In Defense of Long Sermon Invitations
I grew up in a church where the sermon invitations were longer than the sermons themselves. I often jest that I know all 312 verses of Just As I Am, because at my church, we would sing 312 verses of the song at the end of every sermon. For those of you who don’t know, Just As I Am only has 6 or 8 verses, depending on what hymnal your church used. That’s the joke…
So, when I was a little boy, I decided I would never do that and as a pastor, I haven’t. In fact, my church members tell me I need to keep the invitation open long enough for the church to stand up and open their hymnal. I don’t close an invitation that fast, but it’s close. I don’t ever want to be seen as emotionally manipulating the congregation, so I go the other way. Probably, neither extreme is good. There has to be a better way.
I’ll tell you why this is coming up now. Studying Revelation is challenging my thinking. In chapter 14, angels are sent to the world to offer 3 last warnings. Even in the last chapters of history, God is extending an invitation of grace. Until the very last minute, He provides a way of escape. One way to interpret the release of Satan in chapter 20 is that after his imprisonment, Satan is given one last chance before he is destroyed. Such is the unspeakable grace of our God, the unlimited love of our Savior.
Throughout these passages there are warnings for the saints to persevere. Most of the time, we interpret these passages as warnings for believers to hunker down and endure the bad times Revelation describes. But what if there’s another way to see these verses? What if the call to persevere is the call to persevere in love and evangelism? What if Christ is calling His followers to keep on preaching, keep on reaching out, to keep on praying despite the circumstances of the moment? What if the call to persevere isn’t about survival, but about mission?
Somehow, this latter interpretation rings a little truer. I don’t think perseverance is about the church living through hard times. I don’t think Jesus ever calls His church to hide in caves and behind thick walls of correct theology. Jesus sends His church. He sends us into the storm to rescue the perishing. He sends us into the battle, not to fight (Jesus does all of the fighting), but to pull the wounded out. This is exhausting, frustrating and dangerous work. Yet, this is our mission. That’s the reason John keeps encouraging the struggling churches in Asia Minor to persevere, not for survival, but in mission.
So, if the invitation is a little longer, I hope you’ll understand. Sooner or later, everyone’s chances will run out. Until then, Jesus insists we do everything we can to make sure everyone knows Jesus can still save. Even if we have to sing a few more verses of Just As I Am.
Are you a pastor? If so, what is your experience giving the invitation? Church members, what has been your experience of the invitation?
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