Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The invitation

This past Sunday my wife and I visited a small, rural church led by a bivocational pastor.  I've known this pastor for a number of years and have always been impressed by his life and the way he goes about his ministry.  As the service ended my wife looked at me and said, "For once someone told people how they can ask Jesus Christ into their heart."  As we left the building she told him how often she is disappointed that so many of the churches we visit end their services without ever telling people how they can become a Christian and giving them an opportunity to do so.  She told him how much she appreciated the invitation he gave.  When we drove away from the parking lot she said that I needed a lot more pastors like him in my churches.

She's right.  We visit a number of churches that may give an invitation at the close of the service but at no point does anyone ever explain how people can respond.  I'm old-fashioned enough to believe that people need to be told they can invite Christ to become their Lord and Savior at the end of the service.  The pastor can then pray with those who respond at that time or take them to a prayer room or office to more fully explain what becoming a Christian means.  I always tell the congregations I preach to that I am available to pray with them if they want to come forward for prayer for anything.  I then take that one step further and tell them that even though many Baptists seem to have forgotten the old-time prayer altar there are times when people don't need to talk to a preacher; they just need to talk to God, and I invite them to come forward and kneel around the front of the church and pray about anything that may be troubling them.  I have been surprised at the number of people who do that even though that is not normally done in their church.

I do not understand the mindset of some churches today.  Some churches offer a good worship experience that allows people to connect with God, they have a good message that is biblically sound, but then they fail to give people an opportunity to respond to what they've experienced.  It seems to me that the natural flow of things would be to give people that opportunity at the end of the service.

Is it possible that there are people who attend our churches faithfully who desire to know more about how to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ but leave each week frustrated that they still don't know how to experience that?  I think it is possible, and it's unnecessary.  I encourage every pastor reading this to spend some time each week telling people how they can experience a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and then allow them an opportunity to do that during the invitation.

Some might argue saying that everyone who attends their church is already a Christian so such an invitation is not needed.  If that's true then there is a big failure on the part of your church to reach out to the unchurched community around your church.  But, are you sure that's true?  Billy Graham once estimated that as many as one-half of the church members in the US were not saved.  Not only do we have a huge mission field surrounding our churches, many of our churches have a large mission field sitting in their pews and on their boards and committees each week.  Through an invitation God might be able to reach into their hearts and lead them to Him.  We need to give such an invitation each week to those who attend our services and then trust God to do the rest.

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