Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Preaching at the Park

Steve Cliff (see arrow) preaching at Falls Park on the Reedy River in Greenville

GPTS Divinity students are given many opportunities — in classes, in chapel, in churches — to get practical experience in preaching. Two current students named Steve (and a handful of fellow students) are finding other creative ways — through "open air" preaching and outdoor evangelism.

Visit beautiful downtown Greenville's Falls Park on any given night, and you might encounter Steve Cliff, a GPTS student from New Zealand, presenting the gospel to park visitors. You won't find many other street preachers expounding on the Westminster Standards, but Steve is often heard challenging passers-by with doctrines from the Confession or asking and answering the Shorter Catechism's famous first question, "What is the chief end of man?"

You'll also find Steve McCullough, a student from Jonesboro, Ga., preaching or evangelizing in one-on-one discussions with downtown visitors. Mr. McCullough has sought out street evangelism training opportunities such as offered by Pendleton Street Baptist Church, a Reformed downtown church which annually does outreach during Greenville's Fall Festival. Outdoor evangelism is a particular passion, and he looks for opportunities to put it into action on the street, in the park or on college campuses. "Steve M. is out open airing downtown every Friday lunchtime with GPTS alumni and pastor of Greenville Presbyterian Church Rob McCurley," says Mr. Cliff. "Steve M. is also consistently out on a Friday night open airing with us as well."

Laura Cliff, Steve Cliff's American wife ("our manager"), along with GPTS students Michael Spangler and Caleb Nelson also frequently join the Steves in outdoor outreach. Michael, who also teaches part-time at GPTS, preaches to the crowds; while Caleb, a recent M.A. grad now pursuing his M.Div. degree, engages people one-on-one. Other students joining them have been Tim Marinelli of Virginia; Canadian student Adam Harris; former prison inmate Lowell Ivey; Tim Rice, a recent student who also engages in outdoor evangelism in his nearby hometown of Anderson, S.C.; and a foreign refugee student (name withheld).

Steve and Laura Cliff
Mr. and Mrs. Cliff spent five years "open airing" in New Zealand and a year doing so in the United States, traveling around various states and towns. Mr. Cliff says that after he and Mr. McCullough recently preached on the University of Georgia campus, they began to set up to continue on the streets of U of G's rather liberal hometown, Athens, Ga., but encountered immediate hostility from some locals who objected to public expression of religion, even before a word was spoken. He says they have not encountered a similar degree of hostility in Greenville, although there have been challenges.

"We set up a dual mike system and encourage a Q&A session with anyone at Falls Park to facilitate discussion of world views, theological questions etc. every week. We usually have skeptics, atheists, and agnostics ask questions. One couple recently, among others, we've started to counsel on the basics of Reformed Theology," Mr. Cliff says.

Mr. and Mrs. Cliff, Mr. Nelson and Mr. McCullough have also "open aired" and engaged with people at the Greenville Women's Center abortion clinic.

"The streets are a great training ground where we can practically apply what we are being taught at GPTS, that the Word is be rightly divided and proclaimed," Mr. Cliff says.

Pray that these outreach efforts would find fruitful soil in the hearts of residents of our own Bible Belt community whose familiarity with Christianity may sometimes breed complacency concerning the vitals of the faith.

Steve Cliff (left), Laura (center) and Steve McCullough (right)

Steve McCullough preaching at a university campus

Michael Spangler