Definition: rules of engagement — directives issued by competent military authority which delineate the circumstances and limitations under which military forces will initiate and/or continue combat engagement with other forces encountered. Source: encyclopedia.com
Instead of reacting to things encountered on the streets, we need a game plan. In a physical war this is to prevent true civilians from being shot and other “collateral damage”. We can apply this principle to the army of God in our evangelizing. I can think of many situations that fall into the category “rules of engagement”.
Out on the street there are many things to deal with. We all realize that salvation is the most important issue in a person’s life. However there are times when I put limitations on where I will preach. I won’t preach to the people in those outside cafes while they are dining. I don’t think it is good to preach in a confined area like a train, or bus, however; I will preach outside of the station. In this way people are free to leave. I don’t believe in corralling them. An exception would be if we were in an airplane going down in flames where death is imminent. I will not point my amp directly into a doorway. Using common sense is helpful. When you make a mistake, the next best thing is to admit it and make amends or apologies. Do whatever is necessary to correct the situation. Many times there is no opportunity to do so.
Soldiers for Christ
You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier. 2 Timothy 2:3,4
We need to think ourselves to be soldiers in the army of God. As a street preacher/evangelist I have had to strip myself of “the weights that so easily entangle”. To think on things above not on things below. I believe we are more effective if we are not encumbered by distractions and other unnecessary things of this life. They may be OK for other Christians, but not for the soldier. I used to be a mailman for a time. Probably 70% of the total job was in the post office before I ever left to deliver the mail. If you didn’t properly prepare the mail for delivery it would cost you time, accuracy, and it just would be a giant headache. Likewise, it takes much careful time preparing to go out preaching. Time spent with the Lord in prayer and reading His Word. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of this aspect. I would call this a lifestyle not religious regulations. Also allowing the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit to make us a pure vessel for the Lord to use; this is very important. In Mark 3:14 you will notice that the Lord chose them to, first be with Him, and then go out to preach.
Engaging People – Conversations & Tract Passing
I learned early on in witnessing that you shouldn’t approach a person at a cash machine to hand them a tract, or to converse, until they have finished their transaction. Personally I don’t like anyone bothering me or talking to me while I am counting my money such as at a checkstand in the grocery store. Another issue is that the person at the cash machine may feel threatened by your presence. If you notice the unwritten code while waiting for the cash machine is that people stand back behind an imaginary line to give the person at the machine time and space to take care of their business. Some people wouldn’t like you looking at their numbers or amount of money, etc.
I do not try to hand a tract to a little kid bypassing the parents. Some would disagree with me on this, however I have seen this backfire many times. The parents get upset and wonder why you are ignoring their authority etc. I feel this is a bad witness. It can leave them thinking you are a coward and become suspicious of your motives and doctrine at that point. Also in a subtle way you are undermining the parents authority. If the parents say or indicate by their body language to the child not to take a tract, and you persist, you are teaching them to break the commandment to obey their parents. In a similar way when I perceive a Muslim couple, that is when they are dressed or look Middle Eastern, I will hand the tract to the man. Again this shows respect and would be proper in their culture. If by reason they are progressive, the woman will then reach and ask for her own. I have experienced both scenarios. Try to look people in the eye when handing them a tract or talking to them.
I have been around long enough to see the extremes on this subject. For a time years ago I was in what they use to call a discernment, or deliverance, ministry. All too often people can get fixated and overly focussed on the devil. On the other hand, I have seen churches (and individuals) go so far the other way they ignore and dismiss Satan’s activity and the spiritual warfare. We must be balanced. We have an enemy and we must respect his abilities to deceive, hinder, oppress, tempt and assail us. He always is trying to thwart the work of God. The Bible tells us to be sober.
