Street Preaching — Compassionate, Confrontational and Christian

A young minister reflects on her encounters with evangelism

A member of YMBBA Ministries preaching in Union Square
A member of YMBBA Ministries preaching in Union Square

As we talk, Shawn’s passion and conviction is obvious as he boldly and knowledgeably speaks about Christology and quotes from the Bible. I respect his passion and consistency and I’m somewhat inspired by it. However, I can’t help but think about the message itself.

Deep down, I wish he were selling “Heaven” instead of “Hell”. So I ask him about the message. He references the “fear of God”. This fear he speaks of really means “respect” for God rather than being “afraid” of God, but it is the literal meaning of this scripture and several Revelations passages that give him unequivocal purpose.

As people continue to pass by, he stands there wearing his sign and passing out tracts. There are no conversations with and no smiles shown to the busy people that pass by — just a man with a purpose spreading his message.

Though Shawn’s signs may spark fear in some and conviction in others, his passion and dedication should be applauded. It is his boldness and dedication that I admire. I am not always as bold in my Christianity as I should be; I only wish I could be as fearless as Shawn. However, I leave him wishing that there were less fear and consequences, and more love and incentives in his message.

Although I truly understand his zeal, I wish he would preach his miracle: that God can heal and give you life. That is what he experienced through his kidney ordeal. I believe everyone has a message that is based on the miracle performed in their live.

I am not one to say that his efforts are in vain, but I believe that it would be more powerful if he truly told his testimony, instead of believing that to be a preacher “on fire” one must warn against eternal fire. As long as people think this, we will miss out on passionate laborers with misdirected motivation; they will always be seen as loony because they have not fully realized that the Gospel is about something very important: Good News. Shawn teaches me to be fearless, but also shows me why Heaven is a greater selling point than Hell.

Ministering with a Microphone

A crowd is forming around a young man with a microphone where the skateboarders usually do their tricks in Union Square. At first glance, it is clear that this is no music performance, but traditional street preaching. About 75 people are noticeably agreeing and disagreeing with the message. The man on the microphone is saying, “There is no love outside of God; true riches are those that don’t perish.” He begins to explain how we will be judged on the last day. Ten people surround him, hollering and debating, others circle around and watch, some even comment to each other. The scene is very confrontational, yet engaging and intriguing. A man who is part of the silent crowd admits to me, “This is passionate… this is the reason I moved to New York.” I respond by saying, “Me too!”

The missionaries use apologetics as their method of evangelizing, and they and the crowd engage each other on homosexuality, baptism and the question of pagan influence on Christianity. These young preachers are not concerned about sounding or looking crazy to these New Yorkers.

The man on the microphone and about four others with him are missionaries from Texas, part of an organization called YMBBA Ministries – the acronym stands for “You Must Be Born Again .” The young preacher doesn’t have it easy here in Union Square. It is an in-your-face debate with people who disagree with him, yet he remains poised and gentle. He speaks and then allows an audience member to ask a question or comment. The missionaries use apologetics as their method of evangelizing, and they and the crowd engage each other on homosexuality, baptism and the question of pagan influence on Christianity. These young preachers are not concerned about sounding or looking crazy to these New Yorkers. Ryan Ringnald, one of the missionaries, notes, “A true Christian is taught by the Bible not to fear man nor live for man’s approval, but to Fear God and live before him.”

Mark Thrope, a 28-year-old Bronx resident standing on the outskirts of the circle, says about the preacher facing the challenging group: “If Jesus went through [opposition], he’ll go through it.” And he does go through a lot. The ten or so people who outwardly disagree with him are passionate and wild. One guy continues to shout “God is a homosexual” right beside the preacher as he ministers.

Twenty-one-year-old onlooker, Natalie Daniel, says, “He shouldn’t do it; it’s disrespectful.” (Later he would admit his motivation was that the missionaries’ right to free speech with a microphone in Union Square was annoying.)

The mic is unplugged because the scene becomes too chaotic. The missionaries believe it has gone too far, but the ministering does not stop. It is then that mini-discussions begin to take place among the crowd.

In a circle of six, one of the missionaries begins to tell his testimony. In a group of three, people begin to discuss theological issues, but this time the volume on both sides is turned down and, perhaps, listening is going on.

I decide to talk to people about the missionaries’ dialogue-preaching technique and ask if it is working.

Frank, a 32 year old from Queens, believes it is not. “There is nothing they can do here… People are not open and they are not welcoming the message. To do it, you got to be willing to respect other people’s views and philosophies.” Twenty-six-year-old Brandon disagrees: “This form of evangelism is making a difference. The people who were out here a couple of days ago are back, so their ears are open. Love is taking place; they are coming closer and they are starting to listen.”

In a church world where sermons are becoming “tell the people what they want to hear” messages, these missionaries showed me that with the gospel, it’s about the message, not about being popular.

I don’t know if the missionaries learned anything from the onlookers, or the onlookers from the missionaries, but there is no doubt that something was exchanged. And although deep inside I hoped that they would preach the gospel without adding a piece of the” traditional street preaching judgment sermon,” they stood firm on issues and themes with positions largely different from those debating them. And that is bold. In a church world where sermons are becoming “tell the people what they want to hear” messages, these missionaries showed me that with the gospel, it’s about the message, not about being popular.

But what will stick with me most was the young missionaries’ ability to maintain their cool, patience and meekness in the midst of adversity. I saw firsthand how this can gain the attention and respect of your audience and convert the ear of those who disagree with you. Maybe that was the main message God wanted them to share and show that day in Union Square. At least, it was the lesson I learned.

In church as I minister, I am used to people listening to me and taking what I say at face value, without disrespectful disapproval. What those missionaries showed me that day was that even if people try to disrupt the message that you seek to share, you should show love and patience, no matter how purpose driven you are. Just as I strive to be revelatory and articulate when spreading the gospel, I am now seeking to be stronger in patience and love, like those young men from Texas with a microphone.