An Interview On Evangelism With Bobby McCreery, Open Air Preacher

This is the second interview in a series on evangelism. You can check out the first interview with Missionary Elliot Clark here.

When I was an associate pastor in Georgia, the pastor and I were introduced to a man who was interested in joining our church. We were told these exact words: “He’s a street preacher, but not what you’re thinking!” I remember immediately feeling nervous. My picture of a ‘street preacher’ was some angry guy with a microphone yelling and insulting every one who walks by him.

Well, I got an education. Bobby is a full time “street preacher,” but definitely not in the way I originally thought. God called Bobby as a adult, saved him, and set him to work on the campus of UGA in Athens, Georgia. Bobby also goes downtown to the bars at night with a team of Christians to read Scripture, to talk with the lost, to proclaim the Gospel, and to see God work through His Word. Steve and I both count Bobby as a dear friend, and have been strengthened and blessed by his ministry. (After reading the interview, you might consider giving Bobby some support. He’s fully supported by Christians so that he can devote all his time to the work of the ministry. Here’s his Support Page)

Why do you evangelize?

First, for God to receive glory through the proclamation of what He did by sending His son into the world to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:11). It is also commanded by God (Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:15, Luke 24:46-47, Acts 1:8).

Next, that the lost sheep that the Good Shepherd gave His life for will be found (John 10).

Also, because it is a great privilege and joy to share the one Savior of sinners with people everywhere.

Are you ever scared to tell someone about Jesus? What do you do?

Yes I am scared often. When I am scared I pray and ask God to help me fear Him more than I fear man (Matthew 10:28). I ask Him to help me be more fearful for the fate of the souls cast into hell than I am for my own well being or reputation (Luke 6:26).

What is “open air preaching?” And why should more churches and Christians be aware and involved in it?

Open-air preaching is the public proclamation of the Gospel message.

More churches should be involved in it simply because it is Biblical.

Noah was a “herald of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5). Solomon addressed the entire nation of Israel “with a loud voice” (1 Kings 8:54-56). Ezra called the people of Israel to repentance as they sat in the “open square” (Ezra 10:9-14). Ezra read the law of God and explained it to the people of Israel while standing before them (Nehemiah 8:1-8). Jeremiah stood at the gate of the Lord’s House and “proclaimed” the very words of God (Jeremiah 7:1-3). Jonah preached on the streets of Nineveh (Jonah 3:1-5). The prophets of old were hated by the people, because they heralded the word of God at the city gates (Isaiah 5:29; Amos 5:10). The first street preacher, the first to herald the good news in the open-air, was John the Baptist (Matthew 3:1-2; Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3). Jesus sat atop a hill and preached the greatest sermon ever preached in the open-air — the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Jesus’s disciples preached on the streets in many villages (Luke 9:5-7).

Peter preached in the open-air at Solomon’s Portico, after healing the lame beggar (Acts 3:11-26). Philip preached the gospel to large crowds on the streets of the city of Samaria (Acts 8:6-8). Paul preached the gospel to the entire city of Antioch. He was viciously heckled, yet all those whom God had appointed to be saved believed the gospel (Acts 13:44-52). Apollos boldly and publicly refuted the Jews and proclaimed Christ Jesus in Achaia (Acts 18:27-28). Paul stood before the judiciary of Athens, atop of Mars Hill, and preached to the men of Athens in the open-air (Acts 17:22-34).

It has always been a part of Christianity, including the early church fathers, the pre-reformation teachers of the Middle Ages, the reformers, the Puritans, the pastors and circuit preachers of the Great Awakening, the revivalists of the early 20th century.

How do you use the Bible in your evangelism?

The Bible should be central to all forms of evangelism. We preach from the Bible, we answer people in one to one conversations with the Bible, our tracts should be filled with the Bible.

Why?

Because….

Romans 10:17
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

This verse doesn’t say faith comes by evidence (Romans 1:18-23 already says God has given enough evidence through the creation to make all people without excuse for denying him). Faith doesn’t come by niceness, or pizza parties, or ultimate frisbee, it comes by hearing the Word.

Look also at what Paul tells Timothy in his second letter to his son in the faith.

