (although it always sees itself as normal). The church can become a bit like this when we do not regularly engage atheists and pre-believers with the message of the cross.
We have been given food for distribution in a famine land and, as the Lord leads, every distribution method should be considered. There is a war on for the souls of men and women and, while not all are called to be front line troops, all are called to help in the effort. A fisherman needs the boat builders, the fish processing plant and many other persons to be effective—but the goal is to catch fish! Pastors need not regularly preach on the street but they might be open to God calling them to do it on occasion. They certainly should lead by example and on occasion do some form of street work.