Character Counts

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Character Counts

In Part 1 of this series, I provided what I believe is a biblical definition of a man of God. In Part 2, I addressed why it is so very important for open-air preachers to strive for and to exhibit the spiritual qualities of and elder, as well as why a standard for qualification must be developed in the open-air preaching subculture. In Part 3, I addressed anticipated common objections to my thesis. I also addressed the first of what I believe should be the qualifications for a man to serve Christ as an open-air preacher: he must be a man above reproach. In this, the fourth part of my series, I will address five more character traits every open-air preacher should strive to exemplify in his life.

Some open-air preachers have argued’emotionally, not biblically’that I should stop writing these articles because the articles are divisive. The Bible never speaks of unity “at all costs,” especially when the cost is Scripture, integrity, and the purity of gospel preaching.

My answer: If there are open-air preachers that do not see the importance of striving for and maintaining biblical character, while at the same time presuming to represent Jesus Christ and His gospel on the streets, they do not belong on the streets. If there are open-air preachers that insist there is no need to articulate some form of biblical qualifications for the street preacher, then I don’t think they belong on the streets either. And if there are open-air preachers who cannot unite behind such simple and biblical concepts then, frankly, I don’t have a problem with separating from them. They are the problem’not those of us who are calling for order, decorum, maturity, biblical qualifications, and a return of open-air preachers to the local church.

This is not to say that everyone and anyone who disagrees with my thesis is part of the problem. I understand for some this is simply a new way of thinking’a new way of looking at open-air preaching and who should engage in it. After all, I cannot point too caustic a finger at folks that I trained to preach without ever asking myself or them the question Are they qualified to preach?

Allow me to reiterate that I am not setting myself as the standard bearer’as someone tapped by God to set the qualification standards for open-air preaching. I am simply an open-air preacher who is saying that there should be qualifications standards for open-air preachers. I believe God has given a standard for the qualifications for an open-air preacher in His Word. I also believe it is the role of the local church, and not the role of the open-air preaching subculture or any de facto leader in the subculture, to set the qualification standards for the church’s open-air preachers. I will say this again, and again. In fact, I’m going to say it again, now.

For those who may be coming into this series late and have not yet read the first three articles, allow me to quote myself. I will share the following excerpt in every subsequent article in this series. It is far too important a point to only say once.

Ignoring the risk of being redundant, it is very important I reiterate something before I put forth a list of qualifications for the open-air preacher. It is the responsibility of the local church to determine the standards by which the church will call men to open-air preach. Different local churches may, based on the hermeneutic they apply to their study and interpretation of God’s Word, and/or based on the particular confession of Christian faith to which they ascribe, apply exceptions to the rules (qualifications) put forth by the apostle Paul in the Pastoral Epistles. Here are a few examples:

  • One church may deem a man qualified to serve as an elder/pastor who has a divorce in is past, depending, of course, on the circumstances surrounding that divorce. Another church may not allow any man who has any kind of divorce in his past to serve as an elder/pastor.
  • One church may require elders to be married men. Another church may not.
  • One church may require all of the prospective elder’s/pastor’s children to be saved. Another church may not.
  • One church may specify that no man under a certain age or who has been a Christian for less than a prescribed number of years can serve as an elder/pastor. Another church may interpret the term new convert differently.
  • One church may define able to teach as a man who can exposit a text of Scripture from the pulpit. Another church may see a man leading a Sunday school class or mid-week Bible study as meeting the able to teach qualification.

More examples could be shared, of course. Suffice to say, so long as the church is following the Word of God’s litmus test for spiritual qualifications, it is well-within the legitimate purview of each local assembly to nuance the application of these biblical standards, so long as the church does not intentionally misinterpret or misapply any biblical standard in order to create a legalistic, unbiblical standard that satisfies the little Pharisee in all of us.

The five character traits, qualifications, or guides I will address in this article are:

  • The husband of one wife (if he is married) ‘ not a polygamist; not a party in an unbiblical divorce
  • Sober-minded ‘ vigilant; watchful; mindful; serious but not morbid; sound judgment; understands the idea of moderation in every area of life
  • Self-controlled ‘ modest in appearance, deportment, and conduct
  • Respectable ‘ courteous; decorum; a well-ordered life
  • Hospitable ‘ literally, a lover of strangers; a willingness to bring people into one’s home

The Husband of One Wife

The husband of one wife (if he is married) ‘ not a polygamist; not a party in an unbiblical divorce

A man does not have to be married to serve the Lord Jesus Christ as one of His heralds. He simply must not be a polygamist (a common problem of Paul’s day) or a party in an unbiblical divorce. The apostle Paul also wrote:

To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion . . . Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him (1 Corinthians 7:8-9, 17).

