Monday, March 28, 2016

Famous But Known

 One of the more interesting changes that has taken place in my life recently  requires a little of what my friend Danny Dileo would call "backstory".
  I have been involved in public ministry since  June of 1995. I  have preached on 3 continents, on both American coasts, and in various cities great and small. I've preached festivals, fairs, concerts, rodeos, and football games. I have preached in the rain and in the sun, to the hopeful , and to the hostile.  You get the idea.
 For whatever reason, public ministry tends to be the dividing line among Christians, at least in America.  You either do it, or you don't. You either love it, or you hate it.  I have watched as good decent respectable Christian folks disassociated themselves from me. I have watched local pastors pretend they don't see me. I've seen the hierarchy of the local Christian radio station walk past me like I'm not there.  I've been snubbed by professional 'evangelists'.   It's not just that they didn't agree with me, it's that they ignored me completely. I am the fly in the ointment, the ants at the picnic ruining  their comfortable non-confrontational Christianity. I am the invisible man; a guy everybody knows is there but nobody wants to acknowledge, and to be honest, that suits me just fine.  There's a reason I call this blog 'Outside the Camp', after all.

It wasn't just area churches that considered us 'the elephant in the room'.  I preached out of the same church, in the same town, on the same corner for roughly 12 years and it's obvious I was an embarrassment. There were people that prayed for us, and even a handful that accompanied us but overall it felt like it wasn't considered a ministry of the church, but rather just Michael doing 'that thing he does'.  Looking back, I remember the awkward silence that would fall over the room when I would announce an upcoming event. People would roll their eyes and some would sigh.  The pastor offered support in that he didn't forbid us to go, but he didn't go with us. We were allowed to use the church van the last couple of years, but that ministry was never given the high profile that the bus ministry or the latest camp meeting was given. Everybody knew we did it, but nobody ever mentioned it.  If we had stopped, nobody would have been terribly concerned and some people would have been glad. Once again, I am fine with that. I reveled in the challenge of  winning people over to public ministry, of pushing them outside their comfort zone for the glorification of Jesus Christ.  I did feel bad, and still do, for those that passed up the opportunities that were presented to them. Why would you let Darnel and I have all the fun?
  It is worth mentioning that most of the street preachers I know, (and I know a bunch of them) labor under conditions just like that or worse.  I know guys who aren't allowed to mention their ministry in church.  I know guys who are regularly discouraged or even sabotaged by their pastors. To the best of my knowledge, that has never happened to me, but for those other guys,  the Judgement Seat of Christ will be interesting.
  In  Jan 2015, we changed churches, and we continued on with our public ministry, simply out of a different church and in a different town. Our current pastor  preaches on the street with us and frankly, he gets vastly different treatment by the brethren. Oh sure, he's an embarrassment, but he's an embarrassment whose existence they feel like they have to acknowledge because of his position. He's known, at the pastors fellowships as 'the street preacher guy'. He's been invited on the radio to explain our ministry and been featured at different community events to present the work.  I am happy for him because I think he is an excellent representative of that ministry. I think he understands it, and gets the importance of it. I think in a very short time he has had open doors to shake up the community with the gospel of Jesus Christ and I am grateful for whatever help I've been able to offer. I do wonder though, how he has managed to avoid being invisible.
  I have a theory about this.  People sometimes assume that you preach on the streets because you don't have a pulpit.   That actually was the assumption from my  own mother, who couldn't for the life of her figure out why I delighted in such a thing. The idea apparently  is that you 'pay your dues' until you get a church and then you  are 'the man of God' extolling your wisdom from behind 'the sacred desk'. You are then relieved of your obligation to preach to the people who disagree with you.  So for a man who has a (sort-of) captive audience 3 times a week to preach for sinners for free is sort of a novelty among the 'men of God'  It's easy to dismiss some nobody with a banner on  a street corner; it's a bit harder to dismiss a pastor who does it.  Having the pastor involved lends credibility and gravity to it, at least according to my theory.
  Isn't that the silliest thing you've heard all day? I mean, if God commissioned the open-air preaching of the gospel ( Acts 20:20) and open-air preaching is employed throughout both Testaments ( Amos, Jonah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Paul, Barnabas, Peter, etc), and every believer is commissioned to use it (Mark 16) then why would it suddenly become a MORE legitimate thing because the pastor is doing it?
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