Christianity Today reports (April 2010) that… A man who spent 15 minutes with two street preachers in Boynton Beach shot them in the back of the head at close range. Pat Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition framed the January 30 murders as a free speech issue in his eulogy for preachers Stephen Ocean and Tite Sufra. Local police tied the murders to possible gang-related violence, saying that Ocean had been a member of a gang prior to his recent conversion and that both men had criminal records.
Often we think of those who die for their faith as something that happens in far away countries in the third world. Yet, here we are hearing of two men, out on the streets in a neighboring nation exercising their rights to free speech and sharing the good news that Jesus saves with others, who end up dead due to their efforts. I pay close attention to these things because I try hard to keep my finger on the pulse of what is happening in North America with regard to the Christian faith and the Church. And, as someone who also “works the streets” and witnesses and shares in the parks and on the bike/walking trails, I recognize the rising opposition to our message from others in our society.
Now I am aware that many who are out there sharing the Gospel do so in very offensive ways and so can bring out the worst in people. And, I am aware that some street preachers and those who share the gospel with others can be a real interruption in a person’s private space. I am sensitive to this as I an an extreme introvert and often sit near the walking trails by a stream to read my Bible and have some quiet time with the Lord while on long walks in the summer weather with my dog. So, I do understand the way others can perceive those of us out there attempting to share the good news with others who don’t see it as good news but view it is an interruption.
However, I have noticed an increase in negative reactions among those who are between the ages of 30 and 60 … I receive a warm welcome to my chatting about Jesus and His offer of eternal life if I am talking to those in my own age group – those over 60. I also find a warm and “I’m interested” response from those in their late teens and 20’s who seem to be searching for spiritual experiences and are looking for something significant that they can commit to and become involved in. They are looking for purpose – but often not looking in the Church to find it. And, if they do look to the Church, they are looking to traditional, denominational churches with liturgies and traditions.
So I have noticed an increasing disinterest in the message of the gospel and an increasing negative reaction to those of us sharing the good news. Not violent but borderline disrespectful and a little intolerant. So, I walk carefully when sharing and look for signs of “not interested” and any other signals or clues that it is time to thank them for their time and draw the conversation to a close. In otherwords, there is a real need today to be totally aware of your surroundings and the reaction of the person or people you are speaking to and know when “enough is enough” or when people are simply tolerating you and really wishing that you would just “go away”. Of course, they often don’t tell you where to go but you can guess that that it’s not to Heaven.
Personal evangelism is a command from the Lord and something every believer must be involved in as they go about their daily life. The message always remains constant – but the methods we use are not sacred nor set in stone. So, as society’s receptivity to the gospel changes we must be constantly adjusting our approach and always be seriously sensitive and aware of how we are being received. It might not have helped to avoid what happened in Florida recently but it will help the reputation of the gospel and maybe prevent some future tragedies.