It is a tradition in traditional churches of Christ, and perhaps others, to announce the number of the “invitation song” before the preacher begins his sermon. It is a practice as ingrained as the Lords’s Supper. What is almost as certain is that no one will accept the “invitation“.
How is it in your church. Do you have an invitation each service? What is it like? Is it necessary? These are odd questions huh?
Why have an invitation just for the sake of having an invitation just because that is the way we do it? The preacher can preach on any subject, and with no personal application, and then tack on a statement like “If you are not a Christian or if you have just gotten off course this is your time to respond”. I want to ask “Respond to what?”
Sunday morning worship is not a good time for evangelism. Unless the good seed has been sown at some other time of the week there is not likely going to be a great harvest of new converts on Sunday. It seems to me the invitation is an opportunity to respond to the Bible lesson just completed. At a minimum it is primarily that. My experience is that many sermons have no challenge to life change. A twenty-minute devotional is not bad but does not require an invitation in my view.
Unless the preacher actually preaches the gospel (good news about Jesus and what he has accomplished for sinners) it is very odd indeed to ask people to respond to an offer that has not been presented. Lost people do not learn the good news by osmosis, they have to hear it or read it to know it. Don’t claim to be a “gospel preacher” unless you frequently preach the gospel!
Invitation as family time. Many of us at White’s Ferry Road church refer to our congregation as our “forever family“. And, indeed they are. When the invitation is given at WFR it is unlike most other churches I have ever experienced. People come forward to openly confess sin and ask forgiveness, they come to ask for prayer about some health issue (and often to be anointed and prayed for be the elders), they come to solicit prayer for marriage troubles, job loss, wayward children, etc. And, of course, some to come to make their decision to follow Jesus public and we baptize them and welcome them into our forever family with a loud applause and cheers.
What is interesting about the invitation time at WFR is that no one ever comes alone. Usually they are accompanied by close friends who got to know that person in a small group or a shared ministry experience. Or if it is someone new to our church those sitting on the pew beside them will go forward with them when they respond. This family time is a cherished event, often taking 20 or 30 minutes and no one seems to mind. It is safe place where people know in advance they will be loved and not judged, forgiven and not expelled. It is a wonderful illustration of a church with no pretenses of sinless perfection, but rather is real, authentic followers of Jesus, loving each other and together moving toward Christ likeness.
What is it like at your church? Is it something you look forward to? Or is it something you dread? One thing is sure. If the leadership of your church is not transparent about their own lives the invitation will likely be just a formal part of the service each week with few ever responding. Good leaders lead by example and not one leader in any church is perfectly righteous. It is good for everyone to just admit it and stop pretending it isn’t true.
Now for the invitation….your comments are welcome and encouraged.
AMEN! I could go on about this subject. Why do we want to evangelize the evangelized? Why do we keep trying? And why do we think that is the only place it can happen? You are right on!
I did some posts a while back on the invitation. I think it deserves some looking into.
One local church has “Garden of Prayer” instead of an invitation. The elders walk the aisles and pray with any who need prayer. Members pray with one another. It’s a neat time.
Grace and peace,
Wow, your last paragraph really strikes me. I am 34 and grew up in coc’s from New Mexico to Tennessee and now Florida. I realize that I have never seen, to my recollection, an elder go forward to confess sin, admit a struggle or seek prayers. What I HAVE seen is a handful of elders admit to some sin or difficulty in a resignation letter. So what does that communicate? That a man who sins or struggles is no longer fit to be an elder. How did we reach that point. We hold our leaders and professional ministers on such a high pedestal that any perceived weakness is a disqualifier from their current position. Thus, they are afraid to show or admit any weakness or needs they have and as a result they have difficulty living as authentic Christians and authentic humans.
One of my favorite aspects of Hebrews 11 is that you can go through that last and almost to a person, you will find some record in the OT of doubts, sins and other weaknesses. These heroes of the faith were as flawed as I am and many times their slip ups were doozies. That tells me that doubt does not preclude faith, that weakness does not preclude God’s favor and that sin does not prevent one from being a leader of God’s people.
We need to change the culture in our churches that prevents our leaders from being genuine and honest. As you said, our leaders need to lead by example, but those of us in our congregations who are not leaders need to seek the forgiveness of our leaders for requiring of them standards that no human can meet.
Thank you for these thoughts.
One of the culture bearers at a church I used to work with once said that if a member went forward, it meant the congregation had failed. On the one hand, this attitude is right on-target: Christians really are responsible for helping and encouraging one another. On the other hand, and practically speaking, an implication of this attitude seemed to be, “Don’t you dare go forward; you’ll humiliate us all.”
Some messages don’t call for an invitation. Unfortunately this is the time the majority of evangelism is done in some churches. Somehow we must get past the idea tha “all” religion takes place on Sunday mornings between 11 and 12. Thanks for your thoughts.
I know of a Bible church in N E Texas that for many years never had an invitation yet there were scores of people baptized each year and their apparent devotion to Christ was admirable. Their logic was that they would allow the Holy Spirit to make the plea, not them. They wanted to avoid any possibility of human persuasion. Those who wanted to know about becoming a Christian were told they would need to talk to an elder or some other member where they could be helped.
A Sunday night baptismal service, wholly dedicated to the baptism of perhaps near a dozen, included their individual testimonies of God’s convicting them of sin and truth and why they were being immersed. It was powerful and a great time of praise and rejoicing.
Actually came by way of your blog through another blog where your views of grace and discipleship were very appreciated … well, by me anyway – the blogger was not too appreciative of your thoughts (you actually just quoted 1 John … very good stuff).
I agree with what you are saying here in that I think the real ministry of church happens during the week and in the communities … I love that people come together on Sunday to celebrate, worship, be equipped and taught – but the real ministry is in their homes, their work places, their schools, their gyms, etc. This means that our evangelism is not just done at the end of a service but in our daily lives … it is not just the pastor’s job to evangelize but EVERYONE carries the ball.
And yet I also see the importance of a response to what has been preached. Everything should drive to that response. I don’t want people to leave a service saying, “boy I sure learned something” … I want them to leave changed. So by the end of a message I would hope that the Spirit has been moving the listener to respond. How this looks can be totally varied … having people respond in silent prayer at their seat, having them break into groups or families to pray (seeing husbands and wives or dads praying with their whole family is so cool), having them come forward as an outward sign of an inward change, communion is really a response, even the last worship song can be the response (we can be intentional with that last song in that the whole message can be driven to that last song so that people can, if they choose, respond in worship), etc. etc.
I especially appreciate your last paragraph … until there is true humility and honesty and transparency that can only come when leaders live that out there will not be an openness that will lead to transformation. Well said.
So ya, I am so out on the canned gospel call at the end of every service and yet I don’t want to see us throw it all away … there is for sure a genuine way to do it … and I think you nailed it, that it is about genuine humility and honesty.
Thanks again for your thoughts … I hope to come back and visit the blog often!
I appreciate your thoughtful words. Please do come back.