Besides just strictly street preaching I have spent a number of years in a more complete street ministry. This would include feeding and clothing the homeless, ministering to individuals with serious issues like drug addiction and mental illness, praying for people, and doing practical things like getting a runaway teenager on the bus back home. There is no doubt in my mind that there are demon-possessed people out there in our world today. A few Scriptures on spiritual warfare; Luke 10:18-20 John 16:11 Acts 26:18 Romans 16:20 2 Cor. 2:11 1 Pet. 5:8-10 James 4:7 Eph 6:12
Since I was a youngster I have liked maps and geography. Along with this interest I have a good sense of direction and ability to find my way around. With the modern tools of map programs and GPS it makes it even easier. This has come in handy as I travel both locally and nationally. I bring this up because you may not have the knack for this. A plan on how you get to your venue (and how to get back) is necessary. If you are working with a team of people assign one person to the task to avoid confusion. There is nothing worse than to have several people come up with conflicting ways to get somewhere. This is particularly important when it comes to time-sensitive events like a parade. Know where you are going and how to get there. That way you are in the best position to make adjustments when need be. It is nice to have a backup plan as well. I once told people we were going to meet on this particular corner as we did many times in the past. It was like clockwork. This particular time there was unexpected construction and a street preacher’s worst nightmare; a jackhammer. We were going to have to go somewhere else. This took me totally off guard and we scrambled to get everyone to another location. Hopefully now-a-days most everyone has a cellphone. This is a good tool for communicating if something goes amiss.
Over the years I have probably preached and evangelized in every venue imaginable. Here are some; special events such as parades or festivals, college campuses, lower education (high schools & middles schools), vice areas such as bar districts and nightlife. If you live in a small town or suburban area you may have to get more creative to find a gathering of people to preach to. Special events become a main stay for the rural areas. In smaller towns or large towns that do not have foot traffic Gospel signs may be in order. I have gone door-to-door in the past although it is not a preferred venue for me. Living in the San Francisco Bay Area for a number of years was nice since there is never a shortage of people, and good weather to boot!
A day in the life of this street preacher: I like to keep the ministry nice and simple. After much consideration in prayer and Bible reading I go to the city and I find a corner where there are people. I bring some Gospels of John and other Christian literature to hand out. I then begin preaching, usually with an amp. My introduction is brief and then I get into the main facts about the Gospel. My aim is to preach the Word of God so that it fills around 90% of the speech that comes from my mouth. This is accomplished by either reading directly from the Word of God, or more frequently, by Scripture memorization. In this way I am able to utter the oracles of God. The majority of these Scriptures are salvific. This is nothing less than proclaiming the truth like a herald of old. I have a message from the King! At times I even do an expository teaching from a Bible text or a discourse. An example would be, Jesus on the cross.
There is what I call tactical strategy. Because street preaching is best suited for larger crowds I would say most of my preaching is in the downtown area of larger cities. As you would figure, the downtown area has lots of workers who come out of the buildings on their lunch hour which makes the streets swell with people. I have found that the best time to preach is from around 11:30am until 1:30pm. Therefore I have a time frame I must work with. I like to show up early to look over the area and to pray. Even though I come, “prayed up” I think it necessary to pray once at the location. I was onced asked, “how do you pick out a corner?” The quick answer is to pick a corner where there are people. However I think there is more to it. I do not set up in front of a doorway or block the sidewalk as to impede the flow of foot traffic. I also do not set up the amp so that it goes directly into an entrance of a business. You can avoid a lot of complaints by where, and how you set up. Another thing to consider; is which way do the cars go? If you are on a one way street this may determine how you would set up. Whenever possible it is not good to have your amp facing the intersection in such a way that when the cars stop for a red light it blocks your amp. I usually choose the outermost part of the sidewalk to set up. I want there to be no doubt that I am on the sidewalk. If you are on the building side this will cause you to have more complaints due to the fact that the business may claim it is their property. (discussed previously)
In a military operation “Collateral Damage” occurs when other things get damaged instead of the intended target. These can be infrastructure, but we are mostly talking about people here. In modern warfare there are civilians that are not intended to be killed, but in fact are part of the loss. Again, although this is a part of warfare, the military tries to minimize it as much as possible. Besides an outright mistake, collateral damage can also occur when the battle objective is lost. In street preaching there is collateral damage sometimes. When this happens it is best to pack up and leave the area. I am not afraid to concede an area if things get out of hand for one reason or another. Here is an example of what I call collateral damage when preaching in public; I was with some brothers a many years ago preaching on the perimeters of an outdoor concert. During this time, one of us, (not me in case you’re wondering) got on a bit of a tangent and started preaching fervently against sexual sins. In particular, the sin of homosexuality was focused on. It all turned south when some descriptive information of that behavior was mentioned in graphic detail. At the time I didn’t hear what was said until after the fact. I was not the leader on this outreach either. Well, several people, including mothers of small children, came up and verbally objected to that kind of speech. At that point I thought we should have left. The others didn’t feel the same way. I guess they wanted somehow to save face, but the damage was done. We did end up leaving a short time later and talked about it over coffee afterwards. I could give more opinion here but I just wanted to share a real experience to give you the picture of what I think collateral damage is when it comes to evangelism.
