Witnessing is Serious Fun
This book is written to help equip you for better sharing of Jesus Christ in the world in which you live. I am constantly asked, “How can I start telling others about Jesus? What can I do to reach my neighborhood, my street, the downtown area of my city?” Other related questions also come up such as, “How do I start an outreach ministry? How can my church evangelize the community? How can I go into a nightclub and witness? How do I know when God is leading me to go somewhere or do something?”
I tried to share in this book what my experience has been and how it relates to what the Bible says about evangelism. I have shared Christ in hundreds of nightclubs and bars around the world. I have witnessed to people of every color and of every major religion, and I have carried a cross around the world sharing the good news of Jesus with thousands of people along the way.
Furthermore, I’ve personally trained thousands of people in outreach evangelism during the last fifteen years. Most of these have worked with me on the streets, in bars or in other outreach projects. They have learned as they have simply shared Jesus alongside of me, without having received any formal instruction. They have absorbed the method as we have worked together. This kind of teaching, through living together day by day, is ideal, but time and opportunity are limited. As a result, I have only been able to train a small, but powerful, group every year.
I have also been involved in training seminars for youth groups or churches. I teach them for an hour or so, then send them out to talk with people in their neighborhood or their community’s nightlife area. It has been thrilling to see people, who have never before shared Jesus in a personal way, suddenly become alive and effective in leading others to Him.
From this reservoir of experience in churches, in crusades and in personal witnessing, I pass on to you what I have learned. I trust it will be used of God to help you better share Jesus with your world.
Much of what I will be passing on to you has no direct support in the Bible. There’s no Bible passage that outlines how you are to witness in a bar, or how you should approach someone at the beach, or how to go door to door in a modern apartment unit, or how you can witness at McDonald’s. We can get an idea of how to do these things through studying the life of Jesus Christ, through reading the book of Acts, and through studying the prophets of the Old Testament. But we need to translate evangelism in the Bible into the context and the circumstances that surround us today. So I may be talking about approaching a person at a 7-11 store or at a rock-and-roll concert, or in someone’s house or at a church service. There will be a wide range of approaches, but the purpose is always the same: to lead a person to know Jesus Christ as his personal Savior and Lord. Regardless of where they are approached, they must understand who Jesus is and what their condition is, and that they must make a response, the positive response of receiving Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord! That is the purpose in every one of our approaches.
I want to begin with what will be our basic Scripture passages for our witnessing motivation. It’s strange, perhaps, that I have chosen two Old Testament passages, but I think you will see why they are so appropriate. The first is Psalm 40:8-10:
“I delight to do they will, O God, yea thy law is within my heart. I have preached righteousness in the great congregation: lo, I have not refrained my lips, O Lord, thou knowest. I have not hid thy righteousness within my heart; I have declared thy faithfulness and thy salvation; I have not concealed thy loving kindness and thy truth from the great congregation.”
How many of you can say that the righteousness of God is in your heart. Then where is God’s salvation? In your heart, right. That’s great, but should it stay there? No, the righteousness of God needs to be expressed with your lips. The salvation of God needs to be declared.
There are some people who say, “Well, the way I walk is my witness.” Well, I defy anybody to go down Hollywood Boulevard, or Sunset Boulevard, look at the people walking by and tell me who’s saved. You can’t tell by the walk–whether they are taking long steps or little short steps, whether they are wearing blue jeans or a tuxedo–who’s saved and who isn’t. Unless someone tells you that he is saved or witnesses to you, you can’t be sure whether he is born again or just self-righteous. Even if you work around someone on the job who is honest, and smiles a lot, and is well behaved, and contributes to every charity, and does everything you’d think a Christian should do, you can’t be sure because there are some people who are trying hard to work their way to heaven. They may look like others who are truly born again. Therefore, unless our lips speak salvation, unless our lips declare His righteousness, the world will not know how to be saved. Romans 10:13-15 tells us that people can’t hear without a preacher:
“For every one who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. But how are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in himof whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? And how can men preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news!'”
We must, therefore, preach the Word of God.
It doesn’t matter whether you are a man or a woman God is concerned that the message is declared. He will use a woman declaring the message of Christ as effectively as He will a man. In John 4, we read about Jesus talking to a Samaritan woman. She believed and was converted, and then she dropped her water pots, ran into the city and spoke to the men. John doesn’t record that she said a word to the women. They probably wouldn’t talk to her anyway because she was so wicked. But, she spoke about Jesus to the men, and the men came out and heard Him themselves, and they had revival in that town.
The message of the resurrection was entrusted to a woman to go and tell the disciples. So we encourage both men and women to bear witness to Jesus freely. A woman can share Christ with a man or a man with a woman or they may share with people of their own gender. It doesn’t matter; God’s interested in using you for His glory and He wants to go to work through your life. You can share Jesus Christ with anybody.
Sometimes I’m so excited, I can’t contain myself even when there are no people around. When I was in Africa and there were monkeys in the trees, I’d walk by and say, “Just in case you can understand me, Jesus loves you. I didn’t want to miss anybody!”
Our burden is to declare His salvation to “the great congregation.” Who is the congregation? The world, the whole world. Now, the Psalms writer wasn’t just talking about giving a testimony at church. Some of us find we’ve got plenty of enthusiasm as long as we are in the building, but as soon as we get out of the building our lips are sealed. It is easy to find people who can praise God in the auditorium, but they don’t impress me unless they’re witnessing out in the world. If you’re only excited when you’re in the building, something is wrong. Declare His righteousness and His salvation to the great congregation, to the world.
The second Bible passage for motivation in witnessing is Psalms 144:12 and 13.
“That our sons may be as plants grown up in their youth; that our daughters may be as corner stones, polished after the similitude of a palace; that our garners may be full, affording all manner of store; that our sheep may bring forth thousands and ten thousands in our streets.”
Who are the sheep? We are the sheep. He’s the Shepherd and we’re the sheep. The Shepherd wants the sheep to bring forth thousands and ten thousands in the streets. So our thrust should be to bring those who are lost into the fold that we may reproduce ourselves by seeing people come to Jesus Christ. The “streets” of the world are wherever the wandering sheep have gone. Wherever people are, there ought to be someone telling the story of Jesus, telling them that they can be saved. Isn’t that exciting?
If you let these two passages become your spiritual heartbeat, you’ll notice a change in your living and your witness.
Of course, the New Testament continues this emphasis. Jesus Himself is the best example. He said: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every person,” and He said, “Go into the highways and hedges and compel them to come in that my house may be full.” Jesus Himself showed the way. He went into every city and village preaching the gospel of the Kingdom. He placed Himself in many different circumstances. We find Him going to a wedding party. We see Him being with lepers. We see Him talking to the harlots. We see Him in the Temple. We see Him in the marketplace. We see Him at the well where the people are gathering. We see Him in the public and private places of His day. Then, when we read the book of Acts, we discover that the early Christians did the same sort of thing. Sometimes Paul preached in the marketplace. Sometimes Peter was in a private home. Sometimes they were in the streets. Sometimes they were on board a ship, and wherever they were, they were preaching and sharing. They expressed the gospel in every circumstance of their lives. Even when they were in prison, they were preaching.
Now this style of witnessing was not just intended for the Bible days. Study the history of the Christian Church since the time of Christ up to our present day. You’ll see that throughout history missionaries have gone everywhere, even into the jungles, and have given their lives in proclaiming the Gospel of Christ. You’ll read about the people who spent years in prison. You’ll read about some whose heads were cut off. Yet they obeyed the thrust of the gospel to go into all the world. It is because they have obeyed Jesus’ command that there are church buildings all over the globe. These are testimonies to the lives of personal witnesses. Very seldom was the building built first. Someone went in and shared Christ, and soon so many people were saved that they couldn’t get them together in one place without building a special structure.
