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Evangelism, Proclamation and Treasure Hunts

Recently I was asked what I knew about evangelistic treasure hunts. Not much was the answer. I'd read a couple of blogs here and there, but for those completely new to it, here's a short video of practitioners from the States:


Here's what I like...

1. They want to "take it to the streets".

2. They believe in the universal love of God and want to express it.

3. They see people as "treasure."

4. They want to care for whole people, not just save souls.

5. They want to be sensitive to the Spirit's work in mission.

I affirm all these values.  But for these very reasons I want to question the practice of treasure hunting- and I mean genuinely to "question" it. I'm a newcomer to this and in no position to dismiss it. But here are some initial thoughts that explore the foundations of the church's mission.  If this starts a dialogue about it, then good and I'm more than willing to be educated about these things... But I wonder whether treasure hunting in practice ends up undermining all the positives listed above.

1. They want to "take it to the streets".

I'm all for taking the gospel to the streets (see links at the bottom of this post). But that's the issue: what exactly are we taking to the streets?  What is the mission of the church?  Put it another way: For what purpose is the church sent into the world?

(Notice that this question is different to "What are all the things the body of Christ gets up to, week by week?" The church is involved in many activities, but asking why it has been sent into the world is a significantly different question.)

My expanded thoughts on the church's mission can be found here and here but for now let me draw your attention to 2 Corinthians 4 and 5 and especially...

We do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. (2 Cor 4:5)

Essentially, the mission of the church is not "service" in the abstract, with proclamation fitting underneath (see diagram).  And it's not "service" on one hand and "proclamation" on the other (the context in 2 Cor. 4-5 makes that clear).  Mission is proclamation - setting forth the truth plainly (v2), with "service" fitting underneath.


Proclamation is the umbrella activity - everything else fits explicitly under the preaching of Christ as Lord.  If this is the case then the footing on which you engage the world matters.  And the footing ought to be proclamation.

In 1 Corinthians 1-2, Paul is adamant that preaching the weak-looking cross is the way forward. He contrasts it with the demands of the Greeks (for wisdom) and the Jews (for miracles) and he insists that preaching is how we engage.

In the past I've taken flak when arguing against "wisdom-first" mission (i.e. evidentialist apologetics).  Now, in the interests of offending all people equally, let me argue against "power-first" mission too.  As we'll see, I'm not against wisdom or power in the cruciform sense - but I think there's an explicit order and a context for these things...

2. They believe in the universal love of God and want to express it.

This is a brilliant value to hold.  The trouble is the practice of treasure hunting looks like it undermines that value. One of the distinctive features of treasure hunting is going after the few and passing by the many.  The beauty of open air is that it's the one form of evangelism that seeks to be as indiscriminate as God's own evangelistic purpose.  He has placed us where we are so that all people might find him (Acts 17:26-27). Therefore a way of evangelism (i.e. open air) that seeks to reach a locality as a locality is a wonderful reflection of God's universal love.  If you want to reflect God's universal love, I'd recommend open air over treasure hunting which is unnecessarily particular.

3. They see people as "treasure."

This is nice, and a great reflection of the true meaning of Matthew 13:44-46 - we are the treasure and we need to be found.  Of course the other word - "hunt" - is not so nice.  But maybe the hunted don't mind?

My reservation here is something that also applies to open air, but I think the whole set-up of treasure hunts amplifies the danger: non-Christians are not marks to hit, or scalps to win.  We're not interested in "gaining converts" but in offering Christ.  If you ask me, the writing up of targets sets up the whole enterprise in a questionable way. Far better to speak from a fullness than to need responses.  It's not about you achieving your witnessing goals, but about you emptying yourself for your hearers.  There seems a very great danger of commodifying your listeners with treasure hunts.

