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.
WHERE IT IS TODAY
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.
USE AND MISUSE
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.
SOME PRACTICAL IDEAS
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.
A communication service of Shepherd’s Basic Care, for those committed to the authority and sufficiency of the Bible. Shepherd’s Basic Care is a ministry of information and encouragement to pastors, missionaries, and churches. Write for information using the e-mail address- firstname.lastname@example.org