New converts to Christianity usually have an unmatched zeal for the gospel. The freshness of their salvation through the precious blood of their Savior propels them to action. Their enthusiasm can lead them to engage people in evangelism. Some veteran street preachers even take the passionate babe in Christ with them for an outreach. Very quickly, this opens the door to their opportunity to step up on the box. While I admire such fervor to preach the gospel in the open air, I must caution against this approach for six reasons.
1. New Converts Need Time to Grow in Character
A new believer needs time to grow in the fruits of the Spirit. In Ephesians 4:17-32, Paul addresses the Ephesians on how we should live differently from the unconverted. We must put off the old self and put on the new self. This includes putting off unrighteous anger and corrupting talk. Open-air preaching is a temptation for new converts to respond in unrighteous ways to the mocking, scoffing, and apathy of the non-Christians. A new believer does not know how to respond to cursing with blessing. They have not learned to rejoice when persecuted. If the man struggled with bitterness, wrath, malice, and violence before Christ, then he will need time for the Holy Spirit to sanctify him through the Word. The consequences of him exploding in an ungodly way would be the discrediting of the gospel message.
2. New Converts Need Discipleship
In Acts 18:24-28, God gifted Apollos to speak in the synagogues about Christ. In verse 24, we learn that he is an eloquent speaker and competent in the Scriptures. In verse 25, Luke tells us that Apollos received discipleship. Someone instructed him in the way of the Lord. This verb, instruct, means “to teach in a systematic or detailed manner.” Apollos went through a systematic discipleship program on the meaning of the Scriptures. Yet, he still needed correction. In verse 26, Priscilla and Aquila heard him preach, but he needed more instruction. They took him aside and taught him the way of the Lord more accurately. Then, God used him marvelously in Achaia to refute the Jews.
If Apollos received detailed and systematic instruction and still needed correction, how much more does a new convert? Most baby Christians have not read the Bible completely. They usually know the basics of the Gospel, but they are not competent in the Scriptures. People saved from nominal Christian backgrounds or other religions usually know very little about the Bible. They need time to learn the Scriptures through their church’s preaching and personal study in order to be prepared to preach the gospel accurately.
3. New Converts Are Students and Not Teachers
If a man is not competent to preach on Sunday in the pulpit, then he is not competent to preach on Saturday on the street corner. In 2 Timothy 4:2, Paul exhorts Timothy to “preach the word.” The word, preach, in this context means “to publicly announce religious truths and principles while urging acceptance and compliance.” There are only two differences between preaching on Sunday in the pulpit versus Saturday on the street corner. First, in one circumstance the preacher has a roof over his head. Second, it is a different context. On Sunday, it is a worship service to the people of God. On Saturday, it is on the street corner to mostly unbelievers. However, the act of preaching is the same. Both are public declarations of Biblical truth with the desire to see people accept it.
When a man stands up on the street corner to preach, he is declaring to the pedestrians that he is a teacher of the Bible. He understands the message and is going to proclaim it for their consideration. A new convert is not at the level of a teacher. He is still a student who is learning the basics of the faith. Imagine if a young man took a French class. After six weeks, he has learned the basics like pronouncing the abc’s, numbers, and rudimentary vocabulary. What if this young man decided to go to the street corner in order to teach people French? The assumption by the crowd would be that he is fluent and can teach. Unfortunately, they would be quickly disappointed since he is a new student to the study of the language.
A person may object and say, “Does this mean that he cannot share the gospel with anyone?” No! You are assuming that preaching is the same thing as having a conversation with a person one on one. It is not. In a conversation, a new convert does not set himself up as a competent instructor of the Bible. Instead, he is sharing what he is learning from the competent teacher at his church. Let us go back to the French student. Would it be wrong for him to share with his parents the new words he is learning in French? No, it would not, because he is not portraying himself as a French teacher. Instead, he is sharing privately the lessons that he has learned in class.
4. Teachers Will Receive a Greater Judgment
James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” In this context, the word, teacher, means “one who provides instruction.” This does not have to be a public proclamation but can be private. Preaching is always a public teaching activity. Therefore, we can apply this principle to preachers. There is greater judgment for them. We should not encourage a new convert to take greater responsibility before they are able to handle the stricter judgment. They are unprepared spiritually and doctrinally to be held to this greater standard.
5. A New Convert May Not Have the Ability to Preach
In 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, an elder must have the ability to teach to be qualified for the office. While a person does not have to be an elder to preach, these passages do show that it is a gift from God. There are some men who may have the desire to preach, but they do not have the ability. Either they have poor communication skills in contrast to Apollos or they cannot rightly handle the word of truth. (2 Tim. 2:15)
If a new convert feels the desire to preach, then he should do two things. First, sit under the preaching ministry of his church. By hearing the preaching of God’s Word every week, you will grow in your knowledge of the Lord. Besides this, it demonstrates to him what good preaching looks like. By seeing a gifted man of God preach the Bible with care, it will disciple him to do the same thing. Second, ask for an opportunity to preach at your church or teach in Sunday School. It is wise for you to cut your teeth as a preacher in the local church with a friendly audience. By learning in the church, then it will sharpen your skills in order to preach in the open-air.
5. New Converts Are Prone to Pride
In 1 Timothy 3:6, Paul wrote, “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.” This warns churches to avoid choosing a new convert to become an elder. They are particularly prone to becoming prideful. The devil will use the new office as an opportunity to have them fall into his arms. This principle can be applied to preaching as well. The public recognition of preaching can act as a stumbling block to a new convert. They start to think that they are a mature follower of Jesus since they are preaching the Gospel on the street corner and most believers are not. This pride turns into an unteachable spirit and can turn to isolation. Unfortunately, I have seen men err into false doctrine and they refused to be corrected. The open-air ministry puffed up their pride. Even though they thought they were teachers, they became fools.
What Should a New Convert Do?
I encourage men who open-air preach to take new converts with you. However, see it as a discipleship opportunity. The new convert is coming with you in order to learn. By inviting him to go, it forces the new believer to face the fear of man. Also, the conversations in the car are advantageous moments to discuss spiritual matters. When you go to your spot to preach the gospel, it grants more instruction to the babe in Christ to meditate on these truths. When there is interaction with non-believers, he will witness you demonstrating gentleness while delivering truth. Besides this, he will be exposed to new arguments against Christianity and the appropriate response from the Scriptures. Please see outreaches as discipleship opportunities, but do not push the man onto the box while he is still on a diet of milk.
Brandon was born and raised near Springfield, IL. He graduated from Illinois College in 2007 with a B.A. in History and from Moody Theological Seminary in 2010 with a Master of Divinity. He is a PhD student in Historical Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City and an ACBC certified Biblical counselor. In April 2016 Brandon accepted the call to pastor at Faith Baptist. He loves history and reading and has a heart for street preaching and evangelism.