Some refer to it as "Cold Evangelism." Some see it as offensive and passe. Some associate it with the activities of non-Christian hate groups like Westboro Baptist Church. Some serve as embarrassing and unbiblical examples of it. Some see the value of it. Others support it. And some have provided biblical defenses for it. The "it" is open-air preaching.
In this article, I will not present a theological case for open-air preaching. I have done so elsewhere, here and here. In this article I will try to present 10 succinct and practical reasons why every pastor should support open-air preaching. The ten reasons I will present are fruits resulting from open-air preaching--fruits I recently observed firsthand during the 2013 SFOI Kentucky Derby Outreach. The ten photos you will see in this article were taken during the outreach. The ten practical reasons for open-air preaching appear in no particular order.
In this photo, 17-year-old Tyler Story (who attended the outreach with his parents, Richard and Suzanne, and his 16-year-old sister, Miranda) is reading aloud John 3. This was the first time Tyler ever opened his mouth in a public setting to read Scripture. Behind him stand Steven Stanley (left) and Mike Stockwell (right). Both men are experienced evangelists and open-air preachers.
All weekend long--day and night, on the streets, during meals, and during times of quiet fellowship--young Tyler Story was surrounded by older Christian men who loved him, cared for him, prayed with him, accepted him, looked out for him, and taught him. Tyler experienced true discipleship.
Some of the best and most biblical discipleship I have given and received has been during times on the streets open-air preaching. Is there a genuine pastor, a real shepherd of people who does not want to see his people discipling one another? I'm sure there is not. Pastors should support open-air preaching by members of their church families because it is one way (certainly not the only way) their people can engage in authentic discipleship.
In this photo, Brad St. Clair (left) and Chap Williams (right) praying for another participant before he preaches the gospel in the open-air. Prayer is a vital component of every biblical street evangelism effort. During the Kentucky Derby Outreach it could rightly be said, without hyperbole, that the participants "prayed without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17). We prayed for boldness (Acts 4:31), for the words to speak as we preached (Ephesians 6:19), for those who persecuted us (Matthew 5:44), for safety and God's protection as we sought to serve him in a potentially dangerous place (Ezra 8:21), for the salvation of the lost (Romans 10:1), and many other matters.
Every authentic under-shepherd of a segment of God's flock (The Church) has a heart's desire for his people to be a praying people. By having his people participate in street evangelism and open-air preaching, a pastor provides yet one more way for his people to become more motivated to engage in deeper, more intense, and longer times of prayer.
In this photo, Robert Gray, an experienced open-air preacher who often begins his preaching by singing songs of worship to the Lord, is seeking the Lord before he preaches the gospel. Open-air preaching not only facilitates times of personal worship, but open-air preaching itself (when done biblically) can be an act of worship.
Several times in the Psalms, worship is directly linked to telling others about the power of God, the things God has done, and the salvation of God. Here are a few examples:
"Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works" (Psalm 105:2)!
"Sing praises to the Lord, who sits enthroned in Zion! Tell among the peoples his deeds" (Psalm 9:11)!
"Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day" (Psalm 96:2).
It is not uncommon for those engaged in street evangelism and open-air preaching to spontaneously break out in song--singing and humming "singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in [our] hearts to God" (Colossians 3:16).
Good pastors want their people to worship the Lord in spirit and truth (John 4:24)--not only on Sunday mornings, but every day of their lives. Street evangelism and open-air preaching is one way pastors can cultivate hearts and minds filled with spontaneous worship, in their people.
Pictured here are Bobby McCreery and Chap Williams. The smiles on their faces aren't forced, and I didn't catch these two brothers in Christ during a rare moment of happiness. Their smiles exemplify something very common among open-air preachers and street evangelists--joyful fellowship.
One of the many things I love about my church is the ample opportunities the elders and deacons provide for the church family to enjoy fellowship with one another. Christians involved in biblical churches do not neglect gathering together (Hebrews 10:25). And good churches provide opportunities for members of the church to fellowship with one another.
Some of the sweetest, most genuine times of Christian fellowship I have ever experienced has been in the context of open-air preaching and street evangelism. As I've often said, "There is nothing as sweet as the fellowship of the gospel." On the streets, the common bond of Jesus Christ is emphasized and theological, social, and personal differences are de-emphasized.