4. They want to care for whole people, not just save souls.

Full disclosure - I'm not from charismatic circles.  The churches I grew up in were as dogmatically anti-charismatic as they were anti-liberal.  For years I thought evangelicals were defined by what we didn't believe in: we weren't liberal and we weren't charo's. That's my background.  And yet, very often when I'm doing open air evangelism I've ended up praying for someone in need - whether for physical or emotional healing or for God to come through in some situation or other.  I don't consider myself "gifted" to heal in any charismatic sense, but I've prayed for it often enough. Everyone street evangelist I know ends up praying for people - for healings, for "breakthroughs" in personal situations, for whatever. You can't offer Christ without talking to people in need, and you can't be a Christian without wanting to help those people.

I love that treasure hunters pray for folks on the streets - I do it too.  But I have great reservations about encountering folk in order to tick off clues, and about leading with 'power', when Paul tells me to lead with the word of the cross (see points 1 and 5).

5. They want to be sensitive to the Spirit's work in mission.

This is wonderful. The prayerful preparation involved in Treasure Hunting is great.  May we all learn from it.  Also cultivating a moment-by-moment dependence on the Spirit's leading throughout our evangelism is priceless.  "Spirit, help me... Open his/her eyes" is my constant prayer in open air work.  But let's ask: what is the work of the Spirit?

I fear that too often we make an equation between the Spirit and what Enlightenment people think of as "the supernatural". Since modern people (Christians included it seems) have booted God "upstairs", we consider this world as a "natural" realm of cause and effect. But then Christians come along and say "Yes, but there's also another realm over and above called "the supernatural" and it's all about un-natural, unexpected stuff happening."   And so essentially Christians agree with the naturalists about the basic structure of reality, we just insist that cause and effect aint all there is - there's also freaky stuff.

What will evangelism look like then?  Well, we'll want to introduce unbelievers to this other realm.  And so "the miraculous" seems a perfectly appropriate way in. Trouble is, the Spirit is not so much the Spirit of "the supernatural", He's the Spirit of Christ.  The way the realm of the Spirit breaks into this world is in the Anointed One.  Heaven meets earth in Jesus and every meeting we try to arrange between unbelievers and God needs to reflect that.

In 1 Corinthians 1 Paul has rejected the tactic of giving "Jews" the "miraculous signs" they demand. He thinks that will undermine his message. Nonetheless in chapter 2 he says he wants his evangelism to demonstrate the Spirit's power (v4).  Ok great. What form will that demonstration take?  It's not in wise and persuasive words and it's not in miraculous "powers". It's in preaching the cross (2:2).  There the Spirit shines His light with almighty power (1:18). There is the meeting of heaven and earth.  And Paul says, it's very possible to distract non-Christians from that centre.  It's very possible to empty the cross of its power (1:17).

Lest we ever do that, let's determine to know nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. He is the whole focus of the Spirit's work.  Let us then, as Spirit-filled, Spirit-dependent witnesses, make  Christ and His work our focus.  That is truly Spirit-ual evangelism.


Here are some older posts on how I try to share Christ publicly...

First Contact Evangelism Seminar

Open Air Preaching with Wesley and Whitefield

Open Air Preaching

Open Air Ideas

Open Air Doesn't Have To Be Flashy

21 thoughts on “Evangelism, Proclamation and Treasure Hunts

  1. Tim Wilson

    I'm going to have to scout through those old posts. I haven't done anything open air, but I think it is something worth doing.

    Quick question:

    This is nice, and a great reflection of the true meaning of Matthew 13:44-46 -we are the treasure and we need to be found.

    I've heard someone else say this before, but it seems to go against everything I've ever heard or read on the subject. What led you to that decision?

  2. Glen

    Thanks Matthew.

    Yes Tim, I also say more in the comments of that post (responding to Carson's alternative take).

  3. Si Hollett


    From someone whom this is all new to, there's some real prophetic stuff into the problems with 'prophetic evangelism'* here.

    Speaking as someone who moves in those charismatic circles (with a foot in each camp it's like doing the splits, except I can't do the splits - it's painful!), the exegesis of the passages (Woman of Samaria, Ethiopian Eunuch, Macedonian Man being the key ones) - and I've been taught the academic argument - seems to me to be somewhat lacking and a bit forced (even assuming all the charismatic assumptions). When this gets further twisted without verbal proclamation as the main aim (it is typically not denied in evangelism treasure hunts that they shouldn't 'share the gospel', but it is often watered down) the arguments turn into clear eisegesis.

