An Encouraging Turn


volume 16, number 25, June 22, 2017

I did not shrink from declaring to you anything profitable, teaching you publicly, and from house to house, testifying solemnly. . . of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” -Acts 20:20,21

An Encouraging Turn

While preaching at Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, North Carolina, back in early April, I had several very profitable conversations with young seminary students who either were already engaged in open air preaching or were keenly interested in “breaking the sound barrier”. One of them is Eric who recently gave it a whirl and wrote me the following letter which I have his permission to publish. 

Dear Al Baker,

Thank you for dropping by RTS and connecting me with Bill Adams. This past Thursday and Friday I participated in evangelism with eight other brothers in the faith. I went into this experience with a critical eye, knowing that “street preachers” have often misrepresented the faith (Bill seemed adamant to distinguish himself from “street preachers,” insisting on the Biblical term “evangelist”).

What I saw last week was this: faithful, God-honoring, Reformed ministry. Two things amazed me: how many different ministerial muscles were being flexed on the streets, and how thoroughly God’s providence was on display.

Firstly, I was amazed by the many forms of ministry found on the street. The Gospel was being preached continually, which called the unbeliever to repentance and encouraged the believers; one-on-one evangelism was occurring with those passing out tracts; Christians were being counseled and prayed over; apologetic debates were had; mercy ministry in the context of lunch and personal evangelism was occurring; and new Christians, as well as lukewarm Christians, were being directed to strong local congregations for further discipleship.

Secondly, God’s providence was evident. Words were often preached just when a passersby needed to hear them. God allowed me to preach to and counsel one individual, Michelle, who had just witnessed the death of her Grandmother the night before. God also directed a young man hungry for the Word in my direction. Obviously, God had been at work in this unbeliever before I had even said hello, since he was ready to receive the Gospel.

So much more could be said, but it is sufficient to say that I saw God on the move in ways that I could not expect. Thank you for connecting me to these evangelists.

Warm regards, 

Eric Schievenin

I love this letter from Eric because it comes from a young man who was skeptical but immediately saw the benefits of open air preaching when he put away his prejudice and perhaps his fear, and went for it. He describes very well the many ways spiritual gifts are exercised when men step out of their comfort zones and go to the streets. 

While there still remains a great deal of animosity and disdain for open air preaching I must say that we may be seeing an encouraging turn. Bill Adams of Sports Fan Outreach International also is observing the same thing, including more and more preaching at abortion clinics. Scott Smith, a well seasoned PEF open air evangelist, told me that he believes there are at least two thousand open air evangelists in the United States who have been part of some kind of formal training in evangelistic preaching. He knows of at least one hundred of them who are clearly Reformed in their theological position. I have met many in my travels around the United States, and this is a very welcome and needed movement. Perhaps I should remind you that literally the entire history of the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament apostles, not to mention the earthly ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ, is one example after another of open air preaching. In fact very little of the Bible is given to recording sermons in synagogues or churches. Isaiah (7:3), Jeremiah (2:1), Ezekiel (37:1), Hosea (5:1), Joel (2:1), Jonah (3:2), Jesus (Matthew 5-7, 13:1, 23:1), Peter (Acts 2:14), and Paul (Acts 13:44, 14:6,7, 17:22) are all examples of open air preaching. 

Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). Clearly believers are commanded to go with the gospel to the nations, beginning right in our own backyards (Luke 24:47). 

So, if the Scriptures are replete with examples of open air preaching, if church history is also filled with examples of powerful open air evangelists, then why has there been so little of it? No doubt open air evangelistic preaching has been given some bad publicity by many who engage in it, but poor preaching is no excuse for no preaching. Others wonder if it is productive. The answer is clearly “yes.” Isaiah says the word always accomplishes its purpose (Isaiah 55:11). Paul said the gospel is a savor of life unto life or death unto death (2 Corinthians 2:15,16). He also says that our labor in the Lord is never in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58). As Eric points out in his letter, “. . . many different ministerial muscles were being flexed on the streets.” One-on-one evangelism flows from open air preaching. So does mercy ministry as we encounter legitimate needs. Counseling believers occurs. So does apologetics. It is all there. 

The greatest reason for not engaging in open air preaching is fear. Believe me, I know what I am talking about here. I am always reluctant, in the beginning, to preach in the open air. I think most men I know who preach in the open air, at least in the beginning of their street ministries, suffer from “back trouble”, a yellow streak which runs down the length of our backs. We fear the unknown. We fear rejection. We fear ridicule.

Think of it this way-if the vast majority of people went to church, then great. In that case open air preaching would be unnecessary. If people in the days of the prophets were in the synagogues, then preaching in the streets would have been unnecessary. If people were believers on Paul’s various missionary journeys, then no problem. But they were lost, having given themselves to the worship of idols. Jesus said, “Go,” and He and His friends went. This, however, is largely not the case today. I challenge every man reading this, especially those in pastoral ministry or preparing for pastoral ministry, to contact me, Scott Smith, Bill Adams, Alex Burroughs, Mike Stockwell, Robert Gray, Tony Miano, Bobby McCreery, Paul Harvey, et al and go for it. They will help you. 

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