In my previous blog, I exhorted pastors to commit to open-air preaching for one hour a week. I gave the following four reasons to justify my challenge. First, open-air preaching helps a pastor to kill the fear of man. Second, it helps a pastor be a good steward of his preaching gift. Third, it will improve a preacher’s oratory skills in the pulpit. Fourth, it sets an evangelistic example to a pastor’s church members. Now I will add to this list with four additional reasons for making open-air preaching a priority.
5. Open-Air Preaching Forces a Pastor Out of His Christian Bubble
The demands of pastoral ministry can force a preacher into isolation. First, there is the necessity to study for sermons and Bible studies. This obligation takes up several hours throughout the week. Then, church administration requires attention to plan events, rewrite the church constitution, order more tracts, and update the church billboard. When a pastor does spend time with people, it is usually with Christians. While Sunday morning services and fellowship meals may have non-Christians, a pastor is usually surrounded by the members of the body. This extends to the most faithful who come to the second service or prayer meeting on Wednesday nights. Besides these responsibilities, a pastor makes visits to the elderly in their homes, hospital rooms, or nursing homes. Do you see how the Christian bubble quickly forms? This leaves minimal opportunities to interact with non-Christians. It will only come through going out to eat, shopping, and attending community social events.
How does open-air preaching help to burst the Christian bubble? It ensures that a pastor will consistently have conversations with non-Christians. While open-air preaching is a public declaration of God’s Word, it will result in one-on-one conversations. As people walk by, God uses His Word to bring them to you to ask questions. These providential encounters will ensure that your ministry does not get trapped in the echo chamber of the Christian bubble. In fact, it will expand your ministry to a population who may never take a step into your church.
6. Open-Air Preaching Aids a Pastor in Encouraging Other Christians
2 Corinthians 9:12 states, “For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.” Paul pleaded with the Corinth Church to set aside money to help their brothers and sisters in Christ. Through the overflow of their abundance, they would meet the needs of the Christians in Macedonia. Their sacrificial offering would cause these churches to respond with praise and thanksgiving to God.
In the same way, our brothers and sisters in Christ are encouraged to praise God when they walk past a man who is preaching about the Savior who rescued them from their sins. When we go to the streets to preach to the lost, our activities result in causing believers from other churches to give thanksgiving to God. Pastors are responsible for focusing on their local church, but we are in the same body of Christ as believers from other congregations. Our preaching stirs up our brethren to praise the Lord Jesus Christ. Also, it will inspire them to grow in their boldness to witness to the non-Christians in their lives.
7. Open-Air Preaching Provides the Means of Bringing Sinners to Christ
Paul wrote Romans 10:14-15, “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? 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!’”
In this passage, Paul makes a simple but effective point. An unregenerate rebellious sinner comes to salvation by calling upon the Lord through repentance and faith. However, if nobody has ever shared with them the Gospel, then they cannot call upon Jesus. While they have the general revelation of creation, which reveals God’s existence and power, they do not have this special revelation which only comes through God’s Word. This is what Paul bemoans by writing, “And how are they to hear without someone preaching?”
As preachers, we hold to this promise; God brings salvation to a sinner by the preaching of the Scriptures which the Holy Spirit applies to their souls. If this is the means that God has ordained, then we should preach as much as possible. The more Gospel seed that we sow through the open-air, then this only increases the possibility that God will draw the elect to Himself. The preaching of the Gospel is a weapon to save lost sinners from hell. Let us not only use this sword in our pulpits, but may we go to the front lines and wield it to advance the kingdom of God.
8. Open-Air Preaching Allows a Pastor to Preach to More People
If you are a pastor of an average size church in America, then your congregation is less than a hundred. Week by week you faithfully preach to the same group of people. While this is a noble responsibility from the Lord, how are we to get people to hear the Gospel if they do not attend our services? How are we to sow the seed of the Gospel into a human heart if the human heart does not sit in our church’s pew?
The answer is to preach the gospel outdoors. If you go to a spot with moderate traffic, then you might preach to a greater audience over the course of an hour than you will on a Sunday morning. Last week, I went to the University of Missouri where thousands of students walked by during our outreach. Since I pastor a church with a weekly attendance of 30, then I preached to more souls in an hour on campus than I will preach to in a calendar year at my church.
Besides the argument from numbers, think about the opportunity to share the Gospel with a person who has never heard it. With the pluralism in America, it is not uncommon to cross paths with an unbeliever who has never been told about Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for our sins. By seeking the lost, God grants us the occasion to sow a multitude of Gospel seeds to human hearts who have never heard the grace of Jesus Christ. Instead of expecting these people to attend our services to hear the Gospel, go to the people and boldly proclaim it to them!
