In a post last week, I tried to show that the idea behind what is commonly called an altar call – a preacher’s invitation for his hearers to put their faith in Jesus Christ – is entirely biblical. It is good and appropriate for the preacher to do the work of an evangelist, and one aspect of that work is to actually call those who hear him to decision regarding Jesus Christ.
A person may believe that the idea of the invitation to faith is good and biblical, yet actually implement it poorly. It’s possible for a good idea to become a harmful or counter-productive practice. If a preacher is going to ask people to decide regarding Jesus Christ, this should be done properly and done well.
Over the next few posts I will write about how to give a decision for faith in preaching. I don’t believe I have the final word on the subject, but I hope to contribute a few things that I have learned over the years that are important and helpful.
The first thing that comes to my mind in the “how” of an altar call is, don’t manipulate. You want the call to decision to be as clear, direct, and obvious as possible.
It was important to the New Testament apostles that their preaching be without manipulation. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:2, We reject all shameful and underhanded methods. We do not try to trick anyone, and we do not distort the word of God. We tell the truth before God, and all who are honest know that (NLT).
One way to avoid manipulation is to tell your listeners exactly what you are doing. Perhaps you have had the experience of being invited over to a friend’s house for dinner, only to find when the meal is over that they have a long sales presentation for you. It isn’t a good feeling – you feel that you have been tricked and manipulated.
It’s good for the preacher to clearly say, “In a few minutes I’m going to invite everyone here to put their faith in Jesus Christ.” Telling them before you make the invitation is a way to show, “I’m not trying to surprise you with this. I want to be transparent in so far as what I intend to do.”
I also believe that doing this opens a wonderful door to the work of the Holy Spirit. We know that people do not put their faith in Jesus primarily through the skill or the effort of the preacher, but through the work of the Holy Spirit upon them. Jesus said in John 6:44, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him”. Later in John chapter 6 (v.65), Jesus repeated, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father”.
God does the work, but He often chooses to do so through the weakness of human effort, especially preaching. When the preacher announces, “I will give a call to decide for Jesus Christ later in my message”, each listener is immediately invited to think: “How will I decide?” That’s a wonderful opportunity for the work of the Holy Spirit upon each person.
Another way to avoid manipulation is to tell people exactly what you will ask them to do. If you listen to Greg Laurie’s evangelistic preaching, you will find that he does this exceptionally well. Give the invitation to decide for Jesus Christ, then clearly instruct those people. If you want them to walk forward to the front of the room, tell them you will invite them to do that. If you want them to stand up, or to speak to a member of the prayer team, tell them you will invite them to do so.
Some preachers hope that using a little manipulation in their invitation will make them more effective, perhaps using the element of surprise. That method is based on false hope. When we rely on a salesman’s tricks instead of the truth and the power of God, it is a way of saying that we don’t inherently trust the truth and the power of God. People are right to respect the preacher who will give a direct and unashamed invitation.