I have been filming my open-air preaching and one-to-one conversations since before the advent of the GoPro video camera. The first GoPro video camera, the Digital Hero, hit stores in 2006. I preached in the open-air, for the first time, in 2005. I’m also old enough to have used a rotary phone, to have owned a bike with a banana seat and sissy bar, and to have watched (on a black and white television set with aluminum foil-wrapped rabbit ears) Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. Yes, men have walked on the moon and the earth is not flat. But I digress.
I have filmed my street evangelism activities long enough to have, made LOTS of mistakes in the filming and posting of videos. And I have deleted hundreds of videos from YouTube, over the years, because of some of those mistakes. My hope is that this article will provide some helpful information and help you, the reader, avoid making some of the same mistakes I have made.
The Impetus for This Article
The impetus behind this article is an email I received from a fellow street evangelist. He wrote:
“I and another brother . . . at my church currently do street evangelism and some limited abortion mill ministry in Fort Worth TX under my elders [of our church]. Recently, a church member donated a personal camera to record our times at the abortion mill for protection and also for our street evangelism in downtown Fort Worth. As of now, we are not publishing any videos publicly beyond our church’s private Facebook group. I have spoken to my pastor and he is open to the idea of publishing some of our videos online on YouTube . . . at some point in the future, but before we start doing that, I wanted to get any wisdom that you might have on that topic, given your experience in this. What should we be thinking about before we start, are there anythings you would caution us about, etc. Any help in this would be greatly appreciated! Thank you for your ministry and God bless!”
I appreciate this brother and his church seriously taking the matter of filming street evangelism.
Four Legitimate Reasons for Filming Street Evangelism
While there certainly might be others, I see at least four legitimate reasons for filming street evangelism: accountability, protection, evangelism, and education. Let’s briefly consider each of these.
I am a retired, 20-year law enforcement veteran. I retired 12 years ago. It’s hard to believe I’ve been away from a patrol car that long. I believe I can unequivocally assert that the law enforcement profession forever changed with the advent of the personal use video camera. The event that inaugurated the change was the video-taped arrest of a criminal by the name of Rodney King.
Since the events of that night when someone captured on grainy video the forceful arrest of a non-compliant suspect, the subsequent trial of four of the officers involved, and the ensuing riots started and sustained by criminal opportunists who preyed upon their own communities, law enforcement professionals are held to a higher level of accountability. I believe that’s a good thing. Good officers welcome accountability. If you are doing the job the right way, it doesn’t matter if your actions are captured on audio or video.
Christians should also welcome accountability in their street evangelism efforts. Filming street evangelism–whether it is in the form of open-air preaching, one-to-one conversations, crosswalking, abortuary ministry, or gospel tract distribution–provides an added layer of accountability for the evangelist. Video of the evangelist’s efforts can be viewed by fellow Christians, including his elders in the local church. How the evangelist interacts with people and the content of his message can be evaluated and addressed if any issues become apparent.
When I would issue an emergency protection order (EPO) to a woman who was the victim of domestic violence, I was quick to firmly remind her that what I was giving her was merely a piece of paper. I would tell the woman that paper doesn’t stop knives or bullets. An EPO was merely a tool. The woman still needed to be careful and try to avoid placing herself in harm’s way.
Video cameras and digital voice recorders will not stop bullets and knives. I have been physically assaulted a number of times while ministering on the streets–like the time a man almost ran me over with his truck; or the time a man tried to choke me outside an abortuary. However, having a video camera in plain view and recording during street evangelism activities can serve as a deterrent against physical assault. People, not always men, filled with hatred and false bravado have a tendency to think twice about throwing a punch (or worse) when they realize their actions will be memorialized on video.
Add to the above the element of protection against false accusations.
If you spend any significant amount of time engaged in street evangelism, especially open-air preaching, you are going to have contact with the police. Someone is bound to call the police and complain about “the guy yelling at people” on the street. If you minister outside abortuaries the same will happen. It’s not uncommon for someone who doesn’t want to hear the preaching of the gospel to make false accusations to the police about the words and conduct of the preacher. In abortuary ministry, you quickly learn that those who murder unborn children are not above making false accusations against those pleading with them not to murder their children. Having a video camera on hand will serve to document interactions with people on the streets and those entering and leaving the abortuary. Raw video doesn’t lie like people do.
We live in an online world. All but the most sanctified among us can spend hours a day on social media. While social media can be a collection plate for wickedness, it can also be used to further God’s kingdom. I believe if the apostle Paul lived on earth today he would use social media to preach the gospel.
