Have you ever heard an “ought to” sermon? You know, you ought to do this or you out to do that to be a better Christian. It seems to me that for many people who regularly listen to sermons, the problem is not in the needing to know more of what they ought to do, it’s in the “how” to do it. In the past I have written several “ought to” articles to Anglican preachers suggesting they give more invitations from the pulpit for people to receive Christ. With Easter Sunday this weekend, and with confidence there will be people in your church who are not saved, rather than writing an article saying you ought to give an invitation this Easter, I thought I’d write a “how to” article!
So here are 4 ways to invite people to believe in Jesus for salvation from the pulpit:
- Shorten the Sermon
I know, it is a horrible thing to ask a preacher to shorten their message. There is so much to say, especially on Easter! As Anglicans, we have a tight window to preach so there is often a sense of being rushed. And, if you are already anxious about giving a salvation invitation, it is easy to just leave that prayer off at the end with the excuse that there just wasn’t enough time. However, if you intentionally shorten the message in order to leave time at the end for the prayer, you will not be rushed when the time comes. Don’t think of the prayer as something you are squeezing in at the end but the end itself.
One way to help shorten the sermon is by not feeling like you must please the longtime believers who have heard 30 Easter sermons by coming up with something new for them. It is okay to preach a simple straight forward evangelistic message. Longtime believers should want unsaved people to be saved on Easter. I don’t know about you, but I never get tired of hearing how God loves sinners so much he sent his son to die on the cross and rise again that all might be saved. When I hear an evangelistic sermon I don’t think, “Oh, I’ve heard this before, I want to hear something new and profound to benefit me.” Do you? On the contrary, I’m reminded of the joy of my salvation and excited that maybe even one person there might be saved that day! It’s like in the parable of the lost coin, “There is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.” (Luke 15:10 NLT) Since God rejoices when even one sinner repents, shouldn’t we? Mature believers will be happy to listen to a sermon that is not for them on Easter.
- Invite a variety of people to pray “The Prayer”
At the point when it is time to give the invitation, make it broad enough to include multiple people. You might say something like, “If you are here today and you’ve never believed in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins, in just a minute I’m going to pray a prayer that you can pray along with me, believing it in your heart. Also, you might be here today and remember believing in Jesus in your past, but you’ve become distant from God. If you’d like to recommit yourself to Him today, you can pray this same prayer along with me. Or maybe you are here and you’ve been in church for years but don’t know that you know, that you know, you are saved, it’s okay, just pray along with me too and receive that assurance.” This way it doesn’t put the unbeliever on the spot so much, gives people coming back to church a chance to recommit, and, for church people that may actually not be saved, it gives them an opportunity to believe without feeling shamed.
- Write the Prayer Down
Write down the prayer you will use to lead people in a prayer for salvation. At the end of the sermon and invitation, just read it. There is nothing wrong or unspiritual with writing it down. It will give you more confidence in leading it and you’ll be less likely to back out of it if you have it staring at you from the pulpit. And when you read it, read it slowly enough for people to pray it with you. Sometimes I will ask them to pray it out loud repeating after me. More often, I ask them to pray it in their heart along with me as I pray it and just mean it. Either way, it is important to pray/read it slowly enough for people to follow and know what they are praying.
Here’s a sample prayer you could use or edit as you see fit:
“Lord Jesus, I believe you are the Son of God. That you love me and came into the world, died on the cross and rose again for the forgiveness of my sin. I admit that I’m a sinner and I’m sorry for my sin. Please forgive me and come into my life. Please fill me with your Holy Spirit and help me to follow you as Lord of my life. Thank you for saving me and giving me eternal life. In your name I pray, Amen.”
- Have a Follow up Plan
When I was in the Episcopal Church I would hear clergy sort of dismiss my passion for evangelism by reminding me that the Great Commission says to go and “make disciples” not “converts.” That argument always seemed to me to be an excuse to avoid evangelism. However, their point is valid, we are called to make disciples and conversion is only the first and necessary step in becoming a disciple.
To this end, it is important to have a plan to follow up with people who make first time commitments or renewals to Christ. They need to be brought into the community and given next steps to becoming a lifelong disciple of Jesus.
Although it is a perfectly legitimate way to do this, I’ve never been a big fan of having people come down to the front or to raise their hand indicating their commitment (I think baptism is their public affirmation). If you use one of these public ways of acknowledging their prayer, then you see them and can follow up with them after the service. I prefer having a card of some sort in the pew or bulletin that they can fill out, with their contact information, that they can put in the offering plate. I say something like, “If you prayed that prayer this morning, it’s important to share that decision so I’d like to encourage you to fill out the card in your bulletin. You can just fill out your information and check the box that says you made a commitment or recommitment to follow Christ today and put it in the offering plate when it comes by in a few minutes. I would love to follow up with you this week about this important decision.” To do this properly and not rushed it takes a little time. This is another good reason for my first point to shorten the sermon!
May God bless you and your preaching of the Gospel this Easter Sunday. And may there be much rejoicing in Heaven this Sunday because even one sinner repents and is saved in your church: “In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.” (Luke 15:10 NLT)
The Rev. Canon Mark Eldredge is Director of Church Revitalization and Coaching at the American Anglican Council.