We should open-air preach where people can hear us. This is slightly different from last week’s post where I focused on the topic of preaching where there are people. A preacher may take my advice from the previous post by being near a crowd of people. Yet, they cannot hear you due to the white noise. For a dissimilar reason, the goal of preaching the Gospel to people is still not accomplished.
In this post, I will describe five reasons why an open-air preacher cannot be heard. Then, I will give three suggestions to avoid this obstacle.
1. An open-air preacher can be muffled by preaching into the wind.
God created the wind with immense power. It can make work easy when riding a bike by having it behind you, or it can be your greatest nemesis when it is a headwind. If you are preaching without amplification, the wind in your face will significantly mute your voice. You will have to use more power in order to spread the Word beyond twenty or thirty feet. If you use amplification, then it will not have as dramatic of an effect. But you will have to increase that power to get the same distance. This could make the hearers who walk closely by you deaf.
2. An open-air preacher can be muffled by construction noise.
There is nothing as disappointing as when you come to your favorite preaching spot and hear the sound of cranes and jack hammers. In January, I went with a brother to St. Louis to his favorite preaching spot. It has a platform on street level which overlooks the subway stop. The passengers walk on the platform and go down the stairs to wait for the train. By standing on the platform, a preacher can pour the gracious rain drops of the Gospel on to their heads as they wait. When we arrived, we quickly discovered that we could not preach. Next to the platform the hospital was constructing a new building. The noise was so loud that our message could not be carried down onto the subway stop even with amplification. Since the people could not hear us, we decided to leave for a better spot.
3. An open-air preacher can be muffled by concert noise.
If you go to festivals or sporting events with loud music, then you must be strategic in choosing your location. If you choose to be near the coverage of the event’s sound system, then your preaching will be drowned out. Go find another spot where you can proclaim the glorious Gospel with clarity.
4. An open-air preacher can be muffled by street traffic.
Car noise in the middle of a city creates a cacophony of sound. The tall buildings allow the sound to bounce off their smooth surfaces to become more amplified. It becomes a greater nuisance when an ambulance, fire truck, or police vehicle comes through the intersection with their sirens on. At that moment, you must stop preaching and wait for the siren to fade in the distance.
5. An open-air preacher can be muffled by a second open-air preacher.
This is a problem which I would like to encounter more often. Imagine if your city had an open-air preacher on every street corner in the downtown area. We would be singing praises to the Lord for raising up more workers to come and work the fields of the harvest.
There have been a few times when I have encountered another preacher. Usually, my group would go to another corner where we would not be in each other’s way. However, our group did become acquaintances with a man who walked around Water Tower Park in Chicago with a mega phone. He would proclaim, “Heaven or Hell! Heaven or Hell! Heaven or Hell!” It was loud enough to disrupt your thought if you were preaching. Also, it would take the hearers away from your message as he walked by. We talked to him about being courteous to us when approaching. If our goal is for people to hear the Words of life, then we should not be speaking over each other.
How can we improve being heard?
1. Preach with a wall behind you.
If you are preaching without amplification, a wall will naturally project your voice. By standing near a building on a street corner, the wall amplifies your voice and keeps white noise away. Second, it helps to protect your safety. A person will only be able to approach you from the front or side. No one can jump you from behind when a wall is behind you. Charles Spurgeon recommends this approach with one exception.
"I have somewhere met with the recommendation always to preach with a wall behind you, but against that I respectfully enter my caveat. Have a care of what may be on the other side of the wall! One evangelist received a can of scalding water from over a wall with the kindly remark, 'There’s soup for Protestants!' and another was favored with most unsavory bespatterings from a vessel emptied from above."(Lectures to My Students, pg. 271)
2. Preach from a higher elevation.
By having your voice above the people, it removes barriers which obstruct it. Your voice will carry over the heads of the people and reach a larger audience. This is especially important in the winter. The layers of clothing from coats and sweaters absorb the sound. If you stand on the street level eye to eye, then the foot traffic will limit your range since they are blocking the sound. In order to avoid this, you can pick a hill or elevated platform when preaching in a park or in a hilly city. If you are on a street corner, I will recommend bringing a step stool to stand on. A park bench or raised step a foot off of the ground will do.
