Street evangelists are perhaps some of the most courageous Christians I can think of, but until they begin to emphasize the rest of the four cardinal virtues, their ministry will lack a Christian method.
As students on campuses across the country return to the groove of college life, they begin to remember experiences forgotten over the summer months.
For some, this means remembering the thrill of a football victory. For others, this means remembering what an 8 a.m. class feels like.
For many, however, this also includes hearing the shouts of street evangelists attempting to disprove evolution or condemn folks to hell.
As I exited a dining hall on campus the other day, I was reminded of that feeling of despair as a street evangelist shouted over the hum and drum of college students shuffling to class.
It really does elicit feelings of despair in me, as a college student and, more important, as a Christian.
The street evangelist crushes, in a matter of hours, seeds sown by Christian college students. Despair is the only word to describe my feelings.
On this particular day, I sat and listened as the man tried to talk to students, who made quick, sarcastic comments in return.
I could not help but admire the courage of the man as he continued despite the lackluster responses from students.
As I watched the scene unfold, it occurred to me that many conservative, right-wing evangelicals emphasize courage as the key virtue.
They are afraid they might appear ashamed of the Gospel. Christians must be strong, bold, brave, courageous and so on.
Do not misinterpret what I’m saying: The virtue of courage is extremely important, but does such a strong emphasis on the virtue of courage deemphasize the importance of the other virtues?
I think all Christians should strive to emphasize all the virtues when looking at ministry opportunities – courage, prudence, justice and temperance.
Certainly prudence is an important virtue when starting any form of ministry. What are the proper means and methods that should be taken?
I think street evangelists fail to exercise the virtue of prudence all the time. Is it prudent to yell at people walking by as a means of sharing the love of Jesus Christ?
In Luke 22, it was not prudent for the disciples to draw their swords on the Roman soldiers who were to take Jesus to the Pharisees.
The disciples did not weigh their choices properly. They chose the wrong course of action for the particular situation.
Christians should weigh the choices of ministry they can pursue and make prudent decisions.
It should likewise be a priority for Christians to emphasize justice when working in their mission field.
We should be just to whom we minister. It is necessary to develop a keen sense of empathy and allow ourselves to identify with another’s pain and suffering.
Is it truly just to condemn random strangers to hell without knowing anything about them?
Matthew 7 tells us we should judge according to how we would wish to be judged. We must enter into the lives of those we are ministering to in order to see their need for mercy and, most important, humanity’s need for grace.
Finally, I believe temperance provides the biggest challenge for Christians when it comes to evangelizing.
We have a hard time trying to reconcile our need to spread the Gospel and our need to exercise restraint.
I think the best cue we can take is from Christ, who easily could have called forth legions of angels and ended our world and our chance to have new life. He exercised temperance and instead died on a cross for our sins.
Jesus could have done a number of things to avoid death, but instead he died on that wooden cross to offer humanity a gift of new life.
It is easy to see how the virtues relate to the Christian life, but allowing them to affect our actions is difficult.
We have preconceived notions about how we should witness, and we fail to measure our methods of witnessing with the methods of Christ contained in the Gospel.
Andrew Gardner holds a PhD in American Religious History and is the author of “Reimagining Zion: A History of the Alliance of Baptists” (Nurturing Faith Publishing).