2 Timothy 3:14–17
[14] But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it [15] and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings,which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. [16] All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, [17] that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

This text shows that one (specifically Timothy here) is able to even receive saving knowledge of Christ through the Old Testament scriptures.

Hebrews 4:12
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

We see here that the word of God is able to pierce a person and reveal the condition of their heart.

Ephesians 6:17 describes the word of God similarly to Hebrews 4 when it calls it the sword of the Spirit.

What would you say to a person who is concerned about being “too confrontational” when they have to talk about sin and hell to an unbeliever?

I would tell them to pray.

I would tell them they need to love their neighbor as they love themselves.

I would say that fear in evangelism is pride.

The greatest hate crime is allowing the lost to go to hell unwarned, unpleaded with, and unprayed for.

What gives you the greatest joy when you’re evangelizing?

There are many things. It’s too hard to narrow to just one.

First, there is joy in the humbling privilege of being part of God’s Great Co-Mission to save His people.

Second, there is a sense of nearness to the Lord in walking in obedience to Him.

Third, I rejoice seeing the truths of the Bible come alive before my eyes.

Fourth, there’s joy in knowing that He is always working whether I can see a tangible result in that moment or not.

Lastly, there’s joy in trusting in the promises of God.

What are some of the things you’ve seen in open-air preaching that would be most “eye opening” and surprising to the average church member?

How often you see the truths of Scripture come alive right before your eyes.  I’ve seen God sober up those who were stone drunk, completely calm those who are enraged, humble the proud and haughty, all through the simple proclamation of His word.

Many wonderful conversations and encounters do happen. The lost become found by God’s power, God’s Spirit, and Christian’s feeble, simple obedience.  Hallelujah!

How can pastors and local churches encourage individuals to become more evangelistic, and feed a passion for the lost?

First, by obeying God’s command for pastors to do the work of an evangelist themselves (2 Timothy 4:5).  Most church members will not exceed their pastor’s zeal or labor in any area.  The most evangelistic churches I’ve seen had the most evangelistic pastors, whether it was personal or public evangelism or both. Pastors must lead or the church will not follow.

Second, talking about the need to evangelize in their sermons.

Third, teaching on evangelism.

How do you think the church in America is doing when it comes to evangelism? What discourages you, and what encourages you?

That’s a tough question.

I’m encouraged by:

I believe a small number of churches are doing well, mostly in the area of personal evangelism. Most born-again believers who are fed the word of God and in a good local church will do some evangelism of the people in their lives (friends, family, co-workers, neighbors). Most churches like this are led by pastors/elders who are evangelistic themselves.

I’m discouraged by: The hundreds of professing Christian church members that have interrupted, maligned, and even cursed the public proclamation of the Gospel.

Many churches are doing acts of service (construction projects, community clean ups, feeding, water bottles) or activities (Community Cook Outs, Easter Egg hunts, Trunk or Treat)  and calling them evangelism, although they are not. There is nothing wrong with doing these things, but if the Gospel is never proclaimed to anyone then it is not evangelism.  Oftentimes these types of things may include some ‘cheap grace’ type message (repeat a prayer after me and you’ll be saved, raise your hand if you want to follow, etc.) that is not the Gospel at all.

In regards to many solid churches, I believe that discipleship has become the main focus (discipleship is commanded and good) while evangelism is largely ignored. That is, the ‘discipleship cart’ is placed before the evangelism horse.  People must be converted to Christ before they can be discipled (Romans 10:13-15). A lost person cannot be discipled.

Public evangelism has become largely ignored and often even maligned or even mocked among many SBC churches [The Southern Baptist Convention, which is the denomination Bobby belongs to].  I believe that this is because they believe more in their corporate-like strategies than they do they power of the word (Hebrews 4:12). Many within our churches (even and especially pastors) have fallen victim to what I might call “the idol of reputation,” that is, they desire to be thought well of by everyone and they are either ashamed of the Gospel and/or unwilling to bear the reproach of Christ.

What role does the Holy Spirit play in your evangelism?

I pray that my words are brought forth by the Spirit. The Spirit also gives discernment in what to preach, how to preach, and how to deal with different people. The Spirit brings forth all His fruits in evangelism, as they are all needed at times during evangelism.

Dont forget to check out the first interview here!

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