In that same spirit, we need to go into all the world today with the good news of Jesus Christ. I’m going to share with you a lot of stories about how this is being done today. Some of them are funny stories, and I hope you’ll have a good time as you read them. I have more fun serving Jesus than anybody I’ve ever met. But don’t let the humor cause you to forget that witnessing is the most serious work in the world.
God bless you as you prepare yourself to go into the “highways and hedges” of your neighborhood with the saving message of Jesus.
Your servant in Christ,
PART 1: Witnessing in the Streets
God’s Power to Change Lives
God Can Save
Effective witnessing begins with a conviction that God can change a person’s life and that He wants to perform that miracle. He has the power and the desire to make your life new, to make anybody’s life new. The Bible says, “Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things are passed away, behold all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). We must realize that God is able to change anyone in an instant. In one moment, He can save a soul and make a person new. Salvation is not necessarily a process that takes weeks or months or years. It is not necessarily a process that involves one visit after another.
God is able to save anyone who comes to Him and make his life new in an instant. A person who has never heard of the Lord Jesus Christ, has never even heard the name before, can meet a witness who shares with him about Jesus and be saved through one conversation and through one prayer.
Sometimes we have to go back to see them over and over again before they give their lives to Christ. But this is not because God can’t save them in one visit. It’s because they’ve not allowed Him to do the job. However, you will not be a consistent, effective, dynamic witness for Jesus unless you allow God to fill you with His Spirit, to such a degree that you fully believe Jesus Christ can change any person right on the spot. If you don’t have that confidence, then you’ll not witness with the same effective power.
God Can Save Anyone
I remember when I first came down to Sunset Boulevard in 1967. I had a desire to try to get a lot of seminary students and pastors and strong, mature Christians to come down and witness with me. But the whole Boulevard, at that time, was full of kids who were dressed differently from the normal standard of that day. Many were loaded on drugs, freaky, spaced out. Some were loaded on downers and old Ripple wine. Soon I found that I faced a grave problem. The Christians who were coming down to witness didn’t believe that God was able to change these people. Everyone they started to witness to was loaded on either uppers or downers. Some seemed too freaky to be saved, and others were into some sort of a trip from which the Christians didn’t think they could be set free. So we had Christians who came down to witness, but I couldn’t get them convinced that God was able to save. The problem wasn’t with the lost, but with those doing the witnessing.
Then I found that we had better success with a group of laymen who didn’t have a deep basis of theological knowledge, but who did have a close walk with Jesus. We’d take them down on the street and train them and share with them how to tell people about Jesus, and they’d end up praying with people and seeing them saved. We also had good results with new converts who had lived in that scene and went back to people they’d been friendly with to tell them about the Lord. They believed that God could change lives because it had happened to them.
I have seen people, who had never been into lives of degradation, witnessing next to others who had been delivered. I have seen precious young girls talking to big old tough guys, telling them about Jesus Christ, with the absolute faith that God was going to save them. They knew Christ could change their lives. If you sent most theologians down to witness to the same people, they wouldn’t be as effective. They’d start off talking about the creation or about some issue of theology, and they’d screw their minds up worse than they’re already screwed up. But, little people start telling them about Jesus, and, in a minute, they’ve got their heads bowed and they’re praying and giving their lives to Him.
God Can Save Through Anyone
Now God will tolerate your knowledge if you’ll let it be used for His glory. But just having a lot of theological knowledge is nothing but intellectual foolishness, without the belief that Jesus is able to save all who come to Him. The Bible tells us that God has chosen the simple preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ to save those who are lost. Paul said the preaching of Christ is to some foolishness, to others it’s a stumbling block, but to those who are born again, it’s the power of God unto salvation. You must believe that God is able.
I know God is able. My dad had a serious problem with alcohol, but Jesus changed him. He became new inside and out. His vocabulary changed, his behavior changed, he began to read the Bible and pray with his family. He decided that he would never go into a bar again.
I said, “Daddy, that’s not right. We need to go back down there and witness for Jesus. You need to tell them that the Lord’s changed you, so that they can see His power to change them.” Finally, my dad gathered up our biggest family Bible, and the two of us began to witness in those same bars. He kept it up until he died years later–red hot for God.
One time I was visiting at home, and there was a new pastor at our family church. He took me aside and said to me, “Arthur, I know you go all around the world preaching, and we’re proud of you here at the church where you were saved. But, I’ll tell you, your dad shoots pool down at the pool hall in the afternoons. He’s there almost every day. Why don’t you try to talk your dad out of shooting pool down at the pool hall?” And I said, “How many people have been saved through my dad’s witness down there? My dad goes down there, and shoots pool and tells people about Jesus. He carries his Bible in there, and he witnesses for the Lord Jesus Christ while he’s shooting pool and playing dominoes.”
Now that’s not my trip, and that’s not my way of witnessing on a daily basis. I don’t know how in the world he could stand being around those little old rolling balls so much, but he did. And he was down there witnessing and leading men to Jesus Christ. He wasn’t talking like the rest of them, he wasn’t living like the rest of them, but he was leading them to Jesus. So I said to the pastor, “Leave my daddy alone. He’s in a lot better shape than he used to be. Leave him alone.”
God has the power to straighten you out and to change you. I’ve seen people for whom there seemed to be absolutely no hope, and I’ve seen God change them. I could go on for hours just telling you of people that I’ve personally talked with who were drug addicts or drug dealers or businessmen or housewives, and they have been changed by Christ. He is able to make your life new. God is in the business of changing lives everywhere. “Whosoever cometh to me,” He said, “I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37).
Seeing God Change Lives is Exciting
I am happy just to be able to tell somebody how Jesus can make them new. I get the greatest thrill out of that. I get happier when somebody is saved than I do hearing that the Dodgers won a ballgame, because all the ballgames in the world will never add up to one soul’s eternal destiny. I see people who get excited about ballgames and about everything else in the world except Jesus. But I can’t help it, what excites me is people being saved; I make no apologies about it. As a matter of fact, I pray to the Lord that I will become more excited every day.
When we baptize people at our center, we clap and praise the Lord. We ought to jump up and down and stomp when someone’s saved. When a person gets a ball over a fence, we become ecstatic. Someone kicks a ball that isn’t even round over a crossbar and we think it’s really outstanding. A guy hits a tiny, white ball with a club, and we become excited.
I come walking along the roads of the world with the cross. I may walk by a golf course, and there’s the guy standing out there with his little old pole with a knot on the end, trying to knock a ball in a hole a couple of hundred feet away. I go by carrying a cross, and he thinks I’m weird. I look at him, and I think he’s weird.
Then there are others who bat a ball across a net–bat, bat, bat. It isn’t over 50 or 75 feet, and they spend all afternoon hitting that ball back and forth. And they think they’re normal! They holler all these weird numbers like love-15. This is the truth. I was going through Florida, near Key West, and I walked by a tennis court. A group of Christians were with me. Some people were out there playing tennis. One guy hollered, “Love-15.” I hollered, “No, not love-15; love John 3:16.” I went on into town. The next morning, I was preaching at First Baptist Church of Key West, Florida. When I finished preaching, a girl rushed up. She said, “Was it you yesterday that came by the tennis court with the cross?” I said, “Yes.” She said, “My brother came home from playing tennis yesterday afternoon and told me that some guy had come by dragging a big cross and had hollered, ‘No, not love-15; love John 3:16.’ My brother said, ‘You’re a Christian; tell me what he meant.'” She told him about Jesus and prayed with him, and he gave his heart to Jesus. It doesn’t take more than a little bit sometimes.
We get people excited over balls–pool balls, ping pong balls, volleyballs, handballs, baseballs, footballs, basketballs, every imaginable kind of ball. I’m thinking about making a round Bible. If we made a round Bible, you couldn’t get down the street with it under your arm. Everybody would say, “Give me one, give me one.” You may see some guy wearing little old briefy britches, with a big number 79 on his shirt, and you think he’s out of sight. If the same guy came along with “Jesus Saves” on his T-shirt, everybody would look at him kind of funny. Right?
