If you have ever evangelized in the open air, you will know that there are a number of fears you have to overcome. There is your own natural fear—that your mind may go blank and you will make a fool of yourself in front of a crowd of people. There’s the fear of being asked a question you can’t answer, or of attracting an angry heckler. But there is actually a bigger fear you will have to learn to live with.
It’s the fear of having a crowd gather and then scattering them as soon as they hear what you have to say.
The Dilemma of Open-air Evangelizing
It’s disheartening to pray for listeners, have them gather, and then watch them walk away while you are still speaking. That’s why I pray for a good heckler. A good (angry) heckler can take a crowd of three people and make them three hundred in a matter of three minutes; and if you learn to handle yourself and the heckler right, the crowd will stay.
There are some people who think differently. They don’t mind standing up publicly, opening a Bible, and talking to no one. However, that doesn’t look good, and it confirms in the mind of those that pass by that open-air preachers are weirdos. They talk to themselves. Publicly. Sadly, much of the reproach leveled at open-air preachers has nothing to do with the message they preach, but rather how they present themselves.
“The problem is that the modern-day open-air preacher in the United States carries a lot of unwanted baggage.”
The problem is that the modern-day open-air preacher in the United States carries a lot of unwanted baggage. The moment he (or she) stands up to preach with a Bible in hand, he becomes the victim of prejudice. He is immediately lumped in with the wide-eyed, sign-carrying “The end is nigh” folks, or the money-hungry televangelists, pedophile priests, simple-minded, Bible quoting creationists, and snake-handling fanatics.
That’s why I don’t hold a Bible in my hand when I preach, and why I rarely mention spiritual things when I begin speaking. Scripture warns us that the ungodly think that spiritual things are foolish (1 Corinthians 2:14), so if I want them to gather and then stay to listen to the gospel, I have to know how to hold their interest.
The Learned Skill of Fishing
There are learned skills involved in fishing, and perhaps one of the first is to use good bait and to know how to use that bait to disguise the hook. The average fish isn’t stupid.
A while back, someone gave us hundreds of brand-new stuffed toys, so we began using them to attract fish. We would stand up with a hand full of toys, ask trivia questions, and give them away to those who gave the correct answers. Then, after gaining a semblance of credibility with the crowd, we would swing to spiritual things, and more than often the crowd would stay and listen to the gospel.
There are some that would say that using stuffed toys to attract a crowd is the old “bait and switch” trick. I suppose you could call it that. We begin with the “bait” of toys, and then we “switch” to the things of God. Most of our tracts do that. They begin in the natural realm before they swing to the spiritual. Jesus did that with the woman at the well in John chapter four. He didn’t sit on the well and tell her that she would have to drink His blood and eat His flesh to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. She may have thought that that sounded a little strange. Instead, He spoke to her about water. That was something she could understand. Then He swung to the topic of her salvation. That wasn’t deceitful. It wasn’t a “bait and switch” con trick. That was wise. It was exercising discretion.
I love what someone who shared his faith said, when he was criticized by someone who wasn’t involved in evangelism. He gently replied, “Well, I like the way I do it better than the way you don’t.”
Water Running Uphill
The day before Christmas, 2006, I did things a little differently. When someone answered a trivia question incorrectly, I had the thought that it was Christmas, the season of giving, so I said, “That’s wrong,” and threw him the toy. That made the crowd laugh.
I asked another question. “What is the most common food people choke to death on in U.S. restaurants?” Someone called out “Steak!” I called back “Wrong! Have a bear,” and tossed out another stuffed toy. I then noticed a mom quickly coaxing her four children to step forward, so I asked the question again. One of the kids called out “Ice cream!” I said, “Wrong! Have a bear,” and threw out another one. The crowd laughed again. The same thing happened with the other three children, much to their delight. This not only gathered a crowd, made kids and parents happy, it made the crowd happy enough to stay and listen.
I was aware that there was something very weird about what I was doing. Life in this world isn’t like that. Losers don’t get the prize. Ever. It’s like water running uphill. But that’s what it’s like in the Kingdom of God.
Great Hope for the Loser
Christians are losers. They were at war with God and His Law. They were morally bankrupt and heading for Hell. But instead of trying to justify their guilt or hide their sin, they justified God. They said, “I am wrong and God is right. The battle is over. I surrender. He wins, and I lose.”
In doing so, the sinner then gains the greatest gift of all—eternal life. He didn’t earn it, and he didn’t deserve it. He can’t boast of his achievements. He can only boast of God’s kindness in the gospel, where the last become the first, the first became last, and the losers become winners.
So be encouraged, next time you have an opportunity to preach the word, preach it boldly and without fear for you have the best news anyone could ever hear.