Recording street evangelism activities, particularly open-air preaching and one-to-one conversations, and then posting the videos online, is a legitimate way to communicate the gospel to untold numbers of people, around the world.
Another legitimate reason for filming and posting evangelism videos is that doing so can provide wonderful training for other Christians. I have learned a great deal over the years by watching seasoned evangelists and apologists articulate the hope that is in them, with gentleness and respect. I’ve learned much about the craft of open-air preaching by watching good preachers preach.
Filming: Keep Your Eyes on the Prize
While, as articulated above, there are legitimate reasons to film and post evangelism videos, there are also some very good reasons not to do so. Every video I post is run through a personal grid, a filter if you will. I’ve learned over the years, sometimes by more error than trial, and over the last couple years with the godly counsel of my pastors, that not every video shoud be posted. Not only do I need to evaluate the content of the videos I post, but I also have to evaluate my motives for posting the video.
When I have any doubt about the content of a video or my motivation for posting the video, before or after running it through my personal filter, my pastors are at-the-ready to review the video. There are also times when I simply miss something–a word mispoken, a tone of voice that just wasn’t right, etc. My pastors, who shepherd every aspect of my evangelism ministry (it is, after all, a ministry of our local church), may see something I don’t in the content of a video.
Because they are the shepherds in my life and know me well, my pastors might ask me “why” I decided to post a particular video. Knowing my personal battles with sin (i.e. pride, man-pleasing, etc.), as well as the ongoing sanctifying work the Lord is doing in my life, my pastors can look beyond the content of my videos; they can look beyond the legitimate reasons for posting videos, and consider the heart and mind behind what I do and why I want to share it with others.
With the above in mind, here are some of the questions I ask myself before posting a video:
1. Did I accurately communicate the law and the gospel?
2. Did I communicate the gospel with gentleness and respect?
3. What (or who) is more important to me: the lost person with whom I’m speaking in the video, or the view count on YouTube and the praise I may receive from others?
4. Will the video generate more controversy than encouragement?
5. Will Christians who watch the video be encouraged to engage in more evangelism, or might the video be used as an excuse not to engage in evangelism?
6. Is there anything I do or say in the video that could lead to another Christian developing bad habits in their evangelism efforts, by following my example in the video?
7. Am I posting this video for my glory or the Lord’s?
I ask myself these questions knowing I answer them with a fallbile heart and mind. I can deceive myself, and sometimes I don’t even have to try very hard to do it. This is yet another reason why I am blessed to have pastors who are far more concerned about my godliness and holiness than any popularity or notoriety I may garner for myself through a blog article or YouTube video.
Why I Use a GoPro Camera
Several years ago I switched from using a video camera on a tripod (or held by someone else) to using a GoPro camera strapped to my chest. One reason for the switch was pragmatic. Since I spend most of my time on the streets alone, the risk is too high that someone might come by and snatch my camera or damage it in some way while I am preaching. It became too distracting to keep my eye on my gear while trying to concentrate on preaching the gospel. Using a GoPro strapped to my chest eliminates the worry of someone stealing or damaging my equipment.
The other reason I switched from a conventional video camera to a GoPro is more spiritual. Frankly, I liked seeing myself in my videos too much.
Unfortunately, when I switched to the GoPro I actually received complaints from people, with a number of people unsubscribing from my YouTube channel. The reason: they wanted to see me in the videos. Just as I made some videos for the wrong reasons, I discovered some people were watching my videos for the wrong reasons. At times, my videos were more about me than the gospel. Sadly, that was true for some viewers, too. They were more interested in the preacher instead of the preaching.
Now, I am almost always behind the camera. What you see is what I see. The subject of my videos are now the people to whom I preach or the person with whom I speak. The subject isn’t me. You hear my voice, but you don’t see my face. You listen to the preaching; you don’t watch the preacher.
I’m not suggesting that gospel preachers should never be seen in their videos. I follow a number of preachers and apologists online whose videos are filmed by others, allowing them to be in front of the camera. The production quality of some of these evangelists is much higher than anything you will see on my YouTube channel. I enjoy the videos and learn a lot from them.
What I’m confessing is that I have to be very careful not to feed my flesh by posting videos online. The steps I’ve taken in that regard help me to imperfectly avoid and battle sin.
I hope I’ve written something useful. If you have any questions regarding filming and posting your evangelism efforts, please leave a comment below.