Open air preaching

And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
Mark 16:15

Why ministers must preach the gospel in the open air

In the past year, the Lord has stirred the Dallas Reformed Presbyterian Church to be a gospel witness to the city of McKinney. We began door to door outreach in the neighborhood, and spoken to our neighbors about the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, handing out gospel tracts, inviting them to church, and praying with them if they have needs. For today, I want to consider open air preaching: preaching in the public square, sometimes called “street preaching”. I will focus on the ministry context the Lord has put me in – a suburb of the USA. Differences in application will be necessary for different contexts. Especially if your local government is more hostile to the Church.

All that said, as blessed as our door to door outreach has been, we have felt a greater need for open air (or street) preaching. Why? Because the gospel must be preached to the lost. It is the foolishness of preaching that the Lord promises to greatly bless to the conversion of souls. It is preaching He uses as a means to draw men to Christ. God’s Word explains:

For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (ROMANS 10:13–17)

Historically, the great revivals came by the Spirit filled preaching of God’s Word. Though other forms of evangelism are used by God, preaching to the lost is the greatest means Christ has given to evangelize. He said plainly and clearly, “preach the gospel to every creature”. The Greek word for preach is the activity of an official herald. Heralding the gospel. Heralding the good news! Yet, this greatest means is downplayed in the American church’s evangelistic efforts.

To this, many pastors might say: I preach the gospel in my church. I say, brother, I praise God for that! And I praise God for your members who bring the lost to your church! And I praise God you recognize that not all who sit in the pews and say they are Christians are born again. But the stark reality is this: the lost do not come to church as often as they once did. Church attendance used to be a marker of a person’s membership in ‘respectable society’. So the lost would go in times past. Those times are long gone.

Pastor, the lost are all around you outside of your study and your church building. Do not wait for them to come to you. Go to them! Preach the same Words of Life that once rang sweetly in your own ears on the day you first believed! Remember what it was like to hear Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners like you. Remember what it was like when the Spirit of God brought life and faith into your own heart.

And then on the day you were ordained to gospel ministry – the Lord Jesus Christ entrusted to a sinner like you the greatest message given – Christ and Him Crucified. The gospel message that God in the flesh came to save sinners – offering salvation as a free gift to all who call on the name of the Lord. Be an evangelist. Hear Paul’s exhortation to Timothy:

But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry. (2 TIMOTHY 4:5)

Make full proof of your ministry and preach the word to the lost. Do the work of an evangelist!

Members praying with those who have needs as they were drawn by the preaching

But that brings me to a topic I must address for our time: not everyone is a preacher. The Word of God says the ones who preach must be “sent” (Romans 10:15). Those sent are men ordained by a Presbytery (1 Timothy 4:14) for gospel ministry. It is not for every member to preach the Word of God. This is a commission and a burden given by the Lord.

I was examined by a Presbytery for the gospel ministry

Sadly, as ministers of the gospel have been unfaithful to their charge to evangelize – church members – seeing a vacuum – attempt to fill it as their souls are provoked by the lost perishing. They take on a burden Christ has not laid upon them. This is why, today, our impression of “street preachers” is almost overwhelmingly negative. Few ordained and trained physicians of souls are found in the public square. Instead, rabble rousers, and confrontational men are preaching to antagonize rather than evangelize.

But when true pastors with a heart for the lost preach on God’s wrath that leads all men to hell, they also find themselves preaching on God’s love in Christ that leads to heaven through a Cross – salvation as a free gift by faith in Jesus. They preach good news. Not just the bad news. For they were commissioned and sent with this burden: “for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16).

Is the thought of preaching the gospel in the open intimidating? At first, it is, at least to most men. But if you are a pastor, I hope you have felt the same trepidation when opening the Word of God to preach. As John Knox was reputed to have said, “I have never once feared the devil, but I tremble every time I enter the pulpit”. I still tremble every Lord’s Day and every Prayer Meeting where I preach a sermon. Because God is my judge. At first, I felt the burden of preaching in the open – but it struck me – do I think man is going to judge me more severely than Christ? No.

John Knox quote: I have never once feared the devil, but I tremble...

Some men also do not want to be seen as a fool. This is a real but seldom expressed fear. After all, it is much easier to preach to those who are friendly to the Christian faith inside of our meeting halls. A man who preaches in the open is going to be a laughingstock to man. Get used to being called a fool by the world, brother. It is the foolishness of preaching that God uses to save (1 Corinthians 1:21). Be a fool for Christ’s sake (1 Corinthians 4:10)!

