On Good Friday the churches in the town centre of Doncaster got together for a walk of witness. Moving from the Mansion House (Doncaster’s Town Hall) to the Market Place and then through the main shopping street to Priory Methodist Church we heard Mark’s account of the death of Jesus.
I preached in the Market Place. It was my first experience of outdoor preaching. I had the “help” of a microphone and a small amp. I raised my voice to as high as it could go. The people directly in front of me could hear fine but after the event I found out that those on the edge of the crowd couldn’t hear a thing.
When I agreed to preach at this event I made the quip that I would be reading up on George Whitefield. Whitefield was a Church of England minister who pioneered outdoor preaching in the 18th Century. He would regularly preach to crowds of upwards of 10,000 people in both Britain and the American colonies. Benjamin Franklin tells a great story of how he wandered the crowds in Philadelphia in disbelief that there were up to 25,000 people who could hear Whitefield clearly.
Of course, the world of the 1700s was very different from the world of today. I had to compete with the market traders, the shops blaring music out, the traffic noises and the planes from Robin Hood Airport. That’s without all the visual stimuli about – my wife says she had to drag her eyes away from the shop windows to concentrate on what was going on as we walked through the town centre.
Whitefield had few of those distractions. He had the odd heckler but none of the background noise. He could preach doctrinal sermons for two hours (I preached for ten minutes, if that). He preached the Gospel with power to thousands and God did great things through the Englishman. However, despite his solid doctrine, he did lay the foundations for the later excesses of “evangelicalism”, where the event was more important than the message.
I felt blessed to preach the cross in that environment. I would do it again in a heartbeat. But don’t take me away from my pulpit and the regular feeding of the flock. I praise God for Whitefield and pray he would raise up more like him but I think I’m some way off.