Evangelism in Crisis: An Interview with Steve Hopkins

This is part of a series of interviews of Christians experienced in evangelism. I hope this is an encouragement to others and spurs on more ideas and action in individuals and churches engaged in the Great Commission.

Me: This is Jon Neifert and I am talking with Steve Hopkins. I know you as my son’s father-in-law and we’ve known each other for a few years and I know you’re engaged in evangelism. Let’s start with an introduction of yourself and your engagement in evangelism.

Steve: I am Steve Hopkins, pastor of a church in Burnet TX, a Reformed Baptist church. We have 16 children, 9 grandchildren at this point of which we share a couple. Delightful children. My involvement with evangelism really goes back a long way for me. I was very interested at a young age in evangelism and in confronting false Christianity.

For instance, when I was about 18 or 19 years old, living in Tucson AZ, they had this little newspaper called the Dandy Dime. In Texas it was called the Thrifty Nickle. We didn’t have the internet back then so whatever we had in print is all we had. I saw this ad and it said, “Come hear the seventh angel of the Lord”, speaking at such and such a place. I got a couple of my buddies and said, “I want to go confront the seventh angel of the Lord” guys. We went there, sat down and this guy comes out and all these other people. It was a cult, obviously. They were wearing these weird robes and had strange little things hanging around their necks. When the “seventh angel” came out, he had glasses on. I thought, well that’s really interesting. After this guy started talking I stood up in the middle of the room and I just opened up to Galatians. I quoted, “even if an angel from heaven preaches any other gospel, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:8) and they went ballistic on me.

A guy in the front row turned around and gave me this card. He looked kind of Greek with a goatee, kind of like yours. He turned around and hands me this card and I looked at it and he urged, “you need to leave right away, these people are violent.” I got my buddies and we left real quick. I called the guy later and he was an investigator of cults and he’d been tracking them for a long time. He was acting like one of them, but they were pretty crazy. So, I just really got interested in that sort of thing.

I didn’t start street preaching until the late 1980s. We had started going to a small church. That was the first time I ever heard of Calvinism, the first time I heard of Reformed doctrine. This guy was 5 points, every Sunday. One day he said, “You know, I street preach in Georgetown, would you like to go with me and street preach?” I asked, “well what is that?” I said, “Yeah, all right, sure.” So he went out and setup his cross on the front of the courthouse on the sidewalk. He started street preaching in front of the Williamson County Sun newspaper. After he preached for a while he asked, “You want to preach?” I said, “I don’t really know what to do.” I remember his words to this day, “just find the text and give the meaning.” So I started that and was really terrible at it but I’ve been doing it ever since. It went from that to preaching in front of abortion clinics just sharing the gospel and taking the abuse you get there. My wife and I would go every Saturday and every Tuesday for years and years. We kept doing that for a long time and branched into sidewalk street preaching like we do now. We try to minister to people in our community.

This is something that I think is missing in street preaching and evangelism. If you google street preacher, you’re going to find guys in very antagonistic environments. They pick those environments where there’s confrontation. They’re looking for confrontation, for heavy debate, like fairs or places where there’s lots of people like football games where people going in and out and universities.

“This is something that I think is missing in evangelism. We don’t see a lot of people ministering in their own communities.”

It’s one thing for you to go into the world someplace. I think if you’re outside your own community, it needs to be 2-by-2, I think that’s Biblical. It’s another to go in your own community, the way Stephen preached, on your own streets. People know you, you have accountability. If you go to another city and you know you want 2-by-2. Someone needs to be able to verify what you’re saying and what you’re doing. But that’s another subject. Most are not evangelizing their own communities. They go to an event. I’m not against that, but when you minister in your own community, those people know you, they know your history, they know your character, they know if you practice what you preach. They know all these things, so for me its’ really powerful. I’ll have people at businesses that I frequent and someone will say, “Oh, I saw you out there preaching today. I’m glad you’re doing that.” You also get these strange looks from others that are not so happy about it, right?