Some big brute may be able to run with a ball with laces and get it over a line. They try and try and try, and they hardly ever make it. If the other folks wouldn’t knock them down, they’d do it in one play. But there they are, running around all bad and grisly and mean, getting all turned on because of that funny ball and yet they think they’re okay.
Be Bold, Be Enthusiastic
You should make no apology for being excited that God is able to change a life. You should be bold about it. I have witnessed to nearly every presidential candidate that’s run in the last two presidential campaigns. As you may know, I once entered a presidential primary. I didn’t win the nomination, but I got 1 1/2% of the votes in New Hampshire and Florida. I tell you, I saw people that were excited to death. All they could think about were Muskie, McGovern, Birch Bayh, Frank Church, Brown, Carter. If you can get turned on over that bunch of politicians, you ought to be able to get excited about the Lord. I talked to them. I met them, and I didn’t see a whole lot to get excited about. With all due respect, they were still just human beings. Yet I saw people who talked constantly about their candidate, but they couldn’t even mention the name of Jesus. They went out and put handbills all over the place. They’d put a presidential candidate’s bumper sticker on their cars, but they wouldn’t think about putting on a Jesus sticker. I can’t understand the mentality of being excited about such secular things and having no excitement about the Lord. We are living and working and sharing for the one that’s able to save the world. He deserves our love. He deserves our enthusiasm. He deserves and He’s worthy of everything we’ve got.
Witnessing Is Worth the Sacrifice
I remember when I was in college. We were having compulsory chapel services, and I hated to go to them because they brought in the driest speakers they could find. One day I was sitting in the back row and I saw the speaker come in. He was an old man. I said to myself, “Oh, my, what a chapel service. If we’re going to have to sit here and listen to the program, they ought to get someone who can at least walk fast. This poor old fella can hardly stand up.” I was bored stiff just waiting for him to come on.
He was introduced, and he walked up very slowly. I looked around and saw that everybody had the same feeling I did. Then he began to speak. He didn’t speak fast and he didn’t speak loudly. But we all began to listen when he told how he was in China, how he’d been beaten, how he’d been in jail, how he had seen friends dying for the name of Jesus. My soul was stirring. He pointed his finger toward that audience and said, “God is either worthy of your best or nothing at all. He’s worth living for all the way, or He’s not even worth starting with.”
I sat there crying. I said, “Lord, forgive me, have mercy on me. Lord, I want to go with You all the way. I want to give You my life, every ounce of it, the best of it. Use me, use me.” I want to tell the world about Jesus. He wants to save everyone who comes to Him, and He can do it.
Let me give you a few simple illustrations. We had moved out on Sunset Boulevard, but we’d been evicted from our building in 1969. I had been arrested on the streets for loitering. They wouldn’t let us stand on the sidewalk. Our building had been right up above Sneaky Pete’s, a nightclub, and Big Al’s, and they wanted us out of the neighborhood because our sign (“God is Love”) was hurting business. The judge said that we were not guilty of any violation, but taken as a whole, our work was out of context with the other businesses on the block. (Praise the Lord.) We had to leave. We couldn’t stay on the streets or we’d be arrested. We couldn’t stay in the building. So we moved out. We carried our wooden cross out of the vacated building, tied a big old chain around the top and attached the chain to my wrist. I sat down at the foot of the cross and said I was going to fast and pray until Jesus came or until we got a new building. I knew that the Lord would help us do what He’d called us to do there. Eventually, it took 28 days of praying and preaching and fasting there on the sidewalk, right outside Sneaky Pete’s on Sunset Boulevard. The reason I did it at first was just to keep from being arrested. They’d been simply picking me up. Well, I knew if I was chained to a cross, they’d have to come with a fire department, blow torches, and everything else. It would cause such a sensation, because we were guilty of no crime. It wouldn’t look good. They allowed nightclubs and everything else all around, but they wouldn’t let us have a place for God.
Enthusiasm for Jesus Attracts Attention
As soon as we were out on the street, along came the news media. “Some nut chained to a cross down on Sunset Boulevard.” One of the news reporters was sent down by his editor at the Herald Examiner. His name was Bob Friedman. He was Jewish. He came down with his photographer to cover this weirdo on a cross. As I always do, I witnessed to the news reporters, and so I began talking to Bob. Well, he wasn’t really interested, but the next day he came back to do a follow-up. Then he started coming down every day. Once a week the paper would do an article telling how our sit-in was progressing, but Bob kept coming every day.
Finally, I told him, “Bob, I don’t believe the Lord is going to let me be unchained from this cross and have a new building until you get saved. The Lord wants me right here, because if I leave, you won’t be back.” I started praying hard for Bob, because I really was getting tired of being on that cross. On the 27th day, Bob came and I started talking to him. I said, “Bob, give your life to Jesus.” He listened to everything. We’d been through the Old Testament, the New Testament, everything. I just kept talking to him about Jesus, just Jesus, and the Spirit of God was working. Finally, I reached out my hand and said, “Bob, take my hand, let me pray with you right now, give your life to Jesus.” I started praying, and then he prayed. He gave his life to Jesus Christ and got up a new man, saved, changed. He was still Jewish, in fact he was more Jewish than he had ever been. He knew the Messiah, because he had accepted Him as his Savior and Lord. You may have read Bob’s little book, “What’s a Good Jewish Boy Like This Doing in First Baptist Church?” He has since written other books, and he’s now in Hollywood still living for Jesus. Christ is able to change and save.
God’s Power to Save Is Worldwide
I have seen God change lives all over the world. I’ve seen people who have received Jesus and immediately gone out and destroyed the idols they had been worshiping. I’ve seen people who have given their lives to Jesus Christ and have immediately gone back to their houses and brought out all the things they’d been into–Satan-worship, black magic, etc.–and burned and destroyed them. I’ve seen millionaires who have been convicted by the Spirit of God and repented, then have given their hearts to Jesus and been saved. I’ve seen children born again, just as I was. I needed to be saved as a 7-year old boy as much as Hitler did. It doesn’t take any more of the grace of God to save the worst murderer in the country than it does to save the smallest child. We all have the same need to be saved.
God is able to save and to change and to make life new. And I trust that everyone who is reading this book has found this out for himself. If you believe what God is able to do, then act on it; you will live differently. You’ll witness where normally you wouldn’t have witnessed. There’ll be no prejudice that tells you some guy is too far gone.
Is There Anyone Who Can’t Be Saved
There may be (and from the scripture I find indication that there are) some people who cannot be saved but the impossibility is on their side, not God’s. They’ve hardened their hearts, they’ve resisted the call of the Holy Spirit of God, and they just won’t listen to His voice any more. They could be saved if they’d listen, but they won’t. But, only God knows who these people are. You don’t and I don’t. So don’t ever say, “That guy’s too hard. I’m not going to witness to him,” or, “This person is too far gone, I won’t witness to him.” The only one who can judge is God, and He won’t mind you witnessing if that person isn’t going to be saved anyway. He wants you to tell the story. Don’t prejudge people. Don’t play God and say they can’t be changed. Believe and carry out the commission of Christ.
Looking for God’s Potential in Every Lost Person
If you let God fill you with that excitement, you will look at every person you meet in the way they can be, not the way they are. Every man is a prospective preacher. Every woman is a prospective witness for Jesus. My dad told me some things when I left home to go out preaching. He looked at me and he said, “Son, I want you to go now. God’s called you, and I know you won’t be living at home. But as you go into the world, I want you to look at every woman as though she was your mother, and treat her that way. I want you to look at every man, whether he is the President or a drunk in the gutter, as though he were your dad. I want you to look at every girl, no matter what her condition, as though she were your sister. And then, by the grace of God, you will never mistreat anybody, and God will use you.”
