In part 1, I defined and described topical preaching. Now we turn our attention to exegetical preaching. With a topical message, a preacher chooses a topic, and then he goes to the Bible to see what it teaches. He will use passages from various books to teach on the breadth of Scripture. In contrast, exegetical preaching chooses a passage and studies the meaning from it. A preacher will ask the question, “What is the author communicating?” The goal is to communicate to the audience the original intent of the message.
When I choose a passage for evangelism, I focus on Scripture which will explain about God, man, Christ, and the call to respond. Notice that this corresponds with the topical format that I gave in the previous blog. Stay away from secondary issues. Please do not preach on head coverings from 1 Corinthians 11. Do not preach on the correct church polity as elder led from 1 Timothy 3. These are important matters for our churches to consider, but they will become barriers when we hit the street. Remember that our goal is to preach the Gospel.
Here is my first example for doing an outline from Psalm 24. This outline style will work best with poetry and the epistles. If you are preaching from a narrative, there is a better approach to use which I will show you in a moment.
Big Idea: Why Should We Worship God?
1. We should worship God because He is the Creator. (Psalm 24:1-2)
A. Exposition: Explain why the Creator should be worshiped.
B. Illustration: Only a painter has authority to change his painting.
C. Application: 1. You own nothing. You do not deserve to be worshiped.
2. Worship God since He created everything.
2. We should worship God because He is Holy. (Psalm 24:3-6)
A. Exposition: 1. Explain why God is Holy.
2. Show why no man is holy enough to dwell with God.
B. Illustration: Use the Law to show that a person is not Holy.
C. Application: 1. Proclaim that no man can dwell with God on their own merit.
2. Call sinners to trust in Christ to be saved.
3. We should worship God because He is King. (Psalm 24:7-10)
A. Exposition: Explain how Psalm is seen as foreshadowing the ascension of Christ.
B. Illustration: Christ is like the President being received at the State of the Union.
C. Application: 1. Jesus Christ is King. Are you submitting yourself to His rule?
2. Failure to worship the King will lead to Hell.
With this outline structure, you have parallelism and consistency. The preacher makes the point. Then, he explains the point. He helps us to understand it through an illustration. Then, he applies it to our hearts. The preacher moves on to point number two and repeats. This gives your message clarity and movement. For some open-air preachers, they do not have a clearly defined idea. They will say wonderful truth about our Lord Jesus Christ, but it is not organized. This causes the preacher to stumble around and usually go longer than is necessary.
The beauty of this outline is that you do not need to take it with you when you preach. If you have your Bible open to Psalm 24, then you have the outline before you. You will need to remember your illustrations. However, if you studied the text, then you should be able to give brief remarks before your illustration. Then, the application naturally leads you to begging for sinners to worship the King of Glory!
Here is my second example from Luke 6:46-49. This is an outline that you can use for narrative sermon.
Big Idea: How do you know that you are a good listener?
1. Explain that Jesus asks this question to the multitude.
2. The good listener hears the Word of God and does it.
i. Explain the illustration of building a house on a rock.
ii. This brings security and safety.
3. The bad listener hears the Word of God and does not do it.
i. Explain the illustration of building a house on the sand.
ii. This brings ruin and destruction.
1. The good listener responds by doing the Word of God.
A. Illustration: Charles Spurgeon hears Gospel and believes.
B. Application: 1. Are you listening to the Words of Jesus?
2. He calls sinners to repent and believe.
3. Is Jesus your rock? Is he your foundation? Then, it is shown through obeying Jesus commands.
4. Is your foundation money, sex, prestige, power, possessions, yourself?
2. The bad listener hears the Word of God and does not do it.
A. Illustration: Child hears warning to get out of road, but she laughs before getting hit by a car.
B. Application: 1. Are you listening to your friends, Oprah, Muhammad, your feelings, or the devil?
2. If you reject Christ, then your foundation is sand.
3. Christ is the only one you can trust in for salvation.
4. Any other foundation will lead you to Hell.
In the second example, the same principles are used, but they are arranged differently. First, you tell the parable about two people building homes. Then, you give two lessons from the story. State the lesson and illustrate it. Follow up by applying it to the people. The whole time keep bringing up listening. Since people are walking by who did not hear your sermon introduction, then keep repeating the big idea.
