If you have ever preached in the open air, you will know that there are a number of fears you have to overcome. There is your own natural fear -- that your mind may go blank and you will make a fool of yourself in front of a crowd of people. There's the fear of being asked a question you can't answer, or of attracting an angry heckler. But there is actually a bigger fear you will have to learn to live with.

It's the fear of having a crowd gather and then scattering them as soon as they hear what you have to say.

It's disheartening to pray for listeners, have them gather, and then watch them walk away while you are still speaking. That's why I pray for a good heckler. A good (angry) heckler can take a crowd of three people and make them three hundred in a matter of three minutes; and if you learn to handle yourself and the heckler right, the crowd will stay.

There are some people who think differently. They don't mind standing up publicly, opening a Bible, and talking to no one. However, that doesn't look good, and it confirms in the mind of those that pass by that open air preachers are weirdos. They talk to themselves. Publicly. Sadly, much of the reproach leveled at open air preachers has nothing to do with the message they preach, but rather how they present themselves.

The problem is that the modern day open air preacher in the United States carries a lot of unwanted baggage. The moment he (or she) stands up to preach with a Bible in hand, he becomes the victim of prejudice. He is immediately lumped in with the wide-eyed sign-carrying "The end is nigh" folks, or the money-hungry televangelists, pedophile priests, simple-minded Bible-quoting creationists and snake-handling fanatics. That's why I don't hold a Bible in my hand when I preach, and why I rarely mention spiritual things when I begin speaking. Scripture warns us that the ungodly think that spiritual things are foolish (1 Corinthians 2:14), so if I want them to gather and then stay to listen to the gospel, I have to know how to hold their interest.

There are learned skills involved in fishing, and perhaps one of the first is to use good bait and to know how to use that bait to disguise the hook. The average fish isn't stupid.

A year or so ago, someone gave us hundreds of brand new stuffed toys, so we began using them to attract fish. We would stand up with a hand full of toys, ask trivia questions, and give them away to those who gave the correct answers. Then, after gaining a semblance of credibility with the crowd, we would swing to spiritual things, and more than often the crowd would stay and listen to the gospel.

There are some that would say that using stuffed toys to attract a crowd is the old "bait and switch" trick. I suppose you could call it that. We begin with the "bait" of toys, and then we "switch" to the things of God. Most of our tracts do that. They begin in the natural realm before they swing to the spiritual. Jesus did that with the woman at the well in John chapter four. He didn't sit on the well and tell her that she would have to drink His blood and eat His flesh to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. She may have thought that that sounded a little strange. Instead He spoke to her about water. That was something she could understand. Then He swung to the topic of her salvation. That wasn't deceitful. It wasn't a "bait and switch" con trick. That was wise. It was exercising discretion.

I love what someone who shared his faith said, when he was criticized by someone who wasn't involved in evangelism. He gently replied, "Well, I like the way I do it better than the way you don't."

Water Running Uphill