So begin your witnessing to every individual with the strong faith that God can and wants to make him, or her, a unique and a beautiful person. That’s what the miracle of salvation is all about
It Can Happen in the Streets
The motivation for our witnessing is expressed in Psalm 40:8-10 and Psalm 244:12-13. In the first passage the field in which we should witness is described as “the great congregation,” that is, the whole world. In the second passage we are told to witness “in our streets,” right out where we rub shoulders with the lost people of our particular community. I have always taken this literally and put most of my effort into street witnessing.
Street Corner Pulpits
There are a number of different aspects of street evangelism, and I want to cover these in a somewhat systematic order. I will start with what we usually think about first when we hear of street witnessing. Most of us think of it in terms of standing on the sidewalk and preaching. Now, as a matter of practice I do very little of that on a day-by-day basis. Given an equal choice, I would rather talk with an individual, or with five individuals, about Jesus Christ than to preach to them. The only time I want to preach — you know, stand back and proclaim the Word — is when there are so many people that I can’t get to them on a one-to-one basis. I find that I can lead people to Christ much faster and much more effectively by sharing with them as individuals. So that is the normal practice of my life. If I’ve got ten people with me and we can talk to a whole block person to person, then I’d rather not preach to the whole block, but get to them individually instead.
Now, I’ve found that some people are only comfortable preaching. They’ve got boldness, but they don’t like to talk to people one-on-one. They’re not afraid of crowds, but they’re afraid of one person. They don’t want to relate on a human basis with someone they’re dealing with. So they stand back and preach at them, rather than talk to them. This involves a lot of enthusiasm and zeal, but there is no real relationship to people.
Now, there are exceptions to all of this. There may even be times you decide to preach on an empty street to draw a crowd. Sometimes there have been places I’ve just stood and preached to a crowd of people jammed up at a red light for about 2 or 3 minutes before they cross to the other side. Hundreds of them may be jammed there, and sometimes I’ll feel that I want to stand there and preach. One of the key things in street preaching is the attitude of the person preaching. I’ve seen some people preaching in such a belligerent way that everybody around wants to punch them and spit on them. But I’ve seen others preach in a way that causes people to be interested. They’ve got something to say that’s attractive, and the people want to hear it. Street preaching will really prove whether what you’re saying is worthwhile or not. You can preach in a church and have the sorriest sermon anyone ever heard but they’re not going to get up and walk out on you. They may not come back the next Sunday, but they’re just too polite to make a scene. But if you start to preach on a street and don’t have anything worth saying, you’re not going to have a crowd. If you’ve got something really attractive to say, you’ll draw a crowd.
If they’re not attracted to what you’re saying, it may be their fault or it may be yours. Whatever the reason, change tactics immediately. Don’t worry about it. Just change tactics. Talk to them individually. The atmosphere varies from town to town and from daylight to dark. It varies depending on which street corner you’re on. So if one thing you’re doing isn’t reaching the people effectively, don’t have a hurt ego about it. Just praise the Lord. Calm down, and start talking to people one-on-one. Or, maybe you should try singing or something else.
I’ve preached on the streets all over the world. We started our ministry in New York in 1971 with a blitz on Times Square for three months. The police gave us permission to use Duffy Square, a little area right in the middle of Times Square. Billy Graham had to call and arrange it because they wouldn’t give it to me personally. We were going to have rallies there every night just from among the thousands milling around. So I stood on the corner and started preaching, but New York passed right on by. They didn’t listen to a thing I had to say. The only time there was a crowd was when the light was red. Once in a while one or two would listen for a minute and then move on. We had come all the way from California and brought half of our team to do that witnessing. There was a singing group with us, The Crimson Bridge. They had been singing all over the country, and they came down to sing in the heart of New York. But in New York there were so many weird happenings that they didn’t even notice the group was singing. The people would just kind of look around and meander on. It was bad. All around us were crowds of people, but right there on that little square was an empty spot.
Finally we sat down and prayed. This was on the second night that we had been out there. We sat down in a circle under the sky and joined hands and began to pray. We just prayed and prayed for the Lord to show us what to do. We knew the people were interested, because we were talking to them on the street, but we weren’t drawing them. As we sat there praying and holding hands in our little circle, about ten of us, we began to get the feeling that there were people around us. I kind of peeked, and there they were, all around us two or three deep. They were really curious. You know, if somebody’s dying on the sidewalk that’ll draw a crowd. If somebody’s having trouble, they’ll gather around. We were sitting down holding hands, and they’d never seen anything like that.
Here was our crowd, looking and listening to what we had to say. My mind was blown. We weren’t preaching to them. We just had something really wonderful that we were sharing among ourselves, and they wanted to get in on it. Then I looked up, and I said, “Just a minute. Everybody quit praying.” And I said, “Let me tell you what’s happening.” And I started sharing a little about Jesus Christ, explaining the gospel message while we were still sitting down. I asked those that wanted to give their lives to Jesus to raise their hands so that one of us in the circle could come and talk to them. A number of people raised their hands. We went over, dealt with them and prayed with them.
Do you know that for three months we had that whole square packed for two to three services a night. There was no room to stand on that corner. Each night we’d come down around ten, and we’d sit down in our circle and we’d join hands and pray, and then the crowd would come. We had them sitting down too, then we’d start singing. We didn’t even care whether New York was there. We were having a good time, and that’s what was attractive. And then we’d have different ones testify, and I’d bring a short message. I couldn’t preach long, because they’d only be there five minutes or so. I would give an invitation and ask the people to come up, or, if they were at the back, to raise their hands. Our workers would go back and pray with them. We’d dismiss for about 20 minutes, and then do it over again. But in order to draw the crowd we’d always have to start sitting down. If we were standing up, the crowd would scatter away.
They’d seen people standing around preaching many times before. I’ve never used that exact strategy any place else in the world, but it worked there.
Make the Method Fit the Place
At Hollywood Boulevard and Western a different approach has worked. We witness and share with heavy drunks and people who are really into drugs. We sit down at a little El Taco place and we start singing. We take request numbers from the drunks. We say, “What would you like us to sing. Would you like us to sing a gospel song? What do you know, what song?” And they ask for “The Old Rugged Cross” or some other old favorite. This draws people from a block away. Then, when we stop singing each of us turns to someone and starts talking. Before long we’re all talking to people. You have to adapt to every situation, every circumstance.
In most countries it is impossible to give out tracts, not because of the law, but because the crowds will mob you. It’s unsafe. You cannot just walk out on a street in Lagos, Nigeria, and give out tracts, because within three minutes there will be hundreds of people around you, and you’ll be on the floor with people trying to grab the tracts out of your hand. I’ve had people working with me who started to give out stickers from a roll. But the crowd was pushing and grabbing so much that they finally had to throw the roll in the air in the opposite direction and let the people run and fight. They want literature. It’s a different scene.
I don’t get hooked on numbers and statistics reports, but overseas I’ve preached to thousands of people every day. Sometimes the missionary says, “There are 20,000 people out here,” or “It looks like a crowd of 75,000.” I am faced with a sea of people for one or two blocks. They’re jammed together, eager to hear. There is no way to counsel them, no way to deal with them personally. In situations like that I do street preaching all the time, day after day, hour after hour. I walk into any town, and the crowds gather around and I start talking.
But most of us don’t have that problem. We’re dealing with America where people don’t gather so quickly. One of the most effective places for street preaching in small towns is the central shopping area where the kids are hanging out. There may be an ice cream stand or a little drive-in where teenagers go to party. If you can find an adjoining building where you can put up a loud speaker (with permission) you can have a brief bit of good music. All the teen-age beer drinkers will come over and you can share the message of Jesus Christ and do some good personal witnessing. I find it’s always better to have people working the edge of the crowd, rather than just depending on the music and the preaching to draw them. They should always work the back, because that’s where people hang around when they’re beginning to get interested. You can cover the teenagers from 30 miles around such a small town, and they’ll keep coming back.
