Many novice street preachers are a bit anxious about hecklers. They tend to overthink how and when they should engage hecklers. They start open-air preaching with the false presupposition that they are obligated to engage a person who heckles the preaching of the law and the gospel. Street preachers should use hecklers, but not abuse hecklers.
Hecklers are useful in that they often help draw crowds to hear the street preaching. People are, by nature, voyeuristic. They want to be in the know. They like to watch others in conflict, so long as that conflict doesn’t personally affect them. People in the throes of public debate draw the attention of those who love to eavesdrop and who relish the thought of getting to see a fight.
The experienced open-air preacher knows how to use hecklers without abusing them -- how to use the heckler’s words against him without responding to the heckler in kind. The goal of using hecklers is not to embarrass or mock them, but to use them as a means to further facilitate the proclamation of the gospel.
Here are some tips for using hecklers during an open-air preaching session:
- Listen for murmurings in the crowd. Heckers are not always courageous enough to make themselves known. They will sometimes loudly mock the preacher while trying to remain invisible. When the preacher hears a heckler in the crowd he should try to answer the objections of the heckler (Proverbs 26:5), without calling him out. In doing so, the preacher lets the heckler know he hears him and has identified him. The preacher not only answers the heckler’s objection, but also may answer a question for others in the crowd.
- When a heckler becomes obnoxious or unreasonable, not letting the preacher get a word in edgewise, the preacher should simply preach over, through, and around the heckler. In other words, ignore the heckler (Proverbs 26:4). Don’t make eye contact with him or her. Don’t address him. Don’t refer to him. Preach as if he were not there. Eventually, the heckler will see he is not getting what he wants, and will give up and walk away.
- Do not respond in kind. If you are reviled by hecklers do not revile them (1 Corinthians 4:12; 1 Peter 2:23). The heckler wants the street preacher to lose his cool, get angry, and sin. The heckler wants the sin of the preacher to serve as his or her excuse for their unbelief. A street preacher serves as one of Christ’s heralds, one of His ambassadors. Caustic and haughty speech, even in response to an angry and blasphemous heckler, brings a reproach upon the name of Christ.
Hecklers are not to be feared, and they should never determine the direction of an open-air message. The street preacher should never forget that the heckler is a lost soul in need of the Savior. Therefore, use hecklers, but don’t abuse them, for the furtherance of the gospel and the glory of Christ.