About five years ago, I first met Tommy Waltz. One of my coworkers previously was involved in open air preaching and was looking for an opportunity to rekindle the flame. He asked me to go with him. To be honest, I was curious. I trusted my friend, I knew his theology, I knew he wasn’t going to be a jerk preacher, so I went. And through this I met Tommy.
That day, we went looking for a place for my coworker and Tommy to preach during a festival going on downtown. Tommy and I were paired up to walk around sharing the gospel one on one before the preaching. During this time, Tommy once stood up to preach to a small crowd of homeless folks waiting outside a shelter. I noticed that he was not hateful, but clear, compassionate, and yet direct. When he preached again later, it stood out to me that he was biblical, actually preaching through a text in public, and also pleading the gospel with people who stopped.
Honestly, I was impressed by the quality of the preaching. I thought to myself “If street preaching were to be done, this is the way it ought to be done.” However, I was not fully convinced in my mind it was the best method.
When we moved to NJ one year ago, we entered an area of the country plagued by false religion, ideological secularism, and a general lack of belief. Since living here, we have seen the great need for the kingdom, and have been emotionally burdened by the lostness surrounding us. And yet, when I heard that Tommy desired to come serve our church plant, I didn’t know what to think.
In fact, I talked with Pastor Carlos, our lead church planter, and made the following statement “I have a genuine love for Tommy and I highly respect him and his ministry, however, I wonder if this is the best method for sharing the gospel. Will people be offended by the gospel, or by the method, that is my question?”
I asked brothers who had a heart for the gospel what their thoughts were about street preaching as an evangelistic method, many shared similar sentiments, some were uncertain either way, some were just curious to know what it would be like.
To be honest, I really struggled, even to the day Tommy arrived, with what would happen, if it was right (I would use the word “best” but in my heart I really meant “right.”)
I decided to become curious instead of cynical and drove around Passaic, Clifton and we finally found people walking around in Paterson. We shared the gospel one on one with a few folks for about an hour then found a place for Tommy to set up at the corner of Crooks and Main Ave.
Within a few moments of preaching, a man stopped to listen and expressed a real desire to “get this right.” Pray for him, his name is Carlos. As I listened to Tommy and watched the people passing by, many stopping for moments to see what this was all about, I heard Tommy faithfully exposit scripture (his text that day was Psalm 1) as he made appeals to people around us. He has a good method on cycling through key elements of the gospel as the stoplight changed, or a new crowd popped up at an ATM or a bus stop.
God was softening my heart and showing me my lack of faith. I wrote an email that night to Pastor Carlos confessing my sin and lack of faith before God over Tommy’s visit.
Over the next three days, God did some great things. Everywhere we went, God provided gospel opportunities and divine appointments. People conversed with us, they opened up. Some didn’t. If there were people angered by the preaching, there weren’t many. Many seemed curious, or just kept walking by. However, we did have the opportunity to have genuine gospel conversations with a lot of people, people we may not have otherwise met. Tommy remained faithful to the texts he preached from, sometimes preaching well over an hour.
The conversations we were able to have showed us the great barriers we will have to overcome through gospel persuasion. A majority of people had no concept of sin, or thought God cared little about sin. Catholics and Muslims have this in common – sin is no great deal to God as long as you do good. Very few people knew much about Jesus other than his name. People were clueless about the gospel, about why Jesus died. Many thought everyone will go to heaven. Many Muslims said that our religions are the same.
Tommy said over and over again that this type of ministry is a humble and also humbling ministry. God’s witnesses are bond-servants to those who are hearing the gospel message. We must maintain that attitude of a servant as we share and preach. That has stuck with me.
The weekend also opened my eyes to the need for this type of ministry. As pastors, Carlos and I are praying for God to raise up evangelists from Christ Our Hope Church.
I was reminded of a lesson I learned earlier from Scripture. In 2 Timothy 4, Paul makes an injunction to his disciple Timothy – “do the work of an evangelist.” I was reminded how pastorly and churchly the work of an evangelist really is. This weekend only served to increase my passion for sharing the gospel with others.
As a pastor and church planter, I want to endorse Tommy’s ministry and recommend that more pastors and churches pray how they might embrace a preaching ministry like his alongside their evangelistic strategy. Taking this step must come with humility, love, service, faith, courage, zeal, brokenness – I pray that, like me, the Lord would bring these about in your heart.
Tommy is a man submitted to his elders at Open Door Church, and he gives a priority to serving the church planting teams and church plants of our mother church. While he has formalized his ministry – Gospel of God Ministries – and he needs financial support (please support him), I do not consider his ministry parachurch, or outside the church.
In fact, in my mind, he is no more parachurch than the Apostle Paul’s ministry. Paul was a church planter who did the work of an evangelist, and he was intimately connected with local churches, including his sending church in Antioch. While Tommy is not a church planter in that sense, he is doing the work of an evangelist in the context of local church ministry. He is a servant to churches. This is a strength for his ministry and a healthy model to follow.
I look forward to his return, Lord willing, next year. Please consider how you might pray for and support his ministry.
Above all, dear pastor friend, consider how you might “do the work of an evangelist” and dear sister church how you might fulfill your call to “make disciples of all nations.”
With love and respect,
Wesley L. Handy
Pastor of Missions and Community Outreach
Christ Our Hope Church