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Why This Controversial Open-Air Preaching Tactic Is Actually Biblical

The Word on the Street

There are some in the church who look down on the use of trivia and giving away money to draw a crowd for open-air preaching. It does seem more spiritual to simply open a Bible and preach from it. However, let’s look at how Paul preached in Athens:

Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription:

TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.

Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising. Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.” (Acts 17:22–31)

“Though Paul frequently went to the Jewish synagogues on the Sabbath and “reasoned with them from the Scriptures” (Acts 17:1–3), when preaching to the general public, Paul used a different approach.”

The reason Paul didn’t open the New Testament and preach from it was because the New Testament hadn’t yet been compiled. I doubt if he opened up the Old Testament because the printing press hadn’t been invented, so there was no such thing as a Bible in book form. I also doubt that he opened up Old Testament scrolls and read from them. They were precious and were kept in the Temple. Though Paul frequently went to the Jewish synagogues on the Sabbath and “reasoned with them from the Scriptures” (Acts 17:1–3), when preaching to the general public, Paul used a different approach. In speaking on Mars Hill, he quoted secular godless Greek poets.

In addressing this, the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary states:

For we are also his offspring—the first half of the fifth line, word for word, of an astronomical poem of Aratus, a Greek countryman of the apostle, and his predecessor by about three centuries. But, as he hints, the same sentiment is to be found in other Greek poets.

Barnes’ Notes on the Bible added:

As Paul was a native of the same country it is highly probable he was acquainted with his writings. Aratus passed much of his time at the court of Antigonus Gonatas, king of Macedonia. His principal work was the “Phoenomena,” which is here quoted, and was so highly esteemed in Greece that many learned men wrote commentaries on it…It is one instance among thousands where an acquaintance with profane learning may be of use to a minister of the gospel. (emphasis added)

When Paul quoted secular poets, he was showing his hearers that he was familiar with Greek literature. Clearly, he did this as a bridge for them to hear the gospel—he had their attention because he was speaking their language.

“When Paul quoted secular poets, he was showing his hearers that he was familiar with Greek literature. Clearly, he did this as a bridge for them to hear the gospel—he had their attention because he was speaking their language.”

So, if we want to capture the ears of a crowd, we should speak their language. We should take a moment to quote Greek poets. By that I mean, we should say something that will resonate with them. Millions love the humor of comedians who speak about things we can all identify with. Who of us hasn’t entered a plane and felt condescension from snooty First Class passengers, who are already busy making money on their laptops, or stood behind a lone passenger as he tried to push his household furniture into the overhead compartment—with no concern that he was holding up a line of two hundred stressed passengers, who just want to get to their seats?

Resonance is our lifeblood whenever we address other human beings. We want to connect with our hearers, whether we’re speaking to one or one hundred, and not just sound like an off-key trumpet blast. Greek poets helped Paul get in tune with the Athenians.

That’s why we use trivia. People enjoy it and stay for the gospel. Some may label it as entertainment. So be it. I would rather use trivia and draw hearers who will listen to the gospel than look spiritual and talk to nobody, which so often happens with preachers holding a Bible. You are trying to build a bridge to your hearers.

You want to endear them to you rather than alienate them, for the gospel’s sake, so attract them with interesting trivia and win them through kindness. Give away money when people get the answer right, and remember to give it away when they get an answer wrong. Hand out money to kids just for trying. I will often ask a child for his name. When he says, “Timmy,” I say, “That’s right!” and I give him a dollar. This makes the crowd laugh.

It’s also helpful to have the crowd applaud enthusiastically when answers are given—even if they are incorrect. Say, “That was wrong, but it was a good try. Let’s give him a hand!” Loud, enthusiastic applause draws more people to the crowd, so the more people clapping the better. Consider having a friend step forward at appropriate times with an “Applause!” sign and encourage everyone to clap.

The Word on the Street
1. Why This Controversial Open-Air Preaching Tactic Is Actually Biblical
2. Want to Open-Air Preach? Use a Talent to Draw a Crowd
3. Without Repentance, Sinners Will Perish
4. How Should Open-Air Preachers Handle Hecklers?

Ray Comfort

Ray Comfort is the Founder and CEO of Living Waters, a bestselling author, and has written more than 100 books, including, The Evidence Study Bible. He cohosts the award-winning television program Way of the Master, which airs in 190 countries.

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