I chose this passage since it creates images in a people’s minds. Most people will immediately have their minds go to a construction site. They will see the foundation being dug on the rock versus on the sand. God can use it to have these images flash back into their minds days later. Develop the details as you preach and keep connecting back to listening.
Most importantly, the passage reveals that false professors think that they are listening to the Lord, but their actions show that they are not following Him. False profession is rampant in our society. The Lord can use this passage to reveal to professing Christians that they are Christians in name but not in deed.
May the Lord bless you brothers as you apply these principles to preach the Gospel. Lord willing, I will explain the third arrangement next week.
Most of the open-air preachers that I have met desperately desire to share the Gospel, but they have not been trained in sermon preparation. Usually their first baby step to standing on the box is reading Scripture. A fellow evangelist will encourage them to read from Romans 1. As they become more comfortable, the novice will incorporate the Ten Commandments as demonstrated by Ray Comfort. Also, they will tend to imitate the other open-air preachers that are around them by using their most common phrases and illustrations. Finally, they will have developed a hybrid approach which has become their own. While I praise God for raising up these men, I desire to help them develop a systematic approach to sermon preparation.
How do you arrange your sermon? Before going to the street, do you know what passages in which you will be speaking? Will you be speaking on one passage or will you have a topical message? Or do you go to the street corner without preparing? Maybe you have the same one sermon for each occasion? Have you become bored with it but you do not know how to change? Are you lost in how you should organize it?
Here is the first of the three arrangements that I use for my open-air sermons.
Topical preaching focuses on a subject instead of a specific passage of Scripture. In this arrangement, you will have an outline of the subject with Bible references from different books. For example, instead of focusing on a paragraph from Luke, you are explaining the doctrine of God’s Holiness. This can be the simplest arrangement for a new preacher. Start with the question, “What is the Gospel?” Then, you can speak on four points: God, Man, Christ, Response. I recommend reading Greg Gilbert’s book “What is the Gospel?”.
Here is my outline.
1. God is the Holy Creator.
“Worthy are you, our Lord and God to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” (Revelation 4:11)
2. Man is a wicked sinner who is under God’s judgment.
“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands;
no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10)
“And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment…” (Hebrews 9:27)
3. Jesus Christ came as a Savior for Sinners.
“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24)
4. Respond by Repenting and Believing in Christ.
“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent…” (Acts 17:30)
“For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’” (Romans 10:13)
This outline can be used for open-air preaching or one on one witnessing since it focuses on the Gospel. As you can see, the Scripture references come from many books of the Bible to prove the point. You do not have to use these specific references, but it highlights the principle.
As you preach, you can think of an illustration for each point. God’s holiness is like pure white snow without a blot. Man is a sinner because we have broken the Ten Commandments. Christ is the innocent man who paid the infinite debt that we have before the Judge. Then, the last point is the application. Aim for the heart by lovingly commanding people to repent and believe. This message cannot be ignored. They must take these claims seriously.
Since the topical approach has several Scripture references, I would suggest either memorizing them, typing them on a card, or having them bookmarked in your Bible. When you preach, eye contact is an absolute necessity. You will engage individuals more when you speak to them through their eyes. The more you are looking at your Bible looking up verses, then you will lose the eye contact which is key to pleading for their souls.
