Spirit Alive: Where Do You Do Your Field Preaching?

Spirit Alive is a twice a month blog that looks at different aspects of mission and ministry throughout the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference and beyond.

With Heart, Soul, and Mind:

Maybe We Just Need to Get Outside More Often?

April 26, 2016
"I believe I never was more acceptable to my Master than when I was standing to teach hearers in the open fields...I now preach to ten times more people than I should, if had been confined to the churches."
George Whitefield (1714-1770)
It' spring...and it's a good time to get outside. A few years ago, Susan and I traveled to Zion and Bryce National Parks in Southwestern Utah. Both parks offer great places to get outside and hike. While we were there, I bought a shirt with a picture of someone hiking along a trail that had scenery of rocks and water in the foreground. The shirt simply said: "Forget the box...just get outside. Zion National Park, Utah." It was a nice play on the words related to this common expression: "Think outside the box."
As United Methodists, with all our focus on John and Charles Wesley, we often overlook the significant contributions that George Whitefield made to the great revival that was embodied in Methodism. It was Whitefield who initially led Wesley from the church pulpit out into the the streets and commons to preach in unconventional places such as fields, coal mines, cemeteries, and even in places where scaffolds were standing in the background. It was as if Whitefield had decided to forget the box and just get outside! And in each of these outdoor settings, large crowds gathered to hear these great preachers proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ....and they came by the thousands!
George Whitefield (1714-1770) In one section of Whitefield's journal about his preaching at Moorfields in England, he recorded the following sermon dates...along with the estimated crowds that attended each day. Here's what Whitefield's count looked like:
May 2  10,000, May 5  20,000, May 6  20,000, May 8  20,000,
May 9  20,000, May 10 10,000, May 12 20,000,  and on May 13 there was an unbelievable crowd of 60,000 (although Whitefield notes in his journal that "...many went away because they could not hear.")
If you are wondering what this might actually look like, think about Whitefield preaching to a capacity crowd at a Portland Timbers soccer game, with the Timber's Army all present (approximately 21,000 in all), nearly every day for eleven days.
And if you doubt Whitefield's numbers, no less an authority on measurement than Benjamin Franklin, decided that he wanted to determine the distance at which Whitefield's voice could be heard and concluded "I computed he might be heard by more than thirty thousand." Whitefield was clearly a man with a big voice, a powerful witness, and an even greater impact. 
In the process, he convinced John Wesley that maybe he needed to get out of his comfort zone a bit as well in order to connect more effectively with people in his community. And so in April 1739, Whitefield invited Wesley to preach outdoors in Bristol, and Wesley accepted the invitation.
At first Wesley wasn't too sure about this new way of doing things, so he wrote in his journal: "At four in the afternoon, I submitted to be more vile, and proclaimed in the highways the glad tidings of salvation, speaking  from a little eminence in a ground adjoining to the city, to about three thousand people." Initially, it wasn't what Wesley had in mind for how to reach others, but the idea quickly took hold of him, and he became known as one of England's "open field preachers."
So it raises the question for each of us as well: What "open field" is available to you to consider as a way of sharing the Good News...not so much as a preacher, but as a Christian disciple?
In short, where do you need to position yourself in order to find your voice and impact the world in ways that touch others who really aren't interested in coming inside our church buildings to learn about Christian discipleship in conventional terms? You don't have to be "a preacher" to discover your voice and share your witness with others.
The question is this: Where are the places in your life where you can share your faith most naturally and effectively with others? Indeed, like Wesley and Whitefield, we live in times that call for new approaches to being witnesses to the Way of Jesus Christ. So, what might those "open field" places look like for you?
And remember: "Forget the box...just get outside."
Blessings on your journey,
Spirit Alive is a twice a month blog and email by Rev. Lowell Greathouse, Mission and Ministry Coordinator for the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference. It seeks out where the spirit is alive in our congregations and communities.

Lowell Greathouse
Lowell Greathouse is the Mission and Ministry Coordinator for the Oregon-Idaho Conference of the United Methodist Church. He looks for places to find where the spirit is alive and help them grow in vitality and fruitfulness. Share with him at lowell@umoi.org