I had to go sign up for jury duty today. We all lined up on the sidewalk as we waited our turn to go through the metal detector. I watched as a shabby, bearded, long-haired man stood on the street and preached to the pedestrians. He was loudly proclaiming that they were sinners and needed to repent and receive Jesus. He thundered certain Bible verses at them. The other people avoided looking at him and some laughed nervously, hoping to enter the building soon. I wondered if it was a way he had to make himself feel good about himself and be able to look down on the others, instead of truly caring for the people.
It reminded me of other times I have seen men preaching on the street corners. People would see him ahead, cross the busy street, walk past him and then cross back over the street. They would rather take chances with the traffic than be accosted directly by him. I took note of that, and said to myself, “When I witness, I will not make that mistake.” I thought, They aren’t taking to and learning how the person feels. I need to know what the person feels he needs. That helped, but little did I realize that there was something I wasn’t seeing.
Slowly, over time, I realized that I was still making that same kind of mistake as the street preacher. When I went to Bible School, we had to do service projects. Witnessing was one. We would go downtown, and usually talk to drunks and downtrodden people. I wondered that I didn’t feel comfortable talking to high status people, nor did they want to talk to me. This puzzled me.
Later, as I went out with church members, I watched puzzled as they did a similar thing. They had outreach programs to homeless, to the inmates, feeding the poor, and similar activities. If they went door to door, they went to lower class neighborhoods. I also realized that there seemed some subtle racism involved. If they were among people of another race, one that they felt was inferior to their own, they could talk to the higher class individuals. I watched, prayed, and thought about what was going on, and would try different theories.
Then, when I went overseas as a missionary, I saw that the missionaries again felt comfortable talking to higher class people about the Gospel. Why could we talk to them, but not the high class individuals in our own group? The light began to come on when I saw my church making bags to hand out to the homeless. We had quite an assembly line but needed more helpers. I suggested that we ask non-church people in the neighborhood if they wanted to help make the bags. I thought it would be a great way to establish ties with them. I was shot down, but the seed was planted.
Recently I saw a daughter of mine who is not following the Christian life join with a group, started by a Christian, and go to Mexico to build houses. This helped me notice something in the Bible. Jesus asked the Samaritan woman to help him get a drink of water. He asked Peter to row him out so he could preach to the crowd. He asked Philip, how are we going to feed all these people? Don’t forget how He put himself in a position to be criticized by Mary and Martha. Even when He was dealing with the Jewish leaders, He did things that they thought they could criticize Him for. When the other people thought they were in a position of strength, they wanted to carry on the dialog and heard Him more than If He put Himself in a position of strength.
This has been the problem. We try to put ourselves in a position of strength, a way that makes ourselves feel good about ourselves. Though we might be doing friendship evangelism instead of street corner preaching, if we seek the position of strength, we are no different, no better than the street preacher that we scorn. A nursing mother is meek, much more powerful than the baby, but restrains herself and lets the baby dictate the terms. In humility, we need to be meek evangelists. It doesn’t hurt us to treat the other people with respect, grant them honor and stop trying to approach them acting all superior.