People will ask me, “How do we do that?” I noticed one day, were are you going to get your captive audience? Where are you going to get an audience where you feel people will gather around? There’s two places: 1) One is at gasoline pumps. People get out, they pump their gas, they are there for two to three minutes and begin to listen. It might turn into two to three more minutes. I’ve had multiple occasions where we preached yesterday where you have 14-16 pumps and you have half of those going all the time. Do the math, every 2-3 minutes you can do a new crop. You can give the message multiple times where there are 150 people an hour. You know that they are getting the gospel and are staying longer. It usually looks like this: You’re preaching, they’re pumping their gas, they pump slow, they’re listening and then they start washing the front window, then they go to the driver’s side window and they decide they’ll clean the back window. They don’t want anybody else to know that they’re listening, but they’re just washing their windows. I’ve seen them literally washing all the windows on the vehicle then the bumper. You know, kind of just doing stuff. I’ve seen them go to the air pump, they check the air on one tire, then all the tires need air. I’ve had people stay for 20 minutes.

Me: Actually, yesterday when we were out there, I was handing out tracts while you were preaching and people would stop at the stoplight and we’d offer a tract. One lady had her window cracked open and I thought, “Here’s a perfect opportunity.” She rolled down her window the rest of the way and took the tract and said, “I usually have my window cracked down here a little, so I can hear better.”

Steve: She’s been listening, so it’s great.

If you noticed a lot of people waving because we’ve been doing this for so long, they know what we’re doing. They’re going home from work around 5 to 6:00 and they’re waving. You also have the negative stuff, the people that are under conviction. You can see it. I’ve seen big strong men with great conviction on their faces.

One of the things that’s important, you pray. Not only for conversion, that people will be converted, but also that Christians be strengthened in their faith through our brothers and sisters.

Christians are encouraged when they see the gospel being proclaimed publicly.

You know, doesn’t it encourage you when you hear somebody in public, totally proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. Not frantic, not a hot head, not going crazy, not yelling and screaming but just preaching the gospel. It’s encouraging.

So, you’re in your local community, people are getting to know you and what I think about many times is Saturation. Rather than just going out and hitting one place then you’re’ gone and nobody sees you again. I’m glad they heard the gospel, that’s great, but saturation, just saturating your own community with the gospel of Christ.

We’ve also bought the USPS EPDM (Every Person Direct Mail) and sent things. You can put your tracts in there and for about 17½ cents apiece you can mail whatever you want to everyone in your community. We did it one year and did a tract on Father’s Day and would have people tell us, “I got that, thanks for sending it.” Some neighbors dropped my and said, “I got that deal in the mail.” Just getting the gospel out there in your own community is very important. Everyone knew Stephen, everyone knew who he was and they were very familiar with him when he got stoned. You might find that people eventually trump up some need to get you off the street. We’ve gone through all kinds of things here. We’ve gone through issues with the police coming. One of the first issues was an officer who came up and I had been preaching from Romans 1 and there were two women sitting in a car who were engaged in unnatural lifestyle. They were sitting there eating and were so upset that they called the police and the police officer came and watched. Another 2 came behind him and said, “Sir, it is against the law to offend people.” I looked back and said, “Sir, with all due respect, that offends me”. He snapped back, “Don’t get smart with me”. I responded, “I’m not getting smart, I’m making a point. I’m offending them, and by you telling me that what I’m doing is offensive. What they’re saying is offensive and offends me. So where does that end?” He wanted to issue a citation and he had to consult his superior officer. He came back and told me what I’m doing is fine, it is constitutional, and I am within my rights. I had a few other encounters like that, but they are very few and far between. Graciously, our local community here has allowed us to use amplification. Some places shut it down. Here, it’s a decibel level you are not to exceed. You can get a decibel meter, by the way, on your iPhone.

Me: It’s a great self-check

Steve: Yeah, they want to make sure that you’re not louder than this 18-wheeler that is going by. We also do Walmart parking lots where various people are walking in and out. A lot of people with their windows down to listen to this.

Me: Let me give you a chance to talk a little bit about biblical evangelism. The word evangelism or evangelist is mentioned very few times in the Bible. One example is when Paul is writing to Timothy and he says “do the work of an evangelist”. What is the work of an evangelist?

Steve: If you look at the instances of evangelism in the NT, a couple kind of lying around the back. First, you have the apostle Peter and the day of Pentecost. The second one that comes to mind is the apostle Paul in Athens. Look at their messages, their sermons. These are street preached messages, these are at least open-air, messages.

If you look at both of those messages you see there’s a pattern in what is preached: Who God is; Who man is; What is Sin; Who Jesus Christ is; and the call to repent and believe.

