Open-Air Effort

We can neither be too thankful for our almost unfettered liberty to preach the gospel In the open air nor too careful in making the best use of our magnificent opportunities. Adequate treatment of this important subject is Impossible In these pages but we are glad to pass on some useful suggestions.

There are multitudes who never enter a building to hear the gospel. How are these people to be reached? They can be reached to a great extent through open-air effort. It is, however, essential that open-air meetings be conducted in a way which commends the gospel.

There are numerous examples of open-air preaching in both Old and New Testaments, and a rapid glance at a few of these examples would be worth while, seeing that they are not only interesting, but also suggestive and instructive.

The Pattern

The Lord Jesus frequently took advantage of the open air for the proclamation of that gospel which He came to make possible by His vicarious sacrifice and triumphant resurrection. His incomparable Sermon on the Mount was preached in the open air; also the Parable of the Sower, and its companion parables mentioned in Matthew 13. Similarly His grand invitation “Come unto Me” was given in the open air, also His notable Bible-reading to the disciples on their way to Emmaus. Our Lord was the perfect open-air preacher, as He was the perfect teacher, the perfect exhorter, and the perfect expositor. He “spake with authority,” and not as the unprincipled scribes who interpreted the law to suit their convenience. It was for this reason that the people were “astonished at His doctrine.” Having the Word of God in our hands, it is our privilege to speak with the same divine authority.

Be Scriptural

An historical open-air meeting was held in Nehemiah’s day, when Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood (which had been constructed for that purpose). He then opened the book in the sight of all the people (for he was above the people), and read in the law of the Lord distinctly, and gave the sense, so that the people understood what was read. It might be wiser before an unsaved audience to quote appropriate Scriptures with earnestness, as very few men can hold an open-air audience when reading. If Scripture is read it is of first-rate importance that it be read intelligently, and brethren should aspire to become as proficient as possible in this sacred art.

Be Clear

If we ought to be distinct in our reading, we ought to be clear in our preaching. To many people the Bible is practically a sealed Book. They therefore need a lucid explanation. The answer which the Ethiopian gave to the question raised by Philip, “Understandest thou what thou readest?” was significant: “How can I, except some man should guide me?” The same is true of those who need the gospel. They want it explained to them.

Be Pointed

A further example of open-air preaching is recorded in Jonah, chapter 3. For one whole day Jonah preached in the streets of Nineveh. His message was short - “Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” This suggests a splendid principle for open-air preachers - not to be too long, otherwise they may find themselves to be ‘moving’ speakers in the wrong sense 1 Jonah’s message was one of judgment, and in this respect it differs from the message which we are called upon to deliver in our day and generation.

Be Appealing

The gospel which has been entrusted to us is a gospel of grace, peace, and joy, as indicated by the declaration of the heavenly messenger at the birth of our Lord; “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people” (Luke 2. 10). It is a mistake to preach nothing but judgment. Our message is one of love, and we do well to bear in mind that the Lord Jesus told Nicodemus in plain language that “the Son of Man came not to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” It is, of course, necessary to preach judgment as occasion demands, though even then its certainty and necessity should be mentioned with fear and trembling. Incidentally, the results of Jonah’s preaching were greater than the prophet anticipated.

Be a Voice

John the Baptist was one of the greatest and most courageous open-air preachers the world has ever known. He was willing to be “a voice … in the wilderness”: a voice - anything for God; in the wilderness - anywhere for God. He was a man of character; a man of purpose; a man of God. “He was a burning and a shining light.” His testimony was both effective and far-reaching. He was “a voice of one crying in the wilderness.” That does not imply shouting, or howling. The way some speakers shout in the open air makes one wonder they do not injure their pharynx!

