May 15, 2016

The Invitation by Dr. Clay Nuttall

Let me begin with a warning: this monthly article is meant to incite discussion.  If you read it only until you are offended, you have missed the point.  This issue takes aim at the extremes surrounding the “invitation.”  We use this term almost every day in some way or other.  In the end, I want us to consider what has been termed the “altar call.”  Invitations are not bad.  Jesus often gave invitations, beginning with one to His disciples.  (Matthew 4:18-22)  Andrew followed that example.  (John 1:41-43)

An open invitation at the end of a meeting is a relatively new thing in church circles.  During the great periods of revival, it was used in evangelism.  It then became a popular tool in conservative churches.  Even if some did not like the idea, at its heart it was, and is, effective.


Among churches headed toward the flawed “emerging church” trend, there is a growing disdain of the practice, some of which is encouraged by certain historical theological elements.  There are also churches that have become discouraged with this tool because of its excesses and misguided use.  There are even some churches that ought to forget about giving an invitation, since they have nothing to invite people to, anyway!

The danger in excluding it completely is that its rejection derives from cultural arguments rather than from scripture.  The mob mentality dictates that as soon as they are able, everyone has to follow the “change culture” that scraps all old things.  We are told that the “millennials” can’t be reached with anything other than what they demand.  It is sad that people have forgotten that all generations, including this one, have the same need.  We are all sinners and need the God of the Word and the Word of God.

A good number of conservative churches continue the practice.  The problem is that we so seldom evaluate ministry.  If we do, it offends some folks who think they are more important than the work of God.  Rather than searching for the value of this practice, they go on tripping over all kinds of obstacles.  That may be one of the reasons why there so few churches anymore who are seeing real conversions over the period of a year, rather than seeing people saved “daily” as God intended.  (Acts 2:47)  Now that I have made everyone mad, let me add some constructive advice.


One of the major traps of “culture authority” is that you are obligated to follow the methods that everyone else is using.  To be considered relevant, you have to use all the “stuff” that others are using.  What the devil could not accomplish outside the church he has now done inside the church.  This is not a new problem; among conservative churches, the same mentality has existed for a long time.  The idea is that if I want to have the largest church in the area, I will have to use the same tools others use, whether good or bad.

With that in place, all of us need to take a good look at the use of an open invitation in order to see what and why adjustments may be helpful.  We are not, and should not feel obligated to do what others do in their churches.  Any adjustments, however, need to make sense in order to be effective.

If you dare, take a look at the extremes.  We should indeed present the gospel clearly, and we should offer a way for further explanation and reception of the message.  A carefully crafted invitation can do that.  Our task is to sow the seed, but it is God who gives the increase.  High-pressure invitations are highly questionable.  Giving an opportunity to come forward is not the question, but extending an invitation until everyone is “down front” is questionable.  The invitation is often confusing rather than being pointed and clear.  By the time an invitation is given, things should have been made so clear that long explanations are not necessary.  The Holy Spirit can and will work when God’s message has been presented clearly.


There are some excellent illustrations of how to use an effective invitation.  I will refrain from recommending certain names because that gets in the way, but there are some speakers who do get it right.  A well-ordered message will tell the listeners what is going to be said, and it can be summarized quickly afterward.  This comes from the old country preacher who said, “I tells them what I is going to tell them, then I tells them, then I tells them what I told them.”  So from the very beginning the listener should know what to expect and what is expected of her/him.  At the end, all that remains is to quickly open the door and invite them to respond down a clear path.

A well-ordered message flows swiftly into the conclusion and the opportunity to respond.  It should not become an obstacle, but should remain an opportunity.  One of the keys is to never refer to time.  The listener ought not to be able to anticipate the transition; this way the attention of the lost person is never broken.  His mind is on his need and the answer the preacher has given, and one question remains: What will I do with Jesus?  Distractions spell disaster when it comes to closing a message.  There is no law saying that we have to sing, even if it is helpful at times.  Singing a dozen verses of a hymn is most often a distraction.  If you haven’t made the message clear at this point, a last-minute explanation can be a distraction.

When you get over being mad about this, take some time to think it over.  Most people aren’t opposed to an invitation; actually, they are opposed to distractions.

Shepherd’s Staff is prepared by Clay Nuttall, D. Min.