    OK, cards on the table: I'm predisposed to be biased against treasure hunts as I am not good at them and feel embarrassed and exposed by such things. Whenever I arrive early at church and we 'listen', or when we do something similar at college, my mind normally either goes blank (which is scary for someone for whom introverted intuition is their primary way of relating to the world!) or goes on a meta-rant about the whole thing: of how my mind goes blank and God is silent to me when we do this, how this feels forced and awkward, how I can't even comprehend seeing a collar bone that needs healing (or whatever problem that needs prayer), how other people will act in surprise or disappointment when I say that I heard or saw nothing, how this is dubious theology, how this isn't my gift (at least on these occasions), how other people must be feeling insecure in their faith doing this and how that's not good, etc... What is ironic is that I do often get things that would be considered 'words of knowledge', 'words of wisdom' or 'prophecy' - just never in these treasure hunts or other forced occasions.

    *'Prophetic evangelism' is another phrase for it - see, for instance, Mark Stibbe's 'middle-class self-congratulatory' (to quote a course-mate of mine who fits the book's target demographic and wasn't impressed at all with it, despite buying the premise wholeheartedly) book. Actually, don't see the book, other than the title - it's awful. The theological case it makes is far from the best and the whole book is saying 'the circles I move in, we've seen great things, aren't we great?' through endless anecdotes.

  4. Si Hollett

    My 'ditto' is to Matthew's post - it took me so long to write mine, especially in order to remove the even more ranty bits of my ranty comments (as I said, doing the splits is painful. Though I wouldn't have it any other way), that others posted in between.

  5. Howard

    I'm wondering how much of this approach (on the video) applied to the church in the early days, when Christians were being denounced, beaten, jailed and persecuted for their faith. A friend of mine put up John 3:16 on her Face Book page this morning as part of a Happy Easter message, and was deluged by cries of 'there is no God' from numerous students at her college. I spent over three hours, pretty much alone, contending for the faith with these very angry people, finally getting a couple of them, I think, to at least consider the notion that there is a God, and that what He wants for our world - a society defined by the manner of love we see in Jesus Christ - is valid. Whenever I've been involved in street evangelism, it's always a case that the enemy comes in like a flood, but the Spirit of the Lord raises the 'banner' - the message of the Cross - to confound that. Yes, care and concern for others is commendable, but genuine evangelism is folly to the world, and only God working through the raising up of Christ, and Him crucified, is going to change that.

  6. Chris E

    Not only is the exegesis of the passages that are used to support these teachings very weak, but they are promoted by people who seem to have a whole host of other nutty ideas.

    Sociologically it's an interesting phenomeana mainly because its widespread acceptance speaks volumes about how a certain level of charismaticism has become normative in most evangelical circles.

    .. and frankly in actual practice it's largely indistinguishable from cold reading ...

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  8. Si Hollett

    Chris E: "and frankly in actual practice it’s largely indistinguishable from cold reading" I can't see how it is - there's perhaps a bit of horoscope-like make it fit a lot of things, though typically they are fairly specific things. But the pictures are done beforehand, saying something like "a women wearing a blue sweatshirt who has lost a loved one recently" - and instead of fitting the person into the box, if the person doesn't fit (eg, male, not wearing a blue top, hasn't actually lost anyone recently), you keep looking for the 'target'.

    Which also has it's problems, of course - with a sort of like hyper-Calvinist unconcern for those who aren't chosen...

    Or you (like at our church) announce the pictures (with discernment from the leadership) at some point in the service, perhaps asking if anyone fits the description in the open, but mostly just specifically inviting those who feel they are those 'pictured' to receive prayer on top of the more general invite. Self-selection, rather than trying to select. Last couple of weeks there's been a male right collar bone picture, but no response and that isn't a problem (apparently...) though often we have things on that level of specificity (gender + body part, though not all the pictures have that description) that apply to someone, maybe even two people, in that congregation.

