I just read a good post by Jay Guin over at OneInJesus.info about the tradition of the invitation at the end of a worship service. It is a very good post and I recommend you read it. He made this statement which is very true.
In fact, we sometimes do baptize too hastily, without taking the time to be certain the person coming forward really understands the commitment being made.
Jay’s post caused me to remember a church I once visited in Texas. Countryside Bible Church is an independent, local church in Southlake, Texas. My wife and I, shortly after our marriage almost 10 years ago, visited there a few times. What an unusual church!
The singing was hearty and passionate, people were very friendly, and a leather bound Bible was given to each visitor by the ushers. The pastor preached a fiery message from the word of God and without a word, when he had finished his sermon, people got up from their seats and started to visit and file out of the building. I was in shock! What were they thinking, no invitation? I was amazed that after such a fine Bible lesson there would be no opportunity for people to respond.
The next time we visited there, we arrived a few minutes early, so I asked one of the men I had seen there before why there was invitation. His answer floored me! “We believe our job is to proclaim God’s truth” he began, “It’s up to the Holy Spirit to convince the listeners that it is true. If someone is here who is not saved, we wait until they come to the pastor or one of the members and express a desire to know God, to repent, or to report that they have trusted Christ and want to be baptised”. My astonished reply was something like, “So you never have an invitation?” The answer was “No, we don’t try to do what only God can do”. Initially I was stunned! I had never considered the impact of what I had just witnessed.
Later I learned that each year of the church’s history they baptised dozens and dozens of people, each of them coming to Christ with only the invitation by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.
I was there on a Sunday when 5 or 6 people, all adults that day, were baptised. Each of them stood in front of the congregation and told of how they came to understand they were lost, how they understood what Christ had done for them, and how they loved Him for it. Each spoke for 2 or 3 minutes. What was not so obvious was that each of them had previously spent time with an elder in private conversation so that they were reasonably sure the candidate truly did “believe with all of his heart” that the claims of the gospel were true. And, each of them sought someone else out to find out what they needed to do, no one pressured them to do anything.
My last visit there was in 2000. At that time they had 1,000 or more members, a fairly new facility on 10 acres which they had already outgrown, and were planning an expansion. They had never been in debt one penny and didn’t believe it was ok with God to do so. They seemed to be people of the Word, deeply devoted to Christ and to each other.
Let’s stand now for the invitation… How many hundreds of times have I heard those words when not one person in the room expected anything more than two verses of a song, a closing prayer, and everyone would head over to the restaurant or aunt Jenny’s house for lunch and some football. In fact, I have been in churches where they wouldn’t have had a clue what to do next if someone had come forward.
Charlie Knox, a fellow I worshp with is known for his “sayings“. One of my favorites is this one. “The difference between me and God is…He never tries to be me.” Is it possible we sometimes try to do the work that can’t be done by us?
“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12,13)
“since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.” (1 Peter 1:23)
I’m not a big fan of the invitation. When I’ve had to give one, I’ve often found myself facing a response from someone I didn’t even know. I’m much more comfortable with the method you describe.
One church here in Abilene practices “the garden of prayer.” Instead of an invitation, they have a time of prayer, with the elders walking up and down the aisles to pray with anyone who so desires. The members are encouraged to pray with one another. A song is sung quietly as all of this goes one. It’s often a very powerful moment.
Grace and peace,
Sounds as if that works well at your church.
Where I worship an invitation is given but WFR is an unusual church. The invitation is considered to be and is called “family time”. The elders stand along the front and some are in the rear. When anyone responds they are never alone. If its a member either a group from his house church or other small group ministry will come with him. But even if its a stranger no less than 4 to 6 people including an elder will sit with, kneel by, and embrace the one coming forward.
Our congregation is the most unusual congregation I have ever seen. Our folks have a passion to forgive, to heal, and to love those who come asking. A place where the focus is on Jesus and extending his grace to the needy is an easy place to do ministry including an invitation.
I love the thought of no invitation.
I have worshipped with a place that does that, I have also worshipped with a place like you describe
as your home church. A response is an excuse to love on and pray for somebody…..it is a breath of fresh
air for a girl trapped in a traditional place….
What a good way to describe an invitation such as ours. It is a very loving time. Our church as a whole is a safe place where unconditional love and forgiveness is more common than rare.
Royce, your story of the church in Texas reminded me that virtually all of the sermons in the Book of Acts are interrupted. Nobody invites anyone to do anything. Either believers want to know what’s next, or angry unbelievers “respond” to the provocation of the gospel, which they consider to be foolish and/or dangerous.
Of the Churches of Christ I know, it’s so ironic. The less likely it is that anyone will ever walk down the aisle,
the more likely it is that the church will have an invitation at the end of every sermon or sermonette.
Great insight, you are right on. You hit on something that seems to be forgotten. To most of those who hear the
good news about Jesus the message is offensive and a scandal. Only a few respond in a positive way.
I’m sure people are offended by us some times but I’m not sure it is for the right reasons.
I loved the story of the Bible Church in Texas. I remember when my mother visited our former church about 10 years ago. I think the preacher said something at the end of his sermon like, “If we can help you with anything, let us know.” (I have heard many invitations like that since then.) She was a little surprised that nothing like faith, repentance, or baptism was mentioned. But she thought about it, and decided that it was not exactly a requirement to say something like that every time.