3. Preach with the wind.
Use the wind as an ally and not as an enemy. If it is a windy day, check for the wind direction. Switch your location in order to use the wind as a pony express to carry the message of the Gospel to the far reaches of the block. Charles Spurgeon taught his students to preach with the wind too.
"Do not try to preach against the wind, for it is an idle attempt. You may hurl your voice a short distance by an amazing effort, but you cannot be well heard even by the few. I do not often advise you to consider which way the wind blows, but on this occasion I urge you to do it, or you will labor in vain. Preach so that the wind carries your voice toward the people, and does not blow it down your throat, or you will have to eat your own words. There is no telling how far a man may be heard with the wind."(Lectures to My Students, pg. 274)
Spurgeon gave this advice before the invention of electronic amplification which many open-air preachers use. However, this is good advice for amplification as well. By using the wind, you will not have to sound as loud up close in order to carry the Gospel a great distance.
As open-air preachers, our goal is to have the lost hear the Good News of Jesus Christ. Let us take heed to remove these barriers so that unbelievers can hear. However, we must avoid going to the other extreme. We want the foot traffic to hear us, but we should not make them deaf. Be courteous and thoughtful towards others. If people are walking past you only ten feet away, do not have your amplification on full blast. If a parent is pushing a two-year-old child in their stroller, pause for a moment to allow them to go past before resuming your sermon. Don’t blast the toddler’s ears!
Brothers, preach the Gospel with love and consideration for others. This includes loving the lost enough to make them hear and loving them enough to allow them to keep their hearing.
We must preach where the people are. You may think that this a simple and self-evident truth. It is! The problem is that some people do not understand it. With open-air preachers, we can develop a martyr complex of preaching where there are no listeners. A person goes downtown when it is dead. All of the workers are out of the area since it is the weekend. Yet, a preacher takes to the street corner to preach when there is no one to hear.
Why would a person do this? It can be justified by many Biblical statements. First, Jesus deserves to be gloried and exalted in the open air. Second, the angels are hearing the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and rejoice over it. Third, this is a way to be salt in the world by preaching truth on the public square. I agree with all of these reasons to preach. However, it misses the primary goal of preaching; it is to have people hear the Gospel.
Charles Spurgeon gives an illustration from his Lectures to His Students which displays the misguidedness of preaching to no one.
"I once saw a man preaching with no hearer but a dog, which sat upon its tail and looked up very reverently while its master orated. There were no people at the windows nor passing by, but the brother and his dog were at their post whether the people would hear or whether they would forbear. Once also I passed an earnest declaimer, whose hat was on the ground before him, filled with papers, and there was not even a dog for an audience, nor anyone within hearing, yet did he “waste his sweetness on the desert air.” I hope it relieved his own mind. Really it must be viewed as an essential part of a sermon that somebody should hear it: it cannot be a great benefit to the world to have sermons preached in vacuo." (Spurgeon, pg. 277)
The Gospel must be preached to the people and not the air. A fisherman goes to the fishing hole. He doesn’t go to the mall. A deer hunter goes to his stand in the woods. He doesn’t go to the John Deere dealership. They go to where their prey lives. In the same way, we must go to the people.
In Romans 10:14-15 states, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ (ESV).
Paul assumes that a preacher is sent to the people. They are the ones who need to hear the Gospel. How can an unbeliever hear the gospel if the gospel preacher is sent to an empty street? Paul assumes that the preacher is sent to an audience in order to hear the words of eternal life.
In the parable of the great banquet in Luke 14:12-24, Luke wrote about the master wanting people to come to the banquet. “And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled” (ESV). The servants were sent to the highways since there would be people there. They would find people to invite to the kingdom of God.
Where do people gather?
This depends upon your location, but I will give several suggestions. If you are not familiar with the area, then go to the city’s chamber of commerce website to look at the community calendar. It will give you a list of upcoming events.
Any and every kind of parade will gather a crowd. Plan your calendar around them: St. Patrick’s Day, Fourth of July, State Fair, Veteran’s Day, Homecoming, etc. Bring plenty of gospel tracts. Have a group hand out tracts up and down the parade route while another group preaches the gospel. Many people will hear the Words of life.