Street evangelism and open-air preaching can positively augment the shepherding pastor's efforts to see his people gather together outside the four walls of the church.
"Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity" (Psalm 133:1)!
"I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:1-3).
"Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing" (1 Peter 3:8-9).
In this photo, you see me standing atop a step stool and preaching the gospel. Beside me and behind me are members of my team. The unity of mind, spirit, and purpose can be palpable among a well-organized team of Christians engaged in biblical evangelism. Such was my experience last weekend as I saw firsthand a "bond of peace" among a very diverse group of Christian brothers and sisters, as together we faced those who would assert "peace, peace" where there is no peace (Jeremiah 6:4; see also Jeremiah 8:11). It is indeed good and pleasant to serve and dwell with Christian brethren, in unity.
What pastor doesn't pray for and dream about unity in his congregation? Developing and supporting biblical evangelism and open-air preaching is one way a pastor can foster Christian unity among his people.
In this picture you see a close-up shot of Steven Stanley's open-air preaching notes. As an aside: I encourage open-air preachers, whether new or experienced, to use notes whenever necessary. Far better for an open-air preacher to make use of notes and be accurate to the text of Scripture than to be more eloquent but fail to rightly divide the Word of Truth.
Good open-air preachers study for their open-air messages. They are students of the Word (see Ezra 7:10). They study diligently to present themselves To God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed (see 2 Timothy 2:15). They realize there awaits a stricter judgment for those who set out to teach the Word of God to other people (James 3:1). So, these weighty responsibilities keeps the nose of the open-air preacher in the Book.
Every Bible-believing, Bible-teaching pastor wants his people to be students of the Word. And he wants his people to be able to feed themselves. He doesn't want them to suckle on elementary, biblical principles for ever. He wants them to be able to dig deep and mine for themselves the weightier and precious doctrinal truths of the Scriptures (see Hebrews 5:12-14). Street evangelism and open-air preaching fosters such a desire in the hearts and minds of those who engage in these biblical evangelistic efforts. A good street preacher wants to know God's Word. A good street preacher wants to be equipped to communicate the truths of God's Word to the lost. And a good street preacher wants to be able to encourage other Christians in the area who may find themselves in need of the edification of God's Word.
Pastors should support biblical street evangelism and open-air preaching in their multi-faceted efforts to raise up a congregation who not only can spiritually feed themselves, but also spiritually feed others.
Pictured here is Justin Hoffman preparing for his next open-air message.
"Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil" (1 Peter 3:13-17).
1 Peter 3:15 is most often used as the banner-cry of Christian apologists. Such an application can certainly be seen in the text. But there is more to the text when read in its immediate context.
I've often said, "You cannot be saved by a gospel you do not know." Yet, over the years, I have talked to many Christians, people whose salvation I have no real reason to question, who simply were unequipped to articulate "the hope that is in [them]." After all, that is the defense (the argument) Christians are to make to anyone who asks. They are to make a case for "the hope that is in [them]." And what is the hope that is in the Christian?
"Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly" (Romans 5:1-6).The glory of God is the Christian's hope. Suffering-induced endurance, character, and hope is the Christian's hope. Being filled with God's love through the power of the Holy Spirit is the Christian's hope. That Christ died for ungodly sinners is the Christian's hope!
The Christian does not find his hope in archaeological discoveries of cities and people mentioned in the Bible, scientific findings that are affirmed in Scripture, the infinitesimally low numeric probability of fulfilled Bible prophecy, manuscript evidence for the Word of God, or the ability to win arguments with professing unbelievers who merely suppress the truth they know about God because of their love of sin and unrighteousness (see Romans 1:18). No! The Christian's hope is Jesus Christ, alone!
In the words of 19th century hymnist, Edward Mote:
My hope is built on nothing lessIn addition to being prepared to give an answer for the hope that is in him, the surrounding context of 1 Peter 3:15 reveals the Christian must be prepared to suffer for righteousness sake, to fearlessly face persecutors, to honor Christ in his heart as holy, to respond to persecutors or anyone who asks for the reason for the hope that is in him with gentleness and respect, and to put to shame with his good behavior those who slander him.
than Jesus' blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus' name.
On Christ the solid rock I stand,
all other ground is sinking sand;
all other ground is sinking sand.
