In the Sunday edition of the Columbus Dispatch there is an article about the demolition of the City Center Mall in downtown Columbus.
In its day the City Center Mall was THE place to shop for upscale anything. Now it is being torn down and turned into a park.
In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s I used to go to the City Center Mall quite often.
Not to shop though.
I was a street preacher. I would take a few men, women and children from our Church and go to the City Center Mall to hand out tracts and preach.
We couldn’t go inside the mall so we would stand in front of the mall and hand out tracts, witness, argue, and preach.
More than a few times the police were summoned in an attempt to get us to leave. They would ask us to leave and when that didn’t work the police would threaten us with arrest. My standard line was “Go ahead. Imagine how that will look on the front page of the paper tomorrow.”
Over my many years of street preaching I was threatened with arrest many times. I stood my ground each and every time. We live in a great country. A country that says I have rights. I have the right to preach on a street corner. Sidewalks are public space and as such citizens are allowed to exercise their first amendment rights on the sidewalk.
Preaching of the street and being threatened with arrest was a great adrenalin rush. The more a police officer threatened me the more I dug in my heels. I was fearless.
I was quite a celebrity in SE Ohio. I was featured in two news articles about my street preaching activities. I preached on the streets of Columbus, Lancaster, Zanesville, Newark, and numerous small towns. I preached on the streets of New Orleans and Washington DC.
Street preaching brings out all kinds of responses from people. Christian people thought I was a modern day John the Baptist. They invited me to come preach at their Church. (and I did) Christians told me they wished they could have my courage, my boldness.
I was spit on, cursed, and assaulted. One man tried to kill me by driving his truck over the curb and trying to run me over.
I was friends with well-known street preachers. Don Hardman. Jed Smock. Jimmy Hood The Swat Team (Gerald Sutek).
Last night my wife and I spent the night in Auburn, Indiana. We had a wonderful time. On our way back to Ohio we had a discussion about being right, about street preaching, about why I preached like I did, about why I did the things I did in the ministry.
I would like to think I was driven by some higher purpose and calling.
But I wasn’t.
Simply put, I had a need to be right.
I needed for my beliefs and practices to validated.
I needed to know that what I believed was right.
When I preached on the street I thought of myself as a modern day prophet. Jesus and the disciples preached on the street. I was willing to do what 99% of preachers would NEVER do. They were cowards. They hid behind the “I am not called or led to preach on the street.” line.
I was special. I wasn’t like those golf playing, pussy preachers. I was driven by the belief that Jesus demanded all of my time and effort. Jesus, because of ALL he did for me, deserved all of me.
If that meant sacrificing my wife and family so be it. My wife KNEW what she was getting into when she married me. She knew I was a devoted follower of Jesus. She knew that I put God, Jesus, the Church, the ministry, and most everything else related to the Church before her and the kids. That’s how it was supposed to be. People who had a higher calling had to make sacrifices. My family was that sacrifice. “To whom much his given much is required.”
80 hour work weeks. Never taking a vacation unless it was coupled with preaching somewhere. Rarely taking time to throw a ball, take a hike, or go out on a date. The Church was my mistress and Jesus was my lover.
I must be honest here…even if I hadn’t been a pastor I might have been just the same way. I have a type A personality and I am a work-a-holic. (and my physical problems partially come from this) To say that I was driven would be an understatement.
While in SE Ohio my life was something like this:
- Teach Sunday School
- Preach on Sunday Morning
- Preach on Sunday Night
- Preach on Thursday Night
- Go on visitation on Tuesday Night, and whenever else I needed to
- Go on bus visitation on Saturday morning
- Preach on the Street on Tuesday and Thursday and Some Saturdays
- Preach special meetings at other Churches
- Work on the building and grounds
- Counsel people when and where they needed it
In addition to all of this, our Church had a Christian School I was the administrator of the school and I taught in the school. I also taught several Bible Institute type classes for adults.
We got up at 6:00 AM and went to bed at midnight most every day. I worked non-stop. I ate poorly and I know I have six children but I am really trying to figure out when my wife and I ever had time to have sex.
I was THE man. The gold standard for dedicated, work-a-holic, sold out, bought by the blood, how I could I do less, preachers.
But what was my motivation for living this way?
The need to be right.
My life was validation that the Bible was true. After all didn’t Jesus call us to a higher purpose, to leave father, mother, and lands to be his disciple? When I compared my life to most of the Christians and pastors I knew…I was at the top of the scale.
I was right.
I needed to be right.
When people cursed me, spit on me, and tried to kill me to reinforced that I was right. After all, that’s what they did to Jesus and the early Church.
Persecution, perceived or real, is a great tool for measuring rightness. Look at how people reject my message, reject my preaching. This is PROOF I am doing God’s work, God’s way.
I never considered that maybe I was just an arrogant asshole. My view of God and the Bible didn’t allow for such judgments. Besides asshole is a bad word.
God is right, The Bible is right. I need to be right.
Everything led to that one great conclusion…I was right.
Now I know better.
I wasn’t right at all.
I was arrogant.
I was full of myself.
God wasn’t right. The Bible wasn’t right. And I most certainly was not right.
I have come to see that life is not about being right. It is about living. Living humbly. Living in the moment. Living for love.
That doesn’t mean that the Bruce of old,a type-A work-a-holic, is dead. He still shows up from time to time. My children know this full well. “When does Dad want that done?” Everyone laughs. “Last week.” I am the person everyone wants working FOR them but they can’t stand to work WITH.
I am still a person that is driven by passion and unfortunately I still often find myself thinking I need to be right. I have to get the last word in. I have to make that blog commenter see it my way. In many ways I am still preaching on the street corner.
The difference now is that I intellectually know I don’t need to be right. In fact being right is an arrogant fantasy. But old habits die hard. I remain a work in progress.
And I am still right.