EDITORS’ NOTE: This is the second column in a three-part series on the role of evangelists within the Southern Baptist Convention.
FAYETTEVILLE, Ga. (BP)–Some time ago a woman asked me what gave me the right to give an invitation.
My answer: We give an invitation because we are commanded to do so. Peter did so at Pentecost. The first century Christians stood and said publicly that Jesus Christ is Lord. Anybody Jesus ever called, He called publicly. Even Nicodemus had to make his commitment to Christ in public.
The Greek word “parakaleo” is used at least five times in Scripture in the verb form in conjunction with preaching. It is translated as “exhort” and “beseech,” and always means to give a come-forward, stand-by-the-preacher, invitation. Every preacher is commanded to give a come-forward invitation in 2 Timothy 4:2 (the word “exhort”).
Never allow exhaustion or too much music or any circumstance stop you from giving the invitation. Evangelist Len Turner did not lead the congregation in the sinner’s prayer one night in a church revival in South Carolina. The service had gone long and he hurried the invitation. Shaking hands on the front porch of the church, he heard a collision of metal striking metal three blocks away. Sirens began to go off as an ambulance and police cars rushed to the scene. A man came running and called for the pastor. The mom, dad and two teenagers had been in the service, and apparently all four were lost.
Len fell to his knees and asked God to forgive him for not extending a complete, clear, Gospel invitation that night. From that day to this day Len always leads in the sinner’s prayer in every service and calls for a public invitation.
Acts 2:40 tells us that Peter kept on giving that come-forward, public invitation until 3,000 were baptized. This may be the longest public invitation in history. It is certainly one of the most encouraging.
Last year I preached on the blood atonement one Monday night in Warrior, Ala., because many there had just seen the Passion of the Christ. A 73-year-old man came to see the pastor the following day and said, “I need the cleansing blood of Christ applied to my heart.” He made that decision public on that very night and the church rejoiced in his decision. When people make public decisions the church is blessed and encouraged.
Last August in Alapaha, Ga., a 77-year-old man came forward on “family night” and publicly committed His life to Christ and His church. He had been on the prayer list of that church since 1960. The tears of joy and the impact on that church and community were incredible. That is why the invitation needs to be public and visible. It builds up the body of Christ. Every week when men and women are standing at the front of the church — accepting Christ and joining the church — the laity sees that praying, witnessing, teaching and preaching the Word is still effective and powerful.
Jesus gave to the church servants who specialize in giving the invitation. They are called evangelists. They had rather give an invitation than eat. As an evangelist, I understand that preaching is central to every service. I understand that music should melt the heart and call men, women, boys and girls to repentance and salvation. However the focal point of every service is the invitation.
In a revival service the music should be designed to minister. Music softens the ground of the heart, prepares the people to hear the Word of God and to respond to Christ. Music evangelists like Joe and Kim Stanley of Georgia, Jeff and Becky Carver of Mississippi, Price Harris of Louisiana and Jeff and Diane Anders of Florida craft the style and length of the music in the worship service to set the mood for God to work. If the congregation is sleepy, they wake them up. If the people seem to be hyperactive, they calm them down with the tempo of the songs. Musicians are sensitive to the Spirit and fully cooperative with the worship leader (the evangelist). They know real worship occurs at the altar. God’s time (the invitation) is the most important time in the service.
Once, George Beverly Shea was asked why he always sang before Billy Graham preached. He said, “You probably think I minister to the multitudes. I minister to one man and then God ministers to the multitude.” Music evangelists have a unique insight and point of view that every church needs. They are part of a team that focuses on the invitation. Music evangelists are time-conscious.
The sermon should start off with the invitation. One pastor from Lynchburg, Va., described how I preach. He said, “When you preach you first tell the people what you are going to do and what you are asking them to do. Secondly, you remind them during the sermon of what you are asking them to do. Thirdly, you warn them of the consequences of putting off the decision or refusing to get right with God. Finally, you call for a decision.”
He added, “Every person in the room asks, ‘Do I need to take action? What action have I taken in the past? Is it time for a new commitment? What is most beneficial?’ You make it clear that the most beneficial action you can take is to repent and be sold out to Jesus Christ. You make it clear that the least benefit comes from disobeying God.”
Urgency comes over my heart at invitation time. I believe Jesus can save anybody. No life can be too depraved for Jesus to redeem.
My brother, Lane Fordham of Mount Juliet, Tenn., once told me, “The greatest advice you ever gave to me as a pastor was to train and use counselors.”
When the pastor is the only counselor talking to an inquirer about Christ, other people who are under conviction may not come forward. It gives the devil time to throw ice water on the heart and employ his tool of procrastination. Often people will dodge the church for weeks. Lane’s church trained more counselors and since has seen between 25 and 30 extra commitments to Christ and new church members every year.
A minister shows a complete lack of faith in God’s power to change men when he gives an invitation and does not have people ready to receive those making decisions for Christ. (A byproduct of having trained counselors is that people will do more sowing of the Gospel seed, praying and soul winning if they help gather the harvest of souls.)
Make the invitation the focal point of your service. Praying, singing, preaching and counselor training all lead to God’s invitation. Many pastors have said that most of what they have learned about the invitation is in watching vocational evangelists. Contact one today at www.sbcevangelist.org.
Keith Fordham is the president of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists