‘I believe I never was more acceptable to my Master than when I was standing to teach those hearers in the open fields’ (George Whitefield).
I love open air preaching; and the reason I love it so much is that by going out to the public, we can take the good news of salvation to people who will never darken a church door. Each week a small group gathers at the chapel for prayer, in readiness for outreach. Tracts are made available alongside Scripture and Christian literature. Once we are equipped, we walk down into the city center to begin a few hours of ministry.
We support our friends from the Open Air Mission each week on a Tuesday and in partnership with them, we seek to share the gospel message with the people of Newport. A handful of men simply preach the reality of sin and the glories of the cross, with a call to those who stop and listen to trust in Christ. ‘Just look at his passion!’ said an older lady with a tear in her eye as she walked by.
By now the outreach was in full swing. Tracts were being handed out and people were engaging in meaningful conversation. ‘I always feel guilty when I walk past a group of believers sharing the gospel,’ said a middle aged man. ‘I once had that desire to share about the reality of who Jesus is and what he’s done for us!’ ‘So what happened?’ I asked him. He then proceeded to share his story of disappointments, heartache, doubts and fears. After twenty minutes or so, he gladly accepted the offer of prayer and took some literature to read. ‘See you Sunday!’ he shouted, as he walked up the high street. How often we’ve heard those sentiments and yet, from time to time we have the joy of seeing people not only walk into church, but finding peace and forgiveness in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Recently, we were joined by some younger men who recognize the call of God upon their lives to preach in the open air. One young man read from Romans 5:1-11. He read very well and spoke with a clear voice. The good news was proclaimed by him and people were hearing of the wonderful love of Christ. ‘I’ve not heard him before,’ exclaimed an elderly lady, who was out shopping with her grandson. ‘Quiet Nan, I’m trying to listen!’ her grandson said frustratedly. I’ve been pleasantly surprised just how willing people are to stop and have a chat.
During the summer, I was able to take a small group of Christian friends who were visiting from Brighton to the city center, to do to an ‘open air’. We used a question board as a means to start up conversations between short outbursts of preaching. As one of the young men was finishing preaching on John 3:16, a group of young lads on their bicycles applauded when he finished. Cynically, I assumed it was done in a mocking way. However, each lad showed a genuine interest in our question of the day: ‘Is there more to life than this?’ Each one took something to read and all were directed to their local church.
Focus on the Lord Jesus Christ
The theological and biblical logic of open air preaching is simple. We believe that God has appointed the preaching of the Word as a means of grace, as a primary instrument for working his salvation in human hearts. Therefore, we should take the gospel within earshot of lost, needy sinners.
It’s important that you know what you want to say. Have a text and an outline ready as you would for any sermon and drive your point home clearly. Remember, people are often hurrying past and, if we ramble, they will be unclear as to what you are trying to say. Also, don’t assume that if they do stop, they have more than five minutes. Always try to use short sentences all the while maintaining the focus on the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus said that when he is lifted up, he will draw all people to himself. This lifting up included his work on the cross and preaching about his work on the cross. Don’t try and do this ministry on your own! Open air ministry is best served when there is a group of like-minded individuals with a passion and a burden for the lost. You need others to support you in prayer and engagement with your community.
After a couple of hours, we decided to bring the outreach to a close by preaching one more time. This time one of our men spoke briefly from 1 John 4:10: ‘In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.’ From this verse, he spoke about God being the loving Creator and the fact that we don’t love God. After stressing the nature of our sin, he went on to explain how God shows his love in the giving of Jesus on the cross. He called on those listening to trust in Christ and to come and talk with us if they had any further questions.
Please pray that the Lord would use this ministry to reach many for the Lord. May the Lord allow his light to shine forth! So get out there, lift up your voice and proclaim the Word of God! Be a herald of good news, lifting up your voice with strength. Lift it up without fear and say to your cities: ‘Behold your God!’ (Is. 40:9).