more on invitations

As a follow-up to my earlier post, I’d like to comment on what I think are appropriate uses of the invitation.

First, I believe that every sermon should have some kind of appeal. There should be some kind of response required. That is what makes a sermon a sermon and not a lecture. Certainly one of our purposes in preaching is to inform, but our purpose always should be to persuade our hearers to make a spiritual decision of some kind. In a sense, the invitation should be a built-in component of our sermon. Lack of attention to this function of preaching may lend to the artificial character of many an invitation “tacked on” to the end of a service.

Second, I believe that not every sermon will require the same kind of response, nor will it require a response of every hearer. A sermon with an evangelistic impulse will not have a direct appeal to a converted hearer. Though an invitation may be implied or explicitly expressed in such a message, it obviously only applies to those who are not born again. A sermon with a call to some other response, that is, directed at Christians, calling them to modify some aspect of their Christian life, will only apply to those for whom real change is required – some hearers will already practice what the sermon calls for.

Nevertheless, in keeping with point one, every sermon should call for some response implicitly. I believe that most sermons should also call for some response explicitly, but that explicit call need not always or only be the “come forward” invitation. In some of the discussion following my original article, several suggestions were mentioned, many of which I have employed.

  • An invitation to meet with counselors in a designated inquirers room.
  • An invitation to meet with the pastor and/or counselors at designated places after the service.
  • An invitation to make an appointment with the pastor at another time.
  • An invitation to remain behind in the auditorium for prayer while others depart to a fellowship area of the premises.
  • An invitation to indicate a desire for counsel and/or for prayer by the raising of a hand.
  • Etc.

I am not opposed to a “come forward” style of invitation per se, but such invitations are most effective when the facilities are conducive to lead an enquirer to a private place for counsel and prayer. This presupposes facilities and trained counselors.

As stated in my previous article, invitations can easily be abused. The raising of hands, for example, should not be used to put pressure on individuals to make any other public response (“those of you who raised your hands, please stand”). In my opinion, it should only be used when the speaker will have opportunity for follow up or where the subsequent invitation allows the individual a free follow-up response (“if you raised your hand, please speak to the pastor after the service,” etc.).

When I was a young fellow (that is, in my early teens), I was part of a small local church. I recall my pastor regularly having an invitation following the evening service. We weren’t a large group on those evenings, pretty well the same people were there every time. Invariably, the same lady would go forward week after week, weeping about something. No doubt more was going on than I understood at that point, but surely this lady’s spiritual needs could have been dealt with better than by having a longish invitation after every service and having the same person come forward every time while the rest of the congregation waited for her to be dealt with and the pastor’s wife carried on with playing soft music on the organ week after week. I have disliked the atmosphere of such contrived invitations ever since.

On the other hand, I have been in services where a powerful plea for salvation went forth. The speaker seemed anointed from on high, the atmosphere was perfect, an invitation for salvation was given, several moved forward to be met by counselors and taken to a counseling room for their spiritual needs. No doubt many folks have come to a settled trust in the Lord through such experiences.

We ought not to disparage spiritual responses like that.

But we ought not attempt to duplicate the spiritual atmosphere of such invitations with contrived manifestations brought on by psychological manipulation either.