Both fear and foolishness are removed when you realize that the man of God who preaches goes with the Spirit of God. Preaching is an activity that is blessed by the Spirit. The fact that men do not realize this is why there are many ineffective preachers today. The man of God goes for the Almighty and with the Almighty. “The LORD is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me?” (Psalm 118:6). He cannot be touched by the world that rages against the Lord and His Christ (Psalm 2) – even if they kill the preacher – his life is hidden with Christ above (Colossians 3:3).

When I preached at the McKinney square I felt as though the stool I stood on was the firmest place in the universe to stand. Because I stood on the Word of God and I stood in Christ. I proclaimed the everlasting gospel with the pleasure and blessing of Jesus Christ Himself. And when a pastor pleads with God that he might preach in the Spirit – there is great power which removes the fear of men.

A congregational effort
Some who have read this might think that an open air witness must be a lone effort by the minister. After all, only the minister is called to preach. This is an opposite problem from the one I spoke of before. A strict clericalism can sneak into Reformed churches that ought never be there. No, evangelism can be a most blessed congregational activity. Ask God to rouse up the spirits of your congregation. Go together! While they will not preach – they will be a great encouragement and a great witness. They will be there to “watch your back” and pray for you. They will meet and greet those who show an interest in the word. They will pray with those who have prayer needs. They will tell others of how great things the Lord hath done for them, and hath had compassion on them (Mark 5:19). When they “swim in their lane”, so to speak, they are most blessed. They will not feel a burden that ought never be theirs. And they will find that Christ bears them up to be a public witness.

All that happened at our last event in McKinney. Their faith was strengthened and their spirits were renewed as they saw the work of God on display around them and through them. Knowing that the Spirit moved in my congregation, seeing their love for the gospel, love for Christ, love for the lost, and yes, even their love for me was a tremendous boost to my own spirit as I preached.

Breaking bread before taking the gospel to McKinney

As for the format of our open air preaching event: I would preach for about 10 minutes on a text of Scripture. And each message must be a pointed gospel message. Messages were preached on salvation as the free gift of God in Jesus Christ, faith, heaven, salvation, and damnation. After a message was preached, one of the men would pray that the Lord would bless the word sown, and all would sing a psalm together as a public witness of praise to our God.

This was a wonderful way to have the congregation involved. Next time we plan to spread our members through the crowd with DRPC shirts on so that they might be able to talk to those who are interested. Go and be wise as serpents and harmless as doves in your witness for Christ. Mobilize the body – they can have a great part to play even if they can not preach!

For a sample of what was preached – you can view this video. Next time, we hope to have video captured of the congregation’s involvement so you can see how they worked together, prayed together, and sang together.

The final gospel call preached

Final thoughts
I chose to write on this topic not to exalt our congregation. But that Christ would be exalted. And exalted through your congregation as well as ours. Each time the Cross is preached, Christ is glorified, whether or not a soul is saved. That is our greatest aim in witnessing – to proclaim the excellences of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord. No souls came forward at our event to be converted. But many listened to the Word intently. I had a small audience at a Café across the street that paid attention. One woman listened for twenty minutes or more. Many believers said a hearty ‘amen’ to the preaching as they walked by and signaled their support. And our congregation was strengthened spiritually. Most of all the Cross was preached and Christ was proclaimed.

We are simply called to be faithful to sow the good seed of the Word. God will make sure it does not return to Him void (Isaiah 55:11). The Godhead asks – “who will go for us?” (Isaiah 6:8). Pastors – go out into the fields. The harvest is ripe. The Lord Jesus must be publicly proclaimed. Compel the lost to come in (Luke 14:23). Do it for the same Christ who loved you and died for you. Be used by Him to bring His lost sheep into His sheepfold. Be an ambassador for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20). Yes, continue doing what you are doing for evangelism (you are doing something, right? 2 Timothy 4:5) but make sure to not neglect preaching to where the lost congregate. It is preaching that God most greatly blesses. If revival will break out in our land, we must rediscover the promise and power of preaching. Pastor, God has given you the gift of preaching the Word. You were not given that gift to only preach to saved people. You are equipped for the work of open air preaching. Your ordination is proof of it.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me. My contact information is on the church website. Please also check out our Dallas RPCNA Facebook page for more pictures and videos from our event.

To hear a sermon I recently preached from Proverbs 1:20-33 on the need for Open Air preaching, you can listen to this:

May Christ cry out in the open square through His Church! Soli Deo Gloria!

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