The difference between these two messages is that the apostle Peter is speaking to Jews and he doesn’t have to tell who God is, so he goes straight to their sin, who Christ is and the call to repent. Whereas, the apostle Paul has to tell them who God is, they don’t know. He starts with here’s your monument to the unknown god, let me declare to you who He is. He’s the God who made the heavens and the earth. In other words, by saying that, he just said all your other gods are false. By saying He’s the one who made everything, any gods after that are obviously lesser.

Me: He is the ultimate.

Steve: Those are the elements that need to be there. Who is God? What is man? What’s wrong with man?

Me: But that’s an interesting point too. When I talk to people about what the gospel is, my “go-to” passage has the gospel in its simplest form. (1 Cor 15:3-4) Right there Paul says, this is the most important, this is the gospel “that Christ died for your sins according to Scripture, that he was burried, and three days later he was raised according to the scriptures.” If you start just with sin, like you were pointing out, a Christian audience already knows what that means. If you have a different audience who doesn’t know who God is and doesn’t know what sin is, you need to take a step back and start with God’s Law.

Steve: That’s the reason you start with who God is before you get to who Jesus is and that he died for our sins. Why did he do that?” Because here’s who God is, God is holy and God is just and God punishes all sin. Man is a sinner and he’s violated God’s commands and he’s going to stand before a holy God one day in judgment. God sent his son Jesus Christ to be the propitiatory sacrifice to satisfy justice that is due us.

Me: I like those key main points.

Steve: I got that from a message on that subject from Jeff Pollard. Anyone who reads this might lookup Jeff Pollard . It might be in street ministry or whatever, but he’s just saying that those are the important elements. I started thinking that through, and that’s absolutely true.
You know who God is and the sad thing is today that most professing Christians in America do not know who God is. They might know that Jesus Christ suffered and died for sin and rose again the third day. They tell you that, but you ask, “Who is God?” and a they don’t know. They haven’t studied the attributes of God. They don’t know who God is.

That goes into the aspect of people who preach the so-called gospel. What they think took place at the cross. It was just an example, you know, what exactly took place. It is the atonement, the satisfaction of sin. He was all God, two natures, one man. You know, the infinitely acceptable sacrifice to an infinite God for infinite injustices done against Him.

Me: Then you immediately get into the resurrection . If Christ would have come and did all that, but if he would have remained dead, we’re just making up stories. That would be the accusation, anyway. Paul, talks about God raising Jesus from the dead as vindication of who He was, what He did, who He claimed to be.

Steve: A sacrifice acceptable to God. It is a Trinitarian work. A lot of people leave that out. Another reason we need to understand who God is. When you go to the scriptures, who raised Jesus from the dead? The Father raised him from the dead. Jesus raised himself from the dead. The Holy Spirit raised him from the dead. You go to all these passages and it is a Trinity work. All of God’s work is Trinitarian.

Me: You and I are part of different denominations. As Christian brothers we have much in common, but also a few differences. One of the things you referred to earlier in your intro were the Doctrines of Grace. Can you speak to what is the role or importance of the Doctrines of Grace in evangelism?

Steve: I never shy away from this. I even approached the subject yesterday. That in John 6, “No man can come to me except the Father who sent me would draw him.” We need to understand that salvation is a work of God. It’s a one work of God, it’s a monergistic work. We need to preach that in the streets. People will shy away from that. I don’t want to ever shy away from that. It needs to be proclaimed. Spurgeon talks about men being sufficiently humbled for God to do the work. A sufficient humbling is necessary for man to see his great need and that can only be and has only been done in God’s way. We don’t pull ourselves up by our own spiritual bootstraps. It’s a resurrection from the dead and it’s a work of God, the Sprit of God wields the Word of God. That’s why the gospel of Christ is the “power of God unto salvation.” You preach the true gospel and the Holy spirit wields the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God upon the hearts of men, those whom God has chosen before the foundations of the world. They are convicted of their sin by the Spirit and they are convicted of their need for a savior and they are convinced that Jesus Christ is the only one. It’s a work of the Spirit of God and it’s a resurrection power calling dead men who are dead in trespasses and sins to life. Who then believe, and because faith has been birthed in them, and they’ve been granted repentance. So, from that aspect of it, I don’t shy away from the Calvinistic doctrines.

But we have to also preach that salvation is by faith and by faith alone and it is in Christ alone and that it is by the grace of God alone. That’s exactly what the scriptures teach and that brings Glory to God. For God’s glory alone. When we try to go in any other way it’s not the gospel.