The first two men who come to mind when I think of unmarried open-air preachers are Mike Stockwell and Robert Gray. Both of these men are in their late 40’s. Both of them have committed every aspect of their lives to the furtherance of the gospel, through open-air preaching and other forms of street evangelism. They are endorsed and supported by their local churches. They are godly men of the highest character. They are men who rightly divide the Word of God and communicate it with great skill. Mike and Robert are excellent examples of what the Lord can do with unmarried men who are fully-committed to heralding His gospel.

There are two predominate views regarding the interpretation of the husband of one wife. The first is the traditional or exception view. Those who hold to this view believe that divorce is allowed for marriages in which one of the spouses has either actually engaged in adultery or in a situation where one spouse has abandoned the other (Matthew 19:9; 1 Corinthians 7:15). The second predominate view is the permanence viewpoint. Those who hold to this view believe the before-mentioned are not valid reasons for divorce (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:8; Luke 16:18). Of course, there are also varying shades of gray between these two viewpoints.

Where I think churches go too far afield and come precariously close to legalism is when they hold that a man who was party to a divorce before he came to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ is not qualified to serve Christ and His Church as an elder. For a church, any church, to penalize a man for sins committed before he was given a new nature, a new heart, and a new life in Christ is, in effect, denying the miraculous work of regeneration wrought in the man’s life, by the grace of God alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. Of course, this position does not assume the prospective elder is fully sanctified or may not be rendered disqualified because of character issues affecting other areas of his life.

To be the husband of one wife is to be a one-woman man. A Christian man who is married should see his wife as his first ministry. His wife is his main priority, second only to his love for and obedience and devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ. He is a man who loves his wife as Christ loves the church and gave his life up for her (Ephesians 5:25-27).

Sadly, I’ve heard story after story of married open-air preachers neglecting their wives, whether saved or unsaved. As I mentioned in the first article of this series, there are open-air preachers who are committing adultery against their wives. In this present context, the mistress of such a man is open-air preaching. The woman he has on the side is evangelism. It has become an idol for him, just as the adulteress becomes an idol for the adulterer.

No man who is willing to sacrifice his relationship with his wife so he can preach the gospel in the open-air should be considered qualified to get on the box. A married man should only have one wife, and her name isn’t herald.


Sober-minded ‘ vigilant; watchful; mindful; serious but not morbid; sound judgment; understands the idea of moderation in every area of life

Sober-minded is translated from the Greek word n phA?leos, which, when properly defined, means: not intoxicated, free from negative influences (intoxicants). In a figurative sense, which Paul alludes to here, the word carries with it the idea of being clear-minded, circumspect, and free from any negative, life-dominating influences.

Some men are called’not by themselves, but by their churches’to serve the Lord as evangelists, with open-air preaching being an aspect of that evangelistic call. Most men who open-air preach do so as laymen who take to the streets as their professional and personal life schedules permit. Most open-air preachers have jobs, school, families, and other everyday life matters requiring their time and attention.

Many open-air preachers believe they would love to have the life of single men previously mentioned: Mike Stockwell and Robert Gray, as well as married men like Chris Sippley, Jeff Rose, and others’married men who serve as street evangelists, as a way of life. Some open-air preachers understand what kind of life these faithful men of God live. Most open-air preachers, however, likely don’t have a clue as to the very real costs being paid, daily, by these preachers and their families for following Christ in such a manner.

Every open-air preacher should be a man who is sober-minded. He should be a man who is vigilant and watchful’not merely in the sense of being able to discern the times or his immediate environment as he stands atop a box. His vigilance must extend far beyond his ability to read a crowd, recognize danger before it strikes (intangible traits I will discuss in a later article). He must be most vigilant and watchful over his own character. He must have a discerning eye; he must be a man of sound judgment and able to recognize when anything in his life, including open-air preaching, has the potential of becoming a negative, life-dominating influence.

Open-air preaching? How could open-air preaching ever become a negative, life-dominating influence in a man’s life? In a word: easy.

