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The Crazy Street Preacher (Don’t Be That Guy)

Crazy Street Preacher

There’s nothing wrong with street preaching. In fact, it does a lot of good.

But today street preachers have a bad name. Sometimes it’s justified and sometimes not.

I’ll grant that all of the pop-culture depictions of Christians and Christianity that I’ve seen are wildly inaccurate. And a short clip on YouTube that shows a street preacher acting out isn’t the whole story. However, I think I’ve identified three distinct kinds of crazy street preaching you’ll want to avoid.

Crazy Street Preacher
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Street preaching was popular before the Internet, TV, radio, the printing press. It was a powerful way to spread a message.

Even after the printing press many could not afford books but tracts became popular. And so public preaching remained common.

Today it’s much more efficient to upload a speech to YouTube where it can reach millions vs speaking to a few dozen people on a street corner. I would grant that there are significant differences between an online interaction and one that’s face-to-face.

Despite this apparent disparity efficiency you’ll still find street preachers on the corners of most if not all big cities.

There are at three kinds of street preachers that give the rest of them a bad name: the screecher, the offender, and the hype man.

The Screecher

Definition: Make a loud, harsh, squealing sound.

The louder the better, yes? This is the impression you might get if you listened to some street preachers.

There are different variations of the screecher:

  • Loud & Proud: They start loud and maintain their ear splitting level.
  • The Ramp-Up: They start soft but get louder as they get into a rhythm and gather a crowd. Pretty soon they reach a level of diminishing returns.
  • The Passive-Aggressive: They get loud then instantly softer when confronted with a heckler. The purpose is to make their opponent look irrational.

Example: Ruben Israel

The Offender

Definition: Being offensive to your audience merely for the sake of gaining attention.

Saying something outrageous is a time tested way of getting attention. The purpose is to get the attention of your audience so you can communicate something.

For example, think about a commercial where humor, sex, violence, was used to get your attention and sell you an unrelated product:

  • Sex used to sell perfume
  • Violence used to sell a children’s toy gun
  • Humor used to a new sitcom
  • All of the above used to sell beer

Example: Westboro Baptist Church

Example: Jed Smock

Jed Smock has been around for a long time preaching on campuses around the country. He’s so famous he’s even had a documentary made about him. Jed uses a combinations of offensive or shocking speech.

The Hype Man

Definition: Someone who supports the primary speaker with exclamations and interjections, and who attempts to increase the audience’s excitement with call-and-response chants.[1]

Example: Hebrew Israelites

They’re entertaining to watch and their colorful clothing make them impossible to miss even if you’re deaf. Hebrew Israelites are self-professed racists who take to the streets to “wake up” their people.

The Tools of the Hype Man:

  • Call and Response: When Hebrew Israelites preach they have one speaker and one or more men ready to look up and read scripture out loud, like really loud.
  • Amen: When their speaker says something especially important their “crew” goes into action the same way a crowd cheers a rapper who spits a particularly good line.
  • Being Loud: Hebrew Israelites are really loud. They don’t seem to use bull horns or portable microphone/speaker setups.
  • Cutting: Hebrew Israelites like to say that they “cut” people by using Scripture against them.

Don’t Be the Crazy Street Preacher

Street preaching has its place but don’t be a screecher, offender of hype man.

Instead follow the advice of these verses:

Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person. —Colossians 4:6 (NASB)

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. —Ephesians 4:29 (NASB)

He who guards his mouth and his tongue, Guards his soul from troubles. —Proverbs 21:23 (NASB)

Please comment if you think I’ve missed a species.

  1. My definition is taking almost entirely from the Wikipedia definition of a Hype Man in the context of Hip Hop and Rapping  ↩

9 thoughts on “The Crazy Street Preacher (Don’t Be That Guy)

  1. I would include the Replicator. The Replicator thinks you street preach in exactly the same way you would deliver a sermon to believers in church on a Lord’s Day morning. There are’t too many of these about but I’ve met a few.

    1. Hi Peter… good point. It sure would be hard to fit an entire sermon into the 10-30 seconds someone might be able to hear you as they walk by.

  2. Hi Ted, do you engage in street preaching regularly? If so, is there a link to where I can see you in action? I’ve engaged in open air work over the years myself and can relate to your article. God bless. Bill.UK.

    1. Hi William…thanks for the feedback and the question. I’ve gone street preaching once while I was attending a week-long Bible school. I was so young and inexperienced I’m thankful there’s no video evidence 🙂 Thank you for the work you do to build the Kingdom on the streets.

    2. Gee wilerklis, that’s such a great post!

  3. This why I enjoy the Credo House, You make me think. I live in a rural area of the Midwest, so not something i see unless i visit the big city. but i am always put off by the loud or condemning, but hold a sign and/or talk with passion and I am there.
    Thanks again for keeping me on my toes and staying focused on Jesus!

    1. Hi Gary… I like those rural areas in the midwest. I lived in Ohio for 7+ years. Some people consider that the midwest. Whereabout are you?

  4. While I don’t disagree, I have a friend who went with Jed Smock and he said that while Jed is doing his thing, Jed encouraged my friend and other Christians to talk to people and ask them what they think of this. From there, turn the conversation toward the gospel. I’m not taking sides here but just wanted to throw that in there.

  5. Ted, I have a chapter in a book coming out next year that addresses the positive goals in open air evangelism. The working title is Sharing the Good News with Mormons but Harvest House might change that. It is edited by Sean McDowell and Eric Johnson. I have over 25 years experience doing open air and can tell you that where ever I go I am told that I am different than other street preachers. the key is respect and humility. I would have to admit that you captured the worst of the worst with your examples and unfortunately, there are plenty of other examples out there.

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