Mankind loves festivals especially in the summer. These are usually public events in the park or downtown area. Even if you live in a smaller town, there may be an event which draws a crowd. I grew up in a town of 1400. It has a three-day picnic every August where hundreds of people attend.
3. Sporting Events
If you live in a metropolitan area or college town, then you have access to thousands of people. Go stand outside the stadium and preach the gospel while the fans come into the game. You will preach to more people in a day than a pastor preaches to in a year. I recommend contacting Sports Fan Outreach International to learn more.
4. Public College Campuses
Publicly funded college campuses are opportunities to exercise your free speech. Some campuses have a spot for debate and public addresses. Make this a weekly outreach so that you can develop relationships with the students. I know a few brothers who go to a college campus every Thursday night and preach outside the dining hall. Their faithfulness has opened doors to meeting these young adults.
In the summer time, many people gather in the parks to play or relax. Take advantage of the Lord’s providence in giving us good weather. This includes parks near employers. Many people will take their lunch outside in order to enjoy the fresh air. Plan your lunch break to preach when the workers are present.
5. Cult Gatherings
Cults like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons have conferences locally and nationally. When they come to town, go to them. Stand outside the Mormon Temple or the arena where they are gathered to give them the truth.
6. Metropolitan Areas
Large cities always have people on the sidewalks. If you live in a major city, you have the opportunity to go to the streets every day. I was with a group that would go to Chicago once a month. On the Magnificent Mile, the crowds always gathered to shop. The weather did not stop it. There would be people walking to the bus stop, the “L” station, or to the mall even if it was 10 degrees out. The cities have great potential for this ministry since this is where most of the people live. If you live in a city, please go to the streets regularly trumpeting the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
There are more options in which you can explore. This is only a sample. Remember to preach the Gospel and to preach it to people.
A person’s beliefs affect their actions. In the same way, we can evaluate an individual’s doctrine based upon their behavior. In the past week, we have witnessed two acts of terror. In Dallas, five police officers were killed while providing security for a Black Lives Matter march. Even though the investigation is ongoing, we know that the killer was responding to the deaths of black men by police officers in Minnesota and Louisiana. He wanted to kill white police officers as retribution. A week later, France suffered their second terrorist attack in eight months. A Muslim from Tunisia used a white truck as a murder weapon during the celebration of Bastille Day. The earliest reports suggest that this could be related to radical Islam’s campaign to strike Europe.
While the motivations for these two attacks were disparate, they do hold one thing in common: the perpetrators did not have a Biblical view of heaven and hell. Even though we do not have all of the facts, their actions represent the logical outcomes of radical Islam and secularism. By evaluating their behavior, I will explain how their theology only encourages terrorist attacks.
1. Martyrdom through jihad is the only way to be assured of your salvation in Islam.
Islam is a works based religion. The foundation is performing the five pillars: the creed, daily prayers, alms-giving, fasting during Ramadan, and a pilgrimage to Mecca if you are able financially and physically. In their theology, a person is judged by Allah based on their works. Surah 5:9 says, “To those who believe and do deeds of righteousness hath Allah promised forgiveness and a great reward.” If their good works outweigh the bad, then they are granted everlasting life in heaven. However, if their bad works outweigh the good, then they go to Hell. Before the judgment day, they cannot attain assurance of their salvation. A Muslim is always left wondering if they have done enough to earn eternal life.
The Bible teaches the opposite. If we are in Christ, then we can be assured that we will be saved. Since it is not based upon works, we rest in the work of Christ. Romans 10:13 says, “For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’” (ESV). Through faith in Jesus Christ, a person can rest in knowing that they have peace with God.
In contrast, there is only one hope for assurance in Islam. Surah 9:111 explains that a Muslim who fights in jihad on the side of Allah and dies will receive the reward of heaven. They will not have to be anxious and trembling on the judgment day. Everyone else will be fearfully waiting for the verdict of heaven or hell. Yet, death through jihad is the golden ticket to heaven.
