Some would say this is not right, in fact many would verbally protest and even walk around you or avoid you for life! I know because it has happened to me. I am not talking about my body odour, but rather the urgent job of the public proclamation of the Gospel.
It is my hope that you will approach this subject with an open mind, a humility to the scriptures and by the end, I pray, a drive to partake in such a thing yourself if you do not already (ideally, under the blessing and guiding of your local fellowship). If you do this already then I hope this article will strengthen you and encourage you.
Please note: that this is not the only way to reach people with the Gospel. Reaching people with the Gospel should be a lifestyle, (not just an organised event once a week) in the workplace, at family gatherings and even on holiday!
Romans 10:14-15 “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!”
On the whole I like to take Gospel literature and purposefully hand it out to people on the streets, seeking to strike up a conversation (this I also do generally from home with people who come to the door for example, or in a work environment too where acceptable - it is a lifestyle). I have also preached the message to many on the streets. This can range from general preaching that is amplified / projected voice (referred to from now on as open air preaching) or standing amongst a group of people who are within range of my voice.
There are several reasons why it is right to preach the message in the open air:
1. It is what is seen throughout scripture. For example:
Isaiah 58:1 “Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.”
Acts 17:16-18 “Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry. Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him. Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection.”
It is a command:
2 Timothy 4:2 “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine.”Luke 14:23 “ And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.”(See also Nehemiah 8.) Open air preaching specifically has a biblical, historical pattern. From Noah who is called in 2 Peter 2:5 a preacher of righteousness, to Jeremiah who publicly compelled the people to be reconciled to God. From Jonah, who was only asked to go and say one short sentence to a whole city, to John the Baptist who was one crying out in the wilderness. And of course, Jesus Himself who did the majority of His ministry in public (Matthew 5-7, John 7:37-38 etc).
2. I refused to step foot in a Church for a long time, many today also refuse to.
C H Spurgeon said: “traders go to the markets, they follow their customers and go out after business if it will not come to them; and so must we.”
Going into the public domain, be it to speak one to one, or one to many, can reach more new people than the number that turn up at a church each week, or in some cases a whole year! If we are to be about the business of proclaiming the Gospel, indeed obeying the great commission (Matthew 28:19 “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”), then this won't happen in just the church buildings.
3. I trust in the Word of God, it being the power which is of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16). In the promise that His Word will not return void (Isaiah 55:11). So regardless of the response from people, I know that through prayer God can use His Word to accomplish that which He purposes. Even if the Word falls on deaf ears on the streets, I believe the Lord hears it and it is a pleasant fragrance to even the audience of One, as God loves His own Word (Psalm 138:2 “for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.”).
4. It sharpens me personally, it sharpens other believers who walk together in unity. (Psalm 133:1 “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” Proverbs 27:17 “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.” ) It encourages teamwork amongst believers and encourages a greater feast upon the Word of God because we always need that before, during and after it is the strength and sustenance to doing it rightly and not in the flesh.
While the message is preached open air, the other believers can do essential work amongst the listeners. For example, when the preacher is finished, the believer can approach the hearer and ask what they think of the message (and the listeners can approach those who are not preaching too). They can then address any questions or responses they have.
Also, it can be a great blessing to those believers who are passing by. Often I have had believers stop and encourage me in what I am doing just at the right time.
I once remembered a time in York where another brother was preaching. I simply stood and listened to him so as not to deflect from the message. I saw others listening to him also and kept wondering if it was the right thing to do, or should I go and approach some of the hearers? Once the brother had finished, a passer by came up to me and specifically said I was doing the right thing simply listening to him by way of encouragement.
Additionally, open air preaching can also encourage believers to proclaim their faith more in their own day to day life.
5. I never tire of hearing and speaking the Gospel. I love to hear a person preach the Word and the echo off the street walls. Such a thing is so good that it is hard to put in words! I believe this is the joy of the Lord (Nehemiah 8:10 “the joy of the Lord is your strength”)
6. Conversions (unto discipleship)! This is what I long for! People to turn to Christ. So far I have yet to witness this happen directly through my own personal evangelism, but every person needs to hear the message regardless of their response.
7. The hardening of hearts. Although this is not my greatest wish, it is a reality. Hearts will be hardened towards God through the preaching of His message. This is something God will use in His plans. We see that this happened with Pharaoh as Moses repeatedly approached him to repent and turn to God. Yet he refused. Such things are testimonies to God's undeserved favour toward people. His continual rejection of God was used of God to do mighty things, this included the rescue of a whole nation out of slavery.
