We had a great day of witnessing yesterday downtown Colorado Springs. The high schoolers were in session, so we had new “schools” of fish to witness to. Everyone got a chance to preach and we gave out lots of Gospel tracts and had many discussions one-to-one. Open air preaching is very scary and controversial, and we hear all the time that is not “effective”. But it is certainly Biblical as Jesus(Sermon on the Mount), the Apostles(Acts 2, Acts 17) and many preachers have done it over the years(Spurgeon, Moody, Whitefield, Wesley, Billy Graham). If you are being lead by the Lord to preach in the open air…do it. Even Paul the Apostle was scared when he witnessed. Paul said to the Corinthians, that when he came to them, that he came with “weakness, fear and much trembling”(1 Corinthians 2:3).
I had a discussion with someone yesterday about this subject, and she said that Jesus would never open air preach like what we were doing. So I showed her in the Bible in John 7, where Jesus stood up and cried out, If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink! Whoever believes in Me, the scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water”(John 7:36). It says later in the text that everyone was freaking out and Jesus almost got arrested for it. Sounds familiar, huh? Well, we certainly do not compare ourselves to our Lord Jesus Christ, but we can follow His example and His command to proclaim the Gospel to all creation. Sometimes the open air proclamation of the Gospel is exactly the right thing to do. Most of the kids hearing the message do not go to church, and even if they do, most of the churches are not preaching the Gospel. Most of the churches nowadays(not the church I go to, however, praise God) preach a man-centered message to make everyone feel good and come back next week. We are preaching the TRUTH of the Gospel. Something desperately needed nowadays.
Robert Moran from the Street Church joined us yesterday and took some video of the preaching. Notice later in the video the Buddhist monk guy we were witnessing to.
Some dos and don’ts of Open Air Preaching. (Hint…hecklers are AWESOME. I always pray for a good heckler)
• Do talk to people, not at them, or worse, down to them.
• Do speak in a lively, confident manner. Fire and energy will hold a crowd. Cold, tedious preaching will not.
• Do be snappy and brief. If you dwell too long on any one point, you will lose your crowd. Speak intensely with short sentences and with simple, direct points. “The chain of thought must be taken to pieces and each link melted down and turned into bullets” (John Wesley).
• Do speak with the right tone. What you say to a crowd is just as important how you say it. Let them hear the passion and concern in your voice. Find a tone that is loving but firm, gentle but bold, humble but uncompromising.
• Do remind your hearers of your motives. You don’t want their money. You’re not telling them to join a church. You are there only because you care about their eternal welfare.
• Do find the right volume level for your voice. Speak loudly enough for people to hear you while still using a pleasant, conversational tone. Don’t yell, scream, or strain your voice.
• Do be wise as a serpent but gentle as a dove (Matthew 10:16)
• Do speak from your stomach rather than from your throat. If you don’t eat beforehand, you should end up with strained stomach muscles when you are done. This is a good sign that you are using your diaphragm to project your voice rather than your throat. If you • Do use lots of illustrations and word-pictures.
• Do expect some “street wit” (smart alecks or jokers in the crowd),solely use your throat, your voice may not last very long and you may do damage to your voice.
• Do use hecklers to draw a larger crowd, but handle them with patience, gentleness, and humility (2 Tim. 2:23-26). Smile and ask a heckler his name as a sign of respect (bless those who curse you). If you are stumped by a heckler, be humble enough to say “I don’t know the answer, but I’ll look into it”.
• Do be patient with hecklers. Remember that sinners are spiritually blind, incapable of seeing the truth. So you must instruct them gently and patiently (2 Tim. 2:24-26).
• Do keep bringing the conversation back to the sinner’s conscience and his responsibility to God on Judgment Day.
• Whatever happens, never lose your temper! When you get angry, your message looks weak. If you stay calm, your message looks strong.
• Do teach as well as preach (2 Timothy 2:24-25; Psalm 51:13; Acts 5:42; Matthew 13:23). It’s not enough that sinners hear the gospel, they must understand it (Acts 8:30). If the sinner fails to understand his need for a Savior, your preaching is like a loud gun that misses the target.
• Do quote Scripture frequently. Never underestimate the power of the right verse quoted at the right time.
• Don’t let the meeting be broken up. If an interruption occurs, do your best to hold your ground and keep the crowd.
• Speak boldly but don’t antagonize.
• Don’t be dull! Be energetic, use illustrations and humor.
• Don’t read or use notes. Commit your message to memory.
• Don’t be soft! An open-air meeting is no place for a nice, namby-pamby preacher. A soft, gentle tone is good for one-on-one discussions but terrible for open-air preaching.
• Don’t talk too long. Ten minutes is often more than enough.
• Don’t get caught up in arguments (2 Timothy 2:23). Such “rabbit trails” will take you off of your main topic (the gospel), and the crowd will quickly lose interest. Apologetics can “bait” the crowd, but the “hook” must be the gospel.
• Don’t let an angry listener shake you. Anger is often a response to conviction of sin. “If you throw a rock into a pack of dogs, the one who yelps is the one who got hit”.
I always try to be elevated by standing on a box or bench. Elevation is great as it gives you some distance from the hearers. If you are not elevated, sometimes people come up to you and grab or push. Elevation also give you some authority and everyone can see you. I also like to draw a box in front of me with chalk, so a heckler has a place to speak. It works great!
Beware of “Christians” in the crowd. Sometimes a professed Christian can start doing crazy things like cursing or asking questions that are meant to take you on a “rabbit trail”. If you identify yourself with a “Christian” in the crowd, then if they start doing crazy stuff, your message is diminished.