Charles Spurgeon, who is known as the “Prince of Preachers,” did not confine his ministry to the indoors. He preached outside in Scotland, London, and country fields. He even open-air preached a sermon on the doctrine of election to Methodist miners. Despite Spurgeon’s popularity, this facet of his ministry is not well known. Besides preaching under the heavenly sky, Spurgeon exhorted men to follow his example. In his book, Lectures to My Students, he has two chapters on the subject. The first chronicles a brief history of open-air preaching, from Biblical narratives to his contemporary period. The second chapter is an appeal to pastors to preach outside while giving advice on the methodology to adopt.
Unfortunately, most conservative evangelical pastors only preach indoors. They have not broken the threshold to proclaim the name of Christ under the blue open sky. If you are one of these preachers, I encourage you to learn from Spurgeon. See the value in going into the streets to preach Christ crucified. Do not let excuses hold you back. Instead, take up Spurgeon’s call to open-air preach.
1. Biblical Precedent
Spurgeon bases his argument to open-air preach on Scripture. He cites the examples of Enoch, Noah, Moses, and Samuel. The prophets proclaimed God’s Word outdoors too.
Elijah stood on Carmel, and challenged the vacillating nation, with ‘How long halt ye between two opinions?’ Jonah, whose spirit was somewhat similar, lifted up his cry of warning in the streets of Nineveh, and in all her places of concourse gave forth the warning utterance, ‘Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’ (Lectures, 245)
Our Savior Jesus Christ delivered most of his sermons outdoors. “Our Lord himself, who is yet more our pattern, delivered the larger proportion of his sermons on the mountain’s side, or by the seashore, or in the streets. Our Lord was to all intents and purposes an open-air preacher.” (Lectures, 245) Spurgeon’s Savior motivated him to preach under the sun. Will it motivate you?
2. Historical Precedent
In his chapter, “Open-Air Preaching - A Sketch of Its History,” he refers to American open-air preachers.
In America men like Peter Cartwright, Lorenzo Dow, Jacob Gruber, and others of a past generation, carried on a glorious warfare under the open heavens in their own original fashion; and in later times Father Taylor has given us another proof of the immeasurable power of this mode of crusade in his Seven Years of Street Preaching in San Francisco, California. (Lectures, 264)
Spurgeon demonstrates his familiarity with God’s work through the outdoor ministry in America. If you have not read Father Taylor’s work, please get it. He documents how God worked to change the culture of Fisherman’s Wharf through his outdoor preaching ministry on Sundays. It testifies to the power of the Gospel to save sinners.
If you think that preaching outdoors is strange, then listen to the diary entry from John Wesley which Spurgeon quoted. “I could scarce reconcile myself at first to this strange way of preaching in the fields, of which he set me an example on Sunday.” Wesley always considered the business of saving souls to be confined to inside the church. Thankfully, the Lord quickly changed his view through the encouragement of George Whitefield. Spurgeon commented on Wesley’s feelings by writing, “Such were the feelings of a man who in after life became one of the greatest open-air preachers that ever lived!” (Lectures, 259)
3. No Justification is Needed to Preach Outdoors
Spurgeon puts the burden of proof on the pastor who only preachers indoors. “No sort of defense is needed for preaching out of doors; but it would need very potent arguments to prove that a man had done his duty who has never preached beyond the wall of his meeting house.” (Lectures, 266)
What argument can be made to limit the preaching of Christ to your church building? Romans 10:14 says, “And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” Pastor, we both know that a sinner is converted to Christ by hearing the glorious gospel. If they do not hear the good news, then there is no possibility that they will be saved. There are no valid arguments to keep the preaching of the gospel to our comfortable pulpits.
4. New Pastors Should Prioritize Establishing an Open-Air Ministry
When a pastor takes a new charge, mentors usually give the same advice. Focus on the preaching ministry of the Word. Spend time with the members and show them love. Do not make any significant changes for three to five years. Spurgeon provides an unexpected piece of instruction. “One of the earliest things that a minister should do when he leaves college and settles in a country town or village is to begin open-air speaking.” (Lectures, 275)
Spurgeon encourages new pastors to survey the town for a good spot. He gives new pastors suggestions: the market, outside the courthouse, on a wagon in the field, or at a “rustic festival.” (Lectures, 275) Pastor, have you surveyed your town to find an outdoor pulpit? Have you looked at the community calendar to see when the next parade or festival will take place? Are you making open-air preaching a priority in your community?
5. The Gospel is Proclaimed to Newcomers
Spurgeon argued, “The great benefit of open-air preaching is that we get so many newcomers to hear the gospel who otherwise would never hear it.” (Lectures, 267) There is a movement in this country to make our church services more palatable for individuals from an unchurched environment. This affects the style, music, content, liturgy, and attitude of the service. Instead of trying to change your service to appeal to the unchurched, go to the streets and preach the Gospel to them.
The great commission is one of Spurgeon’s justifications for going outdoors. “We ought actually to go into the streets and lanes and highways, for there are lurkers in the hedges, tramps on the highway, streetwalkers, and lane haunters whom we shall never reach unless we pursue them into their own domains.” (Lectures, 268) Pastor, go to the streets to proclaim the gospel to the outcast, downtrodden, self-righteous, and unwanted in your community.
6. Spurgeon’s Example
Spurgeon modeled his advice by having preaching spot in Addlestone.
Throughout England we have several trees remaining called “gospel oaks.” There is one spot on the other side of the Thames known by the name of “Gospel Oak,” and I have myself preached at Addleston, in Surrey, under the far-spreading boughs of an ancient oak, beneath which John Knox is said to have proclaimed the gospel during his sojourn in England. (Lectures, 247)
While arguing that open-air preaching is less draining on the body than preaching indoors, Spurgeon comments on an occasion in Scotland.
I preached in Scotland twice on a Sabbath day at Blairmore, on a little height by the side of the sea, and after discoursing with all my might to large congregations, to be counted by thousands, I did not feel one half so much exhausted as I often am when addressing a few hundreds in some horrible black hole of Calcutta, called a chapel. (Lectures, 270)
He did not confine his open-air ministry to the metropolitan places. He went to the country people by preaching in their fields.
My country brothers and sisters do not confirm the supposition, and for myself—for I preach more in the country than I do in the town, and often spend three or four days a week in addressing country audiences—for myself I must say that glad as I am to address the assembled crowds in a field or anywhere else, I do not find that the supposition that their having less to do makes them think more of divine things is at all correct. (MTP, 706)
Spurgeon demonstrates through his testimony that he is a man who practices what he preaches.
Pastor Brandon was born and raised near Springfield, IL. He graduated from Illinois College in 2007 with a B.A. in History, from Moody Theological Seminary in 2010 with a Master of Divinity, and a PhD in Historical Theology in 2021 from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City. He is also an ACBC certified Biblical counselor. He is married to Karise with whom they raise Ian, Elizabeth, and Patrick. He is interested in history, especially Charles Spurgeon, and has a heart for street preaching and evangelism.