Open Air Preaching
by Larry Rosenbaum, Director
Old Testament Examples
Open air preaching, of course, is not a new method of evangelism. We find it throughout the Bible. The Old Testament prophets were essentially street preachers. Noah was called a "preacher of righteousness'' as he built an ark, warning the people of God's impending judgment. Noah is quite an encouragement to me when I don't see a lot of results from my witnessing. Noah preached God's Word for up to six hundred years, and only his family was saved, yet he was perfectly in God's will. Then there was Jonah, who went to the Gentile city of Ninevah, warning them of God's judgment. Jonah had no love for the people he was preaching to, yet the entire city of over 120,000 repented and escaped destruction. Many of the prophets were imprisoned and put to death, because their message was unpopular. God told some of the prophets to do some outrageous things to dramatize His Word, such as walking around naked for three years (Isa. 20) and cooking with excrement (Ezek. 4). I'm sure glad we're living in New Testament times!
Much of Jesus' ministry was that of a street preacher, as He went from town to town preaching God's Word in public places. He sent out the twelve and later the seventy disciples to do likewise. Before He ascended to heaven, He told His disciples, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation'' (Mark 16:15).
In the Book of Acts
The book of Acts begins with the words of Jesus, "You shall receive power after the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you shall be witnesses unto me...unto the uttermost part of the earth." The rest of the book relates how Peter, Paul, and the other disciples preached God's Word boldly in public places. They were persecuted, but this did not stop them. After Stephen was killed, "Saul made havoc of the church, entering into every house, and dragging off men and women, putting them in prison. Therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the Word" (Acts 8:3, 4). It wasn't just a few leaders who did the preaching, but the entire church. This is one of the reasons that the early church turned the world upside down. They weren't paying a few pastors and evangelists to hold meetings inside some buildings, but they were all preaching boldly wherever they went. How we need to do this today!
Considering how much importance is placed on open air preaching in the Bible, it is truly amazing how little of it is done by "Bible-believing" churches today. In most cities and towns in America today, few if any people are preaching in public places!
My own history
I witnessed on the streets for about seven years before I began street preaching. When I came to San Francisco, I saw a number of street preachers who would preach at Market and Powell, near the cable car turnaround. Many of them spent a lot of time arguing with one another, calling one another "devils" because they disagreed on some doctrine. Many of these street preachers did not have any regular church involvement. What I saw definitely did not make me want to be a street preacher.
After a few years, I met some other street preachers who joined us for our outreaches. They were good, solid Christians who preached under the direction of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes the message was strong, emphasizing the holiness of God. At other times it was very gentle, emphasizing God's love. Several of these preachers encouraged me to start preaching.
I resisted for two reasons: 1) My voice isn't very loud and 2) I was afraid my mind would go blank while I was preaching. One of the preachers loaned me his megaphone, which took care of my first excuse. The Holy Spirit reminded me how He had always given me words to witness to individuals, and assured me that if I would open my mouth to preach, He would give me the words to speak.
My first street preaching experience was much like my first witnessing experience. I was very nervous, but the Lord helped me through it. The next time was a little easier, and now it is not difficult to preach to groups of people. One thing I found is that God has given me a unique style of preaching, and He has me preach in different ways to different groups. I have met many anointed street preachers, each of whom has his own God-given style.
Encouragement and exhortation for you
After you have been witnessing for a while, I would encourage you to start preaching. Get a megaphone if necessary. Pray, asking the Lord to give you a message and boldness to preach the message under His anointing. He may give you some scriptures to read. Then--open your mouth and He will fill it.
"For Christ sen[t] me to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power....For...it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles" (1 Cor. 1:17, 21-23 ESV).
We need to understand these verses. Our preaching will look foolish and be rejected by a lot of people. But it is God's plan to save those who in simple childlike faith will believe the message of the cross. I don't want to turn people off by a sloppy appearance or by unkind remarks, but I can expect that some people will be turned off by our preaching. In Galatians 5:11, Paul talks about the "offense of the cross." The only way to avoid offending people is by not preaching the gospel. Unfortunately this is what most Christians do.
God uses preaching to accomplish His purpose
If you are obedient to Christ's command to preach His Word, you can be assured that God's Word will not return void, but will accomplish the purpose God has intended for it (Isa.55:11). After Stephen was killed, Saul went out to see how many Christians he could throw in jail. But when Jesus appeared to him later, He said, "It is hard for you to kick against the pricks" (Acts 9:5). Saul's conscience had been bothering him. God had used the preaching of Stephen, as well as the witness of other Christians, in Saul's life.
Where and when to preach
In large cities, there are many good places to preach, where a lot of people will hear the message. But even in smaller cities and towns there are good places to preach: on Main Street, at the high school, at a rock concert, parade, or county fair, outside the movie theater, or at a college campus. Street preaching in a small town can be very effective. People have probably never seen this before in their town. You'll become the talk of the town and may get front page coverage in the local paper! People may make fun of you, but it will show them that you're serious enough about what you believe to risk the disapproval of others. It just might cause them to take God's Word seriously.
Satan get involved, too
Satan knows the power of gospel preaching, so he will do anything he can to discourage you from preaching on a consistent basis. You will be attacked, but remember where these attacks are coming from. Satan will even use misguided Christians. They will tell you that you are turning people off, hurting the cause of Christ, and what you are doing is definitely not of God. When you hear these things you need to respond in love, to pray for them, and check your own heart to make sure you are preaching with an attitude of genuine love for the lost. It is easy to allow our own personal frustrations to enter into our preaching, to get angry at people because they don't seem to be responding. If we preach a strong message, we need to be certain that it is coming from God, not from our flesh. At the same time, do not allow yourself to fall into condemnation, and don't listen to Satan's lies.
A short bio
Larry Rosenbaum is Director of SOS Ministries in San Francisco and has been involved in street ministry in San Francisco for the past 30 years. Raised in a Jewish home, Larry studied psychology at Yale University (B.A.) and Brandeis University (M.A.) before receiving Christ in 1970.
See more of SOS Ministries at http://www.sosmin.com