In other situations, you might use what I call saturation witnessing. That is where you cover a whole street with personal witnessing. Right at the focal point of a town or city–where the action is–assign one or two Christians to each street corner for several blocks. Then everybody who comes by there runs into someone who lovingly shares Jesus Christ with him. On this way down the block, he is hit over and over again, first on this corner, then on that corner. Some nights you can’t even move on Hollywood Boulevard because of the crowds. When we do saturation witnessing there, Christians find they are approached by other Christians over and over again. Nobody minds. They just encourage each other.
One morning about three o’clock, I went into an old, dingy kind of hotel down on Western, walked in and turned to a big, tall guy who was standing there and gave him a gospel sticker. I asked, “Are you saved?” He said, “I already got one of those. I got saved tonight.” I asked, “What do you mean, got saved?” He said, “I got saved on Hollywood Boulevard about midnight. Some girl came up to me and told me about Jesus, and I asked Him to come into my heart. I got saved.” He just kept repeating those words.
Hitting an area on a regular, consistent basis is one of the keys to reaching that neighborhood for Christ. People get to know that every Saturday afternoon you’re going to be out there on the street. It’ll begin to haunt them. Every time they come into town they’ll think, “There are those Christians again. They’ve witnessed to me every time I’ve come by. How do I go around the block?” If you’re there every Saturday, you’ll make your town aware of the witness of Jesus. If you come only once in a while, they will dismiss you. It’s consistency that makes street ministry effective. A lot of people get excited, and they’re ready to go hot and heavy for three months. But then they taper off and don’t show up any more. You can be a mighty witness just by being consistent day by day, moment by moment, hour by hour. If you keep sharing Christ, sooner or later you’ll be winning people to Jesus. One day you may not pray with anybody, and then the next day you may pray with ten. You may go for six hours on the streets and find hardly anybody willing to talk to you, and then in the last hour people will be standing all around you.
Your consistency in doing what God’s told you to do will ultimately bring results. Someone else may be a better preacher, or a better singer, or a more effective personal witness. But if God tells you to do something, do it. If God tells you this church is your parish, then you pastor this church. Don’t run around preaching all over the world. Stay in your community. If God burdens you for a certain street in a certain city, this is your place. Cancel everything else and do that job. Since the Lord has called me to carry the cross and to walk with it during a period of time, there’s nothing else I’d do. When God said go to Washington, D.C., we set out on foot and made it. If somebody asked me to preach over here, to do this, to do that, I said, “No, God called me to do what I’m doing. I know what God’s leading me to do now. I’m sorry, my mind’s fixed on what I’m called to do.” If you don’t discipline yourself in this way, then you’ll run over here and do this, you’ll run over there and do that, and in the end you’ll accomplish nothing.
Christians Can Destroy Your Ministry
As soon as you begin to be effective, you have to be careful that the demands of Christians don’t destroy your ministry. The problem will not be with the lost, but with the Christians. They will destroy your street ministry more effectively than the devil can. Here’s how this works. As long as you’re unknown and anonymous, you can minister. But if you make it in the local town paper, or if the word spreads among Christians that your ministry is really working, then every Christian in the area wants to talk to you, and every preacher in town wants you to come to his church because you’ll draw a little crowd. From then on, you’ll be going everywhere telling people what you did instead of doing it. You’ll be actually doing nothing. You’ll be a has-been reminiscing about past victories. Your street will dry up and your ministry will wither away. The world is full of has-been overnight sensations for God.
I remember what I was told years ago by Dr. Wayne Dehone, who was twice president of the Southern Baptist Convention. I was working on the Strip and some good things had happened. We’d been on television across the country. I responded to an invitation to go to Louisville. I was supposed to preach for three days in a local church but things exploded and we moved to the city auditorium. Finally we held a meeting in Freedom Hall with over 20,000 young people in attendance. After that series, I was inundated with requests from city after city to hold crusades. They wanted the same thing to happen in their city that had happened in Louisville. But Wayne said, “Arthur, let me warn you. You can go and preach at all these city-wide crusades. But what is God calling you to do? That’s what you should be doing. If you let them, the Christians will destroy you. Preachers like me will ruin your ministry. We’ll book you up seven days a week, and then, once you’ve made the circuit and everybody’s heard you and you haven’t done anything for a year, they won’t want you back. It’ll all be over. People will say, ‘There was a guy out in Hollywood years ago. I remember that something happened out there.’ Just be faithful in doing what God has called you to do. And all your life you’ll have more places to preach than you can handle.”
I’ve got to do what God’s called me to do with all my heart, soul, strength and mind, and you should do what God has led you to do, consistently, day by day, year by year. There’s no limit to what God will do with you if you are faithful to His call. But if you flit around from one thing to another you’ll accomplish nothing.
Sensationalism: Good PR or Just a Gimmick?
Another pitfall that comes with success in your ministry is the tendency to emphasize sensational things. This is very hard to talk about because I do many things that are looked upon as sensational. Other people try to do the same kinds of things and hope that they will get the same results. They think, “If I can use some kind of gimmick, I’ll reach the city instantly.” And if we don’t watch it, some of us get addicted to the sensational. We sit around and think about what will draw the news media, what we can do that will get publicity. Once you start thinking that way, you’re on the wrong track. Instead you should think about what needs to be done and do it. If you do it well enough and long enough, God may cause some publicity to come your way. It will come because you are consistently effective. Otherwise, it will just be a gimmick.
Some people have heard the story about our battle on Sunset Boulevard when I chained myself to a cross. They fail to understand the conflict we were in, the arrest we’d gone through, the closing down of our building. They do not understand the necessity we faced of having to do something vital to keep from being driven out. This was a once-in-a-lifetime situation. But they get to thinking, “Well, if I chain myself to a cross, that’s all I need to do and I’ll have the gospel preached all over the world.” They are surprised to discover that all the news media are turned off to them. What was a dramatic witness for us has turned into a gimmick for them.
You May Get More Publicity Than You’ve Bargained For
If you’re effective, the attention may come. But then again, it may not. Don’t worry about it, because some of the greatest ministries in the world are unknown. I don’t understand why it is that God chose to put me in the news media, but He did. He spoke to me one night in Tempe, Arizona, while I was walking down the street in the middle of the night praying. God burdened me so heavily that I laid down on the sidewalk and cried. God said, “I’m going to put you in the newspapers and on television, and I want you to witness to every man or woman who interviews you. You’ll be my spokesman. I’ve called you to speak to the secular media of the world. The secular media, not the Christian Media. You will preach for free to the world. Don’t buy the time; go free.” I couldn’t conceive of the possibility that this would become a reality.
But, the next night I was preaching at Scottsdale Road Baptist Church, and after the service I got together a group of young people. We went down to a nightclub called the Fifth Estate with a big coffin we had made. We put it in front of the Fifth Estate, near the university, and we made God is Dead signs. When the club let out at 11:00 P.M., we were chanting “God is Dead.” Then we put those signs down and put up others that said “Hallelujah He’s Alive.” We took off the banner on the coffin that said “God is Dead” and under it was one that said “Jesus is Alive.” A crowd of about 1000 people had come out of the club and were gathered around. They really got upset. They pounced on that truck and tore the coffin up. It was made out of 2 x 2s. I’ve learned since then not to make anything out of wood because they ripped those
2 x 2s apart, knocked me down and worked me over. The police dashed up and pulled people off me. They called a tactical alert and had to bring in the Phoenix police. The girls from our group, about 15 of them, crawled up on the truck and stood around me so that the bottles the crowd threw would hit them rather than me. At this point, the news reporters came, and the next day I was in the Phoenix newspaper and on all the television stations. I had never been on T.V. before. You see, God did what He said He would. He used a riot to do it.
