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FIRST-PERSON: ‘Please walk forward and talk with me’

ONTARIO, Calif. (BP) — Asking people to respond by making public commitments in a worship service seems to be less and less common today. There are several reasons for this.

Some pastors are reluctant to ask for decisions because they don’t want to embarrass people. Some don’t want to ask for decisions because they fear people will confuse the process with the results. Others have theological reservations about doing anything that might conflate human means with God’s purposes. Finally, some leaders don’t believe public responses contribute to spiritual growth.

Recently on a Sunday I visited a newer church in our area. They meet in a public school, have what would probably be called a “seeker” approach to ministry, and draw their 150 people in a middle- to upper-middle-class community — the location and demographic usually thought resistant to public response.

The worship service was meaningful and the message clearly communicated the need to submit to God’s plan for our lives. It’s what happened at the end of the service that surprised me.

The pastor finished his sermon and said something like this: “If you would like to talk with me about how to put this message into practice, if you would like help committing yourself to God or if you would like someone to pray with you — please walk forward and talk with me.”

For the next 20 minutes, person after person walked forward to pray with the pastor or his associate. No pressure, no forcing the issue — just a simple, direct appeal to solidify response and facilitate first steps of obedience.

Authentic worship evokes response. Effective preaching includes persuasion. Yet, leading people through a process designed to encounter God without asking them to initiate first steps of obedience is like inviting a hungry person to watch you prepare a meal but not eat any of it.

There are many different ways to invite people to respond to God. Find one that works in your context and include opportunities for immediate response as an important act of worship.