When Darkness veils his lovely face,
I rest on his unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
my anchor holds within the veil.
His oath, his covenant, his blood
supports me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
he then is all my hope and stay.
When he shall come with trumpet sound,
O may I then in him be found!
Dressed in his righteousness alone,
faultless to stand before the throne!
Street evangelism and open-air preaching are excellent motivators for spiritual preparedness. These means of biblical evangelism not only serve as motivators to prepare to defend the faith, they present real-time opportunities to practice biblically defending the faith.
If a pastor wants his people to be ready to make a defense for the hope that is in them, on the front lines of the spiritual battlefield (home, office, school, coffee shop, dinner table), then he would be well-served to include street evangelism and open-air preaching as vehicles for the training of his people and for getting his people out of the pews and into the spiritual fight for lost souls.
Pictured here is Steven Stanley talking to a professed agnostic who stopped to listen to the open-air preaching. I heard the young man repeatedly ask Steven if he mixes his fabrics. This is a common, "cut-n-paste" objection levied against the validity of the Bible--an objection levied by those who do not understand Scripture and who use the Book they believe is invalid as their authority to invalidate the same Book. See anything wrong with that kind of rationale?
Steven shared the content of his conversation with the young man.
"We had about a 10-15 minute chat that revealed his worldview could not account for truth, logic, or knowledge. He gave up knowledge when he said he could be wrong about everything he claimed to know, yet he kept on making knowledge claims. At the end of the conversation, this professing agnostic said "God wouldn't let me into heaven anyway." Showing it is not a matter of intellect, but a matter of the heart! I gave him the gospel, urged him to repent and believe. We shook hands and parted ways. His name was Brian, I told him that I would pray for him. Pray for him please! Romans 1:22 'Claiming to be wise, they became fools.'"Many pastors, today, want their congregations outside the church living, serving, and reaching out with a missional mindset. Granted, I do not agree with all of the "missional" language of the day and some of the bad fruit produced by this movement. But there is much that is biblical in the missional construct. Pastors want the members of their flock to serve as missionaries regardless of where the Lord has them (i.e. foreign, domestic, full-time, part-time, whenever-one-has-the-time). Instead of simply inviting people to church, pastors want their flocks to be the church in the world and reach people where they are with the gospel.
Unfortunately, some of these same missionally-minded pastors miscategorize street evangelism and open-air preaching as part of the same attraction-based leaven (i.e. purpose-driven, seeker-driven, seeker-sensitive, prosperity, word of faith, signs and wonders, etc.) that has leavened much of American Evangelicalism. However, contrary to what many say in both camps, attraction-based and missional, street evangelism and open-air preaching is missional. More importantly, it's biblical. I say this because just as all that glitters is not gold, all that is missional is not biblical.
Biblical street evangelism and open-air preaching is missional in the best sense of the word. Engaging in these forms of evangelism gets people out of the pews and into the world where lost people are. People engaged in these forms of evangelism have set aside the "if you build it they will come" mentality that has all-but-crippled American Evangelicalism over the last 40+ years. While open-air preaching, just as the gospel, is always counter-cultural, open-air preaching unashamedly and uncompromisingly engages the culture. Open-air preaching is one way The Church can make a clarion call to the people of the culture, any culture, to be reconciled to God. And it doesn't get more missional than that!
Pastors who want their congregants to be biblically, missionally-minded should encourage their people to be in the world, but not of the world, through biblical street evangelism and open-air preaching.
Pictured here is my dear friend, Richard Story. Richard struggles with mobility, pain, and a host of other physical ailments as a result of a traffic accident several years ago. There are no easy days for my brother in Christ. Leaving the house is a test of his will, patience, strength, endurance, and perseverance. Spending two very long, exhausting, cold, and wet days outside Churchill Downs as throngs of drunkards and revilers make merry by mocking Jesus Christ and His gospel took the physical, emotional, and spiritual testing Richard faces every day to another level entirely. Yet he persevered. And he did so by the grace of God alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. Richard did not persevere to earn and keep his salvation. Richard persevered because Jesus Christ has saved him, keeps him, and will always keep him.
Jesus said, "And you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved" (Mark 13:13). Contrary to how some of my dearly beloved Arminian friends interpret this verse, Jesus is not saying that endurance is a requirement for salvation. Jesus is saying that endurance is a fruit of salvation. That which cannot be lost or forfeited (John 10:27-29; Romans 8:38-39), namely salvation, need not require perseverance to attain or keep it.
