By Daniel L Akin
I acknowledge that the public invitation, like many spiritual and religious practices, is open to abuse and manipulation. However, the solution is not to kill it but redeem it. We need to extend it in a manner that is biblical, authentic, and Christ-honoring, all to the glory of God. Key concepts in doing it in this manner are motivation and information. In that context, I note 10 components of a good and responsible invitation.
- Good invitations are given with integrity. The key to avoiding manipulation is to examine your motives. Why are you inviting people to trust Christ and believe God? Are you attempting to get them to come forward to stroke your ego and tally numbers, or are you seeking to urge them to believe the gospel and trusting God’s Spirit to do the work that only He can do in their hearts?
- Good invitations are gospel-centered. Biblical heralds are heralds of the good news of who Jesus is and what Jesus has done to reconcile sinners to God. The Bible is faithfully proclaimed, Christ and his cross are beautifully exalted, and the lost are urged to trust Jesus and Jesus alone for salvation. Because the gospel is multi-faceted, our invitations should be as well. There is absolutely no reason to fall into a rut saying the same thing the same way every time. Let the text drive and guide your invitation.
- Good invitations are clear in what we are asking our listeners to do. We must be clear that the call to come forward, to raise your hand, or to sign a card does not save. We are saved when we trust in Christ and believe the gospel. Coming forward or even praying the sinner’s prayer is, however, an opportunity to fortify one’s decision for Christ that has been made in the heart. Billy Graham notes, “There’s something about coming forward publicly out from the crowd, saying, ‘I receive Christ.’ It settles it in your heart.”
- Good invitations are sensitive to the makeup of the congregation. A faithful pastor, or evangelist for that matter, will not manipulate the emotions of those susceptible to such tactics and tricks. We have children particularly in mind.
- Good invitations avoid using Christian jargon and “the language of Zion” without a clear and precise explanation of what those terms mean. Non-believers are less churched and less theologically informed than at any other time in our history. Even our church members are far too often theologically ignorant of the great truths embedded in a biblical vocabulary. Our goal is always to communicate the gospel and all its implications well. Otherwise, we will only confuse, frustrate, and alienate those we are trying to reach.
- Good invitations recognize faithful biblical preaching, which is guided by a Christocentric hermeneutic, and plays a key role in calling people to trust and follow Christ. Herbert Arrowsmith is correct, “Exposition is the best evangelism. It is still true that the Spirit of God takes the Word of God to make a child of God.”
- Good invitations are characterized by clear instructions and explanations. Leighton Ford writes, “People need to know what responding to your invitation means and what it does not mean.”Your people should well understand to whom the call is directed, what they should do, and why they should do it. Are they to respond to the call of salvation? Baptism? Church membership? Vocational service? Consecration of life? Repentance from sin and a pattern of disobedience?
- Good invitations will provide competent, well-trained counselors who have both a good location and the time to do their job right. If you do your job, they can do theirs.
- Good invitations will be warm and personal, but also urgent and direct. They will be extended in a time frame that is balanced and establishes a high level of trust in the preacher who is calling them to respond to the gospel. Our people should always believe we have their best interest at heart.
- Good invitations have a sense of expectancy grounded in the promise of God that his Word will not return void but will accomplish what he desires (Isa 55:11). Roy Fish shares an insightful story in this context: “On one occasion, a young student of Spurgeon came to the great preacher complaining that he wasn’t seeing conversions through his preaching. Spurgeon inquired, ‘Surely you don’t expect conversions every time you preach, do you?’ The young man replied, ‘Well, I suppose not.’ Spurgeon then said, ‘That’s precisely why you are not having them.’”
What would add to this list?
Adapted from Engaging Exposition (B&H Publishing Group, 2011)