The words “street evangelist” probably don’t conjure up the kindest of images.
When Christians take to the streets to spread the gospel it’s often unpopular. But Chris Duffett is no ordinary evangelist.
Chris has been ministering in city centres across the north of England for 16 years. But rather than proclaiming “the end is near” on street corners, Chris says he just wants to love people.
For Chris, an average day may involve anything from dishing out free hugs to engaging in some prophetic art.
“I Will Listen”
One of the most infamous projects Chris has pioneered involves placing a settee in the middle of Peterborough. “I sit there with a sign that just says ‘I will listen’. I listen to people all day and most of them say: ‘Why are you doing this?’ I tell them of their worth and value and that I wanted them to know that God loves them.”
We need to have confidence in this gospel because it is good news and people are gagging for good news
Chris is passionate about finding creative ways to share his faith. While working in cities such as in Birmingham, Peterborough and Cambridge, Chris and his team regularly offer passers-by free pastries and prayer.
Although Chris uses a variety of tools to spark people's interest, he isn’t interested in gimmicks. “It’s not about relevance,” he says. “You can have the most clever or brilliant presentation of the gospel but if we don’t love people, it’s just nonsense. Without love, the gospel just becomes a noisy clanging symbol or a banging of the drum, it doesn’t connect with people.”
“The free hug thing that I do, if I do that because it’s a methodology and I don’t love people, then I need to stop hugging!”
The incoming president of the Baptist Union became a Christian at the age of 17, but his story starts when he was a toddler.
“My parents were missionaries in Zululand. I grew up in South Africa and as a toddler I would just hug people. My parents have pictures of me hugging alcoholics and the homeless while smiling. When I became a Christian in my teens, the love for people re-birthed and I started to share everything I had with people on the streets.”
Chris’s book Smackheads and Fatcats outlines a new vision for evangelism. The inspiration for the book came after Chris met a drug addict. “I prayed for someone who people would call a ‘smackhead’. I prayed with him because I thought he was going to die. He’d taken a bad hit of heroin, and I saw God heal him in front of my eyes. It changed my life and his life. I saw Simon recently and he still talks about that experience when a wave of love came over him and he got better. Remarkably he’s still not a Christian but he believes God healed him.”
Chris is currently writing his second book titled, Big Hearted Evangelism.
"It’s looking at what it means to serve a big hearted God and what it means to be big hearted Church. It’s all about going to the least, the lost and the last. It’s about going to those who haven’t heard or experienced the good news of Jesus plus loads of ideas of how to do that as church. The release of the book will co-incide with the "Big Hearted Tour", which will see Chris travel to all 13 associations covered by the Baptist Union to help local churches with various evangelistic projects.
"There’s 2200 baptist churches within those associations so I’m saying let’s get together and do evangelism. This isn’t just 4 days of training, this is 4 days of doing evangelism together".
Chris is convinced that in order to reach the masses the Church must take its message to the streets. A good example of how Chris is pioneering such inititatives is the "Palm Cross Readings" that he did last Palm Sunday.
“There must have been at least 40 people who sat down and said ‘what are you doing’? I said: ‘I just wanted to write something on this palm cross that I believe is from God’s heart for you and will just remind you that God loves you and he knows you.’ One lady sat down. She was immaculately dressed but all I kept feeling was she was like a farmer – she could make things grow and she needed protection for her home so I wrote those things down and I wrote something of God’s love for her and the gift of Jesus on the cross.
“My colleague overheard her say to a friend: “Look, I didn’t tell him anything and look what he’s written!” and the husband said: ‘how did he know that?’ and she said ‘you go and queue up’. So he came and sat down in front of me and said ‘I suppose you’re going to tell me that I’m going to go to hell and what a bad person I am?’ I said ‘no I’m not.’ And I wrote about God’s love for him and some of the gifts I saw in his life. He looked as if he was going to cry. He said ‘thank you for that’ and was really touched by it all.”
It’s not always easy, and Chris knows that not everyone will understand where he is coming from. “When I’m feeling and experiencing the presence of God on the street but other people aren’t, that’s where the heartache comes. I long for other people to have what I’ve got.”
Confidence In The Gospel
While the street evangelist has many encouraging stories, Chris is also aware of the problems facing Christians in the UK. “We’ve lost confidence in the message that we ourselves are saved by,” he says.
“We’ve listened to it, we’ve grown up with it and it has been good news for us. But somehow in the communicating of it, our very lives say: ‘It’s rubbish news’. We need to have confidence in this gospel because it is good news and people are gagging for good news.”
Chris’s methods would be described as “radical” by some parts of the Church. But he believes it’s necessary. “If we’re really being honest, the UK remains an unreached nation and as church we need to do radical things to reach the nation.”
When I’m on the streets that’s when I feel most at church
Could the future of the church be on the streets? “When I’m on the streets that’s when I feel most at church,” Chris replies. “I believe we need to do more that is in public and less that is behind closed doors.”
Chris is keen to stress he isn’t merely giving people a self esteem boost, but preaching a real and life changing message. He believes the Church needs to be obedient to Christ’s calls to heal the sick and to above all, love everyone. For Chris, the message he preaches is of infinitely more worth than any of his out of the ordinary methods.
“When people respond to the gospel it’s the most exhilarating experience one can have. That other people get it and receive this good news of Jesus is just wonderful.”
February 14th, 2012 - Posted & Written by Sam Hailes