As a person fairly new to street ministry, I often find myself wondering about certain issues that seem to keep coming up. So I’d like to start a discussion about street ministry. I’m hoping that more experienced street ministers will contribute to the discussion and perhaps help me settle some of the questions I have.
What often strikes me on the street is that when we ask people how they’re doing, they frequently answer: “OK, doing fine.” Now, I know we all guard our privacy and no matter how we really feel, we are wary of letting on too much. But I can’t help wondering how they’re really doing. Then if we probe and ask if they have any prayer requests, they often answer, “ No, I’m good. ” Or if they do have a request it will be for healing for a loved one- which of course is OK but I still keep wondering how they personally are doing. But what really surprises me is how often people have had some connection to a church in the past but have just slipped away. Often they will even say they were once quite active in a local church and that they even memorized verses in the past or used to do daily devotions. Some will admit that they have to get back to church but seem reluctant to commit. It’s as if they don’t really realize how dangerous this procrastination is. It’s as if they are saying God is love and they are banking on some notion of eternal security that will make up for their lack of pursuit of obedience to the commands of Christ. Now, before you wonder about my own theology, let me quickly state that I believe that God is love and he loves us and if we repent and believe and receive his Son we are saved/rescued and justified. And I believe true Christians do have eternal security/life. And, of course, church attendance/commitment is not the only mark of a Christian – there is so much more– such as the fruits of the Spirit.
But, what do we have to say to these lapsed Christians if that is indeed what they are. How can we convey to them our concern? Should we be concerned?
What do the scriptures say about this? Lately, I’ve been dwelling in Hebrews – chapters 5 and 6. The author of Hebrews does not mince words. He rebukes the lapsed Christians. He calls them babies, who are immature when they should have been growing in Christ. They’re not listening. They are not practiced in the telling of right from wrong. In chapter 6 (The Message) the author even implies that those “who have seen the light, gotten a taste of heaven and been part of the work of the Holy Spirit, once they’ve personally experienced the sheer goodness of God’s Word and the powers breaking in on us – if then they turn their backs on it, … they have re-crucified Jesus!” They are like fields that though they have received adequate rain have not produce good fruit but rather thorns and thistles. These fields are burned, not harvested.
Wow, this is serious. How do we convey this message? My approach would be to certainly affirm that God loves them. In fact we should be able to make a very strong case that it’s this very strong love of God for us that motivates this very strong warning. We, for our own sakes and for the sakes of the people we are trying to reach, must not down-play or lessen the consequences which Hebrews lays out. We have to do this lovingly and with much patience, but we have to do it.
John Piper, in a series of sermons on Hebrews 5 and 6 uses the illustration of a gymnast and her coach. The gymnast is quite accomplished but has been sloughing off lately. As she is in the middle of a difficult double reverse flip she panics because of lack of practice. She’s about to land on her head and possibly break her neck. What does a good coach do? The immediate task is to help her land safely. He yells out for her to find the floor – a reference point to allow her to determine where she is in the flip. Once she is safe, he reminds her to practice diligently – no sloughing off! Then he looks her straight in the eye and warns her that if she doesn’t do this she will sustain serious injury. Likewise, the author of Hebrews “yells out” elsewhere in the book for the lapsed Christian to look to Jesus the author and finisher of their faith. And then he urges the Christian to practice with diligence -find space for God – get with the program. And then the warning to all of us – -to do what Jesus commands lest we become a field that is only good for growing thorns and thistles and to be burned.
I believe there is a lesson here for us as individual Christians as we pursue a more perfect obedience. And I believe that this lesson helps us to be more faithful to fellow Christians as we encourage and love one another – even when it sometimes requires warnings and rebuke. And I believe we can convey this warning to those we minister to on the streets and in seeker Bible studies. The complete message consists of conveying God’s love and mercy, God’s promises of Himself and other gifts, and His loving warnings. May God help us to do this effectively.
And one more thing: We have to do this humbly, keeping in mind that in our pursuit of a more perfect obedience, that we never can do it perfectly, and that we never will reach perfection this side of heaven. Therefore, daily confession is something we all must engage in. And in the end all of us have to rely on God helping us.
Member, Vanguard North