Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Evangelism: From the Street Corner to YouTube

Photo Credit: Justus Martin Photography

There’s an up and coming evangelist that is widely believed to be well on his way to being the most prolific gospel preacher of our time. Nick Vujicic (pronounced VOO-yee-cheech), affectionately known as the guy with no arms or legs, is on a mission to spread a message of hope. He’s consistently packing out stadiums, school auditoriums, church sanctuaries, and headlining conferences and special events all over the globe. Nick is unique in his disability for sure, but he isn’t the first imperfect man to make evangelism his life’s work. He follows a well-worn path that has been paved by many great men before him.

The street corner evangelist has always been a peculiar character. He was bold and, seemingly, anti-social. He lacked polish and decent manners, but was passionate and wild-eyed—creating discussion around subjects that would guarantee the disruption of a polite dinner conversation. He didn’t seem to care what people thought about him.

John Wesley was one such character. He had bricks, eggs, and rotten vegetables thrown at him with regularity by haters and hecklers as he preached the gospel on street corners and in city centers. He and his brother Charles founded the Methodist movement in England and exported it to America, but they were constantly at odds with one another, cutting short their endeavor as American missionaries. Despite their rocky ministry relationship, their influence left a legacy. In the nineteenth century, the Methodist church was the largest Protestant denomination in America.

Preacher John Cennick, a man influenced by the Wesleys’ ministry, was antagonized with gross brutality as he preached at a rally in Swindon, England in 1741. Catapults were filled with raw sewage and muskets were fired over his head. When one family opened their home to Cennick as refuge, an effigy of the preacher was burned in front of the house, while rocks smashed through the windows. But John Cennick went on to write and publish hymns that have been sung by multitudes of believers over the past couple of centuries.

Charles Spurgeon made earnest appeals to massive crowds, urging them to repent and turn to Jesus. In London, he was targeted with intense slander and scorn. His health was poor; he was afflicted with gout. He experienced intense anxiety, bearing the weight of many souls. During one event where twenty thousand people were present, a brigand shouted, “Fire!” Seven people were trampled to death and twenty-eight were hospitalized in the panic that ensued.

Spurgeon is remembered for his commitment to sound doctrine and theology through a particularly tumultuous period in the late 1800’s when false doctrine, skepticism, weak theology, and atheism were all becoming entrenched in Western culture. His life and body of work continues to influence young preachers and church planters who have a passion for preaching Christ, the purity of the gospel, and the urgency of living a repentant and humble life before a watching world.

Over the last century, preaching and evangelism evolved from the street corner to massive stadium venues where people gather around massive sound systems and giant high definition monitors. The endless visibility that modern technology provides has produced a crop of media savvy men with polished, high-impact presentations. Stadium evangelism is an industry. It was pioneered by baseball player Billy Sunday in the early part of the twentieth century and perfected by Billy Graham throughout the rest of the twentieth century.

Early in his ministry, Graham had an associate, Charles Templeton, who partnered with him at evangelistic rallies around the country. Despite success and an incredible ability to influence people, Templeton, plagued with doubts and questions, grew skeptical and had a crisis of faith. Unanswered questions left him in a vacuum of doubt so great that he would no longer preach a Bible he couldn’t believe. This shook Graham to the core. He couldn’t answer Templeton’s questions and couldn’t persuade him to come back to the faith. Yet, even as he wrestled with tremendous doubt in those early years, it is widely believed that Graham has preached to more souls around the world than anyone in human history.

The influence of Billy Graham’s ministry produced a pack of Baby Boomer preachers who have become household names. Luis Palau, Greg Laurie, and Billy Graham’s son and successor, Franklin, have filled stadiums around the world for decades. Now, there’s a crop of young, hip, upstart preachers that we’ll be hearing from in years to come. Levi Lusko and Carl Lentz are well on their way to becoming household names, should they hold true to the course. Their stories are yet to be written.

And then there is Nick Vujicic who is, by far, the most fascinating young preacher filling stadiums and mega venues right now. Vujicic was born with tetra-amelia syndrome, a rare congenital condition. Growing up, the only thing he ever wanted was to be like the other kids, but bullies relentlessly targeted Nick. Loneliness, depression, and suicidal thoughts plagued him until he came to terms with his disability. At the age of seventeen, he founded the non-profit organization, Life Without Limbs.

Vujicic has a body pre-made for victimization, yet he uses it as a platform to bring his anti-bullying and suicide prevention message to students around the world. He knows firsthand how cruel the world can be, but Nick remains convinced and drives home the message that all people are fueled by a deep need for Jesus, even if they don’t know it yet. This is what compels him to carry Christ’s message of hope, forgiveness, and mercy to anyone who will listen.

Vujicic’s delivery of the gospel is absolutely one-of-a-kind. His online presence is viral on every social media platform. He’s appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show and was recently the subject of the TV special Born Without Limbs, which aired on The Learning Channel earlier this year.

Nick Vujicic stands on the shoulders of the imperfect men who went before him. Their struggles were real, their heritage rich, and their accomplishments covered with the fingerprints of God. As diverse as this group of ancient and modern day preachers is, they share one common bond: they all bet their very lives on the most binding and timeless miracle in world history—the saving truth of the gospel.

This article originally appears in The Good News of South Florida under the title Nick Vujicic Draws Crowds like Great Evangelists Before Him

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