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May 5, 2016

Book of Acts Arithmetic

“And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly…”  
(Acts 6:7) 
Dr. Rick Flanders
Any reader of the divinely-inspired record of early Christianity written in the Acts of the Apostles will note the attention given to numbers.  Those who were “saved” in the days after the coming of the Holy Spirit were “added to the church” (Acts 2:41 and 47).  Then later, “believers were the more added to the Lord” as the evangelism continued in Jerusalem (Acts 5:14).  The math begins with addition.  Then we read that “the number of the disciples was multiplied,” and “multiplied in Jerusalem greatly” (Acts 6:1 and 7).  When persecution of the Christians subsided in Palestine, “the churches…were multiplied” (Acts 9:31).  Not only did the membership of the early churches multiply, the number of churches multiplied.  As evangelistic Christians travelled to Phoenicia and Syria, “the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord” (Acts 11:19-21).  Through the life and ministry of Barnabas, “much people was added unto the Lord” (Acts 11:24).  We then read about churches in many places that were “established in the faith, and increased in number daily” (Acts 16:5).  We find that because of the preaching of the Gospel in a certain city, “a great multitude” believed, and that “not a few” of the “chief women” became believers (Acts 17:4).  To the inspired writer of Acts, more was better than less.  We understand that God is interested in adding people to churches, multiplying the membership numbers, and eventually in multiplying the number of churches in any part of the world.  We ought to pay attention to this scriptural math, and to its theological meaning.
Several important spiritual facts can be gleaned from studying Acts arithmetic.
  1. When the church is healthy, new converts will be joining.  Jesus teaches us in the book of John that healthy Christianity is lived by the principle, “Abide in Me” (read John 15:1-8).  When a believer lives his life absolutely submitted to the will of Christ (John 15:9-10) and in total dependence on Him for power to live and serve Him, he can expect to reproduce.  The fruit-bearing of John 15 is reproduction, Christians producing new Christians through divinely empowered evangelism.  The first church was full of abiding-in-Christ believers (or “filled with the Holy Ghost”) after the day of Pentecost, and the result was amazing reproduction (see Acts 2:37-47).  New believers were being added to the church every day for a time.  This is what can be expected when we are living in Christ as we should.  There certainly should be addition.
  2. When discipleship is the emphasis of the work of the church, as well as evangelism, we can expect the growth to rise to multiplication.  And the reason is obvious to anyone who knows anything about math and about Christian discipleship.  Discipleship in the New Testament had to do with how we live, and the call to discipleship was, “Follow Me” (read Matthew 4:18-25, 8:18-23, and 9:9).  Disciples of Jesus are followers of Jesus.  They seek to follow His teachings, His example, and His leadership.  We believe on Jesus to be saved, and we follow Him to be His disciples.  And every believer in Jesus has a moral obligation to live as a follower of Jesus.  That’s why Jesus said to “those Jews which believed on him, if ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32).  It’s also why Romans 12:1 beseeches us on the basis of God’s mercy to us as believers to present our bodies as a living sacrifice to God in the service of Ghost, were multiplied” (Acts 9:31).  Because of the great persecution waged against the Jerusalem church, “they were scattered abroad” and “went every where preaching the Christ. Believers in Jesus, saved people, have the duty to live for the One Who died for them (see also Second Corinthians 5:14-15). And they need training to know how to do so. This is the reason why, in the book of Acts, believers who join the church by baptism are called “disciples” (notice this in 6:1, 6:7, 9:1-2, 9:10, 9:22-28, 9:36-38, 11:26-30, 14:21-22 [where the word translated “taught” comes from the word “disciple” and means to make disciples], 19:1-7, 20:1, 20:7, 21:3-4, and 21:16-17). It means that when believers joined the church, they were signing up to be disciples. They would be trained to be true followers of Jesus Christ (remember the instructions our Lord gave us in Matthew 28:16-20, where the word for “teach” in verse 19 is translated from the Greek word for making disciples, and the word “teaching” in verse 20 means instructing the would-be disciples). When the church is training believers as disciples the result is multiplication. The new converts will soon have the know-how and the faith to reproduce themselves, and to instruct their spiritual children to reproduce themselves. Just do the math. The disciples will multiply. Effective evangelism will add believers to the church, and intense discipleship will multiply them. Soul-winning churches ought to become disciple-making churches.