8. I believe in the incorruptible seed (1 Peter 1:23 “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.”) that can be planted in a persons heart ready to be increased at God's perfect timing. This is why trusting in God's Word not returning void makes me excited at what God is doing in peoples lives, from the Word going out. With some it will be straight away, some it will be weeks, months, years and even decades before that seed sprouts life. It is always important to trust God in the unseen things in life, after all, that is what faith is all about: Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
A great summary from CH Spurgeon: “No sort of defence [sic] 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 walls of his meeting-house.”
Here are some more great quotes regarding open air preaching:
PLEASE note, I do not know much about some of these people and their ministries and therefore quote them only on the basis of the merit of the quote itself.
"I feel I am not gifted in evangelism" reply "You are not gifted in singing, but you still sing" - unknown.
“Could a mariner sit idle if he heard the drowning cry?
Could a doctor sit in comfort and just let his patients die?
Could a fireman sit idle, let men burn and give no hand?
Can you sit at ease in Zion with the world around you DAMNED?”
“You have one business on earth to save souls”
“If you have no wish to bring others to heaven, you are not going there yourself.”
“Preach abroad....It is the cooping yourselves up in rooms that has dampened the work of God, which never was and never will be carried out to any purpose without going into the highways and hedges and compelling men and women to come in.”
“The church that does not evangelize will fossilize.”
Oswald J. Smith
“Not called!” did you say? “Not heard the call,” I think you should say. Put your ear down to the Bible, and hear Him bid you go and pull sinners out of the fire of sin. Put your ear down to the burdened, agonized heart of humanity, and listen to its pitiful wail for help.
Go stand by the gates of hell, and hear the damned entreat you to go to their father's house and bid their brothers and sisters and servants and masters not come there. Then look Christ in the face - whose mercy you have professed to obey -- and tell Him whether you will join heart and soul and body and circumstances in the march to publish His mercy to the world.”
Founder of the Salvation Army
“It is not our strength we want. It is not our work to make them believe.
That is the work of the Spirit. Our work is to give them the Word of God.
I cannot convert men; I can only proclaim the Gospel”
D. L. Moody
“What marvel the devil does not love field preaching! Neither do I; I love a commodious
room, a soft cushion, a handsome pulpit. But where is my zeal, if I do not trample all these underfoot in order to save one more soul?”
“If sinners be dammed, at least let them leap to Hell over our bodies. If they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees. Let no one GO there UNWARNED and UNPRAYED for.”
“I'd rather have people hate me with the knowledge that I tried to save them.”
“The power that is in the Gospel does not lie in the eloquence of the preacher, otherwise men would be the converters of souls, nor does it lie in the preacher's learning, otherwise it would consist in the wisdom of men. We might preach until our tongues rotted, till we would exhaust our lungs and die, but never a soul would be converted unless the Holy Spirit be with the Word of God to give it the power to convert.”
Here follows a few testimonies of events I, and others have encountered on the streets (in and around the open air preaching of the Word, or just when the Gospel is given in conversation with people):
I remember the sadness I felt approaching a crowd outside Westminster Cathedral. Knowing that they were there worshipping an idol as he was carrying out the heresy of transubstantiation in the mass.
There was a great deal of preaching going on that day, along with Christian literature being distributed and one to one conversations. I recall one powerful moment where a group of Catholic ladies approached me wondering, and even arguing about the fact that I was there trying to 'preach to the converted', reasoning that they don't come to our events and try to preach to us.
I recall putting the question out to the group 'where will you go when you die?' or 'when you die, will you go to heaven?' To which the response was uncertain across the board. They claimed that nobody knew generally where they would go full stop. To which I said something like 'the Bible presents you with a way you can know', I quoted the scripture 1 John 5:13 “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.” In response to this, all but one of them walked away. The lady that was left I asked 'are you born again?' to which she replied 'No' to which I replied Jesus said “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” To my surprise, her whole demeanour changed and she took a step back. She asked me where it says that, and I said John 3:3. She seemed quite shocked and started to back away saying that she best go look at that! How amazing that the Word of God can change and effect a person like that!
Later that day I travelled with my fellow Christians to a different part of London. To the end of Downing Street of all places (Whitehall). Some of the guys preached with an amplifier. The sound was far reaching and would certainly of been heard right up to number 10! There was a massive police presence that day. There were many people marching down the street in protest of the Pope visiting. I kept expecting the Police to ask us to stop. At one point they did, but they were only suggesting that we move to a safer place because Richard Dawkins was about to march down the road with some 20,000 atheists!
