From time to time, younger brothers in Christ will contact me looking for some advice. Often these young men are looking to strike out as an evangelist. I hope other young men will find encouragement in the following correspondence.
A YouTube Comment
A younger man with whom I have corresponded in the past posted the following comment on one of my videos. He was looking for some advice. He wrote:
Tony, I had signs made exactly the same as yours but with our church’s website. I didn’t think to ask my elders (we go to a large church that is pretty solid doctrinally). They contacted me and said that they don’t want me to put the church website address on the signs until I get approval.
I told them I respect that and that ill cover up the address until they decide that it’s ok to have the website on my tracts and signs.
I have a feeling they’re not going to allow me to have anything associated with the church on any of my tracts and signs so I was thinking to continue forward with my evangelism ministry as a separate thing from the church.
It would be awesome to have their full support. I serve in the church and they know my life. I plan to start open-air preaching which I know they wouldn’t want to be a part of either.
Do you have any advice for someone in my situation?
“Don’t Be That Guy”
Here’s my reply:
I have close to 100 evangelism signs. So, when you say, “I had signs made exactly the same as yours,” I’m not sure what you mean.
As a rule, as a man under authority and as an evangelist sent out by my church, before I print anything with my church’s website on it, I run the content by my pastors for approval. This way, I don’t undermine my pastors’ authority and I don’t spend money on materials only to not be able to use them because my pastors didn’t approve the content.
So, your pastors wanting to approve materials before they include the church website is reasonable. Your pastors have the authority to determine how, when, and where the church’s name and website are put out to the public.
Whether or not your pastors allow you to put the church website on signs and/or gospel tracts, you should still run the content by them. Do not be wise in your own eyes. Seek your pastors’ counsel.
Regarding your feelings: don’t trust them. It doesn’t matter what you feel about your pastors, what matters is whether or not what you believe about your pastors is true. And you won’t know that until you talk to them. Ask more questions and patiently wait for answers.
Regarding ministry: you don’t have a “ministry” apart from the local church. To be sure, Christians should engage in evangelism as an aspect of their daily lives, as followers of Christ. Scripture’s commands are clear regarding this. But the Bible in no way supports the notion and practice of para-church ministry. The Bible does not support the idea of you starting a ministry under no authority other than your own.
Your plan to start open-air preaching without the support of your pastors is ill-advised. The apostle Paul and Barnabas were sent by the local church. Philip was sent by the local church. There are no examples of nomadic Christianity or nomadic evangelists/preachers in Scripture. Scripture gives no examples of a man calling himself to the teaching/preaching ministry of the Word.
My advice, given with no authority and only because you asked: slow down.
That you want to open-air preach, in and of itself, is not a biblical call to preach. Such a calling should be examined, discerned, validated, and commissioned by your pastors. No one is qualified to serve as one of God’s heralds because he feels like preaching–because he (and certainly not she) wants to preach.
“But what if my pastors say no? What if they don’t affirm the calling I sense? What if they don’t send me out to preach?”
Submit to their authority. They are not your shepherds only when they agree with you. They are your shepherds who will give an account to God for how they shepherd you. If they are biblically qualified men, called to serve your church as elders, as fallible as they may be, then shepherding God’s people matters to them.
You say you “serve in the church.” How you handle this situation may very well determine how true that is. Are you serving the church, or are you simply doing stuff you like to do and submitting to authority when it is convenient and advantageous? These are questions I cannot answer for you.
One more thing…
Don’t do anything simply because you see or hear me (or someone else online) do it. While I’m humbled and thankful to be even a little encouragement to you, remember: you’re not me, and I’m not you.
The evangelist I am today–a man who still needs much sanctification in every area of his life, including evangelism–has been forged, in part, in trials, persecutions, and the good and gracious chastisement of the Lord. The evangelist I am today is also the result of the loving shepherding of my pastors, as well as the accountability I have with my church family. If I’ve grown as an evangelist it is, in large part, because I have grown in my love for and submission to the local church.
Pulling away from your church, pulling yourself out from under the authority and shepherding of your pastors to do your own thing, will not make you a better evangelist, brother. It certainly won’t make you a biblical one. It will simply make you another nomadic preacher on the streets. Don’t be that guy. There are already too many of them out there.
In the meantime, while you patiently wait on your pastors and follow their lead, engage in evangelism through efforts like the distribution of gospel tracts and by engaging people in gospel conversations. And be content. The gospel is the power of God for salvation, not the method or vehicle by which it is communicated. A gospel tract or a one-to-one conversation is no less useful, important, or powerful than an open-air sermon.
An Encouraging Response
The aspiring evangelist sent me an email in reply. He wrote:
I do appreciate all that time you took, once again, to write in response to my question. All that you said was right and true and biblical. I read it to my wife and we cried together (of joy and of comfort) because she knows how much sharing the gospel means to me and also how difficult it is to turn from the passions of the flesh (in this case a rebellious/nomadic) heart attitude.
She was also thankful because she had been saying similar things to me as you did, but it comes through differently from someone else.
So I am going to do as you said. I’m going to submit to whatever my elders decide and also slow down. I’ll stick to tracting and one-to-one conversations and pray that if it’s the Lord’s will, my church will give me permission to do some of the things that I have a passion to do, and if not, then I will submit.
Thanks so much, Tony.
I was encouraged and I thanked God for the young man’s response to the advice I gave him. Based on experience with other budding evangelists, I know his response could have been much different. Now, my prayer for this young man is that while he awaits direction from his pastors he doesn’t lose patience or heart. I also hope and prayer nomadic street preachers don’t get to him and tempt him to abandon his present biblical thinking.
You can pray for him, too.
There is another, more personal reason why I am thankful for the above correspondence.
Years ago I probably wouldn’t have had the correspondence I had with this young man. Oh, I would have corresponded with him, but my counsel to him would have been different. It would have been wrong.
Years ago my counsel would have gone something like this: “If you believe God is calling you to open-air preach and your pastors are against open-air preaching, then you may have to find another church. If you stay, you should submit to the authority of your pastors. If you can’t submit and you stay, then you run the risk of becoming a divisive presence in the church. You can’t let that happen.”
Do you see the problem?
The advice I would have given–advice I do not give now and will never give again–put a Christian man’s desire to preach in the open-air over and above the man’s responsibility as a member of a local church and the Bible’s clear direction for the sending of evangelists and missionaries by the local church. While I’m opposed to nomadism, the advice I used to give could have pointed young men toward nomadism, leading them to hop from church to church until they found one that would support their desire to open-air preach. Eventually, if never finding a church to send them out to preach, the nomadic street preacher sends himself. The only authority nomadic street preachers submit to is their own. They are a law unto themselves.
I thank God I didn’t give this young man the advice I used to give. I thank God that he received the advice I did give him well. I thank God his wife received it well, too. Praise God.