Imagine you have a friend who is contemplating suicide. He texts you that he is at the bridge and is going to jump 200 feet into the river. You immediately drive over to the bridge. You stop on the shoulder where he is standing. You pull out your list of helps for dealing with suicide from your backpack. As you approach your friend, you call out, “Joe!” You have his attention and start to read from the list to him. Your eyes spend more time staring at the paper than at his face. Try imagining pleading with a man for his life while staring at a white piece of paper. If you are going to plead with a man, you look at him in the eyes. You show your care on your face. You speak to a man’s soul through his pupils. No one would plead with a friend while staring at notes. How are we to plead for men’s souls if our eyes are constantly looking at paper?
Finally, please remember to keep your topics focused on the Gospel message and not on minor points. Charles Spurgeon exhorts us to keep preaching Christ:
"Another rule is to keep to your subject, and never be drawn into side issues. Preach Christ or nothing; don’t dispute or discuss except with your eye on the cross. If driven off for a moment, always be on the watch to get back to your sole topic. Tell them the old, old story, and if they will not hear that, move on."
We should open-air preach where we are not tempted to do grievous sins, will not spend time on unnecessary labors, and will not harm businesses. This will be our last post in the series on the location of open-air preaching. Today, I will address these three miscellaneous subjects for your consideration.
1. Do Not Open-Air Preach Where You Are Tempted to Do Grievous Sins.
Depending upon the environment, an open-air preacher can be tempted to sin by becoming angry or committing lust in their hearts. When it comes to anger, the location does not cause the anger. It is the response of the preacher. Some preachers are prone to anger more than others. There are certain subjects that may lead to an explosive rage. This is not appropriate. If you sense that you are becoming angry at the crowd or certain individuals, then you must calm down. If you are not able to, then leave. Anger can quickly turn to violence which would defile the Gospel testimony of Jesus Christ.
James 1:19-20 says, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (ESV)
Do not be prideful and try to push through it. If you have become unhinged and cannot control your emotions, then leave the location. This is the humble way to move forward. If you are prone to anger, then please remember this verse from James 1. Entrust the preaching of the Word to God. Do not get angry at the people for not responding when they are spiritually dead and can do nothing else. Remember Charles Spurgeon’s rule, “One constant rule is to be always courteous and good tempered, for if you become cross or angry it is all over with you.”
Besides anger, we must be on guard for lust. During the summer season, women will dress provocatively. This is a means that Satan uses to tempt us to sin. Remember what Job expressed in Job 31:1, “‘I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin?’” (ESV) Be like Job by making a covenant with your eyes to not lust. Don’t go back for the second look. Be on guard against the lie that says, “It’s ok to look but not to touch.” This is straight from the Devil. Matthew 5:28 says, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (ESV) We should treat lust with the same seriousness as our Lord and Savior. When we are tempted due to the immodesty around us, then we should follow Joseph’s example. Flee! Do not let an evangelistic outreach become a trap by Satan to ensnare you.
What places should we avoid? Avoid locations where women are dressed immodestly. I would avoid going to the beach where women are swimming in their underwear. While we should desire to seek the lost, we do not want to get lost in a pit of sexual sin along the way. Avoid going to parades or organized protests which promote immodesty. Gay Rights parades can be known for their crude behavior and dress. If you go to the Gay neighborhoods around Halloween, you will see sexually explicit costumes since the celebration has been sexualized. Also, I remember hearing of a nude 5k race. Do not go there to open-air preach. Avoid such debauchery.
Finally, the Chicago Evangelism team accidentally stumbled upon an event at the Water Tower Park in Chicago. While I was not in attendance on this day, one of my brothers explained the story to me. They went to our normal location at the park to preach on the street corner. In the middle of the park, there was a large crowd gathered with TV cameras. My brother went over to the crowd to observe the protest. As he approached, his eyes saw a sea of women who were standing topless. They did not have a shirt or a bra on. They were protesting against modesty laws that forbade their nudity. Immediately he turned away and warned the brethren. They moved to another location so that they would not be tempted by their actions.
Be on guard brothers, because the enemy wants to take out the ones who are going to the streets. Pray beforehand for the Lord’s protection that you may not cave to anger or lust. Keep preaching the Gospel to yourself as you go to preach it to others.