    I think it's the White Horse Inn who mock this idea of narrowing God down to the healer of headaches. And there is that danger, especially with doing first contact evangelism.


    Chris E: "Not only is the exegesis of the passages that are used to support these teachings very weak, but they are promoted by people who seem to have a whole host of other nutty ideas."

    I don't think it is very weak - I'm not convinced by it, but it takes the texts seriously - at least the better arguments do. It's a plausible reading of the texts, just a reading that is (as I said) "somewhat lacking and a bit forced" - with the weasel words in that quote from my comment above (which was pretty ranty)

    And the slur on the promoters seems to be uncharitable - sure there's charlatans who promote this, but there's also good and honest brothers and sisters. Best people and best arguments, this isn't the dismiss with a video of a fictional faith healer who's an ass and a wolf...

    Actually, even with Stibbe: not the best argument and not the best person, this isn't the dismiss with a mocking video like you did.

  9. Jacky

    Hello Glen, hope all is well. It's been a while since I left a comment here!

    I appreciate your frankness in approaching this topic, which can often get quite heated, and the level of respect put forward by most of the comments here. I personally take the position of Mark 9:38-40, when Jesus says "Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us." Indeed though, I agree with your balanced analysis that the very positive values they try to uphold (at least, with respect to the way they have been portrayed in the youtube video and the blog posts you have come across in preparing your post) may be undermined even by the unfortunate phrase "treasure-hunting"!

    I just wanted to make some observations about some points in your post, and perhaps this can shed some further light on the topic. As you know, I also come from a church background prioritising the wisdom-approach to missions, when it really should be the "Wisdom"-approach! However, in the past year or so, my wife and I have (inadvertently! A story for another time) joined a charismatic church family, and our journey with Christ and our experience with him in all aspects have been moving and phenomenal. In particular, she has begun serving on a physical healing ministry (albeit, this is not missional but more for those who need healing after the end of a Sunday service). No doubt, the work of the Spirit is a topic more on my heart now than ever before. Now onto your points...

    Taking your 1st point, from a missional perspective, Exodus 19:6 and Matthew 28 (and 2 Corinthians 4&5) already make it clear to me that the church was and is sent into the world to preach Jesus Christ, the Righteous and Holy One. I can't agree with you more that "service-first" or "wisdom-first" missions run the risk of being rooted in the fear that offering Christ Himself, is somehow "not enough" - as if we need to insert a buffer so that the Lion of Judah is more palatable!

    Regarding your 2nd and 3rd points, I also agree that the word "hunting" is very unfortunately phrased. It is indeed about offering Jesus, and not about commodity.

    Finally, I think point 5 is the key one - what it means to be "sensitive to the Spirit's work in mission". I still recall the day when I joined a local ministry in Hong Kong where my approach was "Let's just go and speak to the people in the park about Jesus!" and the approach of the leaders was "Let's pray first and ask God whom He wants us to speak to (i.e. by way of vision, messages, impressions)". Thinking back, there are of course better ways to blend both approaches, but I think there are some inherent dangers in writing off those leaders' approach. Looking at 1 Corinthians 1, it does appear that Paul rejected the tactic of giving Jews the miraculous signs they demand, but I wonder if it can be more contextualised (akin to the Luke 11:29 scenario). If it is not contextualised to the same extent (i.e. if it is a general missional approach which Paul takes with all recipients of Christ), I have set out below some verses describing the Spirit's work in missions:

    Exodus 4:21 - And the LORD said to Moses, When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharoah all the miracles that I have put in your power.

    Exodus 9:16 - But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.

    Exodus 14:31 - Israel saw the great power that the LORD used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the LORD, and they believe in the LORD and in his servant Moses

    Acts 6:8 - Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people

    Acts 10:38 - how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him

    Romans 1:16 - For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek

    Romans 9:17 - For the Scripture says to Pharoah, for this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth

    Romans 15:13, 17-19 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. ... In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience - by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God - so that ... I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel...

