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 Part 4 of my series, I addressed five more character traits every open-air preacher should strive to exemplify in his life. I then took a brief intermission to make a couple quick points.
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. – 1 Timothy 3:1-7 (emphasis added)
In this article, which is Part 5 of this series, I will address yet another very important qualification. The open-air preacher must have the ability to teach. Yes, the gospel is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16). However, the open-air preacher must have the ability to not only recite the gospel, but also to explain the gospel. The open-air preacher must be able to answer questions and control and command a crowd the way a good teacher controls and commands a classroom.
The Greek word kerusso, which is usually translated in the verb form “to preach,” appears 60 times in the New Testament. The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon defines the word this way:
“To be a herald, to officiate as a herald; to proclaim after the manner of a herald; always with the suggestion of formality, gravity and an authority which must be listened to and obeyed; to publish, proclaim openly: something which has been done; used of the public proclamation of the gospel and matters pertaining to it, made by John the Baptist, by Jesus, by the apostles and other Christian teachers.”
As I talk about the necessity of the open-air preacher having the ability to teach, I am not equating preaching with the more casual one-to-one conversation or the distribution of gospel tracts. Preaching, as indicated in the above definition, is “to proclaim after the manner of a herald.” Heralding/proclaiming/preaching is distinct from private conversations or the distribution of literature.
Notice I did not say heralding/proclaiming/preaching is more important than private conversations or the distribution of literature. Heralding is distinct from these other activities, but not more important. Heralding, by definition, is always declarative, authoritative, and public (in the sense that it is a message communicated to a group of people, whether from a pulpit or a soap box). Preaching, by definition is always (or at least should be) declarative, authoritative, and public. The ability to teach (which I believe should be a qualification for any man who heralds the gospel in the open-air) is not a qualification I would expect of all Christians before they engage people in evangelistic conversations or distribute gospel tracts.
Many participants in and proponents of open-air preaching try to split a non-existent hair between teaching and preaching. They assert that one can preach without teaching. This is one way they try to get around Scripture’s clear prohibition of women preaching in the open-air. This is also how many unqualified open-air preachers convince themselves and others that they are qualified to open-air preach. “I may not be a teacher, but I’m a preacher. I may not be able to stand in a pulpit, but I can stand on a box.”
Preaching Is Teaching
Preaching is teaching. Preaching is teaching with authority. Preaching is teaching people, believer and unbeliever alike, the way of eternal life. Preaching is teaching with a level of authority that calls the hearer to listen and obey. To preach the gospel is to teach the gospel. To preach repentance is to teach repentance. Any open-air message that does not explain (teach) the meaning of sin, righteousness, the coming judgment, Hell, the deity and hypostatic union of the Lord Jesus Christ, the cross, propitiation, regeneration, justification, salvation, grace, mercy, forgiveness, and eternal life is what? It’s unbiblical babble. It’s not worth the air being moved across the vocal cords. Now granted, not every open-air preaching opportunity allows for the articulation of all of the before-mentioned doctrines. Things happen (i.e. hecklers and other distractions, police contact, etc.). But the goal of every open-air preacher, during every message, should be to articulate these precious doctrines in terms his listeners can understand.
Whoever stands to proclaim the truth of the law and the gospel is teaching that which they proclaim, whether they are doing it off the top of their head or with an open Bible in hand and expositing a text from the Word of God. Preaching is not the mere regurgitation of words void of emotion, meaning, message, explanation, and authority. Preaching is teaching.
As stated in the above definition of kerusso, preaching is “always” accomplished “with the suggestion of formality, gravity, and authority which must be listened to and obeyed.” One thing that is lacking in the open-air preaching community is formality. Open-air preaching is not a game, sport, or hobby. It is not merely an opportunity for the Christian to exercise their liberty in the form of public expression. It is a calling, not a curiosity. It is a weighty responsibility, not a whimsical form of recreation. It is a privilege, not a right. It is for the glory of Christ, not the personal satisfaction of the preacher. Fortunately, I see positive changes happening in this area.