The term “friendly fire” taken from the military vocabulary is when a soldier is injured or killed by another soldier that is on the same side. This is a real travesty and yet it is part of warfare. It may never be eliminated from happening, but the goal is to minimize it. I have coined this term to describe what takes place out on the street. Many times well-meaning Christians can distract, interrupt, and hinder the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Sometimes they can even be used by Satan, as was Simon Peter in the scripture reference above. Extended grace is needed on part of the preacher to discern and respond in a God honoring way. Remember, attacks can come from within the church too. I have experienced many times Christians in their zeal coming up and showing their support with encouraging words, sometimes loudly. This can interrupt the flow of things. To an inexperienced preacher it can almost cause them to stop and be flustered.
Hostile fire is the main part of any warfare. He who quarries stones may be hurt by them, and he who splits wood may be endangered by it. Ecc 10:9 Unlike usual warfare we cannot strike back physically. We are told to turn the other cheek. Paul and his companions usually ran for their lives when needed. Most of the time the hostility is limited to negative comments, and or, gestures. Sometimes people will get in your face a bit. For a season of time I had this happen so often one of my strategies was to offer the hostile person a piece of candy. Early on in the street preaching ministry I would have people yell at me from across the street and as they passed by. They would yell, “Shut up”. I would respond by saying something like, “I don’t have to”. After thinking about it, this reminded me of the school yard playground. That is when I decided to stop responding to nonsense like that. When you do respond remember a soft answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1 For me this is a very hard discipline. I am still capable of blowing it from time to time. Here are some more scriptures on the subject; John 15:20, Phil. 2:5-8 1, Pet. 2:21-23, Romans 12:20, James 1:19-20 Proverbs 16:32
I wanted to share an experience that happened to me back in the summer of 2008. Although I have had some experiences of violence it is a rare occurrence here in the United States. In my original newsletter I entitled it; Lethal Weapon XVI – Here is an excerpt from that newsletter:
A few weeks ago we were attacked out on the streets of San Francisco by a huge woman who was on drugs. She threw my partner Richard around like a rag doll as I preached. She wouldn’t relent so we had to stop and deal with her. She was throwing all of our Bibles and tracts around. She emptied my bag which was full of items for the homeless, which included first aid supplies. At one point she tried choking me with some gauze that she grabbed and made into a lethal weapon. I thought of scenes from the movie, “The Godfather” where a guy was strangled with a piano wire. She came up from behind me and put it over my head and around my neck. I had two fingers between the gauze and my neck that kept it from choking me. I tried to keep preaching and smiling until I felt like I had better take this more seriously and get loose. I ducked under the gauze as I pushed her back at the same time. Pam, (her name) became really hostile and started slugging me. At this point I realized a small riot was forming; some against us, and some for us. I got this fabulous idea; let’s call this a day and grab everything and leave. Many people came up and said, “No, please stay, don’t let the devil run you off”. One of the men said, “Look they got her in cuffs”. I looked up and saw three police cars around us at 16th & Mission. They did have her in handcuffs. In the heat of the moment I didn’t see them arrive. I don’t know who called them, but glad it was over. I lost my favorite hat that day, but decided it was better than losing my head.