Street evangelism and open-air preaching requires, resurrects, rebuilds, and resumes the Christian's perseverance. Street evangelism and open-air preaching prepares the Christian for difficult times of trial and testing not yet experienced, but one-day (maybe soon) to be allowed by God.
Good pastors try to comfort those in the midst of trials and prepare the rest of their people for the trials that are sure to come. Good pastors encourage their people to persevere, now, when persecution in the United States is at a level that it would hardly be called such by our truly persecuted brethren in other parts of the world. They do this knowing that if their flocks do not practice perseverance now as they live in relative spiritual ease, they will be hard-pressed to do so when real persecution hits the American Church. And it will hit The Church, maybe sooner than any of us realize.
Street evangelism and open-air preaching is one way a loving pastor can encourage his people to venture outside the Christian bubble, in preparation for the time they may have to hide in a basement or in the woods, as other Christians around the world will, today.
Richard Story is once again pictured here. Beside him holding the umbrella is his lovely wife, Suzanne. I chose this photo as the expression of the last of the ten practical reasons I will share in this article for why every pastor should support open-air preaching. And why should every pastor support open-air preaching? In a word: love.
Suzanne loves Richard very much. And Richard loves Suzanne. I've now participated with Richard and Suzanne in two large-scale outreaches. On both occasions, I was blessed to watch, up close and personal, the sacrificial love my friends have for each other. But last weekend, in Louisville, KY, I also saw example of love after example of love exhibited by the 30+ people I had the honor to serve alongside. More than once someone held their umbrella over me so I could preach the gospel. I watched as my brethren served one another in many selfless ways. I watched as brother after brother deferred to others, allowing a less-experienced brother to preach more often so he could gain much-needed experience. I watched as younger served the older, and older served the younger. I watched as over and over again arms were placed around shoulders, before heads bowed to pray. I watched as my brethren encouraged one another with handshakes, fist bumps, and hugs. I watched as my Christian brethren circled a brother who was preaching, quietly keeping watch and providing a human shield from haters of God and haters of people.
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:34-35).Regardless of what the more than 150-thousand people who attended the Kentucky Derby thought of us as individuals, thought of our message, thought of our methods, or thought of our God, if they were asked and answered honestly they would have to say, "Well. At least they love each other."
Even in the best of churches, love can be a fleeting commodity and, at times, in short supply. Every good pastor wants his people to fulfill the two greatest commandments.
"And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 'Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?' And he said to him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets'" (Matthew 22:35-41).Love God and love people. Every pastor worth a salt wants his people to love God and other people. He wants them to love people, whether saved or unsaved.
While often mischaracterized as unloving by those both inside and outside The Church, street evangelism and open-air preaching (when executed biblically) are very loving things to do. Certainly, these are not the only ways to love God and love people. But they are legitimate, relevant, biblical, practical, missional, and historical ways to love God and to love people. After all, what could possibly be more loving and of greater eternal consequence than lovingly warning people of the wrath of God that abides on them (John 3:36), how that wrath can be eternally removed (Romans 3:21-26), and how they can be adopted as children of God (Romans 8:12-17), by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-10)?
Pastors should support street evangelism and open-air preaching because they are legitimate, biblical ways to fulfill the two greatest commandments.
Are there other ways to verbally communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ (note: the gospel can only be communicated with words--spoken and/or written)? Certainly. Every Christian does not have to take to the streets with gospel tracts or alight atop a box to preach in order to biblically and lovingly communicate the gospel. But no biblical or historical argument can be made against street evangelism and open-air preaching as two of many means God uses to communicate His Son's gospel to an unsaved world.
So, pastor, if you have a godly person (or people) in your church who is a street evangelist and/or open-air preacher, and if they are a member of your church in good standing and they non-begrudgingly submit to the authority of the pastors and elders of the church, then please support them with your prayers, your counsel, and the resources of your church. And please encourage others in your church to join them in the work.
Isn't one more tool in your leadership tool bag--a tool that can bring more discipleship, prayer, worship, fellowship, unity, study, preparedness, missional-mindedness, perseverance, and love to your church family--worthy of your support?