The open-air preachers of old preached sermons in the open-air. Yes, great preachers like Charles Spurgeon called for brevity in the message, but not for a lack of sobriety. The prolific preacher, teacher, and writer Charles Spurgeon wrote:
“As to style in preaching out of doors, it should certainly be very different from much of that which prevails within, and perhaps if a speaker were to acquire a style fully adapted to a street audience, he would be wise to bring it indoors with him. A great deal of sermonizing may be defined as saying nothing at extreme length; but out of doors verbosity is not admired, you must say something and have done with it and go on to say something more, or your hearers will let you know. ‘Now then,’ cries a street critic, ‘let us have it, old fellow.’ Or else the observation is made, ‘Now then, pitch it out! You’d better go home and learn your lesson.’ ‘Cut it short, old boy,’ is a very common admonition, and I wish the presenters of this advice gratis could let it be heard inside Ebenezer and Zoar and some other places sacred to long-winded orations. Where these outspoken criticisms are not employed, the hearers rebuke prosiness by quietly walking away. Very unpleasant this, to find your congregation dispersing, but a very plain intimation that your ideas are also much dispersed. In the street, a man must keep himself alive, and use many illustrations and anecdotes, and sprinkle a quaint remark here and there. To dwell long on a point will never do. Reasoning must be brief, clear, and soon done with. The discourse must not be laboured or involved, neither must the second head depend upon the first, for the audience is a changing one, and each point must be complete in itself. The chain of thought must be taken to pieces, and each link melted down and turned into bullets: you will need not so much Saladin’s sabre to cut through a muslin handkerchief as Coeur de Lion’s battle axe to break a bar of iron. Come to the point at once, and come there with all your might. Short sentences of words and short passages of thought are needed for out of doors. Long paragraphs and long arguments had better be reserved for other occasions. In quiet country crowds there is much force in an eloquent silence, now and then interjected; it gives people time to breathe, and also to reflect. Do not, however, attempt this in a London street; you must go ahead, or someone else may run off with your congregation. In a regular field sermon, pauses are very effective, and are useful in several ways, both to speaker and listeners, but to a passing company who are not inclined for anything like worship, quick, short, sharp address is most adapted.”
The bench, rock, horse-drawn cart, or tombstone upon which these blood-bought, Spirit-driven, Bible-wielding titans stood was reverenced like a hand-carved pulpit behind which a shepherd of a flock stood. They treated the ground upon which they stood as holy ground, for from that spot the Spirit of God would move upon the herald and the hooligan, in a manner the Father desired, for the glory of the Son and the gathering of His Elect.
Preaching Is Teaching with Gravitas
Open-air preaching requires gravitas. Gravitas is defined as “seriousness or sobriety, as of conduct or speech.” Gravitas is also defined as “seriousness, solemnity, or importance,” “a serious or dignified demeanor.” To preach (kerusso) is to articulate the Word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ with a sense of gravity. Open-air preaching should be conducted by men with gravitas, men who understand the weightiness and the gravity of what they are doing. These men, by their demeanor and voice, can convey the gravity of the situation in which lost souls find themselves.
The open-air preacher must carry himself with a very real air of authority. Even the lost, God-hating heckler should see that the open-air preacher speaks authoritatively, knowing the preacher ought to be listened to and obeyed. What I’m describing is known in law enforcement and military circles as “command presence.” A good open-air preacher is part orator, part herald, part diplomat, part street cop, and part field general. A good open-air preacher is one who does not manipulate a crowd, but can control a crowd with the sheer weight of his Holy Spirit-wrought, authoritative presence. People in the crowd will do what the street preacher says (i.e. “stop,” “wait,” “answer,” “be quiet,” etc.), at times, without even realizing they are obeying the preacher’s commands.
If you watch some of the men I consider the best open-air preachers of our generation—men like Jeff Rose, Josh Williamson, Robert Gray and Mike Stockwell, Bobby McCreery, Justin Edwards, Pastor Geoff Kirkland, Shawn Holes, Rob Hughes, Keith Darrell, Christopher Sippley, and others—you will see distinctly different personalities. You will see men who look and sound different from each other as they preach. However, in addition to a love for Christ, a love for His Church, a love for His Word, and a love for the lost, you will see another commonality in all of them. You will see men who are good preachers because they are good students of the Word and good teachers.
