"Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God," (Hebrews 6:1).
In the street evangelism community, it is not uncommon for evangelists to be critical of the way pastors interpret and teach the Word of God at the pulpit. Street preachers often express a dissatisfaction with what seems like a lack of care in sermon preparation. The problem is that many of these same street preachers do very little studying to prepare for their open-air messages.
Street Preacher: How Do You Study?
Do you study for your open-air messages?
Some street evangelists will be quick to cite a litany of things they study in preparation for an open-air message: apologetics, current events, new trivia questions, the latest atheist tactics, the last question asked for which they did not have an answer (I encourage this one in particular all the time). Some will say they memorize Scripture, which every Christian should be doing.
When I ask a person if he studies in preparation for his open-air messages, I often hear answers like this:
"I listen to a lot of sermons by my favorite pastors. I listen to audios and watch videos of my favorite open-air preachers. I'm always looking for current events that I can use to transition into the law and the gospel. And I'm always looking for new ways to draw crowds."
If I receive an answer like that, I will ask, "But do you study the Bible? Do you study so that you are able to teach the Word of God (Ezra 7:10)? Do you study as part of doing your best to present yourself to God as one approved (by Him), a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handing the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15)?
Recently, a respected brother, pastor, and evangelist asked me why I thought there were so many false teachers, heretics, apostates, bad behavior, etc., in parts of the street evangelism community. I answered, "I think part of the problem is that too many street evangelists are not students of the Word. They study to show themselves approved to themselves or to other people instead of showing themselves approved by God. They study more to win arguments than to win souls."
Let me make it clear that there is nothing wrong with studying apologetics, current events, new trivia questions, the latest atheist tactics, or any other area of study that helps the street preacher more effectively and Biblically present the law and the gospel in the open air. I often study the last question someone asked me if it was a question I could not answer or if I felt I gave an inadequate response. I've studied all of the beforementioned topics (and then some) in my evangelism efforts. But the Biblical street preacher should study one subject more often and more thoroughly than any other--the Bible.
Constantly Train With Your Primary Weapon
[Insert image Study_001]When the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department hired me in 1987, I knew very little about firearms. I knew just enough to be dangerous.
The training did not begin with lining up all the recruits on the firing line and then ordering us to "fire." There was significant classroom instruction regarding the nomenclature of our weapon and range safety. Only after this instruction were we allowed on the range with live ammunition.
We were then allowed to fire our weapons to get the feel of the weapon's operation, power, and proficiency. But the training did not stop there. We were taught how to clear ammunition jams from the gun. The instructors added the stress of clearing jams in a certain amount of time with the minimum number of hand movements. The stress was heightened when all of these things had to be accomplished under "shoot, don't shoot" situations and street combat scenarios. There also was the added stress of field stripping the weapon and putting it back together under the beforementioned conditions.
Why all the intense training? It was not enough to know how to fire the weapon. It was critically important to also know how the weapon functioned, when and when not to use it, how to handle it safely, and how to correct any operator errors or weapon malfunctions.
While the Word of God can never malfunction (2 Timothy 3:16-17), there can be--and often is--operator error when people handle it. All too often, street preachers know how to fire the Word of God, but they don't study it close enough or often enough to know how the Word functions, when and how to use it in evangelism, how to handle it rightly, or how to correct any user errors--whether theirs or someone else's (i.e., a heckler).
The Biblical street evangelism community needs to grow in the area of rightly dividing and teaching the Word of God. Now, this is not to say that in order to be a street preacher one must be an ordained theologian with letters after his name or diplomas on his office walls (not that there is anything at all wrong with that). However, lacking in formal theological training is no excuse for one's sloppy handling of the Word of God.
If street preachers are going to truly represent our King as ambassadors and heralds, then it behooves them to make certain they are properly handling and explaining the King's edicts (His Word). To do otherwise is to be derelict in duty as one of the King's representatives.
How to Prepare Street Preaching Sermons
[Insert image Study_002]Begin by selecting a passage of Scripture that can be easily used evangelistically, without forcing any errant meaning (eisegesis) upon the text.
Look at the near and far context for the verse or passage, along with any applicable historical context that will help give a fuller, more accurate understanding of the text.
Study any applicable cross-references to make sure your interpretation of the text is accurate, according to what the Bible says about itself. This Bible study principle is known as "Analogy of Faith." Simply put, this principle carries with it the idea of letting Scripture interpret Scripture.
Go through the passage, verse-by-verse (when necessary, studying the Greek or Hebrew text), highlighting key words and/or phrases to emphasize in an open-air message.
[Insert image Study_003]Make a short outline to help remember the key points you want to make, interweaving the law and the gospel throughout the message. While preaching extemporaneously is certainly more visually appealing to the listener, there is absolutely nothing wrong with referring to notes as the street preacher heralds the law and the gospel.
[Insert image Study_004]Having taken the time to study the text(s) from which you plan to preach, you are not only better prepared to present the law and gospel to the masses but also are better prepared to represent our great God and King, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Here is how my study of Colossians 2:8-15 came together in an open-air message I titled, "The Great Exchange."