2. Do Not Open-Air Preach Where You Would Have Unnecessary Labors.
In the context of open-air preaching, drunkenness is common. If you preach outside of bars or sporting events, then you have encountered drunk listeners. While one drunk should not cause you to stop preaching, we should be cautious when we are preaching to a multitude of drunks. Remember Jesus’ comments in Matthew 7:6, “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” (ESV)
At some point, our labors to a drunk crowd meet this definition. They have completely been given over to their sin. Now they are blind spiritually and incapacitated physically through the alcohol. On these occasions, it would be best to stop and move on. While we should not fear physical assault, there is wisdom in knowing if a drunk crowd is becoming hostile to the point of no return. In these situations, remember this verse and find a sober crowd to hear the Gospel.
3. Do Not Open-Air Preach Where You Will Harm Businesses.
As open-air preachers, we must remember the golden rule. Matthew 7:12 says, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (ESV). When choosing a location to preach, do not set up in front of an entrance to a business. This is not necessary when there are other locations nearby. If you had a business, you would not want loiterers blocking the entrance which would cause harm to your business. If you are using amplification, be considerate about your level of noise. I am not advocating that you can only preach if no one hears you on the inside. Instead, be courteous by having your sound level be appropriate.
On our trips to Chicago, we chose locations that would not block a business’ activities. Besides stores, there is a company that gives horse and buggy rides around the Magnificent Mile. The company has a place along the street by the park where we preach. Many couples decide to take a romantic buggy ride through Chicago on a chilly evening. As a group, we realized that if we preached next to the company, then it would negatively impact the business. Since it is not a sinful business, we wanted to show love for our neighbor. This did not take much effort. We went to the other side of the park and preached there. The crowds were just as large and many people heard the Gospel.
I pray that the Lord has used this series to encourage the brethren as you open-air preach. Lord willing, I will begin a new series next week on sermon preparation for open-air preachers. May the Lord continue to bless your labors until we meet again.
We should preach where it is legal. As citizens we must respect and follow the government’s laws. Romans 13:1-7 covers our obligation to submit to the government. Obviously we are commanded to follow civil disobedience when the government commands us to stop preaching the Gospel as in Acts 5. Peter responded to the command to stop preaching the Gospel by saying, “We must obey God rather than men.” We must do this as well. However, Peter’s situation is not currently ours. We are allowed to exercise our freedom of speech, but there are some restrictions which we must consider as open-air preachers.
1. We cannot preach on private property without the owner’s permission.
As open-air preachers, we do not have a right to trespass someone’s property. They are the rightful owner and can grant access to their property based upon their values. While most of us would not violate an individual’s property, some may be bold enough to set foot on an institution or private organization’s land. Here are some examples of private landholdings: malls, private universities, business parking lots, and sports stadiums. While these locations may be attractive considering the crowds, we cannot break a good law for the sake of the Gospel. God set up land to have private ownership in the Bible. This concept is valid and should be respected.
Think about the benefits that churches have due to private property. Imagine you are at your church on Sunday morning. You are in the middle of the service and the congregation has finished singing. Now is the time to hear God through the preaching of the Word. Suddenly, hecklers stand up and start shouting, “Shame! Shame! Shame!” What can the church do? They can call the police since the protestors have disturbed the service being held on the church’s private property. This is an advantage for our churches and follows Biblical guidelines. Let us be submissive to the authorities on this matter.
2. We may not be able to preach on public property which has been rented out.
In part 1 of the series, I suggested that parades and festivals are a great place to open-air preach and hand out tracts. While this is true, you may be told that certain locations are off limits. When an organization rents a public space, it may now be considered private property for that period of time. This means that the public space is under the direction and control of the organization. If they do not want you preaching on the property, then they can have the police remove you.