In each of the before-mentioned men, you will see command presence. You will see men acting like men: mature men, fearless men. You will see men who rightly divide the Word of God in the heat of battle. You will see men who are truly meek: men who are Holy Spirit-enabled to exercise power under control (Matthew 5:5). You will see men who are willing and able to give a defense for the hope that is in them, yet with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). You will see men who are uncompromising with the message: men who will not back down from truth merely so that the yet unconverted, sin-stained hearts of lost people will be appeased and remain unchanged (Acts 3:11-26; 4:8-20; 5:27-32). You will never hear them ask, “Can we all get along?” What you will see are men who rule their emotions, not men who are ruled by their emotions. You will see chivalrous men who defend and protect women, not men who act like women—not men who stand behind women, not men who are afraid of women. You will see men who speak with authority—an authority given to them by God—the authority that comes with their God-given gender-specific role as men and the authority that comes with the role of a teacher of the Word and a herald of the King.
Some Pastoral Perspective
The second half of my book, Should She Preach? – Biblical Evangelism for Women, I asked several well-respected pastors if one could preach without teaching. Each pastor I asked answered with an unequivocal “no.” For instance, Pastor Tom Drion of Grace Life London said this:
“You can’t preach without teaching. Preaching is the communication of information. Preaching obviously involves teaching. Those who try to make a very fine distinction between the two end up having to split hairs. There are helpful analogies that you can make to help a preacher understand the difference between a more ‘teachy’ sermon and a more ‘preachy’ sermon. I think those boil down to differences between a more instructional sermon and a more exhortational sermon. But if you’re exhorting people, you’re exhorting them on the basis of information that you’ve given them, otherwise you’re just spouting; you’re just giving off a lot of hot air, unfortunately.
“If you’re exhorting people, if you’re standing out and exhorting people to repent, the question is why? You need information. So, you can’t preach without teaching.”
Pastor Steve Lawson, who was also interviewed for the book, had this to say:
“All preaching involves teaching. I think preaching goes beyond teaching. Preaching stands on the shoulders of teaching and reaches yet higher. But at its foundational level, all preaching necessitates, first, that there be sound doctrine and careful exegesis of Scripture. So, to say that, ‘We are only preaching in the open-air but not teaching’ is really a self-indictment of what you think preaching is. You have revealed that you do not understand the biblical nature of what preaching is. To say, ‘We are not teaching, but only preaching in the open-air or on a street corner or in a mall or wherever,’ that would be is to misunderstand that teaching is at the heart of preaching. If there is no teaching, there is no preaching.”
The Open-Air Preacher Must be a Good Teacher
There are many open-air preachers on the streets today who would assert that they have the ability to teach. Yet what some of these men teach is blasphemous. They ascribe to the teachings of the oft-condemned heretic Pelagius. They deny the vicarious substitutionary atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. They ascribe to doctrines such as “Open Theism” that create a false, imperfect “god” in their imagination. They are good at teaching false doctrines, which makes them bad teachers. Some of these men go beyond the realm of false conversion to full-on apostasy. They teach doctrines of demons and are, by default, tools of Satan. They are not good teachers. They are not men of God. They are not called of God to preach. And every time they publicly open their mouths, even if they pepper their theological lies with a little bit of truth, they store up for themselves more wrath for the day of wrath (Romans 2:5).
The man of God who will stand in the grass on a university quad or ascend atop box or ladder on a corner in a concrete jungle must be a man of doctrinal precision. No one’s theology is perfect. No one has so rightly studied, handled, and divided the Word of God that he is without doctrinal error. However, the man of God must be a man who is not exclusively his own teacher. So many open-air preachers have shipwrecked their faith to the point of apostasy because they arrogantly asserted and believed all they needed was a Bible, pen, and pad of paper. They smugly scoff at and deny the biblical truth that God has given His Church teachers for the education and edification of His people (Ephesians 4:11-14). They see themselves as God’s gift to Bible interpretation and application. They are deceived and they deceive others.
The man of God who will serve the Lord as an open-air preacher must be a good student of the Word before he can be a good teacher of the Word. This does not require an open-air preacher to have a seminary degree (I’m trying to address as many fallacious “yeah but” arguments as I can). But he must love the Word, cherish the Word, respect the Word, fear the Word, and humbly sit under the teaching of the Word as a born-again seminarian would. No Bible novice should stand in a pulpit. No Bible novice should serve as an elder. And no Bible novice should presume to preach in the open-air until such time as he has learned to rightly divide it.
