In recent years, I’ve noticed an increase in one question that I took for granted would only be asked by those considered “unchurched.” It’s a question that I dealt with as a young preacher boy in the hinterlands of Tennessee and later as a church-planter in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. The question is, “Why do you give a public invitation?”
Some have attempted to turn an opportunity for those who have heard the Bible preached and sensed the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives to respond appropriately into something that should be eschewed and discarded. I’ve seen the public invitation derided as “manipulative,” a “modern invention” and even “unbiblical.” Increasingly the public invitation is derided as “decisional” and thus should be rejected, never to be offered again.
No doubt some have abused the public invitation, and it’s current context perhaps dates back to the early twentieth century. I don’t believe, however that one’s misuse or modernization of something necessarily makes it a bad thing. If that were the case then, we’d better throw away everything from our songs to our bulletins, from our A/V to our HVAC systems, from our pews to our blogs. (Of course, there are some who would certainly advocate that all of those things to pass from the scene so that we could return to the “real” church of New Testament.)
I believe that a clear public invitation when extended after anointed, biblical preaching and done for the purpose of allowing those who’ve heard the proclaimed Word respond as led by the Holy Spirit is not only biblical but beneficial to the church as well.
So, to answer the question of “Why do you give a public invitation?” let me offer the following four suggestions.
First, I believe it follows the pattern of scripture. From a woman with an issue of blood to the demon-possessed man in a Gadarene graveyard, whenever Jesus transformed an individual’s life it was made public. Also, consider what took place on the day of Pentecost. Peter preached the gospel and three thousand were saved, baptized and added to the church. How do we know that there were three thousand? It stands to reason that someone was counting and keeping records of those whose life had been changed. And, however, that occurred, it’s obvious that it was public in nature.
Next, I believe that it fits with the person of God. Have you ever noticed how many times the Lord uses the word “Come?” “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.” (Revelation 22:17) It’s found all throughout His Word. He is a great, gracious, inviting God!
Further, I believe that it matches the intent of the gospel. The gospel is truly good news! Who wouldn’t want to share such a glorious invitation? Who wouldn’t want to respond to such an invitation? I believe that by it’s very nature, when the gospel is proclaimed, there is a drawing that accompanies it. Jesus promised this tremendous truth. “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” (John 12:32)
Finally, I believe it is beneficial to those who’ve heard the Word proclaimed. When the Word of God is proclaimed with power, and the Holy Spirit has melded it into the hearts of the hearers, there will naturally be a desire to respond. Paul talks of this power in 2 Timothy 3:16 where Paul declares, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16) Which is why He writes again in the very next chapter, “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all long-suffering and teaching.” (2 Timothy 4:2)
Thus, a time of public invitation provides an opportunity to those in whose life the Word is working and, if they so desire, to come and have others prayer with them or for them. It doesn’t keep the Spirit’s work secret, or leave it the listener to deal with it themselves, but works within the community nature of the church to build up the believer. (Ephesians 4) Therefore, it’s a help, not a hindrance.
I understand that there are different types of public invitations. In fact, in my twenty years as a pastor, I’ve used a variety of them. Further, I don’t believe that every service has to end with, “Heads bowed, and eyes closed,” and “Just As I Am” sung by a choir while the congregation is encouraged to come to the altar. I do believe that an opportunity – however, that is presented – to respond to the working of the Spirit is scriptural and beneficial in the worship service of the local church. That’s why I give a public invitation.