Open air ministry.

Are Christians neglecting Goliath's sword? (1Sa 21:9)


We read of days when the giants were in the earth. We too certainly seem to be facing giants: the iron bondage of indifference in the UK, the cult of materialism, the lure of atheistic evolutionary mythology, the snare of the cults, decadence and heresy within our own ranks, ecumenism and patronising multiculturalism, and not least resurgent Romanism and Islam. Why has the Gospel flag so sunk, and Jesus' crown been cast to the ground? Why do we seem to cut little ice? Why are our churches so barren of fruit? Why such little real progress amongst the lost?

Have we perhaps neglected our principal weapon? Here is one giant killing remedy we still need to take to heart.

Five times our Lord in various words and in varying ways left us with a solemn charge. As He departs, the house ruler's most serious and final command for His watchmen still echoes through its rooms. "Preach the Gospel to every creature" (1). The question is have we instead fallen asleep? How many still preach evangelistically? How many of those who do, preach only to their own assembly and the handful of visitors who boldly venture inside. How few of us follow in His footsteps wherever He goes, behind the brethren of Open Air Mission and others who brave the cold outside to warm the lost. In order to obey this command, we are told the means too, "Go into all the world". The whole world chatters, clusters and clambers into the market place, crowds flock to the football ground, the fair, the boot sale ? but Light remains under the bushel, and the Hill City's lights are grown dim. The enemy is coming in like a flood, but church remains at home, troubled and voiceless, except in her own gatherings. Where is the voice of Ezekiel's trumpet warning? Where are the watchmen on the wall ? lingering too long perhaps in the prayer meeting like Joshua, weeping over the apostasy of the nation?(2) How can our sinful country take warning just from conferences, prayers and periodicals? Multitudes slide down into the abyss of self deceit and pleasure lust, towards bitter remorse, heedless slaves of their own shame? and where is our Lord's warning, pleading voice? Where are His public tears? If you love Me, keep My commandments. Will we not follow Him, wherever He goes? Or would we perhaps prefer to be following a different Saviour?

Where too is the voice of joy, heralding His triumphs, showing out His riches? In open markets, the traders ply their treasures, attracting the casual passers by. Has the treasure of our inheritance really become so dim to us, that we will not face a little trouble to trumpet out our Master's worth, in the busiest part of the city centre?  Hear Isaiah's stirring appeal to our anaemic 21st century evangelicalism, "O Zion, that brings good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that brings good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!" Or are we for staying in the lowlands and valleys of the church, fenced in behind the barricades?

As Spurgeon reminds us, open air work needs short, punchy appeals. No time to work out themes, none for complex illustrations - a word, a phrase and our hearers are usually gone. For those who linger, the words must be simple yet richly prepared, freshly illustrated yet plain - a series of bulleted sermonettes - each a meaty warning and a winsome appeal to the cross. It demands careful focus on the Beloved Son. Yet in one hour's work, a thousand people may pass. How many weeks of door to door work will equal that? How many months to see so many visitors pass our doors in the assembly? Many will hear us week after week, sometimes in the sovereignty of God's timing, with greater openness and nobility of mind. Such work needs preparation, thought and prayer just as much as pulpit labours do. No space here for week after week sameishness, doctrinal shallowness, dramatics or stunts - only the best will do.

Have we conceded to the world's contempt for preaching? The wisdom of the strategy of God is not in message only, but in method also (3). Let's not be intimidated, for here is God's power. Whilst society cherishes its rehabilitative counselling, and recovery programs for all their weakness, the cross of Christ has unique power to heal and to sooth the wounds of abuse. Whilst GPs pass script after script for antidepressants to students, to those who will come, Christ is the solid rock and soul anchor for those in darkness, both young and old. Here is healing for the broken hearted, sight for the blind, cleansing for our lepers. How will they hear without a preacher? How will they hear the preacher, if he remains rooted in his own pulpit? Should not the shepherd seek? What a shameful confusion we have made of the Lord's parable - the one safe sheep is sought after by all, but the 99 lost are left to perish!