It is important to note that it is not enough for the open-air preacher to accumulate Scripture knowledge, through study and memorization, which he can spout off information with the speed and accuracy of a fantasy baseball league statistician. Any idea how many young participants in AWANA have received the “Timothy Award,” yet are as lost as the atheist who cannot recite John 3:16?
Again, the open-air preacher must be a man of God who not only knows the Word of God, but he must also be a man who can explain the Word of God in a way that the PhD and the simpleton can understand. No one is impressed, least of all God, if the open-air preacher can pronounce, spell, and use the word propitiation in a sentence if he leaves his audience tilting their heads like a curious puppy, saying, “Huh?”
Who Qualifies the Man of God as a Man of the Word?
So, who determines if a man is qualified as a Bible teacher to preach the Word of God in the open-air? Well, it most certainly is not the prospective open-air preacher. It’s certainly not me or any self-assigned or de facto leader in the open-air preaching subculture. And one’s popularity, notoriety, infamy, or the size of crowds one draws to hear him preach certainly doesn’t qualify a man to preach the gospel in the open-air. Men like Jed Smock, Jesse Morrell, and Ruben Israel sometimes draw massive crowds, but none of them are good teachers, which means none of them are good preachers.
Who determines whether or not a man of God is qualified to teach and preach the Word of God in the open-air? Assuming they are themselves men who rightly understand, divide, and teach the Word of God, it is the prospective open-air preacher’s pastors/elders.
I loved my 4 ½ years at Living Waters. You will never hear me say a negative word about the organization or the amazing people who serve there. Ray Comfort taught me more about being a true man of God than any man I have ever met. I believe Ray Comfort has done more to spread the gospel around the world than any three post-apostolic-era, world-renowned evangelists put together. And the Living Waters family, well, you will not find a finer, more genuine, more committed group of evangelistic people in the world. I love them all very much.
I made a huge mistake (one of many) when I created and led the Ambassadors’ Alliance and its Academy. You might find this silly, but one of the biggest mistakes I made was giving participants a “certificate of completion” at the end of the Academy. It was my idea, so I take full responsibility for it.
Now, once you’ve stopped laughing…..
By putting that certificate into the hands of some 1,000 people (200 of them were women), I affirmed them as open-air preachers. They now had a certificate, suitable for framing—a certificate they could hang on their wall, keep in their open-air war bags and preaching boxes, and show their friends, family, and pastor—that said they completed training in evangelism, which included open-air preaching. “But, Tony. It was just a ‘certificate of completion.’ You didn’t ordain them to preach.”
To some (maybe many) of the participants, receiving that 8 ½ x 11” certificate was ordination. It said they completed the training. Tony’s and Ray’s signatures were on it. The primary purpose of the training was to raise up and equip open-air preachers.
It wasn’t my responsibility, right, or privilege to qualify members of other men’s flocks to preach the gospel in the open-air. I asked each participant to seek their pastor’s blessing to come to the Academy, and then I undermined the authority of each participant’s pastor by simply giving each participant the impression they were now qualified to open-air preach.
I was wrong. I shouldn’t have done that.
If you trust your pastor to shepherd you and your family, if you trust your elders to teach you the Word of God and to help you grow in sanctification, and they say you are not qualified to preach the gospel in the open-air, guess what? You’re not qualified to preach the gospel in the open-air.
If your pastors/elders tell you that, at present, you lack the ability to teach the Word of God and therefore are not ready to preach the Word of God, and you refuse to submit to their God-given authority and instead take to the streets to preach, you are in sin. You are prideful. You are arrogant. You are unteachable. And you are not behaving like a man of God. Stand down! Stand down and wise up. Humbly submit to your pastors/elders. Follow their lead and instruction. Patiently and humbly let them instruct and equip you for the task.
Sadly I anticipate straw man arguments, ad hominem attacks, and emotion-laden complaints to come my way, as a result of what I’ve written in this article. The reason: no biblical argument can be made that will show that biblical preaching can be accomplished without teaching. While one can teach without preaching, one cannot preach without teaching.
It’s that simple.
Tony has preached in many churches across the United States and in Canada.He has served as the keynote speaker at several different conferences. Tony is serving the Lord as an itinerant preacher and open-air evangelist.
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