The next time I preached was in San Bernardino, California, at a nightclub. When I was in Phoenix, a reporter from the L.A. Times had asked, “Are you going to do this again?” I said, “Yeah, I’m going to be preaching at a nightclub in San Bernardino.” Normally, an L.A. newspaper wouldn’t care about San Bernardino, but the L.A. Times was there because they thought another riot might break out. Then Joe Pine, who had a popular television program in L.A., saw this old freako preacher who worked in nightclubs. He sounded like he would make a good guest. And things just went on and on. But it was God who did it. I didn’t decide to pull a stunt to get news coverage started. God said, “I want it to be done.” And, it was done.
Your Attitude Can Make the Difference
The most important aspect of street witnessing is talking person to person. You need to have a good attitude if you are going to convey the message of Christ on the street. You’ve got to have a sense of humor. If you can’t laugh, you won’t survive long. They’ll get to you and destroy you. If someone is acting or talking in a crazy way, laugh at him. If you feel it’s funny, laugh. You’ll find that if you laugh, they’ll laugh, and you’ll be able to punch in the gospel in that relaxed atmosphere.
One night I came around a corner laughing. People came up and asked what I was laughing about. I said, “A guy three floors up looked out his apartment window in the middle of the night, and I yelled up to him and lead him to Jesus. Now I’ve got a crick in my neck, and I think that’s funny.” I think that’s the most beautiful thing. I wasn’t laughing at him but it was a funny scene being out on the sidewalk sharing the way of salvation with a guy three floors up, and saving him. I stuck the follow-up booklet and a tract and a card in the bushes so that he could come down later on and get his follow-up material.
You’ve got to be able to laugh. If someone is putting you down verbally, and you just ease off with a little humor, the whole atmosphere may change. You’re hurting, but you grin. Anyway, that may break down a guy’s defenses.
A good, happy, peaceful, tranquil attitude can change the mood in a whole area. If you’re there regularly enough, you’ll change it. You’ll be putting out good feelings, you’ll be pouring love all over the place, and the people will be attracted to it. This kind of love attracts people on a person-to-person basis.
Keep Track of Your Group in the Streets
One of the values of using tracts and stickers is that there is a way for people in the group to remember that you’re all connected together. It is very important when you’re taking a group out to outline where they’re going and to keep them in that identifiable area. If you have a group of young people, and you load them up with tracts and turn them out on the streets but you don’t tell them where to go, they will wander around town and get lost. Pretty soon it will be 11:00 or midnight and you won’t know where to find them. Parents will start calling and you’ll be driving all over town. Before long there won’t be any Christian groups coming around because everybody’s always getting lost.
When you take a group out, divide them up under strong leaders. Then give them directions, preferably to a very open area, and let them start witnessing. Set an hour when they will come together again. Make sure they meet there, even if they’ve got to interrupt a conversation or bring the person they’re talking to along. They must be back on time or you won’t be able to maintain a consistent outreach program. Your long-range success depends on this. If you train people well then they’ll function well. If you don’t then you’ll create all kinds of problems for the future.
Christians Go to the Strangest Places
The average person that you’re training probably shouldn’t go into places like bars and clubs. They don’t need to work the dark alleys or the back streets. But you do. If you are committed to this kind of ministry, you need to be willing to go to anybody, anywhere, anytime. I once jokingly said that I wanted to be a street sweeper for Jesus and that’s not far from the truth. If you look down a dark alley and see a bunch of hoods, you’d better make a dash right down that alley and talk to them about Jesus Christ. Keep your Bible out so they’ll know who you are and what you’re doing. If you’re not committed to go into the worst and toughest places, then you won’t be really free to witness anywhere in street ministries. I’ve come to the place where I do this: if there’s a place in town people warn me about–“Boy, don’t go there, they’ll kill you”–that’s the first place I go. I want to start with the worst and then it’s easy from there on. If anybody ever says, “If you come back down here tomorrow night, we’re going to kill you,” then you can be sure I’ll be there tomorrow night, because if I don’t I’ll let fear win. Then I’ll start out, and I’ll see that street every night and I’ll be afraid. In time fear will run me off the streets. If you let yourself be intimidated once, it will sooner or later destroy you. It’s the same when I carry the cross. If somebody says, “Don’t go through this town; don’t go through this country,” that’s where I’m going to go. I won’t walk around that town, but right through it, and then I never have to worry about it. I’m not dealing with fear; I’m dealing with obedience to God’s call.
For those who are called into street ministries, the greatest enjoyment and freedom come when you walk out on the street spontaneously, unstructured by time or commitments. You may be out there at seven in the evening, not worried about anything, when some people come up and say, “Hey, why don’t you come to our party?” You say, “Well, I’m a preacher,” and they say, “Come to the party anyway. There are about 50 of us getting together right over here at this house.” What an opportunity! If I get an opening like that, I go.
Or sometimes–especially in foreign countries–a guy may come up and say, “Hey, you want to meet some nice girls, beautiful girls?” I say, “Yeah, yeah.” “Look, we’ve got a house of prostitution right down the street here.” “Great, let’s go.” I don’t witness on the way though. I’ve got my Bible in my hand. I want to get into the house before I start witnessing. And when I get there, they’ll bring out a girl and say, “Do you like her?” I say, “Well, have you got any more? More? Is this all of them? Bring them all in, and let me look them over.” And they bring them all in and line them up. I say, “How many of you know English?” They think I want a girl who speaks English. Maybe half of them will raise their hands. I say, “I want all of you to give your hearts to Jesus. Jesus died for your sins.” I’m absolutely alone, but that doesn’t matter. I’ll witness and share and trust God to take care of me.
If I arrive in a strange city and I’m just going to be there one or two nights, I may go down to a corner and just stand around. I don’t know what it is, but people are always offering me dope and stuff like that. I must look like a sinner or something. I just ease around and ask some guy, “Hey there, what’s happening in town?” He says, “Are you just new here?” I say, “Yeah, just got in today and I leave in two days. Where’s the action?” And he tells me, “You can get dope down at so and so’s, if you want chicks, stay down here, and so forth. After a little bit of conversation I say, “Hey, I’m a preacher, and I want to share with you about Jesus.” He asks, “Why did you want all that information?” I tell him, “Because I want to go where the sin is.” Sometimes a guy like this will say, “There’s a real heavy spot in town, but you’ve got to know somebody to get in.” I say, “Well, can you get me in?” “Yeah, yeah, I can get you in.” And we go to that place, and I pull out my Bible and go to work.
You Can’t Let Gender Scare You Off
Working with the opposite gender presents problems for some people. I often like to work a bar at night, and I may have been witnessing to a waitress when closing time comes. Finally, I ease up and say, “Listen, it’s about closing time. Can I buy you breakfast?” To me, gender doesn’t enter into it. It doesn’t matter whether I’m talking to a guy or a girl. I couldn’t care less whether the person is a movie star or a drunk. You have to operate differently if you’re a pastor always working in the same community. You can’t go over and stay all night with one of the church members when her husband’s gone. You’re in a different circumstance. But when you’re on the street, you’ve got to forget about how things work in other places and minister to the people you’re working with. The daughter of the Dean of Theology at one of the most outstanding universities in this country was working on Sunset as a nightclub dancer. Long before I knew who she was, I was leading her in Bible studies in her backstage room between acts. Finally, she got right with God. When I preached at a Hell’s Angels funeral, she sang “Amazing Grace.” She finally called her dad and told him what had happened, and he flew out to pick her up. He didn’t want to come down to Hollywood where she had been working. She said, “No, you come down here, Dad; I’m not going home until you come down and spend one night with Arthur Blessitt.” And, he came down. He told me, “I don’t believe in going into all these places. I don’t believe it’s the right thing; you shouldn’t subject yourself to this kind of temptation.” I asked him, “Where was your daughter reached? It’s hard to tell it to you, but she didn’t have her clothes on, dancing right here in this club. And I sat backstage with her while she wore only her little see-through shawl, teaching her the Bible between dances, night after night after night.” I wanted him to see the scum of this world and become involved in doing something about it. He’s totally different now. The girl’s in full-time Christian work today. But if I hadn’t gone into that club she wouldn’t have been reached.