  3. Growing congregations should be expected eventually to plant new churches. This is what happened when the churches, “walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy word” (Acts 8:4).  The Lord was and is serious about the fulfillment of the Great Commission, given for the last time in Acts 1:8.  Because the first church didn’t move past the first stage of evangelizing their own city, he forced them to go forward to the next stages of the Acts 1:8 program by sending them withering persecution.  As a result, “they were scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria” (compare Acts 8:1 with Acts 1:8).  These scattered Christians evangelized new areas and started new churches (review chapters 8 and 9).  After a while, the scattered disciples actually “travelled” to new areas deliberately to evangelize the people and found new churches (read chapter 11).  And one of the churches planted in this time of multiplying churches became the first missionary church, sending some of their own to regions beyond them to preach the Gospel and start new churches all over the world (see Second Corinthians 10:14-17, and watch the missionaries work, producing believers through the preaching of the Gospel, multiplying disciples by instructing believers, and multiplying the churches, in Acts 13, 14, 16, 17, 18, and 19).  This scenario is what we should be seeing in the world today.  And as God revives us, putting us back into His program, we will.
  4. Increasing numbers of believers, of church-members, and of New Testament churches must be the hope and prayer of every dedicated Christian.  Now, of course, the increase of the numbers is not the ultimate goal.  The membership and attendance at the Jerusalem church was devastated in Acts 8:1 by divine design.  But the spread of the Gospel and the forwarding of the Great Commission were accomplished.  The ultimate goal of our lives and churches is the fulfillment of God’s will to His glory.  But His promises and His revealed plans include addition and multiplication.  This is not numerical growth at any price, but it is also not “numbers don’t matter.”  More saved and serving God is certainly on some level better than fewer enlisted in the Lord’s army, from a Biblical perspective.
  5. We can expect a plentiful harvest if we follow God’s plan.  Those in our day who expand their church attendance by abandoning God’s plan fail to glorify and please Him, and also ultimately fail to reach their own goals.Those who follow God’s plan for evangelizing the world not only do the right thing, but also do it in the right way!  God’s plan for us in the New Testament age is Acts 1:8.
“But ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me, both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”
Notice the steps we must take.  First we must engage in vertical action.  The power to be witnesses is God’s power.  We must be filled with the Spirit before we engage in horizontal action among our fellowmen.  In Acts, they engaged in intense and prolonged prayer meetings in order to come into union with the Lord for the work He had given them to do (find such prayer meetings in chapters 1, 2, and 4).  Then we must evangelize our cities, our countries, and the next countries, in ever-widening circles of labor (Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria).  This was done everywhere in just this way.  Then we must establish new churches in order that our witness can be “both” here at home and “unto the uttermost part of the earth.”  The role of churches is vital to world-wide evangelization.  Romans 10:9-15 has the message of salvation being preached at home by the believers here, and elsewhere by preachers they have “sent.”  And this pattern is what we can see in the book of Acts.  Every church had a global witness by evangelizing its own city and area and then sending people to evangelize in places far and wide.  When all of this is done in the power of the Holy Spirit, the Cause of Christ prospers according to book of Acts arithmetic!  And this miraculous progress of the Gospel is the great need of the world in our time.

Every Spirit-filled Christian can expect to see new believers “added” to the Lord through his witness, as did Barnabas, of whom it is said that “he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost, and of faith, and much people was added unto the Lord” (Acts 11:24).  John 15 says that one who abides in Christ will not only bear His fruit, but actually “much fruit.”

Every revived church can expect, based on faith in what the Lord says, to add members regularly who have been converted to Christ, and eventually to start multiplying.  As the people of God in general experience revival, we will begin to see the churches start new churches regularly.  The appearance of Bible-believing Christianity will change phenomenally according to Acts arithmetic, and in many places the Gospel will powerfully prevail (look at Acts 19:10-20).

The numbers and the math in the book of Acts give us insight into what to expect when New Testament Christianity is restored.  All of this scriptural material gives us more motivation to pray every day for revival in our lives and in our churches, and to believe that what God has told us in Acts is what we can expect Him to do through us.  Let God’s servants get back to God’s program, and go forward by faith in the God Whose program we are following.The world in which we live is in desperate need of renewed, revitalized, and aggressive Christianity, such as we view in the book of Acts.
Dr. Rick Flanders