“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” – 2 Timothy 2:15
I have been an Open-Air Preacher for nearly two years. I have found this calling to be the most sanctifying responsibility. I have grown tremendously in my faith and my understanding of God’s Word and specifically the gospel.
Anyone in any ministry where teaching/preaching is required must be committed to the study of God’s Word. Whether you are an evangelist or Sunday school teacher you must be consecrated to study. The question then becomes how should I study? Where should I place my focus?
I would like to provide some thoughts on this topic and recommend three areas of study you should be committed to if you want to preach in the open-air. To be clear this article is going to be heavy with my own opinions as there really is no mandated way to study. However I have been doing what I am about to suggest to you and it has mightily impacted my ability to preach, answer questions, and devotion to God. Even if you have no desire to preach give this a try for a year and watch it radically increase your understanding of God and His Word.
You Must be a Student of the Word
“But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:2)
It is not our intellect, personality, opinions, or gimmicks that lead people to Christ, it is the Word of God that God uses to save sinners. As an evangelist you must forsake the idea that philosophy or even science can lead a soul to salvation, you must preach the Word.
In order to preach the Word, you must be a student of the Word. Regular Bible reading ought to be a daily habit. If you are not reading your Bible every day don’t even bother trying to preach the Word. Without first having the Word of God cut your heart and renew your soul how can you expect the Holy Spirit of God to bless your preaching?
How you study the Bible to me is not as important as simply doing it. If you want to read large quantities of Scripture go right ahead. If you would rather pick one chapter and go super deep into the meaning of said text then feel free. Personally, I tend to read three chapters a day and go somewhat deep with highlighters and notes. Occasionally I will look to John Gil or Matthew Henry’s commentary to get me through anything I do not understand. We all have different seasons of our lives that dictate how we go about devotions, the one thing that is not acceptable is not reading the scriptures daily.
I would say that regardless of how you dive into the Word the one thing you should definitely do is memorize Scripture. Especially Scriptures that directly proclaim the gospel. I would recommend this to any preacher but especially for those who preach in the open-air. The streets are unscripted. You will not be able to carry notes and go through whole a whole sermon in perfect order. People will heckle you and challenge you with questions.
Having Scripture memorized allows your preaching to flow. Open-air preaching is far more freestyle than regular preaching and therefore you will have to stay on your toes. Many of the people you preach to will come from different cultures and religions and certain sections of Scripture may weigh more heavily on them than others. Having multiple verses on the ready will aid you greatly in proclaiming the gospel.
I would recommend picking one verse out of your daily Bible reading and memorize that. However, here is a small quick list of what to memorize first to get you started:
Colossians 1:15-22, Ephesians 2:8-10, Titus 3:3-7 ,Galatians 3:10-14, John 3:16-18.
Always Have Your Nose in Systematic Theology
Aside from having a daily routine of reading and studying Scripture, I would recommend investing in a good systematic theology. By commending you to study systematic theology I have really only told you to continue studying Scripture but this time from a different angle. Merriam-Webster defines systematic theology as:
“a branch of theology concerned with summarizing the doctrinal traditions of a religion (such as Christianity) especially with a view to relating the traditions convincingly to the religion’s present-day setting.”
Systematic theology takes all the doctrinal topics in Scripture and puts it all in one place making the study of and giving doctrine easier. There is no book in Scripture called “The Trinity”. Trinitarian theology is spread all throughout the Scripture along with all other aspects of Theology, Christology, Eschatology and every other “ology” of God’s Word.
Reading through a good systematic will awaken you not to not only what Scripture says but what it means. It will help you see God’s Word as one singular message, a united whole. It will greatly aid you in your Bible reading and will give you solid answers to all the various questions you may be asked like, “How could a good God send anyone to hell?” “How can God be three in one?” “If God created all things then how can I be blamed for sin?”
As far as what systematic you should read I would recommend the one I am currently reading, that is Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology It is a very well respected, time-tested systematic theology. I am also going through an early morning’s men’s study where we are going through Michael Horton’s systematic and that too is very good. There are so many good ones to chose from like Hodge, Calvin, Bavinck, and many more. Many godly men put a lot of work into writing these giant books. There are so many gems of truth to be found through those who have faithfully mined the Word of God and stored them in books.