  • He skips work to preach.
  • He ditches classes to preach.
  • He misses church on Sunday to preach or because he is too exhausted from a preaching into the wee hours of the morning, the night before.
  • He decides not to be with his wife for the last days of her pregnancy because he can’t miss the next open-air preaching conference.
  • His conscious is barely pricked over missing his kid’s school play or recital because his Friday nights are dedicated to open-air preaching.
  • His friends are almost exclusively i ??i??open-air preachers.
  • He determines the faithfulness and commitment to Jesus Christ of other Christians by whether or not they support open-air preaching.
  • He can’t take a vacation with the family unless the vacation includes opportunities to open-air preach.
  • He now sees trips to the grocery store as evangelism opportunities during which he buys milk. But he won’t go to the grocery store for his wife, unless he feels like doing evangelism.
  • The only time he spends quality time with his kids is when he takes them out to distribute gospel tracts.
  • He starts training his son to preach before he has any reasonable assurance that his son is born-again. His son might only be four or five years old.
  • He sees his wife’s disappointment that he won’t spend a little more time at home as persecution. He questions his wife’s salvation because she’s not willing to sacrifice the marriage the way he is, for what he believes is the furtherance of the gospel.
  • His wife leaves him, and he goes out preaching the next day.

I’ve been guilty of allowing open-air preaching to become a negative, life-dominating influence. I’ve been guilty of doing some of the above-listed things. I thank God for His kindness that leads me to repentance (Romans 2:4).

Do you, open-air preacher, read the above list and are left to feel like I am poking you in the eye? Do you feel attacked? Do you feel singled out when no names or specific situations were mentioned? Are you angry with clenched teeth and fist and thinking to yourself, Why doesn’t Tony just stop? He’s creating problems where there are none! He’s dividing the open-air preaching sub-culture. He’s being a legalist.

Then, open-air preacher, you are the man. The problem is yours. Open-air preaching has likely become a negative, life-dominating influence. You see yourself in the above list, but open-air preaching has become such a negative, life-dominating influence in your life you are willing to argue away the sin in your life, which has been facilitated by your mistress’open-air preaching. You are not sober-minded, and you are not qualified to preach the gospel in the open-air.


Self-controlled ‘ modest in appearance, deportment, and conduct

Here is a helpful study of the Greek word translated as self-control” 1

sa?i??phrA?n (from sA?os, sound, safe’ and 5424 /phra?i??n, inner outlook’ which regulates outward behavior) ‘ properly, safe (sound) because moderated, referring to what is prudent because correctly (divinely) balanced (which is far more than being the middle of the road’).

sa?i??phrA?n (acting in God’s definition of balance’) makes someone genuinely temperate, i.e. well-balanced from God’s perspective. True balance is not one-size-fits-all’ nor is it blandly static. Biblical moderation (4998 /sa?i??phrA?n) describes a man who does not command himself, but rather is commanded by God” (K. Wuest, Word Studies, 2, 46). This root (sA?phro-, soundness’) then reflects living in God-defined balance.

[The root (phr n) is the root of diaphram,’ the inner organ (muscle) that regulates physical life, controlling breathing and heartbeat.

The whole word-family (root, sA?phro-) comes from sA?os (safe’) and phr n (what regulates life’), which is the root of the English term diaphram’).

Example: An opera singer controls the length (quality) of their tones by their diaphragm which even controls the ability to breathe and moderates heartbeat. Hence it regulates (brings safety’) to the body, keeping it properly controlled.]

The man of God who serves the Lord as an open-air preacher, like the man of God who aspires to serve the Lord as an elder of one of His flocks, must be self-controlled. He must be a man of temperate disposition’a man who is seen as calm and controlled, even if that may not be the case, at a given moment, in his heart or mind. His behavior should be seen as reasonable to a reasonable person, even if that person doesn’t agree with the behavior’a behavior/activity like open-air preaching.

Most unbelievers (many Christians, for that matter) do not appreciate or agree with open-air preaching. But even through the lens of their hatred for God and the gospel of Jesus Christ, the unbeliever can differentiate the temperate or self-controlled open-air preacher from the preacher who lacks self-control.

Some men serve as poster children for out-of-control open-air preachers. Wearing a cow suit to a Hindu festival and carrying the head of a pig on a stake at an Islamic festival are just a couple examples of this professing Christian’s unbiblical, public behavior. It’s easy to look at the embarrassing, clown-like antics of men like the one referenced above. With men like this on the streets, it’s easy to see why so many Christians struggle with accepting open-air preaching as a legitimate form of evangelism.