Another encounter: I started going out alternate weeks to Mansfield and Sutton-in-Ashfield. One particular week a youth worker called Mark was with us talking to people about Jesus on the streets of Mansfield.
One teenage girl, and her friend stopped to talk with Mark. I knew nothing about this at the time but he had challenged one of the girls to disprove the existence of God. The next week I was in Sutton-in-ashfield and I was handing tracts out on the street. I passed a tract out to a girl and she asked what it was. I used my common phrase of 'it's the most important message of your life, if you died tonight would you go to heaven?' to which she responded that she was in Mansfield the previous week and her friend was challenged to disprove God and has been trying ever since without success! I asked for a description of the person who challenged her and it did not take long for me to work out they had been speaking with Mark. This was one of those moments where the hairs stand up on the back of your neck! Mansfield is a town of around 100,000 people, Suttonin-ashfield is about 3.5 miles away and a population of just over 40,000. What are the probabilities of that girl being in the those places at those exact times? Needless to say I proclaimed to her why she needed a Saviour (which she did not know) and that God was clearly trying to reach out to her and her friend. At the end of our conversation she took a Bible. I called Mark to tell him what had happened and it made his day!
I have had quite a few hair raising experiences on the streets. One was when I was in Sheffield with a borther. I walked along the main street and handed out tracts. One woman I was speaking to was very angry with God but was something of a very interesting person. She had lost her husband and although professed to be angry at God she spoke of going to churches and even listening to the preaching in the streets. She even spoke of having dreams with 'angels' in. But the one point that she said she struggled on most of all was a dream where an 'angel' would hand her a coin with wording on. She said that she could never work out what the wording was. At which point I reached into my pocket and pulled out a ten commandment coin and gave it to her. To which she was convinced that this was THE coin…. Make of that what you will, but I challenged her to get right with God through Jesus alone. I said I did not know if that was really an angel from God in her dream or not, but that this was the most important message of her life and she should pay it great attention.
Not every encounter on the street was a joyful one. I had a tragic one on the streets of Manchester once. A guy came up to me while I spent some time with a preacher who was preaching nearby. He saw I had Christian literature in my hand and asked me if he was a Christian. I asked him why he asked the question. He said because he was on the street in the same spot as we were currently talking, a week or two ago and said someone prayed a prayer with him and called him a Christian. However, shortly after he went with his girlfriend to the abortion clinic and had their child murdered in the womb. I was shocked and overcome with a mixture of emotions, asking the Lord in my heart to give me the right words to say to him.
He asked me if this was the right thing to do and of course the fact that he was asking was evidence of it being on his conscience. I believe the Lord gave me the right words to say to this young man. I said how this was not something that was pleasing to God and that he had his hand in the murder of that child. He understood and took it with humility. I asked him if he understood why he needed Jesus and he said he did not. This is a tragic example of modern day methods of people who think it is all about getting others to pray a prayer and pronounce them saved (missing the very message that they should proclaim). I only hope that when I was preaching such a message in years gone by that it did not have such dire consequences.
Another hair raising moment on the street came when I walked out of the bowling alley in Mansfield. I walked into the town centre and there was a girl in front of me trying to raise money for charity (The ones who wear the bright jackets and carry clip boards). I made an agreement with the Lord that if she tried to specifically stop me then I would speak the Gospel to her. Yes, you guessed it, she tried to stop me! So I said to her that I will give her 5 minutes of my time if she gives me 5 minutes of hers. After she tried to sign me up to a direct debit, I started to speak the Gospel to her. Then all of a sudden, not far from us, about half way through the conversation a woman started preaching scriptures right near to us! I had never in all the years I had been in Mansfield heard anyone who was not with me in some fashion, preach the scriptures! It brought us both to realise that this was an important time for her to listen to the message I was giving her.
testimonials from others:
“Another excellent day of preaching the Word of God on the streets of Glasgow Scotland. We found a place that literally blew up. The people went bezerk and flew into a frenzy as we cut through the crowd with sharp edge of Gods Word. Many retaliated with rotten language, and threats, one guy shoved Christopher and wanted to smash him. One gentleman came up crying his eyes out and saying "what must I do to be saved!" It was a riot to say the least. The police came with a handful of subjective laws once again, which was no law at all. The city of Glasgow was blown upon by Almighty God through the faithful preaching of His heralds.” ~ J Rose
“A couple of days ago I spoke to a guy who previously heckled myself and Jeff .... After we spoke for a while he told me that "I'm scared to die, I'm really scared of it but I know I will die one day and the reason I shout at you guys and get angry is because you guys remind me of it when you preach” ~ N Kenneth