    1 Corinthians 1:18 - For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

    1 Thessalonians 1:5 ... because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.

    For me, my favourite is 1 Thessalonians 1:5 - it is this very verse which convinced me that my "open-air" approach to evangelism would be meaningless if offering Jesus only by word, but without power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction, would also be "selling Jesus short" as it were. This is why I was careful not to say that "power-based" missions are dangerous. Indeed, if Scripture's description of "power" is Jesus and the cross (i.e. Christ as the power and wisdom - 1 Corinthians 1:24), then of course what flows out of that includes (but is of course not limited to) the signs and wonders which, for example, Moses, Stephen and Paul exercised (or let alone verses like Luke 8:46). The danger of course is the elevation of the "supernatural" charismatic gifts, when the work of the Spirit should be more like this:

    So when Paul says that the kingdom of God is not in talk but in power (1 Corinthians 4:20), while he may be referring to the colourful words of worldly wisdom, given the context of the ministry of the apostles and disciples of Christ in both the Old and New Testament, I wonder if the following are possible:

    - An open-air approach where Christ is offered to all without "hunting" particular people;

    - A sensitivity to the Spirit's leading to particular people where a Spirit-led word of knowledge is given (i.e. as what is described in the You-tube video)

    - A fearless and faithful approach to ensuring Christ is offered first and foremost, before service (e.g. before physical healing is offered). Of course, this is not "conditional" upon them saying yes (as if we are only offering food to the hungry only if they say yes to Christ!).

    If anyone here is interested in finding out a bit more about this, there is a wonderful "Wanderlust Trilogy" set of films which I highly recommend. You can also check out a related interview here:

    Hope the above is helpful (I am, of course still learning!) and it is always fruitful to discuss these things with the respectful crowd here. God bless you all this Sabbath.

  10. Glen

    Jacky, great to hear from you. I'll have to chase up the Wanderlust films. I still think that Paul strongly differentiates between "demonstrating the Spirit's power" and giving Jews the miracles they demand (1 Cor 1-2). There is great need for 1 Thes 1:5, but I wonder if in Paul Spirit-ual preaching is true Christ-and-Him-crucified gospel and unspiritual preaching is the flesh-y mouthing of biblical truths (law).

    I think the Romans 15 passage is the biggest challenge to my "signs-and-wonders"-shy temperament and I'll need to let it challenge me more.

    Your three points at the end sound a great way forward - though I'd ask on number 2 whether "words of knowledge" mean in Scripture what they've come to mean in charismatic practice.

    God bless

  11. Chris E

    "And the slur on the promoters seems to be uncharitable – sure there’s charlatans who promote this, but there’s also good and honest brothers and sisters."

    Si - The ideas behind this originate at Bethel. Kevin Dedmon was the author of the book that originally pushed it - it then got picked up by various places in this country, including Soul Survivor and Chorleywood.

    Here he is speaking:

    " I can’t see how it is – there’s perhaps a bit of horoscope-like make it fit a lot of things, though typically they are fairly specific things. But the pictures are done beforehand, saying something like “a women wearing a blue sweatshirt who has lost a loved one recently”"

    I think you misunderstand what cold-reading consists of, throw enough of these sorts of statement out and they become a verbal equivalent of the Birthday Paradox, some of them will be right, by pure chance and probability. Whats the chance of meeting someone wearing jeans who is recently bereaved (that's all your statement amounts to).

  12. Si Hollett

    "The ideas behind this originate at Bethel. Kevin Dedmon was the author of the book that originally pushed it – it then got picked up by various places in this country, including Soul Survivor and Chorleywood." how does that not fit in with my comment about some being charlatans (Bethel) and good and honest brothers and sisters (SS and Chorleywood, which I presume means St Andrews*)?

    Yes, there are issues with SS and SAC, etc (actually SS has greatly improved in recent years, addressing many of its problems, though SAC still has many - mostly linked with its "top men"), but they are sincere and want to see what the bible actually says and reach out to the world. And there's many people that I know who would hold to "treasure hunting" who are nowhere near as 'loopy' as SAC.