Radial Muslim terrorists have taken this teaching as a battle cry. By becoming a soldier for the cause of Allah, a terrorist will lose their life in order to gain heaven. They do not fear death, because it is the doorway to everlasting pleasure. Death keeps them from facing justice on earth by the governing authorities, but it removes Allah’s wrath and justice in the afterlife.
If a Muslim embraces this theology, then what would stop him from carrying out an attack? This is the logical application of the terrorists on 9/11, Paris 2015, and probably the attack in Nice.
2. The secular worldview requires justice to be administered in this life time.
While the Islamic martyr looks forward to avoiding justice, a secularist senses the urgency of having justice mediated now. The shooter in Dallas was outraged over black men being killed by white police officers. While I do not know his religious background, I am arguing that his actions were consistent with a practicing secularist.
Why? Since there is no afterlife to judge people, then justice must be given now. Death is the escape clause that allows a person to avoid the penalties for their crime. Without a Hell, there is no opportunity for every act of racism to be punished. Therefore, a person must act swiftly so that justice can be executed.
From a Christian perspective, we can rest assured that any crime that was not punished on earth will be punished in heaven. If a man gets away with murder, he will have to give an account on the judgment day. Hebrews 9:27 says, “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment…” (ESV). While we should pursue justice through the legal system, we can wait upon the Lord if a person gets away with the crime. If the person is not in Christ, then they will pay for their sins in Hell. If they have repented and believed in Jesus, then justice was delivered on the cross through Jesus’ sacrifice.
A secular worldview can lead to terrorism in three ways.
First, since God does not exist, then a person is not commanded to obey the government. Romans 13 explains that God has ordained the government with the sword. It is their responsibility to bring about justice. However, the shooter in Dallas did not want to wait for the legal system. Since justice must happen now, he was not obligated in his mind to follow God’s command to submit to the government.
Second, if God does not exist, the human heart's cry for justice to be served cannot be left with God. Instead, the terrorist sees himself as the god who mediates justice. Secular terrorism leads to justice that is not just. The five police officers in Dallas did not have any involvement in the cases in Minnesota or Louisiana. Besides that, they had not killed any black men in the past. This did not matter to the shooter. His outrage against police officers whom he perceived as breaking the law led him to punish innocent officers for crimes that they did not commit. Instead of delivering justice, he compounded the injustice. This is why the Bible says in Romans 12:19, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’ (ESV). By trusting in God’s judgments, we are assured that true justice will be done.
Third, just as Islamic terrorists do not fear death, a secular terrorist does not fear the afterlife. Instead of receiving eternal life, an atheist believes that you cease to exist. A person will not have pleasure or pain. Their understanding of justice motives action now without the fear of Hell upon death. This is why a practicing secularist can do acts of terror without fearing God’s wrath.
Fourth, a secularist has no foundation for arguing that human life matters. According to their understanding, we are beings who have evolved from apes. We do not have more value than an ant, catfish, robin, or giraffe. Humans are not made in the image of God. Therefore, we do not have intrinsic value. Interestingly the Dallas terrorist only applied this logic towards the white police officers. They did not have value and did not deserve to live. However, the black men who were killed by cops did have value. The result of this logic is a hierarchal view of humanity based upon your own perceived identity as being the most valuable.
Some people use the terrorist attacks by Muslims as proof that religion is the source of conflict. They push a secular agenda which promises to bring peace. However, this is a false promise. While the number of practicing secular terrorists is small, they do not have a theology to stop terrorism. Without the fear of God’s judgment, an atheist has the same freedom to perform terrorist attacks as radical Muslims.
The answer is not the removal of religion. Instead, it is to preach the truth of the Bible. By proclaiming the Gospel, may the Lord convince people that they will have to give an account for every action. May the Lord show that we are sinners who can do nothing good to merit salvation and can only throw ourselves at the mercy seat of Jesus Christ. If we want to stop terrorism, then we must pray for the Holy Spirit to bring about conversions, so that society will embrace a Biblical understanding of heaven and hell.