Be Adaptable

The Apostle Paul’s open-air discourse at Mars’ Hill, recorded in Acts 17, was masterly. Taking for his text the words, “To the unknown God,” he impressed upon his hearers the great truth that God “dwelleth not in temples made with hands, neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though He needed any thing (i.e. such spectacular performances), seeing He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things”: that “in Him we live and move and have our being.” The preacher confirmed this by quoting certain of their own poets who had said,For we are also His offspring.” This was a master-stroke. The Greeks well-nigh idolized their poets, and assumed that what they said was the last word.

Some friends have been inclined to find fault with the Mars’ Hill discourse because the clear message of the gospel appears to be wanting; but such criticism is unjustified. Paul had already encountered his audience in the market-place, where he had preached “Jesus and the resurrection.” He had therefore already proclaimed Christ as Saviour, and his address at Mars’ Hill was a continuation of his discourses in the market-place.

Be Discreet

It is sometimes profitable in open-air gatherings for two brethren to engage in a dialogue in matters relating to sin, righteousness, salvation, assurance, and other subjects, though this should be done discreetly, and the plan of campaign very carefully considered beforehand.

If a stranger should ask questions, endeavour to answer him as far as possible from the Scriptures. If the question is beyond you, do not attempt to answer it. Endeavouring to manufacture an answer on the spot is often a sad business. There are certain questions which no man can answer, just as there are difficulties which the wisest man in Europe is unable to solve.

Personal Contact

One of the greatest and most useful gifts which God has granted is the gift of personal work. Although the exercise of this gift implies a combination of qualities such as wisdom, patience, and grace - plus personality and winsomeness - surely the grace of God is sufficient to grant these to any of His children who are willing to place themselves at His disposal?

The Voice

Let me at this juncture give a few suggestions regarding the manipulation of the voice. By discreet usage the voice should be strengthened by open-air preaching. Voice is vocalized breath: therefore by deep and regular breathing you may be heard clearly in a large gathering. It is very easy to over-strain the voice by exercising it unnaturally. It is also of the utmost importance to bear in mind that the back of the throat should never be unduly taxed. Many years ago I was advised by an expert in voice-production to concentrate on three essentials for clear enunciation; namely, the lips, the teeth, and the tip of the tongue. By practice this can be accomplished quite easily, and, together with correct breathing, the result may prove an inestimable blessing both to speaker and hearers. Regular gargling with a suitable preparation will be found beneficial.

Endeavour to avoid speaking against the wind, otherwise your efforts may be disappointing, and even futile. Also, if possible, avoid speaking in places where the voice might be drowned by traffic and other inconveniences.

Be Punctual and Reverent

Strive to be present when the meeting begins and, if possible, stay until it ends. If you’ must leave before the close, do so without being observed. Also, during the progress of the meeting, refrain from conversations with your fellow-workers.

Be Prayerful

I fancy I hear my readers say, “I cannot speak, and I feel that I am utterly helpless.” But stay! You can help in many ways: by your presence, your singing, your quiet inaudible supplications, and by manifesting an intense interest when God’s servant is delivering the message.

Be Prepared

A word of encouragement to my younger brethren. If you have never attempted to speak in the open air, why not make the attempt? Although it calls for the best workers, yet it is often a splendid training-ground for young soldiers of Christ. Take time to prepare carefully, thoughtfully, and prayerfully, a short message which will last five or ten minutes. In your preaching do not hesitate to make it clear that salvation is a. personal matter, just as the Bible is a personal book. Tell the people plainly that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and shew how the Apostle Paul included himself in this category, even placing himself at the head of the list when he said, “of whom I am chief.” Follow this up by emphasizing Paul’s personal interest in Christ in such words as, “The Son of God … loved me, and gave Himself for me.” Seek to avoid unnecessary arguments but, at all cost, in every place, and at all times, give the people what they so desperately need, namely, the Word of the living God. Whatever you do for your Lord and Master, do it thoroughly. Give your very best to Him who gave His very best for you. Exercise whatever gift God has entrusted to you, and thus seek to fulfil your Lord’s command, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.”


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