But let’s set aside false converts like the above-referenced preacher. There is too much clowning around by Christian open-air preachers. There are too many preachers on the streets that lack self-control. And I must own up to the fact that I’ve contributed to the tomfoolery of some open-air preachers that are on the streets, today. I say this because there have been times when I have been guilty of the same clownish behavior, under the auspices of trying to reach more people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. And, during those earlier years of my open-air preaching ministry, if I wasn’t directly involved in some of the gamesmanship and fooling around, I was applauding those who had the audacity to do outlandish things for Jesus. I egged them on and lifted them up as examples of boldness, wrongly defining and applying the idea of being a fool for Christ’s sake (1 Corinthians 4:10).

There were times in years past while open-air preaching when I behaved, not as a fool for Christ’s sake, but foolishly for my own personal amusement. I justified playing the fool by entertaining thoughts of drawing bigger crowds and reaching more people with the gospel. I sacrificed self-control; I sacrificed Christ-like, gospel-honoring character for the next Facebook post, tweet, blog post, or YouTube video.

Open-air preachers often find it easy to justify foolish behavior, ascribing to an ends justify the means philosophy of ministry. As I mentioned above, I not only have done this, but I’ve encouraged others with the same mantra. As a result, there are open-air preachers who have planked for Jesus and have done other things that are more akin to playing Truth or Dare than acting in a manner consistent with a self-controlled, well-balanced, temperate man of God taking on the weighty responsibility of heralding the gospel in the open-air.

Am I saying that using extra-biblical means to draw a crowd is wrong? Not necessarily. Over the last half-millennia, some of the greatest open-air preachers have used various means to draw crowds: hymn singing, musical instruments, other kinds of performers, and other entertaining means to draw a crowd.

My two-fold point is simply this: 1) if an open-air preacher’s efforts to draw a crowd bring more attention to him than to Christ, if in his efforts to draw a crowd he makes such a spectacle of himself that he makes a spectacle of Jesus and His gospel, he is not exercising self-control. He’s a preacher, not a carny. He’s a herald, not a ringmaster. 2) It is not necessary to use any means of any kind to draw a crowd. If an open-air preacher can’t use extra-biblical means to draw a crowd without making a fool of himself, then he shouldn’t do it. The gospel doesn’t need his help. The gospel simple needs to be proclaimed. An open-air preacher’s ability or lack thereof to draw crowds of any noticeable size to hear him preach is not and should not be a factor in determining the quality and/or effectiveness of his open-air preaching.

Finally, the boyishness of some open-air preachers is not only made evident when they step atop the box. Their childishness, their lack of self-control is seen in how they behave when others are open-air preaching.

There are few things more frustrating to me while I am open-air preaching than the goofing around, back-slapping, and idle chit-chat of other open-air preachers. When this happens, I’d just assume be out by myself. Look, I’ve been guilty of this. I have caught myself doing this. I’ve caught myself joking around with other preachers while another brother is atop the box. I’ve caught myself talking about the open-air sermon I just preached instead of paying attention to the brother who is now preaching.

While the gospel is being preached, while a man of God is pleading with sinners to repent and believe the gospel, unless a person in the company of that open-air preacher is engaged in a conversation with a lost person or distributing tracts to lost people, his attention should be fixed upon the man preaching and the gospel being preached. It is both disrespectful and discouraging to the man preaching the gospel to see only the backs of his compatriots. No looks of affirmation. No encouraging nods of the head. Not an amen uttered. Nothing but the backs of the heads of street preachers who seem only to be interested in the gospel when they’re preaching it.

Or this: an open-air preacher proclaims the gospel for several minutes with a seemingly serious and sober air about him, only to step off the box looking for high-fives while giggling and joking about the heckler he sent away with shoulders slumped in intellectual defeat. What does that look like to an unbelieving crowed (regardless of size)? The unbelievers think to themselves, mumble under their breath, or loudly rebuke the preacher with sentiments like these:

Look at him! He doesn’t really care. This is all a game to him. He’s out here to make himself feel better about himself. He probably doesn’t believe what he is saying. He’s just another religious hypocrite who gets his kicks from belittling others.

Do you think I’m making this up, street preacher? Then you are likely too busy carrying on to read the crowd, see the crowd, and hear the crowd’to see and hear what they are thinking of your visible and palpable lack of self-control. And if you scoff at this, street preacher, then you likely lack the requisite self-control to serve the Lord as an open-air preacher.


Respectable ‘ courteous; decorum; a well-ordered life

Like the man of God who aspires to serve the Lord as an elder of a local church, so too the open-air preacher should be a man who acts and lives a respectable life. This is not to say that he is a man-pleaser, putting on airs so as to seem respectable to other people. Rather, his respectability should be seen in the courteous way he treats others, in his behavior that exemplifies good taste and propriety, and in the way he lives a well-ordered, non-chaotic life.