Why does the question need to be asked? Through viewing YouTube videos and personal experience, I have seen unloving speech and attitudes towards unbelievers. This comes out in two ways. First, by calling individuals profane names based upon their dress or actions. This group is usually populated by Pelagians who deny the depravity of man. A friend of mine rightfully calls them open-air abusers. Second, open-air preachers do this through their attitude. A combative disposition that tries to win an argument instead of winning a person to Christ does not show love for the lost. This group is usually populated by immature Christians who are zealous for truth. The thrill of the argument gets their blood rushing. They have waited for this opportunity to use a new apologetic method. Unfortunately, they have forgotten that the purpose of engaging the lost is to see a person converted. Both groups err on failing to show courtesy to the lost.
What Does It Mean To Be Courteous?
It is gentleman-like love. We are to be polite, kind, gentle, and gracious with all. This kind of love is best seen by its opposites which are being rude, harsh, angry, pugnacious, and irate. The hearers should be offended by the message and not its delivery.
4 Reasons Why We Should Be Courteous
First, we should be courteous towards non-Christians because we were once like them.
In the book of Titus, Paul commands Titus and the church on Crete to be courteous to all people. Titus 3:2 says, “to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people” (ESV). In the context, Paul commands Christians to submit to the governing authorities in verse 1. In verse 2, they are to be kind and courteous to unbelievers in their society. This fits the main theme of Titus: be zealous to do good works. Verse 3 now says, “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another” (ESV). The Christians in Crete were once like these non-Christians who were rebels and enslaved to sin. What changed them? God saved them as it says in verse 5. The Christians did not save themselves through works. They were no better than these unbelievers.
As open-air preachers, we must remember that we were once like the lost. God saved us from our bondage to sin. He gave us enlightenment so that we can now see and willingly submit to Jesus Christ. We are not wiser or more intelligent. We were just as disobedient as them. Therefore, preach with humility. You will be uncourteous to the lost when you forget that you were just like them. Show the same grace and patience with them that God has shown with you.
Second, we should be courteous towards non-Christians because they may convert.
If you are harsh towards an unbeliever through cursing, screaming, or pointed speech, you may be showing malice towards a future brother or sister in Christ. In Paul’s letters, he repeatedly makes reference to the church’s past unconverted state to remind them of God’s grace (Rom. 11:30; Eph. 2:1-5; Col. 1:21; 1 Thess. 1:9). Besides this example, Paul demonstrates that a zealous religious leader who persecutes Christians is not immune to God’s efficacious grace (Gal. 1:13-14; 1 Tim. 1:12-15).
Imagine if you preached without courtesy on the street corner. A young man comes by and stops you to talk about being an atheist. Instead of being patient and kind while answering his objections, you continually and persistently attack him from Romans 1:18-21. In the argument, you lose your temper and the young man walks away. Two months later, you see him again at your church on Sunday. He comes to talk and says, “God has recently saved my soul.” You respond, “Praise the Lord! I was praying that God would use our conversation on that street corner.” He says, “Your attitude made me even angrier towards Christians. God saved me in spite of your evangelism!” How much shame we would have for hearing such a response?
Third, we should be courteous towards non-Christians because they are spiritually dead.
Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:14, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (ESV). We must remember that the natural man must be born again. They have a nature that is hostile to God and does not understand God’s Word. We should not be surprised when we see apathy, insults, the rolling of the eyes, mocking, and the destruction of tracts. The Gospel is offensive to unbelievers.
Fourth, we should be courteous towards non-Christians because Christian men are to be self-controlled.
In Titus 2, Paul exhorts all men to be self-controlled. Many times this deals with sexual desires, but it also governs our emotions. Open-air preaching is more than knowing the Gospel and purchasing amplification. Character matters. Your attitude, speech, and interactions with others testify to the truthfulness of the Scriptures.
Titus 2:7-8 says, “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, 8 and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us” (ESV).
As a preacher of the Gospel, your conduct testifies to the watching world if Christianity is real. If you hate others by showing malice, then you are acting like the unbelievers to whom you are preaching. Then, they can use your public speech to condemn you and the Gospel. Instead, adorn yourself with the Gospel of Jesus Christ by being self-controlled. Keep the balance of being steadfast in preaching the true Gospel which calls sinners to repentance, while displaying courtesy and love to the hearers of the Good News.
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.