Articles - OPEN AIR PREACHING - Living Waters

Are You Qualified?

Perhaps the topic of open air preaching seems irrelevant to you. You could never see yourself standing up among strangers and preaching the gospel to them. Perhaps you lack the courage to do such a thing. Congratulations; you have just qualified yourself for the job. If you consider yourself a 'nobody' with nothing to offer God, you are His material. Now all you need is a compassion that will swallow your fear and a conscience that will give you no rest until you break the sound barrier.

When you preach open air, you follow directly in the footsteps of The Master Preacher--Jesus. You also follow John the Baptist, Paul, Peter, the disciples, John Wesley, Whitefield, Spurgeon, and others. A good open air preacher can reach more unsaved people in a good open air than the average church does in a year. If you want to be a fisher of men, you have to go where the fish are. They don't come to you--you have to go to them. That's why Jesus said, "Go..." Thank God the disciples didn't stay in the Upper Room and pray that sinners come in--they went open air.

Never Fear Hecklers

You may have a few concerns. Perhaps one of them is the thought of someone verbally disagreeing with what you say. These folk are what are known as "hecklers." The best thing that can happen to an open-air meeting is to have a good heckler. Jesus gave us some of the greatest gems of Scripture because someone either made a statement or asked a question in an open-air setting. A good heckler can increase a crowd of 20 people to 200 in a matter of minutes. The air becomes electric. Suddenly, you have 200 people listening intently to how you will answer a heckler. All you have to do is remember the attributes of 2 Timothy 2:23-26: be patient, gentle, humble, etc. Don't worry if you can't answer a question. Just say, "I can't answer that, but I'll try to get the answer for you if you really want to know." With Bible "difficulties," I regularly fall back on the powerful statement of Mark Twain: "Most people are bothered by those passages of Scripture they don't understand, but for me I have always noticed that the passages that bother me are those I do understand."

A "good" heckler is one who will provoke your thoughts. He will stand up, speak up, and then shut up so that you can preach. Occasionally, you will get hecklers who have the first two qualifications, but they just won't be quiet. If they will not let you get a word in, move your location. Most of the crowd will follow. Better to have ten listeners who can hear than 200 who can't. If the heckler follows, move again . . . then the crowd will usually turn on him. One ploy that often works with a heckler who is out solely to hinder the gospel is to wait until he is quiet and say to the crowd (making sure the heckler is listening also), "I want to show you how people are like sheep. When I move, watch this man follow me because he can't get a crowd by himself." His pride usually keeps him from following.

If you have a "mumbling heckler" who won't speak up, ignore him and talk over the top of him. This will usually get him angry enough to speak up and draw hearers. There is a fine line between him getting angry enough to draw a crowd, and hitting you; you will find it in time. If you are fortunate enough to get a heckler, don't panic. Show him genuine respect, not only because he can double your crowd, but because the Bible says to honor all men, so you don't want to offend him unnecessarily. Ask the heckler his name, so that if you want to ask him a question and he is talking to someone, you don't have to say, "Hey you!"

Often, people will walk through the crowd so they can get close to you and will whisper something like, "I think you are a #@*!$!" Answer loud enough for the crowd to hear, "God bless you." Do it with a smile so that it looks as though the person has just whispered a word of encouragement to you. This will stop him from doing it again. The Bible says to bless those who curse you, and to do good to those who hate you. Remember that you are not fighting against flesh and blood. Hecklers will stoop very low and be cutting and cruel in their remarks. If you have some physical disability, they will play on it. Try to smile back at them. Look past the words. If you are reviled for the name of Jesus, "rejoice, and be exceeding glad." Read Matthew 5:10-12 until it is written on the corridors of your mind. The most angry hecklers are usually what we call "backsliders." These are actually false converts who never slid forward in the first place. They "asked Jesus into their heart" but never truly repented. Ask him, "Did you know the Lord?" (see Hebrews 8:11). If he answers "Yes," then he is admitting that he is willfully denying Him, and if he answers "No," then he was never a Christian in the first place - "This is eternal life, that they might know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent" (John 17:3).

Make the Bullet Hit the Target

It is obvious from Scripture that God requires us not only to preach to sinners, but also to teach them. The servant of the Lord must be "able to teach, patient, in meekness instructing" those who oppose them (2 Timothy 2:24,25). For a long while I thought I was to leap among sinners, scatter the seed, then leave. But our responsibility goes further. We are to bring the sinner to a point of understanding his need before God. Psalm 25:8 says, "Good and upright is the LORD: therefore will he teach sinners in the way." Psalm 51:13 adds, "Then will I teach transgressors your ways; and sinners shall be converted to you." The Great Commission is to teach sinners: "teach all nations . . . teaching them to observe all things" (Matthew 28:19,20). The disciples obeyed the command "daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ" (Acts 5:42, emphasis added). The "good-soil" hearer is he who "hears . . . and understands" (Matthew 13:23).

Philip the evangelist saw fit to ask his potential convert, the Ethiopian, "Do you understand what you are reading?" Some preachers are like a loud gun that misses the target. It may sound effective, but if the bullet misses the target, the exercise is in vain. He may be the largest-lunged, chandelier-swinging, pulpit-pounding preacher this side of the Book of Acts. He may have great teaching on faith, and everyone he touches may fall over, but if the sinner leaves the meeting failing to understand his desperate need of God's forgiveness, then the preacher has failed. He has missed the target, which is the understanding of the sinner.

This is why the Law of God must be used in preaching. It is a "schoolmaster" to bring "the knowledge of sin." It teaches and instructs. A sinner will come to "know His will, and approve the things that are more excellent," if he is "instructed out of the Law" (Romans 2:18).

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