    As for cold reading - I would consider the use of the term to be something used by frauds to deceive (eg psychics), rather than something vague that the odds are that you can make it apply to a person. I think we agree here on the whole, though I'm looking at it from a more-open and less-anti pov. I also shorthanded the description and made it up - many are like that - something pretty common: other pictures are much less probable. I've seen good finding rates (near 100%) with many of the pictures being rather precise and uncommon and I've seen poor finding rates with vague pictures that are.

    *As that's the more famous one than Christ Church, though both would affirm this evangelistic method and both are big churches.

  13. Howard

    First time I've come across Kevin Dedmon, but there's no difference here to what John Wimber and co were advocating in the 80's with Power Evangelism, or what William Brahnam and AA Allen (50's & 60's) were advocating in the beginnings of latter rain theology (parts of which were picked up by Oral Roberts, Kenneth Hagin and other "faith" ministry associates). As a 'survivor' of the 'shock and awe' tactics of such theology, I'd seriously suggest reading 'Power Religion' and 'The Agony of Deceit', both edited by Michael Horton. Yes, it can be wrong to deny the aid of the Holy Spirit in evangelism as see Jesus lifted up (the preaching of the cross) to draw all to Himself, but it can be far more dangerous when 'the spirit' leads us to promote teaching and practice that is contrary to the God we see given at the Cross, dealing with sin and death, principalities and powers in the breaking of His flesh and the shedding of His blood. "Magicking" people in "faith" is most certainly not the answer - blessed, said Jesus, are those who do not see, yet believe. The "power" of God to us is Christ, and Him Crucified - everything else ends and passes - it is God in Christ, loving and reconciling through death and resurrection that brings about the new creation.

  14. Si Hollett

    "“Magicking” people in “faith” is most certainly not the answer – blessed, said Jesus, are those who do not see, yet believe. The “power” of God to us is Christ, and Him Crucified – everything else ends and passes – it is God in Christ, loving and reconciling through death and resurrection that brings about the new creation."

    Absolutely, and the best 'prophetic evangelism' isn't about power, but about being directed by the Spirit in offering Jesus - and that is actually being practiced by charismatic groups today, just as it 'was' by Paul with his trip to Macedonia, Philip with his trip to the Gaza Road ('was' in air quotes as I can't see it as specifically treasure hunting - but you can see how they get there - it's not out of left field)...

    There's also the flip side of all this bashing of 'signs and wonders' - a bashing of bringing 'wisdom'. The Jews might have wanted power, but the Greeks wanted wisdom, and Paul brought them the Cross in all it's humility and foolishness - giving neither what they wanted. I'm not sure conservative evangelical circles are consistent in their bashing of both.

  15. Howard

    It really isn't a case of 'bashing' a particular company Si - there are plenty of slips and trips to be made on the conservative evangelical side as well, but when a 'work' focuses us on anything other than Christ and the truth found in Him, there are major problems ahead, and I've encountered plenty in both the 'power' and the 'wisdom' camps over the last 4 decades. We need the 'sword' to be used to bring peace through the blood of His cross - that's why we're here, so anyone who is pointing to that reconciliation is 'doing' the gospel (whatever their motive). It's when 'preaching' distances or detracts from this that we should be deeply concerned.

  16. Chris E

    Si -

    "As for cold reading – I would consider the use of the term to be something used by frauds to deceive (eg psychics), rather than something vague that the odds are that you can make it apply to a person"

    The latter is exactly how cold reading functions in psychic shows. A Barnum statement is made like ".. a lady in her 50s on this side of an audience has just experienced bereavement" (what are the odds eh?).

    " I’m not sure conservative evangelical circles are consistent in their bashing of both."

    There are plenty of conservatives who bash all sorts of theologies of Glory, Si (which is what this really amounts to).

    As for SS and SaC, they do a lot of good, but they also tend to band wagon on various fads and then somehow avoid the consequences when everything goes pear shaped (the Toronto blessing being the most prominent example).

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