Pastoral ministry is fatiguing. Between sermon preparation, visitations, funerals, weddings, counseling, church programs, and elders’ meetings, a pastor has an overbooked week. This does not include the time that he should spend with his family. As a pastor, I sympathize with your hectic schedule. However, I also know how easy it is for us to prioritize our favorite and most comfortable activities during the week. For many pastors, open-air preaching would be a stretching experience since it requires us to interact with rebellious sinners. In contrast, sermon preparation does not bring you face to face with the fear of man. It is easy to use your other responsibilities as an excuse to avoid committing to this evangelistic task.
This is my exhortation to pastors. Set aside one hour per week to open-air preach in your community. Make a commitment between you and the Lord to go to the same location at the same time to preach the gospel. As pastors, we spend countless hours preparing to preach. Yet, we may only proclaim God’s truth 35-45 minutes a week. By taking up this challenge, you will be an even better steward of the preaching gift which God has given you. Beside this outcome, your time investment in this endeavor will grow you as a preacher and as a fervent pursuer of the lost. Here are my first four reasons for making a commitment to open-air preach regularly.
1. Open-Air Preaching Helps Kills the Fear of Man
The pressures of being a pastor can feed the fear of man. A vocational elder depends upon the church for his salary, housing, and insurance. These realities can influence a pastor to seek appeasement when there is conflict in the church. If he gains value and worth from being accepted, then he will try to avoid these hard conversations. He may shy away from the difficult Biblical texts which could upset a section of the church. While this is not common in all pastors, the temptation to fear man due to these circumstances is always present.
Matthew 10:28 says, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” When a man open-air preaches, he confronts the fear of man straight on. It forces you to die to your reputation. The people will say, “What is he doing? He is crazy!” You must die to being wise. The passers-by will think that you are a fool. When you do it in your own community, then your friends and acquaintances will see you. After you preach to your insurance man on the town square, you will have to look at him in the eye when you go to renew your policy. By weekly confronting this fear, the Lord will use it to grow in fearing Him.
2. Open-Air Preaching Helps You Be a Good Steward
According to 1 Timothy 3:2, a pastor must be “able to teach.” If you went to Bible college or seminary, then you have taken several classes on preaching. Besides this, you have honed your homiletical skills by preaching hundreds of sermons. God has gifted you to preach His truth, and He has given you opportunities to become seasoned. In contrast, a lay open-air preacher does not have these advantages. Usually he has not taken any classes on preaching, and he has not had a regular preaching ministry in a church. With your gift in communication, I would encourage you to exercise your skills in proclaiming the gospel on the street corner.
3. Open-Air Preaching Will Improve Your Preaching
When I went to seminary, I took three classes on preaching. The professors helped me to develop logical outlines, engaging illustrations, and clear oratory skills. When I started doing pulpit supply, the mechanics of preaching overwhelmed the message which I tried to communicate. I concentrated on being so precise that it took away my effectiveness. I would manuscript my sermons, and then I would try to memorize them thought by thought. This made me stiff and languid in the pulpit. Open-air preaching forced me to move away from a scripted sermon. While I had an outline in my head, I gained the freedom to concentrate on preaching the message of the cross.
Some pastors are still tied down to their manuscript and notes. This causes them to have very little eye contact with their congregation. It results in making their sermon unpassionate. Open-air preaching will force these pastors to learn how to preach without a manuscript. It will improve their ability to speak extemporaneously and to connect with people through eye contact. These skills are transferable to your pulpit ministry. If you are a preaching professor, it is my contention that open-air preaching should be required in any entry level seminary preaching class. When preaching seminars combine the sermon outline skills from a class with outdoor preaching, then it brings together logic and fire.
4. Open-Air Preaching Sets an Example to Your Church
In several places, Paul exhorts Christians to imitate him (1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1; Phil. 3:17; 1 Thess. 1:6; 2:14;) In Second Thessalonians 3:7-9, Paul commands them to imitate his hard work. While Paul could take financial contributions for being a preacher of the Gospel, he worked in order to give them an example. In the same way, a pastor sets an example to his flock. While you may not publicly call them to imitate you, the sheep will subconsciously look to you. Your strengths will become the church’s. At the same time, your weaknesses will be imitated by the flock.
When a pastor makes evangelistic outreach a priority, it sets a good example to his church members. Seeking and saving the lost becomes part of the DNA of the body. Pastor, if your church is weak on evangelism, is it following your lead? If the congregation is afraid of sharing the Gospel with others, has it adopted your fears? If this is the state of your church, then make a commitment to lead. Go preach the gospel on the streets! By asking the congregation to pray for your outreaches, it will keep evangelism on its mind. By being faithful in open-air preaching, it will challenge others to boldly evangelize with you. The sheep will only go to the lost if their shepherd is leading the way.
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.