Practical points on Open-Air Preaching Part 3
Avoid deliberately offensive rhetoric
Too many Open Air preachers use rhetoric designed at getting a crowd, not realizing that they often times greatly compromise their credibility. As we said earlier, be sincere, be genuine. There is nothing wrong with humor, or with well timed one-liners to make a point. But be careful that your motive is right and that what you say to get people to listen won’t damage your credibility or cause reproach to those who happen to be passing by and only hear a short snippet of what you’re saying.
Don’t shy away from rebuking sin
Most people know right from wrong. They know when they do wrong. The issue for most people is motivation to do right not just knowledge of what is right. That being said it is vital that we deal with the issue of sin. Many evangelists shy away from talking about their audiences personal sin. We don’t want to anger or upset anyone out of fear of hurting our witness. I want to stress that the average sinner will respect you more, though they may initially be bothered, when you shoot straight with them about their sin that they themselves know is wrong. The Holy Spirit is working to convict men of their sin, the pressure on their conscience makes people uncomfortable. When we try to comfort them and make them like us we alleviate that conviction and actually work against the Holy Spirit. The conversion of the soul is an uncomfortable process. We cannot short cut that or make it any less painful without doing more harm than good.
Don’t major in the minors
“You are going to hell young man!” shouts a preacher, “How do you know?” responds a young student. “Look at that cigarette hanging out your mouth!” retorts the preacher. This is majoring in the minors. Cigarette smoking is probably one of the least offenses to God in this young mans life. The central issue is the sinners understanding of God and His character, their sinfulness in relationship to such, and the gospel message of Christ and His Kingdom. We must get to the heart of these issues and not let conversations get bogged down in peripheral and secondary issues.
This does not mean that there isn’t an appropriate time to have certain discussions. Sometimes we need to talk about what seems to be peripheral subject that actually turns out be central stumbling block to a persons understanding of the gospel. for example many young people are taught that Christianity is responsible for so much great evil in the world that it cannot be the Truth. A historical discussion on this subject can remove major boulders from the soil of a young persons heart. This requires wisdom, discernment, and listening to your audience.
Engage your audience, don’t just preach at people, preach to people
Many open air preachers fail to realize that open air ministry in the New Testament is more like a public debate than just public “preaching”. Paul engaged in lively public debates. So did Jesus. They didn’t just stand up and quote Scripture. They engaged their audience. I often see street or campus preachers who preach and preach and preach, with people just walking past. They never engage and connect with their hearers. When someone walking past yells something at you, rather than try to ignore him and keep your focus on “preaching”, engage the person. Respond to their comment. Use their remarks as material to speak on, address them personally, drawing them (and others) into your public debate.
It is important to stay in touch with people who are impacted by the preaching or conversation. I have found that most people whom I give my info to don’t contact me. I instead will get there info, then I can contact them and work towards building a relationship with the person.
Never lose sight of individuals
This is my most important point. I have a tendency to lose focus on the individuals that are in front of me. I either get so focused on a debate that the debate becomes the issue and not the person or I get focused on the “numbers”, the “crowd”.
People will often use “arguments” as a smoke screen. Answering questions is important, but you must be able to discern the sincerity of the question. If someone asks you a question and doesn’t even listen to you as you’re responding, they are insincere and the question is a smokescreen. It there are others who may have the same question who are listening I will often times answer it for their sake, but I will not get wrapped up in “answering a fool according to his folly, lest I be found just like him” (Proverbs 24:5).
In the same passage in Proverbs it says to “answer a fool according to his folly, lest he becomes wise in his own conceit” The difference between the two, I believe, is sincerity. An insincere fool doesn’t care about the answer; he is not reasonable nor is he really seeking truth. Don’t answer him. But a sincere fool, someone who has bad ideas, but will listen if they can be shown through reason that what they believe is wrong; This fool ANSWER, labor with him, work with him, go the extra mile with him, because he can be won! Don’t lose sight of these people in a big crowd. Don’t get focused on numbers, or arguments, or whatever. Keep your focus on individuals, for whom Christ died, and may you see many come to know the Lord and His great redeeming power as He anoints your efforts.
What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one, does not leave the ninety-nine…and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing…I say to you likewise that there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety nine just persons who need no repentance.