Me: I think avoiding it is playing into the world’s message. The world’s message says, “Hey, for you to be successful in life, it’s all up to you, your will, your striving, your choice, your best life now.” When they don’t see that it’s God’s work, they think “I’ll just come to Jesus when I need him, and they’re not really convicted or drawn. They don’t feel like they need to get right with God, because it’s up to them.

Me: Let’s go down another path. One of the things that really prompted this conversation for me is when a few years ago, here in Texas, Hurricane Harvey came through and did a lot of flooding and damage here. I remember seeing that and I saw you and your family go out and be active in that disaster. What can you share about evangelism in times of disaster or crisis like that?

Steve:

First, you have to meet the crisis.

One of my friends and one of my sons got boats together. They bought a boat for this particular purpose, really quickly in our neighborhood. They got everything together and then head down. I stayed back with my younger sons in Beaumont and they went into Port Arthur on the night that no one was in, not even the National Guard. He got down and was in 21 to 22 inches of rain and it was flooding. The water was going over the hood as they were driving. They had to have somebody outside with a flashlight at some points to try to find the yellow marks on the road to see where they were going. They got in early and helicopters had come in and were trying to rescue people when the sun was coming up. They went in with the boats and were going to houses that were flooded, taking in 90 year-old grandfathers, people who were in wheelchairs, and just every type of situations. Mothers, children and all, taking them to the helicopters who are lifting them and getting them out of the area.

Then later that afternoon, the National Guard comes and were able to get in. They had gotten there first and God used them to do great work. We met later in Beaumont that night. The electricity was out, there was one motel room left in the entire city and they took all of us. We had about 12 guys at that point in time, piled into one room. All I remember was it was a really, really bad hotel where they had a 5-gallon bucket catching the water form the sink. Everybody is in the roach motel and we learned someone got shot in the head that night in that hotel. We were all thinking, “this is going to be a really bad situation.” Other guys come in from other areas, they were bringing in water, that was the big deal. The next morning in Beaumont, the only store that was open was WalMart and the lines were blocks long, so there was no water left in the city, there was no water in the Walmart, there was no Gatorade, there’s no milk, there was nothing. The people were still lined up and we setup a boat, and a PA system and a half-mile hailer and I preached out of the back of the boat for hours there. Our guys went along with a boat, and they’re giving out to every person in line, a bottle of water and a tract. The people in line were standing there reading as they’re going into Walmart. Our team gave out, by the grace of God, 10,000 tracts and over 2,000 bibles in thirty days of ministry over several months.

We would go out and come back in, we setup these events called “feed and preach”. Once the initial disaster was over and electricity was back on these people turned a house over to us which we affectionately referred to as the rat house. We were going out into the communities where there’s no food, there’s no anything, and we setup tents and barbecue deals. We had guys who were barbequeing, those who were serving, people setting up tables. We had a Hispanic family there that had a bunch of tables and chairs and they just said use them somewhere. We had tables and chairs and people. We would have 150, 300, 400 people per night. They’d be feeding and while they’re eating, I’m preaching out of the back of a boat. We were in a bad neighborhood. The police came by during the daylight hours and told us, “Look, you don’t want to be on these streets after dark, the police don’t even come in here after dark.” We had no problem. When you are the ones who carried their grandparents out to the lifts and everybody knows that, even the gangsters are on your side and defending you. They may not be converted, but they’re respectful and they honor you because you laid down your life for their mothers, wives, sisters and their children. So it’s important to go in and to do that, the hard work. I wouldn’t do any of it if it weren’t for the fact that we’re going in to take the gospel. Chapel Library provided the the vast majority of the tracts to us for free. Justin Peters sent us like $20,000 worth of videos to give away. It was a real blessing. We had a guy out of Washington state named Paul that had a mystery donor who was buying bibles and shipping them in by the hundreds. We gave away 2100 Bibles in English and Spanish. People just wanting them, desiring them. We had boys out on street corners handing out tracts and people we’re taking them willingly. People were coming in, they were eating, they were listening, and it was just a really good time.

I want to get back down there and just see what has God done with that. What’s happening with churches in that area? Are they experiencing growth or is it just the thing that happens so many times. They’re willing to hear about God when they’re in a desperate situation, but when the thunderstorm is passed, and the earthquake is over, then they go back to their own lives. I’m hoping there’s fruit there

Me: I think that’s one of the struggles of an evangelist. You go in, you get the message out, but you don’t always see the fruit. Many people define success in evangelism as seeing that fruit, what do you think?

