Outreach - Into New Territory
Illustration for Christian speaker.
I thought this story is an excellent example of what can happen when we follow God’s lead into new territory as we reach out to others. I especially like the fact that the start of a spiritual revolution can be crystallized in one image---white tracks down the black faces of a crowd of miners.
Out of the Mines
And into the Gospel
George Whitefield sat in a Christian friend's home eating supper, staring out the window, and wonderring whether he should make the final break with tradition. It was a Saturday, February 17, 1739. The house lay on the edge of Kingswood, an English village of coal miners. Whitefield could see the edge of the thick forest where the mine shafts sank deep. And he could see the trails through a wide meadow where the miners would soon be trudging home after a long day in the dark.
He wanted so badly to reach these people. Kingswood folk, everyone said, were gin-devils, wife beaters, sodomites. Once they'd dug up the corpse of a murderer and held a festival around it--because his suicide had cheated them of a lynching. Even the hard-bitten sailors of Bristol looked down on these illiterate shack-dwellers.
But Whitefield (and others like him who were being called "Methodists") had just re-discovered the incredible power of the simple gospel. He wanted to see what it could do among the worst that England had to offer. And the only way to do that would be to preach to them outdoors--in the open air.
However something very big stood in Whitefield's way: religious tradition. He was already in trouble with the established Church of England. Most clergymen thought all his talk about the New Birth highly dangerous. The idea that the Holy Spirit could manifest Himself inside individuals seemed preposterous. The established clergy also didn't like these house meetings the Methodists conducted and their habit of praying spontaneously in public, instead of reading an approved prayer. These things were actually illegal at the time.
Whitefield was already bucking tradition. He'd been shut out of pulpits all over England. And now as he looked out over that Kingswood meadow, he was considering the ultimate scandal: preaching outdoors. This man had been brought up to believe that the gospel could only be proclaimed by the approved clergymen, inside the approved churches. The alternative seemed anarchy to people of that time. Even his friend John Wesley still thought open-air preaching "a mad notion."
Whitefield had no desire to break away from his beloved church. He didn't want to cut the final chord. But as the sun dipped over the horizon, the call of the gospel drowned out the chorus of tradition. A verse kept running through his head: "Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in.." (Luke 15:23 nkjv)
Whitefield rose from the supper table and walked out to a rise in the middle of the meadow. The miners were starting to leave their pits. And he called out, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall see the kingdom of heaven!" (Matthew 5:3 kjv) The miners stopped and stared at this parson in his cassock and gown. His voice came to them from a hundred yards away with astonishing clarity. They had no idea what he was talking about, but they gathered to listen.
Whitefield told a funny story that put the men at ease. He spoke of hell, black as a pit, of judgment, and of Jesus, the friend of publicans and sinners. He spoke passionately about the cross--and the miners grew silent and still.
Then suddenly he noticed pale streaks on the grimy faces. A young man to his right. An old bent miner on the other side. Two scarred faces up front. Whitefield saw, as he said, "white gutters made by their tears down their black cheeks."
The next day, when Whitefield returned, the group of 200 miners had grown to nearly two thousand men, women and children. And the following Sunday, 10,000 folk from the surrounding neighborhoods joined them.
And so began England's greatest spiritual revolution, the Great Awakening. In the years that followed, Whitefield and Wesley would sweep up and down the island, bringing countless common folk face to face with the transforming gospel of Jesus Christ. All because one man stepped out of tradition, and into the open air, with God's Word.
"George Whitefield and the Great Awakening," John Pollock (Tring, England: Lion Publishing, 1972) pages 75-83.
These stories for Christian speakers, again, focus on real-life events that directly show how God works, how the principles of Scripture Work, how the spiritual life works. They are examples. They help give to Christian speaking the power of testimony.