Here too is God's wisdom. It is the nature of right preaching that no flesh shall glory in His presence (4). What glory is there to the despised open air messenger? To build on the solid foundation of Christ workmanship without the hay or stubble of ear tickling, slick 'seeker-sensitive' gimmicks, His sole glory must be our first and last desire. By Divine arrangement, the right method serves the purging of our motives of the leprosy of self.

A brother was right recently to warn us against false optimism, here is no recipe for instant church growth. Many have laboured long and hard in the field recently with little or no evident fruit yet. Yet here is the method which God has commanded, here is the mighty means Paul describes as able to the "pulling down of strong holds, casting down reasonings, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ". Now for those dear brethren who look down on open air preaching, and place their trust in other methods, there are nagging questions. Is 21st century Europe so different from 1st century Rome that the sword of the Spirit has grown feeble? Has God changed His appointed plan? Have we learned after all that the wisdom of Christian men is better than the foolishness of God? I hope not. The looks of intrigue and surprise, the horror, the few that gaze and gaze bemused and curious, the bristling of pride, the hasty looking away or the wounded looks of passersby inform me otherwise. Noah may have preached a hundred years without saving more than his own family, but he had discharged his duty, freed his hands of blood, and left his own generation without excuse. Can we also say the same?

No doubt, that in a generation as wicked as our own, open air work requires strong love ready to brace icy waters, courage, steely perseverance and careful preparation. Ezekiel and Jeremiah?s commission is also ours (5), we too need to be like iron pillars and walls of brass, we too need to be ready to dwell among the scorpions and thorns of hostility with patience and kindness. To publicly convict idolatry, sodomy or other serious transgressions, we can only expect there to be unsought for contention and displeasure (6). Wonderfully our message is not only death to the disobedient, but of Jesus' free grace and power to all the truly penitent. Where shall we gain such resources? Doesn't our flesh also shrink? Are our lips and tongues not also uncircumcised? Not for nothing is preaching work, and especially preaching to the lost at the top of the apostolic prayer list (7). Is it so in our prayer meetings too?

Yet, there is wonderful joy in following closely behind the Master (8), an unexpected but holy pleasure in taking His cross in a nobler way than the crusaders ever did. To present Him in His glorious work and show off His wonderful dignity and power before our countrymen, poor, needy slaves of darkness as they now are, what a delight it is! What work carries worth or weight like this? To be ambassador for the wealthiest and best of nations is a drossy task by comparison. To be the best of surgeons, or the brightest of physicists is so much meaner than to be able to bring hungry sinners to the Physician of the human spirit, to Wisdom Incarnate. Here is a message so sublime it should drive us to speak. How can we but speak the things we have seen and heard? What a privilege to be called to such work! Why waste our lives on lesser labours?

(The Evangelical Times turned down this piece for publication)

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Spurgeon's priceless advice for open air preachers

Some very practical tips and helps for open air work.

The Christian Institute's last legal briefing on the situation with open air preaching in the UK, prior to Michael Overd's shameful arrest.

'I am somewhat pleased when I occasionally hear of a brother being locked up by the police, for it does him good, and it does the people good also.
It is a fine sight to see the minister of the gospel marched off by the servant of the law!
It excites sympathy for him, and the next step is sympathy for his message.

Many who felt no interest in him before are eager to hear him when he is ordered to leave off, and still more so when he is taken to the station.
The vilest of mankind respect a man who gets into trouble in order to do them good, and if they see unfair opposition excited they grow quite zealous in the man's defence.'  CHS


[1] Mk 16.15

[2] Josh.7.6-10

[3] 1 Cor.1.18,21 (the NKJV has lost the vitality of the original here)

[4]  1 Cor.1.23,29

[5] Jer.1.6-9, 18; Ezek. 2.4-8, 3.4-11

[6] 1 Thess. 2.2,4

[7] Acts 4.28-9, Eph.6.19,20

[8] Phil.2.16-18