If you don’t want to buy a huge systematic book I would recommend buying smaller books that tackle only one topic. Buy books on the doctrines of grace or books about God’s attributes. The goal is to be as well rounded as possible in all the topics of theology that you might adequately preach the word of God.
I would warn you to consider whose systematic you read. Look at reviews and make sure credible men recommend the systematic you are interested in purchasing. There is little worse than spending so much time only to realize that you have been studying flawed theology. It is redeemable to know what is wrong, however, I personally would like to focus on what is right.
You Need to Know Your History.
When you have got a Bible reading plan set and you have decided to take the time to learn about doctrine I would suggest you learn church history. Every Christian is a part of church history. It is important to know the story of what Christ has been doing in and through His people for the last two thousand years.
There are so many things that have happened in our past that have shaped and guided us to where we are now. Many of the heresies of the past haunt us today. Many of the challenges our church fathers faced may be unique but they can show us how we are to stand faithfully for Christ today. The example set by Athanasius in the midst of battling Arius, Augustine battling Pelagius, Luther battling Erasmus and the whole Catholic church shine forth to us as beckons in a world of darkness. Knowing what has taken place in our past has given me the confidence to stand with my forbears and follow them as they followed Christ. It reminds me I am not alone in my striving for Christ and I have many brothers and sisters I will meet in heaven who stood boldly for Christ.
Knowing church history does not just provide great encouragement, it helps from being duped by false teachers and faulty information. Knowing the details about things like the Council of Nicea, the Crusades, the Reformation, the Covenanters, the First and Second Great Awakenings etc., arm us with knowledge of what really happened. No revisionist can twist history and paint a picture of the church that is untrue and unfair when you know your history.
Just like the last two subjects, a person can approach the study of Church History in many ways. You can dig deep into one event or you can read books that cover a general survey of what has taken place. The best thing I believe to do is study a very general survey of church history and work from there with deeper books.
Another way to get a great glimpse into history is through reading biographies. I find that taking the time to study someone’s life has given me special motivation to follow Christ. I have been sanctified greatly by reading the biographies of George Whitefield, George Muller, Hudson Taylor, Charles Spurgeon, Jonathon Edwards, and many other great men who stood for God.
Where Does Apologetics Come Into Play?
You may wonder why I have not recommended apologetics as the fourth realm of study. I do believe you should invest time in reading the works of James White, Cornelious Van Til, Greg Bahnsen, Jason Lisle, and other apologists who defend the faith. However, I have left apologetics to the side in this article because I believe that before we can build a strong apologetic offense we must have a firm understanding of what we believe. A mentor of mine once told me, “The strongest apologetic is a firm theological foundation.”
I do believe that the deeper you study the three areas you will be surprised at how capable you are at defending the faith. You will have a clear-cut understanding of God’s word, what it means, and where it came from. If you focus on these three areas you will even find that you are gaining more from the apologetic books.
I will repeat once again to make it clear, apologetics is important. I would picture it like a bonfire. If you have a lot of good wood the fire burns higher. You try to start a bonfire with wet sloppy wood and you are going to be frustrated and without delicious smores. The same thing is true about apologetics. The more knowledge of the basics the more you will be a fiery apologist!
Reading or Listening?
My personal opinion is that the Bible should be read. I think it matters little whether you commit to reading books or listening to audio sermons/books about systematic theology and history. I tend to mix reading and listening to theology but I almost exclusively listen to church history books and biographies. I learn better this way. Experiment and see what works best for you with your schedule.
In conclusion, I hope you have found this article helpful. I hope this will enable you to focus your eyes in the proper places. I believe if you commit to focusing on these three major areas you will see significant growth in your knowledge and even your own walk with God. Just remember that knowledge can puff up. You must remember to stay humble. Knowledge is a tool to serve God and His church, not a means to gain glory for yourself. May you preach evermore with boldness.
“How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.” – Psalm 119:9
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