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Open-Air Preaching, Part 3

"The great benefit of open-air preaching is that we get so many newcomers to hear the gospel who otherwise would never hear it."

Charles Spurgeon


When you're preaching the gospel, don't let angry reactions from your listeners concern you. A dentist knows where to work on a patient when he touches a raw nerve. When you touch a raw nerve in the heart of the sinner, it means that you are in business. Anger is a thousand times better than apathy. Anger is a sign of conviction. If I have an argument with my wife and suddenly realize that I am in the wrong, I can come to her in a repentant attitude and apologize, or I can save face by lashing out in anger.

Read Acts 19 and see how Paul was a dentist with an eye for decay. He probed raw nerves wherever he went. At one point, he had to be carried shoulder height by soldiers because of the "violence of the people" (Acts 21:36). Now that is a successful preacher! He didn't seek the praise of men. John Wesley told his evangelist trainees that when they preached, people should either get angry or get converted. No doubt, he wasn't speaking about the "Jesus loves you" gospel, but about sin, Law, righteousness, judgment, and hell.

Always follow the wisdom of Solomon: "A soft answer turns away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger" (Proverbs 15:1). This verse needs to be written on the hearts of all who preach the gospel, whether they share their faith with sinners one-on-one or preach open-air. If sinners become angry when you witness to them, speak softly. If you think you are about to be hit, ask the person his name to help diffuse the situation. Don't be afraid to gently change the subject, and don't wait to be a martyr. Jesus said to flee from a city that persecutes you (Matthew 10:23). Paul left one city in a basket (2 Corinthians 11:33).

The Bible warns us to avoid foolish questions because they start arguments (2 Timothy 2:23). Most of us have fallen into the trap of jumping at every objection to the gospel. However, these questions can often be arguments in disguise to sidetrack you from the "weightier matters of the Law." While apologetics (arguments for God's existence, creation vs. evolution, etc.) are legitimate in evangelism, they should merely be "bait," with the Law of God being the "hook" that brings the conviction of sin. Those who witness solely in the realm of apologetical argument may just get an intellectual decision rather than a repentant conversion. The sinner may come to a point of acknowledging that the Bible is the Word of God and Jesus is Lord-but even the devil knows that. Always pull the sinner back to his responsibility before God on Judgment Day, as Jesus did in Luke 13:1-5.

Whenever you are in an open-air situation, be suspicious of so-called Christians who are intent on distracting workers from witnessing. They argue about prophecy, of how much water one should baptize with, or in whose name they should be baptized. It is grievous to see five or six Christians standing around arguing with some sectarian nitpicker, while sinners are sinking into hell.

There may also be occasions when a non-Christian appears to be "helping" you, like the demon-possessed woman who followed Paul (Acts 16:16-18). The woman (or the demon) was speaking the truth: Paul and his companions were servants of the Most High God, and they were showing the way of salvation. Why then was Paul grieved? Satan is very subtle. Rather than openly oppose the truth, he will often attempt to conceal it by implying that the occult and God are compatible. If you are open-air preaching, don't be surprised to have someone who is apparently demonically controlled loudly agree with you, so that it looks to the crowd that you are both preaching the same message. This is very frustrating.

For two years I was heckled almost daily by a woman named Petra. She dressed in black, carried a wooden staff, and said she was a prophet to the nation. As in the days of Noah, only eight would be saved. She maintained that she was one of them, and that she determined who the other seven would be. She also claimed that my spirit visited her spirit in the night (it did not!). My problem was that she would "Amen" much of what I preached, adding her thoughts at the points I made. She would do this at the top of her very loud voice. It must have appeared to newcomers to the crowd that we were a team, preaching the same thing. This was why I was delighted when (every now and then) she would get angry with something I said and let out a string of cuss words, revealing to the crowd that we were not on the same side.

As you share the gospel, divorce yourself from the thought that you are merely seeking "decisions for Christ." What we should be seeking is repentance within the heart. This is the purpose of the Law, to bring the knowledge of sin. How can sinners repent if they don't know what sin is? If there is no repentance, there is no salvation. Jesus said, "Unless you repent, you shall all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3). God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

Many don't understand that the salvation of a soul is not a resolution to change a way of life, but "repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:21). Billy Graham said, "If you have not repented, you will not see the inside of the kingdom of God." The modern concept of success in evangelism is to relate how many people were "saved" (that is, how many prayed the "sinner's prayer"). This produces a "no decisions, no success" mentality. This shouldn't be, because Christians who seek decisions in evangelism become discouraged after a time of witnessing if "no one came to the Lord." The Bible tells us that as we sow the good seed of the gospel, one sows and another reaps. If you faithfully sow the seed, someone will reap. If you reap, it is because someone has sown in the past, but it is God who causes the seed to grow. If His hand is not on the person you are leading in a prayer of committal, if there is not God-given repentance, then you will end up with a stillbirth on your hands, and that is nothing to rejoice about. We should measure our success by how faithfully we sowed the seed. In that way, we will avoid becoming discouraged.

There is one passage in Scripture to which I point for all those who want to witness or preach in the open-air. It is 2 Timothy 2:24-26. Memorize it. Scripture tells us that sinners are blind; they cannot see. What would you think if I were to stomp up to a blind man who had just stumbled, and say, "Watch where you're going, blind man!"? Such an attitude is completely unreasonable. The man cannot see.

The same applies to the lost-spiritual sight is beyond their ability. Look at the words used in Scripture: "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God ... The god of this world has blinded the minds of them which believe not ... But the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness to him: neither can he know them ... Having the understanding darkened ... because of the blindness of their heart ... Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth."

With these thoughts in mind, read 2 Timothy 2:24-26 again and look at the adjectives used by Paul to describe the attitude we are to have with sinners: "must not strive ... be gentle ... patient ... in meekness." Just as it is unreasonable to be impatient with a blind man, so it is with the sinner.[1]

[1] Cameron, K., & Comfort, R. (2004). The school of biblical evangelism: 101 lessons: how to share your faith simply, effectively, biblically-the way Jesus did (pp. 235-239). Gainesville, FL: Bridge-Logos Publishers.