Not long ago, I was part of a preaching seminar with about 15 other pastors. We were asked, “How many of you give an invitation each time you preach?” I was surprised to see that only a little more than half of us raised our hands.
But I was encouraged that those who raised their hands were not all the same. Some of us were older, some younger. Some were more reformed in their soteriology, some less so. Some pastored traditional congregations, some led cutting-edge church plants. And, when asked why we continued to give invitations, we all gave similar answers: “Invitations help people respond to the sermon, especially the message of the Gospel.”
I am committed to giving an evangelistic invitation every time I preach God’s Word, and I believe every preacher should be. Here’s why:
God intends preaching to be persuasive. The instruction “Preach the word” in 2 Tim. 4:2 is accompanied by three commands that relate to persuasion, “reprove, rebuke, and exhort.” Preaching is not merely about relaying biblical information; it’s ultimately about calling people to turn from sin and trust God. In 2 Cor. 5:20, Paul said, “We are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” God’s Spirit has chosen to work through the human instrument of preaching to draw people to Christ.
The Bible resounds with invitations. In Isa. 55:3, God says,”Incline your ear and come to Me.” Hosea 6:1 says, “Come, let us return to the Lord.” In Matt. 11:28, Jesus said, “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Admittedly, these invitations were not offered with music playing and a pastor waiting to receive people at the front of a church. However, they do reveal God’s desire for people to respond to Him, and they were issued by Spirit-led preachers.
With these things in mind, I offer five words of encouragement for giving the invitation:
- Don’t abandon the invitation. It is easy to list the ways invitations have been abused: Gimmicky appeals designed to “close the deal.” Emotional manipulation bordering on coercion. Perfunctory invitations offered halfheartedly because, well, this is just what we do. Recognizing such misuses of the invitation can help you guard against repeating the same mistakes. But pleading with people to respond to God’s message is an essential part of the preacher’s calling. Instead of discarding the invitation, pastors should ask, “How can I honorably extend an opportunity for my listeners to respond to God?”
- Saturate every sermon with the Gospel. Not every Bible passage is overtly evangelistic, but each passage does reveal God’s redeeming character and activity. As you prepare your message, ask, “What is the activity of God in my preaching text?” Answering that simple question will help infuse your sermon with the message that Jesus died and rose again to redeem sinners. As a result, when you offer the invitation to respond to the Gospel, you will not be introducing new material but revisiting ground you have already covered.
- Connect your invitation to a central truth of your sermon. Instead of giving the same invitation each time you preach, look for key areas in your preaching text that lend themselves to a Gospel presentation. If you are preaching on giving, connect the invitation to God’s sacrificial generosity in giving His Son. If you are preaching on family relationships, invite the listener to enter God’s family through faith in Christ. Employing a central truth from the text in your invitation will add variety to your appeal and create greater unity in your message.
- Be clear. The evangelistic invitation should include two basic elements: a simple explanation of how to trust in Jesus for salvation and practical instructions for what you are asking the listener to do. Make the steps clear, and tell what will happen when the listener takes those steps. If you are extending a “come forward” type of invitation, you might say something like, “I’m inviting you to step out from your seat and to walk down one of these aisles. A minister will meet you here at the front. Just tell him, ‘I want to follow Jesus today.’ He will introduce you to a decision counselor who will help you take your next steps with the Lord.” Whatever you are asking people to do in response, be prepared to communicate clearly.
- Extend the invitation with expectancy. Look your listeners in the eyes and speak with a sense of warmth and vulnerability. As you wait at the front to receive people, make sure that your facial expression and posture show that you are ready to welcome those who come. Preachers may shy away from giving the invitation because it involves a risk: What if no one responds? I combat my own risk aversion by remembering that the invitation is not a verdict on my effectiveness. Instead, it’s a holy and public opportunity to cooperate with God’s Spirit in calling people to Christ. For that reason, you can always give the invitation expecting that God will work.