Some Sundays, if I could change one thing, it would be to eliminate the “invitation” (or “altar call,” if you please). In my experience, the ritualistic frequency hinders the effectiveness of God’s true call.
The invitation is not always a natural outgrowth of the spoken message, and its predictable, sometimes unduly emotional appeal tends to obscure a much more important spiritual constant: that Jesus’ heart is open to receive us at all times.
I perceive that often, the invitation actually works against the genuine, life-changing encounter with God that both He and His children desire. Small-group settings, as opposed to large, whole-church assemblies, would seem to be a better place for confession and accountability to begin.
I would not eliminate the invitation altogether (what?! do away with one- tenth of the paid guy’s Sunday morning responsibilities?); rather, I would use it more intentionally and powerfully, though much more sparingly. The “invitation” tradition is, after all, extra-biblical and appears largely to be a tradition rooted in the American Frontier religion of the 19th century, carried forward by evangelistic conferences and related revivalism of the 20th century.
Speaking of closing clues (see last half of yesterday’s post) . . .
Ever heard the preacher utter a less-than-thoughtful non-bridge into the invitation or altar call? We’re sometimes so embarrassed at the habitual nature of this invitation time (and rightly so, in my book) that we grasp and fabricate and manipulate, in order to assist in making the moments more meaningful, catching people’s attention somehow, because if they weren’t asleep already, their spirits fall asleep the moment the preacher starts moving to the closing words.
If a preacher says, “Let’s all stand and praise God together,” but the following song is “Just As I Am,” it seems that the request was less meaningful than functional, because we’re not praising God. “Just As I Am” is not a song of praise or worship. If the invitation song is “Are You Washed in the Blood,” we’re not praising, either; we’re speaking to one another.
I don’t mean to be pointing the finger only at preachers and invitation songs. I manipulate things, too, as I plan and lead. If you please, though — less mere habit, and more thoughtful connections!
I don’t have a copy of the book, but I think my parents do. I read it once. It’s called The Gospel Blimp and — assuming I remember correctly — is all about enthusiasm for evangelistic methods gone amok. The very idea of attempting to spread the gospel using a Goodyear-like blimp is ludicrous, really, but the folks in the story were so involved in their little world that they had no idea how disingenuous such a method was, not to mention how ineffective.
And now we have the “invitation song” or “altar call.” Please see this prior post — particularly, three paragraphs from the end.
Last Sunday, our preacher tried a different method of encouraging some sort of response to the sermon, and I applaud his idea. It involved writing names of struggling people on cards and taking the cards to the receiving shepherds for them to pray during the week. There was instant responsiveness (in contrast to most Sundays with a more traditional ending to the sermon)! Not everyone, and rightly so, but probably 40 or 50 of us responded in this way.
Vive la thoughtful, fresh methodologies! (And, on the other hand, if a method can be seen as a “blimp,” would anyone like to borrow a dart gun?) 🙂