When you’re involved in an outreach ministry, there are a lot of times when you jeopardize your reputation. You can’t prove what you didn’t do. But if you get worried about it, then you can’t be an effective street minister. In time, it will destroy you. Soon, you won’t be able to relate, because you’ve got to work with the people that are ready, wherever they are. Sometimes they don’t want anybody else involved. You’ve got to be able to talk to them yourself alone.
Now, there are a lot of Christian women that I wouldn’t drive three blocks with, because they worry me. You have to sense whether you ought to be alone with a particular person or not. But I wouldn’t hesitate to drive to Las Vegas with the biggest madam in Nevada if I have a clear conscience and I’m trying to witness to her or her kids or the girls who work for her. This is a personal decision everyone has to make for himself, but that’s how I operate in my life. Billy Graham has a different situation. I’ve been with him several times. There are always people around him. They’ve got to watch over him because some girl may start saying, “I spent the night with Billy Graham.” They’ve got to be able to prove he didn’t spend the night with her, keep down the rumors. But when you’re involved in a street ministry, you can’t protect yourself from rumors, you can’t cover the corners. You’ve either got to accept the risk, or you can’t go out there and minister.
Can You Keep a Secret?
Of course, when you’re talking with people on the street, you hear a lot about the details of their lives, and you’ve got to learn to keep confidences. If somebody tells you something, don’t go around repeating it. You might say, “Hey, I prayed with so and so,” or maybe, “I was witnessing to so and so,” but unless it is vital to the intimate group you’re working with, don’t betray their confidence.
Don’t tell a bunch of friends, “I witnessed to so and so and she’s pregnant.” She’s pregnant out of wedlock, and you have started spreading the thing around. Then someone tells her, “Oh, I hear you’re pregnant.” Of course, the girl’s hurt because you have no business repeating the personal things in people’s lives.
If you run off at the mouth, you’re not going to have many friends coming to you with their needs. They just can’t have confidence in you. One of your best assets in any kind of ministry is the fact that people feel they can come to you and trust you. They may share the biggest scandal you’ve ever heard of, but let God straighten it out. Even if it’s not made right, keep it all to yourself.
When You’re Asked for a Handout
When you’re on the streets, you’re constantly faced with problems about money. Shall I give him a dollar? What about a place to stay? How about taking him home with me? These are some of the greatest agonies that I face in my life, and I don’t know the answer to them all. But if I see somebody hungry, and I’ve got one penny in my pocket, I have to feed him. If you don’t have bread at home, you can fast for 40 days. So don’t worry about it if you’ve got to skip a meal or two or three or four. But if you’ve got the money in your pocket, and somebody’s hungry, feed him.
That doesn’t mean you should give him cash. God will have to lead me specifically for me to give someone cash, but I don’t have to feel a specific leading to know I should feed a person. I may not be able to give him a T-bone steak, but if he’s hungry, I’ll buy him a hamburger or something. I generally won’t buy a person a cup of coffee. If he’s hungry and wants a cup of coffee, I say, “You need something more enriching than coffee; I’ll buy you a glass of milk.” If all they need is coffee, they’re not really hungry. But if they’re hungry, feed them.
Then, what about a place to stay? The streets are very cruel. We always find more people who need a place to stay than we have room for. There are so many in Hollywood who need a place to stay, and we just don’t have the facilities. We have to tell them that. We did have a halfway house for those who had been converted and wanted to spend a month for follow up, but if that wasn’t their commitment, we couldn’t provide overnight lodging. I don’t know any place in the Hollywood area where a person can just walk in and spend the night. It’s a great temptation to take them all home. Many years ago, I used to take them all home. We had people sleeping body to body. But in my present ministry, that’s impossible. If you feel that God is leading you, there can be a tremendous ministry in taking people into your home and helping them right there in your own house. But this has to be done with careful discipline. You’ve got to make them get up and do some chores. And then send them out; don’t let them hang around your house all day. Make them go out and look for a job or put them to work at your place, but don’t just let them be lazy at your expense. That wouldn’t be helping them.
It’s a Jungle Out There
The possibility of violence is always with you when you’re working on the street. You will seldom be attacked for witnessing if you use your head and are sensitive to the other person. If you realize that someone is getting uptight and mad, pleasantly say, “God bless you,” and leave. And if they want to follow you along just keep saying, while walking, “God bless you,” until you’re out of the way.
Now, I do get into trouble. I can’t help it; it’s just me. I’m not recommending you do this, but if I’m on the street, and I see someone being beaten up, I get involved. I try to stop it. And I’m still alive. I may be killed doing that someday, but it’s what I personally have to do. You don’t have to take the same approach. I cannot pass by an auto wreck without stopping. I cannot see someone pounding another person to death and not go over, stand in-between them with my Bible and try to stop them. If you follow my approach, you’d better be sensitive and alert. Watch to see if somebody’s got a chain or a knife. Make sure that you aren’t mistaken for the enemy on one side or the other. Identify yourself. Say, “I’m a preacher.” Even if you’re not ordained, say it anyway. They can understand that. Then they won’t think you’re taking the other guy’s side. “I’m a preacher, I’m a preacher. C’mon, let’s cool it. C’mon, c’mon get off the guy.” But keep your Bible right out there so that everybody remembers that you are a preacher. Keep saying it, and then start sharing Jesus. If you don’t, you may wind up dead, because these rumbles are bad.
If someone attacks you and you can’t avoid it, then I recommend you get down on your knees and start praying. In that position your head and most other vital parts are protected. The only things that are vulnerable are your back and your kidneys, but most people won’t attack you from the rear. They keep trying to kick you in the face, but with your head down and your hands over your temples and ears, you’re protected pretty well. Keep your Bible between your legs. Then there’s hardly any way they can get to you unless they really want to do you in, and then they’re going to do it anyway.
In most situations, they’ll kick for a while and then they’ll quit. Hardly anyone wants to kill a person who won’t fight, because it’s hard to go around to your friends and brag, “I beat the tar out of that preacher.” “Well, what was he doing?” “Kind of just laying there.” That doesn’t do anything for a guy’s ego. When I’m in this kind of violent situation, I pray out loud and the harder they come, the louder I pray. But it doesn’t come to that point often, because they usually back off earlier. Keep your head and you’ll make the right choice for every situation. One time some guys pulled a knife on me and were going to cut my throat. I said, “God’s in me, and the devil’s in you. The God in me’s bigger than the devil in you.” But they kept coming, and in my mind I thought they were really going to do me in. I don’t know whether they would have or not. All of a sudden, I took the two men by the shoulder, stepped between them, and I said, “Jesus loves you.” Then I ran as fast as I could. That is the only time I have ever run in my life, but I thought it was the right thing for that situation. They were so out of it that it was time for me to move and that’s what I did–fast.
Is the Law Your Friend or Enemy?
If you’re going to work on the street, you need to consider what the law is as it relates to street witnessing. It is important as a practice to obey the law, to do whatever the police say. But having said that, I must also tell you that in many places the law is enforced wrongly. Also, sometimes the local laws are unconstitutional. Therefore, if you’re beginning a permanent ministry, it may be necessary to file some kind of legal suit. You may even have to be arrested.