Respectability encompasses self-control and sober-mindedness. And, as stated in a previous article, being above reproach encompasses all of the spiritual qualification for an elder’the same spiritual qualifications to which I believe all open-air preachers should aspire.

To present a good definition of respectability, considering the context of this series of articles, I think it will be helpful to give some examples from the open-air preaching subculture of what respectability is not.

  • The open-air preacher who uses crude language to shock and inflame, or who claims to be sinless is not respectable. His mind is darkened and he is a liar.
  • The open-air preacher who is sexually explicit in his language is not respectable.
  • The open-air preacher who reviles when he is reviled, who displays an angry heart, who intentionally antagonizes to get a response and to draw a crowd is not respectable.
  • The open-air preacher who does not love his neighbor or his enemy and shows his hate for them with his words is not respectable.
  • The respectable open-air preacher is far from perfect, contrary to what some of the above open-air preachers self-righteously claim about themselves. But he does what he can to remain above reproach.
  • The respectable open-air preacher tries to love his enemies (Matthew 5:43-48).
  • The respectable open-air preacher tries to speak in a way so that the only offense caused by his preaching is the offense of the cross (1 Corinthians 1:18).
  • Without fearing man (Matthew 10:26-33) or compromising the truth (Ephesians 4:15), the respectable open-air preacher does his best to season his words with salt, speaking graciously so that he can properly answer objectors and hecklers (Colossians 4:6).
  • The respectable open-air preacher speaks with words free from unwholesomeness (Ephesians 4:29; 1 Timothy 4:12; Titus 2:8).

If an open-air preacher is not respectable, then he is not above reproach. He is not qualified to preach the gospel in the open-air.


Hospitable ‘ literally, a lover of strangers; a willingness to bring people into one’s home

Suffice to say that like the man of God who aspires to serve the local church as an elder, the spiritually qualified open-air preacher is a man given to hospitality. He not only knows where to find room and board on his journeys, but he loves to be able to provide the same for other travelling evangelists.

Puritan theologian John Gill puts it this way: 2

Given to hospitality: to the love of strangers, and to the entertainment of them; and especially the saints and fellow ministers, who are exiled, or are travelling for the sake of spreading the Gospel, or upon some lawful and laudable account. These he is to assist by his advice and counsel, and with the necessaries of life, according to his abilities. Abraham and Lot are noted instances of this virtue.

It is also important to note that the man of God who is spiritually qualified to open-air preach is not a man who takes advantage of the kind and loving hospitality of believers. They will humbly avail themselves to such hospitality, but they would never consider preying upon such hospitality for some sort of ungodly gain. In fact, open-air preachers who intentionally wrongly take advantage of their Christian brethren should be seen and treated the same way false prophets were in the early church.

The Didache 3, one of the earliest non-canonical documents circulated and applied in the early church, is believed by many to have been the first church covenant that new members to the local church must agree to affirm and observe before they were accepted as members. In section 11:3-6, we read:

Now about the apostles and prophets: Act in line with the gospel precept. Welcome every apostle on arriving, as if he were the Lord. But he must not stay beyond one day. In case of necessity, however, the next day too. If he stays three days, he is a false prophet. On departing, an apostle must not accept anything save sufficient food to carry him till his next lodging. If he asks for money, he is a false prophet.

It would appear that the author(s) of the Didache drew some of their wisdom regarding hospitality toward traveling preachers from the following parallel passages of Scripture:

But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction, suffering wrong as the wage for their wrongdoing. They count it pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you. They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness. These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved (2 Peter 2:12-17)

These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever (Jude 1:12-13).

And from John’s admonition in 2 John 1:8-11:

Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward. Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.

The man of God who is qualified to herald the gospel in the open-air is a man who is hospitable toward others, saved and unsaved. He is also a man humble receives the hospitality of the Body of Christ, but is neither presumptuous, nor lazy, nor seeking some form of sordid gain at the expense of hospitable Christians.

In the Next Installment

In the next article in this series, I will address another very important spiritual qualification for the man of God who preaches the gospel in the open-air. The open-air preacher must be able to teach. While a man can teach without preaching, he cannot preach without teaching.

Show 3 footnotes

  1. Accessed on 02-26-1
  2. Accessed on 02-27-14
  3. Accessed on 02-27-14
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