Steve: Our job is to be obedient to God. One plants, one waters, God that makes things grow. He gets all the glory. You might be on the harvesting end of it. Sometimes we are, most of the time we’re not. But when we are, that’s a wonderful thing.

Me: We don’t need to feel like were failing at evangelism if we’re not on the harvesting end because there’s all different roles along the way.

Steve: You look at the example of William Carey, he goes into India and he preaches for seven years before he has his first convert. That’s William Carey, so come-on. Put in and log some hours. It’s ok to log some hours and without seeing something from it. Other times you’ll see it. I saw it being arrested in in Austin. I was preaching in front of the abortion mill where they said, “He stepped over the line and is trespassing.” Well, I wasn’t. They just wanted me off the street, so I ended up being taken into a prison cell and they put me in the block with the people that were coming off drugs because they didn’t like me. The Lord used that, the guy that was in there ended up coming to the Lord, coming to saving faith. Before I got to the cell he was trying to hang himself from the jail cell door with his pants. Trying to kill himself. The Lord let these guys falsely accuse me and got me in there. It was in God’s timing, so sometimes you’re there for them, sometimes you’re able to see that. But there were people who laid seeds for decades in that man’s life. Thanks God for that. To plant, to water, and to cultivate and not see anything from it. It’s for God’s glory

Me: It’s for His purpose and his work.

Steve: Yeah, I’ve prayed many times heading to street preach or any place where there’s evangelism. “Lord, let our names be forgotten, let the name of Christ be exalted.” I don’t want to be seen and heard, I want Christ to be seen and heard.

Me: I’ll give you one final question. You’ve been doing this for many years, what advice or resources would you give to the individual or to churches wanting to be more engaged in evangelism?

Steve: First, to the individual, I would say “Don’t go – unless you’ve gone to your church elders first and you’re under authority and they would support what you’re doing.” That’s a controversial thing, many say, “Well, just anybody can run out there and do whatever they want.” You need to be a person who is under the authority of church government. That’s my belief. I think that everyone that we see, they’re not a lone ranger, you’re not a prophet. Please don’t go out on the streets if you think you’re a prophet.

We had a guy in our church that had the prophet syndrome; he got his “direct” messages from God. You couldn’t tell him anything else. “God told me to turn left at this street corner and turn right over here and do this, go down there and this person.” No, it’s just not God’s way. You need to be under authority, you need to have a grasp of the gospel. It’s great if you could have the prayer support of your church; they would be praying for your success and the church’s. It’s evident from scripture that men need to be sent, so send them out. Send men out into your own community. I quote Spurgeon a lot but this is a paraphrase, He said, ”even the ministers of churches he said, if you’ve never been outside the four walls of your church, to evangelize, you can’t say that you’ve done everything that God has required of you as a minister of the gospel.” They all, every example we have in scripture, there’s no one who just remained inside of their four walls. Well, maybe the Pharisees and their synagogues, but the Christian minister should preach the gospel. If you think there’s no such thing as persecution in America, then go out and preach on the streets and you’ll find out that there is. Not like we’re seeing in China, or in Muslim nations, but there is some. You will experience adversity and that’s good and it’s helpful for the minister, for elders, pastors, shepherds of the flock to experience that from the world which the apostles experienced from the world because they preached Christ.

Me: I think it’s about managing expectations. For those who have never done this before, don’t expect to go out and be all happy, smiles, and love, right? Look at what scripture teaches and the example you see there.

Steve: I know men who won’t go out and open-air preach like I do, but they go and share the gospel one on one. That’s fantastic! and God uses them, all of those methods when the truth of God is being proclaimed.

I would encourage churches to be involved in supporting and sending out men in their own communities and I would tell men in churches to make sure that you’re under the authority of your church.

You’re a member of the church. We would say in our church that you’re in covenant because we have a signed church covenant. You have accountability in your life, not just the family realm, not just the civil realm, but also the realm of the church.

Me: That’s also your reference back to going out in pairs. There’s some accountability there.

Steve: Yes, there’s accountability.

Me: Thanks for taking the time, I appreciate it and hopefully this can be an encouragement to others as well.

Author: Jon Neifert and Steve Hopkins
Posted on September 09 2020
Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre! For the Lord takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with salvation.
Psalm 149:3-4