Tuesday, February 7, 2012

some thoughts on street preachers...

So, there's another video making the rounds of street preachers doing their thing - and this led to some social media discussions about the practice and one of the biggest proponents of the practice, Ray Comfort. 

So, let me throw this out here: It was about four years ago (early 2008) when my church hosted a weekend conference that featured Ray Comfort. I did not attend the conference, but I was there Sunday morning when Mr. Comfort spoke. Below are a couple of e-mails I wrote at the time - the first one is to some members of my church who questioned why I did not attend the conference - the second is an e-mail I sent to Mr. Comfort's organization (and i'm including the response I got from them).

Here's excerpts from the first e-mail:

I had first heard about Mr. Comfort about a year ago and had checked out his web site and listened to his message, "Hell's Best Kept Secret." While I can certainly agree with the initial premise - that many churches are preaching a "feel good" message and many Christians don't focus on sharing their faith - I have a very hard time with the response Mr. Comfort proposes.  
With every e-mail I received from Living Waters and every time I would visit the web site I would look for something with which I could agree and support.  
What I have found is someone who picks on the easy targets - liberal Hollywood, godless evolutionists, etc. I found myself more and more uncomfortable with the tone and the tactics. Quite frankly, I disagree with his assessments of both groups and I am actively involved with discussions with representatives from both the film industry and the scientific/evolution fields in an effort to encourage real dialog and appreciation across the board. I believe there is much to be celebrated in the products coming out of the film industry and much to be learned from our friends in the fields of science - it is my hope that they will take a closer look at what real faith is rather than consistently turning to the tired stereotypes that are out there.  
I have to be perfectly honest, I believe that if every Christian were to adopt the Ray Comfort style of evangelism then the damage done to the cause of Christ would be tremendous. I believe that for every one person who may be converted to Christ through street preaching and confrontational evangelism that there are dozens, if not hundreds, who are turned off to the gospel message. I wholeheartedly detest the "what if this person were to die tomorrow" mindset which defies all logic. I am most uncomfortable with someone who treats their faith as a numbers game - implying that your worth as a Christian is based almost entirely on how many people you have "witnessed" to.  
I would argue that the cause of Christ is much better served by a body of believers who are doing what they are called to do, which starts with loving God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength - and is quickly followed by loving their neighbors as themselves.

and here's the e-mail I sent to Mr. Comfort:

Mr. Comfort,
   I am a member of Hockessin Baptist Church in Delaware and heard you speak at our 9:00 service on Jan. 27. I hope your visit to Delaware was enjoyable and you found our church welcoming.
   I agree with your premise that far too many churches are focused on a "gospel light" approach at best and, more often than not, some very unscriptural teaching about health, wealth, and prosperity. I agree that some of the most popular pastors on the national stage are little more than motivational speakers without much biblical depth.
   However (and you know if you're getting an e-mail like this, there's going to be a "However"), I am concerned about the impact of some of your responses to that problem. I would ask that you prayerfully consider the following.
   I fear that your teachings could lead to one or more of the following unintended consequences: 
  1. Christians believing that if they are not "witnessing" to everyone they meet then they are somehow falling short of their Christian duty (seriously, I know people who have felt this way)
  2. Christians believing that by passing out tracts they are completely fulfilling their Christian duty
  3. Christians seeing everyone as nothing but another potential convert (I think an appropriate comparison might be to that of a new life insurance salesman or Amway representative) - and I think most people know when their getting another rehearsed "pitch" as opposed to a real conversation
  4. Christians seriously limiting their view of God's creativity (God can only save this person if I give them this tract, deliver this speech, and walk them through the sinner's prayer)
  5. Christians developing an "us vs. them" mentality -- if the person doesn't respond in the correct way, we're ready to argue them over to our side 

   I believe the thing I found particularly difficult to comprehend was the story you told about a young man approaching you and stating he had doubts/questions about certain parts of scripture. You said your response was to first call the man a liar, then tell him he's insulting God with his doubts.
   The reason that caught my ear is that young man could have easily been me just a few years ago. That's when I started coming to Hockessin Baptist with a proverbial "boatload" of doubts and questions - I can safely say that if anyone had responded by telling me I was insulting God with my questions then I probably would have walked out and would not have returned.
   You see, Mr. Comfort, I also believe we serve a God who is OK with people's doubts and questions. Quite frankly, if you can read through the Bible and do not have questions, then I would seriously question your ability to reason. But I have found that by actually researching those questions, I have enjoyed a richer and fuller faith than I ever thought possible.
   So, what's my alternative? It's easy for me to criticize, you're probably thinking, but what do we do about a world that's going to Hell? Here's what I believe - I believe those who have chosen to follow Christ should immerse themselves in that relationship through prayer, bible-study, and fellowship - I believe that when those who are in Christ are living in that reality, then having the natural, real conversations with others flows effortlessly. 
   Again, I simply ask that you prayerfully consider this - I welcome any opportunity to discuss anything you would like - and I wish you and your ministry well.
   Thank you for taking the time to read this.
Ken Grant

and here's the response:

Thank you very much for your message. We appreciate your comments and encouraging words. Please keep in mind that because of the sheer volume of emails we receive at times and our limited staff, it may be very difficult for us to send you a personal response. However, please understand that we greatly value your feedback and will strive to serve you to the very best of our ability. If you are in need of counseling, please contact your local pastor.
If you were writing to check on an order you placed online, please call us at the number below, or email us at orders@livingwaters.com for the quickest possible response (be sure you include your name and order number).
Until the whole world hears,
The Staff at Living Waters/Way of the Master(800)437-1893 Monday thru Friday,  8am - 4pm PST.


FaithfulDad3 said...

WOW, It is a good thing you are not one of those doubtfuls who have questions. Maybe you are thinking about killing yourself and want some answers.
Sorry, we are to busy to minister right now, please call back another time...thanks...
Look, I am all about evangelizing when needed and in a loving and appropriate manner. But I do not agree with the flogging on the head approach that he seems to use. I think you can teach the whole truth without condemning and judging others. And the name calling is just uncalled for.

Bill said...

Looking at it logically, since Christ's return is a set date, known only to the Father, certainly the more time goes by, the more urgent the need to win the lost.

With that said, as with many things in life, one needs to not swing the pendulum too far one way or the other. There is a great need for all Christians to witness whenever and wherever. Yet look at Christ's approach. He didn't yell at or bash people over the head (like the woman caught in adultery or the woman at the well who was divorced many times and now just living with a guy).

Christians need to look at the situation. If the person has a need first, then first address that need. Didn't Jesus heal many before or while He preached? Also, if it's someone you may never see again, why not nicely ask if they know where they'll go if they die. Based on their answer, tell them about Christ. You may be planting a seed, watering it, or reaping a soul for Christ.

So, let's keep a happy medium... Witness urgently, but don't bash them over the head with it.