Let me give you an example. I was invited by the ministers in Daytona Beach, Florida, to come down for the week of the motorcycle races. We had arranged for the band shell, even though the city of Daytona Beach has an ordinance against our kind of public religious meetings. They require you to have a permit to pass out materials. Then if a group like ours comes in, they use this ordinance to run them out of town. There was no question in our minds that the law was unconstitutional, so we ignored it. We had churches and other groups involved, so we decided to make a stand as a matter of principle. We invited the police to come to one of our sessions, and the captain got up and told us that we would be arrested for giving out the material because of this ordinance. We said, “Well, you’d better be ready. We’re all going to start passing out material at 3:00 this afternoon, all these pastors and everybody else. You’d better have all your squad cars handy.” The preachers had some lawyers who were ready to go to court. We felt we couldn’t concede their control over the passing out of tracts. It would have been overruled in court instantly. Now, when the police realized we were actually going to do it, they backed off. They refused to enforce the ordinance for a week, so that it would still be on the books. They decided to let us get away with it because of our size and power, but the next little old lonely Christian that came out and started passing out tracts would be run out of town.
So if you’re going to establish a continuing street ministry, you need to be aware of what the laws say and what your rights and liberties are. As a general practice, obey and cooperate with the police, but many times they’re wrong and need to be confronted. We have loitering laws and disturbing the peace laws that have been passed by local governments and are vague and unconstitutional. Then police officers are given liberty to stretch the law and misuse it to deny people their rights. When that is happening, you initially need to back off until you get the thing straight and clear.
Don’t ever be arrested for something that is against a constitutional law and can lead to a conviction. For instance, when you’re in a shopping center, you have to leave if you’re asked. That’s private property. Don’t block a business doorway. If you are witnessing, stay away from the door, stand at a good reasonable distance. You can reach everyone going and coming even if you are at a fairly reasonable distance and then they can’t say that you’re blocking their business. We wouldn’t want people blocking the entrance to our church, and we should be considerate of these businessmen.
Sometimes a street minister will have a confrontation with a certain police officer, and the thing becomes a continuing feud. There are good police officers and there are sometimes bad ones just as there are good preachers and bad ones. But don’t ever start a running war of hatred with an unreasonable policeman. Don’t ever let it become personal with the guy.
If you are taken to court, remember that you have a right to a lawyer. It’s a guarantee of our Constitution. They must assign you legal counsel if you can’t afford your own. He’s called the Public Defender. I have found that in almost every case, the Public Defender is really on the side of the person being prosecuted. Although he is provided by the government, he is not defending the government. He is a regularly trained attorney and his legal mind is just as good as those of other lawyers. However, many of them are overloaded with a hard case load. So they may not have enough time to give your case the best treatment. The American Civil Liberties Union may seem like a dirty word to a lot of Christians, but let me tell you, they will defend you if it involves a constitutional matter. They’ve taken cases for me in the past when they have involved constitutional issues. Hardly any of them are Christians, abut they are wonderful, totally committed, dedicated. I can’t say enough for the lawyers that I’ve been involved with in the ACLU. But you have to begin by presenting your case to the ACLU and proving to them that it involves constitutional matters. It’s true they fight for keeping prayer out of schools, but they’ll also fight for your right to speak on the street.
If You Have Knowledge of a Crime
When you’re working in the streets, you may come upon knowledge about crimes and not know what to do about it. To me, this is a very tricky subject. I draw a fine line in my life. If someone is being beaten up, or if I see a bank robbery in progress, or something like that, as an individual citizen, I don’t hesitate to call the police. If a public crime is taking place, it needs to be stopped. I would feel free to call the police because I don’t want innocent people to be hurt.
On the other hand, if I’m talking with somebody and he says, “I need help,” and then he opens up to me and tells me that he’s robbed a bank or killed somebody or that he’s wanted by the F.B.I., that’s a different situation. This has been told in the context of a counseling situation. As a rule, I do not turn people in when they have confided in me. It would totally close the opportunities of reaching street people. I view it as a minister, a counselor; I am like a priest taking confession. Now, I always try to get such a person to go back and face his problem. My counsel is always that they turn themselves in. I have taken many people that I’ve prayed with, shared with, dealt with and I’ve gone with them to the police station while they’ve turned themselves in. But I don’t turn them in.
I remember one guy who came into my building on Sunset Boulevard one night. He listened to the message and then he called me upstairs to the prayer room and said, “I’ve got to talk. Are you for real?” I said, “I’m for real.” He said, “Are you really?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “I’ll tell you, I’ll kill you if you betray my confidence. Someday I’ll get out of jail, and I’ll hunt you down and kill you, but I’ve got to talk.” I said, “Don’t worry about it, brother; talk to me.” And we talked and shared, hour after hour. I prayed with him. He was wanted for all sorts of things. But he gave his life to Jesus Christ. He asked, “What do I do now?” I counseled with him and he decided to turn himself in. We went down to the West Hollywood sheriff’s station, where he tried to surrender but nobody would take him at first. No, you just can’t go down to jail and be booked. “Sit out here and wait a while.” Well, we sat out there for about an hour while they checked with the F.B.I. Then about seven officers came in with their hands on their guns. They slapped handcuffs on him. I said, “Hey, fellas, don’t handcuff him, let him at least walk into the station. Just this last breath of freedom.” But, Whamo! In he went. He was sent down to the Florida penitentiary and we had him enrolled in a Bible correspondence course. And, he went on spiritually. He stayed in prison three years instead of the thirty years he thought he would have to spend. Now he’s married, has a family and is a pastor of a church.
During the Vietnam War, we were always dealing with guys who were runaways from the service. And we always tried to get them to go back to their base and face up to the situation. I still believe that’s the best course of action for anyone in trouble. But the person has to make the decision himself. He has to be able to confide in you. That’s the only way you get to reach people of the street. I’ve had people confess to all sorts of things. And I’ve had approaches from different state and federal agencies about people I know and what they’ve done. But I just won’t talk about it. “I’m sorry, I’ve nothing to say.” I can’t because it would destroy a ministry that I have with a lot of people. You may think you can break these confidences and get by with it, but somewhere the street people have a listening ear, and the word will come back. “You squealed on so-and-so.” And your ministry will be dead. But if you are trustworthy, more and more people will confide in you and they’ll find a way to get you when they need help. And, they’ll know that’s the end of it — period!
Should Baby Christians Witness?
I am often asked if new converts should witness on the streets. My answer is yes. Even if you hardly know the Bible, go out and share anyway. Share what you do know. Of course, you shouldn’t neglect Bible study; you should be studying the Word all the time. But if you wait to start witnessing until you know everything there is to know, you’ll never begin.
There’s one church in Mississippi that is widely known for its great evangelistic ministry. People are always finding Christ through its influence. I asked the pastor one time, “How come you’re winning so many of these atheists and agnostics. Over and over, I hear people testifying, ‘I used to be an atheist.'” And he said to me, “Well, Arthur, when we get in touch with someone who says he’s an atheist, I never send my deacons, I never send our mature Christians to witness to them. I send two of our newest converts.” I asked, “Why do you do that?” He said, “Because these new converts don’t know enough about the Bible to even discuss it intelligently. They just got saved. They’ll come in and sit down and start talking to that person. He may say, ‘There’s nothing to the blood of Jesus, the Bible’s not the Word of God,’ and all that intellectual stuff. These two new converts can’t answer him at all. They’re pushed back in a corner. Finally, they’ll just start crying and say, ‘I don’t know all this stuff you’re telling me, but I know I got saved last week, and Jesus came into my heart and I’m born again, and He loves you. They’ll just start crying and praying. They win people to the Lord because they’re for real. Through them they see that Jesus is alive.”
Now, you need more of a testimony than that through the years. If you try to live off your new convert testimony, pretty soon it will be stale and won’t work. But when you have a new convert, put him out there and let him go. Get him started instantly.