Let me give you two examples. Every year I go with a group to St. Louis to preach at the Gay Pride Festival. The event organizers rent out Poelker and Kaufman Parks. Both parks have sidewalks that run adjacent to them. You would assume that since a sidewalk is public property, then you could open-air preach on it. Last year, our group started to preach outside of the entrance on the sidewalk. Within five minutes, the police came to shut us down. They told us that the event’s permit included the park and the sidewalks that touched it. Therefore, we were trespassing. We were allowed to go across the street to that sidewalk since it was not under the organizers’ permit.
My second example took place in Springfield. In March, there is always a St. Patrick’s Day parade. Our group usually shows up a couple of hours before the parade to preach where the floats are being organized. At this year’s event, we set up at the corner of the parade starting line to preach from the sidewalk. We had already contacted the city to make sure that amplification was allowed in Springfield. Within 10 minutes, we had police and organizers from the parade upon us. The police explained that the organizer’s permit allowed them to shut us down at any points along the parade route. We were allowed to move a block east on the edge of the parade route to continue preaching.
3. Some public parks have special rules against preaching.
In Chicago, Millennium Park management shut us down twice for preaching. First, we started off to the side by the Beam. After a few minutes, the park police stopped us and requested us to leave. We moved to the edge of the park and stood on the public sidewalk. It was a nice 78 degree Saturday in May. Many people were enjoying the warm weather by lounging in the grass. After hearing our preaching for several minutes, the manager of the park told us that we must leave. Five Chicago Police cars pulled up to investigate the matter. After talking with them, we decided to leave.
An open-air preacher can be tempted to argue with the law and have a long conversation with them. We decided to move on, because we had come to preach the Gospel. By moving across the street to the sidewalk, we still had hundreds of pedestrians walk past us. We still accomplished our goal of preaching. Remember that we have come to do this very thing. Do not let legal issues sidetrack you to the point that the Word of God is not proclaimed.
4. Some public areas have designated areas to express free speech.
The Chicago Transit Authority is one of these government entities. Our evangelism team decided that we should preach on the subway platforms when it was raining on the streets. On one occasion, we went down into the Red Line station at the Chicago stop. We preached for over a half an hour before a transit cop told us that we could not be there. We argued for our right to free speech, but he would not buckle. While we were going up the escalators to leave, we found another cop. He told us that we could not preach there since it is a smaller platform. It was a safety risk. However, the CTA allowed people to speak at a different subway stop down in the Loop. With this information, we went to that subway stop in a future trip. We have not had any issues with preaching at that location.
5. Many communities have amplification restrictions.
Most open-air preachers prefer using amplification. It has many benefits. First, you are able to save your voice and preach for a longer period of time. Second, more people are able to hear you. Third, since you are not raising your voice to be heard, then you will not come across as yelling. For these reasons, please invest in amplification if it is legal to use in your area.
To find this out, contact the city hall. See if you can speak to the city attorney about their ordnances. Some cities require a person to buy a permit in order to use amplification, while other communities allow it without a permit up to a certain distance. In Chicago, you can use amplification as long as it cannot be heard past 100 feet. Since the city has excess street noise, a preacher can usually push past those limits without receiving a visit from the police. Finally, some communities do not allow it at all. In Kirksville, you can only use amplification as long as the sound stays on the property that you are on. If it travels across the street and can be heard, then you can be shut down if people complain. Unfortunately, this requires preaching like George Whitefield and Charles Spurgeon by relying only upon the voice.
As you can tell, this list is based upon my experiences from the past. I am not an expert when it comes to first amendment constitutional law in regards to freedom of speech. It is possible that some municipalities have passed laws that are unconstitutional, but they have not been challenged in court. While I am grateful for Christian lawyers who argue these cases, I am called to preach the Gospel. If you have this same calling, then do your best to stay focused on preaching Christ crucified where you can without objection. Do not be tempted to have your ministry time taken up or shortened do to legal battles on the streets.
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.