I’m sometimes asked to share how I go about preparing an open-air sermon. Here’s my process:
Study the Text
Having determined a verse or passage to preach, I study the text.
Not every open-air situation allows for a thorough study of a text, prior to preaching. For instance: there are many days when I’m on the streets for several hours, which means I might preach several times from different texts, or no specific text at all. Additionally, my open-air sermons are often influenced by what’s going on around me (i.e. hecklers, location, simply watching people, current events, etc.).
However, the open-air preacher, like the pastor, must be a student of the Word of God. He must rightly handle and rightly divide the God-breathed Word of God. The open-air preacher must study and pray, and prepare in other ways to preach.
In preparation to preach in the open-air, I may listen to sermons in which preachers exposit the text(s) I’ve chosen. I often find that my pastors’ sermons from Sunday morning/evening often provide the text (s) for the following week’s open-air preaching. I will also read commentaries about the verse or passage. One of my favorite, FREE, study resources is the Bible Hub website. Hebrew, Greek, lexicons, concordances, commentaries–this site has all of this and more.
Determine Key Points in the Text
Next, I determine key points in the text that either speak about the character of God, the law of God, and/or the gospel of Jesus Christ. The open-air preacher must be careful how he goes about this process. The goal is always exegesis, not eisegesis of the biblical text.
There are three key words in Isaiah 43:10. They are: “know,” “believe,” and “understand.” My study of the text revealed that based on the Hebrew words used, coupled with the context of the verse, the word “know” speaks to an intimate, familial relationship with God. The word “believe” speaks to trusting God, by faith. And the word “understand” speaks to obedience in that to understand God is to understand what He expects of His people. To meet God’s expectation is to obey Him.
Accuracy, not creativity, is the goal. The Bible preaches better than men who preach the Bible. Let the Bible speak for itself.
I look for apologetic elements in the verse that speak to the false secular/religious worldview (note: there are only two worldviews–God’s and everything else). For instance, the end of Isaiah 43:10 (pictured above) reads: “Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me.”
Contrary to what your Mormon friends may tell you, Mormonism is not a monotheistic religion (meaning: one God). Mormonism is a polytheistic religion (meaning: multiple gods). Yet Isaiah 43:10, as well as many other verses, could not be more clear. There is only one God. No god existed before God. No other gods have ever existed.
Next, I determine a transition from the text into the law/gospel portion of my sermon.
For Isaiah 43:10, I determined the best transition to the law and the gospel was to focus on man’s broken relationship with God. I opted for this transition because one of the key words is “know,” which again speaks to having relationship.
Contrary to what many churches teach (“All you need is a relationship with Jesus”), every human being already has a relationship with God. For the vast majority of people, that relationship is broken. One cannot be reconciled to a stranger. Yet Christians are given a ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-19)–reconciling the lost to their Creator.
The good news of the gospel, in part, is that a person can be reconciled to his Creator. A man’s most important relationship, broken because of his myriad sin, can be made new. It can be restored. It can be reconciled.
“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Romans 5:10).
And that reconciliation can only take place through faith (Romans 1:17) in the one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5).
Prepping My Bible
Next, I mark my preaching Bible accordingly. If I don’t have enough room in my Bible, I will write additional notes on a separate sheet of paper, as necessary.
If you are uncomfortable with writing in your Bible (many Christians are), then use sheets of note paper. Try to use sized sheets that will fit in your Bible. Using full-size, 8 1/2 x 11 paper will likely be too cumbersome.
You can even use (dare I say it) your note feature on your cell phone for your sermon outline and other sermon-related notes.
Repeat the “Tag Line”
Lastly, based on the sermon text and/or transition, I try to determine a tag line for the sermon–a sentence or a phrase I will repeat periodically throughout the sermon
It is true, to what extent I do not know, that people only retain a small percentage of what they hear. Of course, on any given day, if God has numbered any of His elect among the open-air preacher’s listeners, and the day you are preaching is the day that God has determined to save a person (or people) in front of you, who is listening to you preach, then your listeners will hear everything they need to hear. God is sovereign.
Furthermore, it is the gospel that is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16), and not any catchy phrase or tag line. No one will be saved by simply and only hearing, “You have a relationship with God, and it’s broken.” Such a statement is not the gospel.
However, tag lines are useful in open-air preaching. A memorable phrase, or a line delivered with particular power and emphasis, and then repeated throughout the sermon, may help listeners to remember not only the repeated line, but the message surrounding that line. So, I will try to repeat the “tag line” of the sermon (in this case: “You have a relationship with God, and it’s broken) several times as I preach.
I hope this has been helpful to my brothers who preach the gospel in the open-air.
If there is interest, I will post more of my open-air preaching outlines.