Preaching Articles

If you spend the majority of your life in any profession, you will learn the commonly made mistakes. I have a friend who has been in the roofing business for more than 32 years. In five minutes, he can explain the mistakes roofers commonly make.

I have spent more than 40 years in evangelism and specifically evangelistic preaching. Interacting with pastors across the world has been one of the greatest privileges I enjoy. From that experience, I would like to share the four common mistakes pastors make in giving a gospel invitation at the conclusion of a message.

1.  Making The Invitation Unclear

For a person to come to Christ, he needs to know that he is a sinner, understand Christ died for him and rose again, and place his trust in Christ alone to save. The latter should never be muddled. The gospel of John is the one book of the New Testament specifically written to tell us how to receive eternal life (John 20:31). John uses the word believe 98 times to describe how the lost come to Christ. The word means to trust, depend, or rely on. In inviting the lost to come to Christ, invite them to trust in Christ alone as their only way to heaven. Avoid phrases such as, “Invite Christ in your heart” or “Give your life to God.” Not only are they confusing, but they are also not used in an evangelistic context in Scripture.

Make clear to unbelievers that they must trust in Christ alone as their only way to heaven. On the cross, Christ did not make the down payment; He made the full payment (John 19:30). Salvation is not obtained by trusting Christ plus (our good works, church attendance, etc.) but by trusting Christ period. The invitation must be made clear.

2.  Assuming Unbelievers Know What “Christ Died For Us” Means

It’s easy to assume that non-Christians know what that phrase means, but the fact is that they often don’t. When they hear “Christ died for me”, they sometimes assume that he died to show them how to live by putting others first. When the Bible says, “Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8), though, it means that Christ died in our place and as our substitute. Had he not died, we would have. The nails that were driven through His hands and feet should have been driven through ours.

A substitution illustration becomes helpful for this point: a school crossing guard runs in front of a car to push a child to safety, but in so doing he dies in that child’s place. A fireman runs into a burning building to rescue a civilian. Unable to escape the flames, he rushes to the window, drops the victim to the people below, and dies in the flames. In each situation the person died as the other’s substitute. On a much larger scale, Jesus Christ died as our substitute.

3.  Not Being Direct Enough

Gospel invitations must be direct. The time for salvation is not tomorrow; it’s today. When you come to the end of your message, I’d caution you to avoid saying, "If you are here this morning and you do not know you're going to heaven..." Instead say, "You are here this morning, and you do not know you are going to heaven…." Also steer away from the wording, "I don't doubt there are some here who are plagued by the past.” Instead say, "There are those here right now for whom the past has become a nightmare. Even though you try to get away from it, it never gets away from you."

Examine Peter's preaching to a lost audience in Acts 2. He did not say, "You may have crucified your only hope." Instead he tells them, "Him being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death" (vs. 23). His directness was so used of God that we are told, "Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do’" (vs. 37)? Directness is essential in evangelistic preaching and especially in giving an invitation.

4. Using The Same Method Of Invitation Every Time

Inviting people to come to Christ is a biblical issue; the method is not. Variety helps in many areas including the giving of an invitation. It keeps what you are doing fresh and meaningful.

What is commonly referred to as the “altar call” may be effective when properly used. Whatever you do, though, do not make it a condition of salvation. People are saved by trusting Christ, not by coming forward. It is also not the only way to find out who is interested. Any method used every Sunday can lose its meaning and significance.

It is highly effective to ask people to meet you at the front after the service where you can speak with them personally and privately. It is equally effective to have them trust Christ in their seats and even lead them in prayer as they do so. Make certain that they understand that they are saved by trusting Christ, not by saying a prayer. You can then ask them to raise their hand or see you after the service if they have done so for further information on how to grow as a Christian. I love to use what we refer to as a “Communication Card.” Everyone fills one out. Those who trusted Christ put a check in the upper right-hand corner knowing someone will contact them with information on how to grow as a new believer.


God brings people to Christ. He uses you as a human instrument to do it. Avoiding these four mistakes can enhance your effectiveness as you do your part, and God does His.

Dr. R. Larry Moyer is a veteran evangelist and a frequent speaker in evangelistic outreaches, training seminars, churches and universities around the world. Born with an inherited speech defect, Larry vowed to God as a teenager that if He would allow him to gain control of his speech he would always use his voice to declare the gospel. In 1973, Larry founded EvanTell, where he now serves as President and CEO. He has written several books on evangelism and frequently contributes articles to ministry publications.

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David Fowler

commented on Sep 21, 2016

I enjoyed the article. I would include under your number 3 after your quotation of Acts 2:37, the next verse when Peter answered their question. They obviously believed but he told them there was something else they must do: "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." The audience needs to hear the answer to the question in verse 37.

Chris Hearn

commented on Sep 21, 2016

David- baptism is not necessary for salvation (Acts 10:34-48)

James Williams

commented on Sep 21, 2016

Chris, shouldn't we tell people to do what the apostles told people to do, as David suggested? Seems to me that the only sense in which baptism is not necessary for salvation is in the sense that dipping 7 times in the Jordan River was not necessary for Naaman to be cleansed of leprosy. God could have cleansed him without any action on Naaman's part. But God decided to make it necessary by commanding him to do it in order to be cleansed (II Kgs 5). Baptism with a penitent believing heart is Christ's command to come into a relationship with Him and receive forgiveness of our sins (John 3:5; Matt 28:19; Mk 16:16; Acts 2:38; 8:35-36; 10:48; 22:16 Rom 6:3-4; I Cor 12:13; Gal 3:27; Eph 5:26; Col 2:12; Titus 3:5; Heb 10:22; I Peter 3:21). The Holy Spirit coming upon Cornelius and his household was not to show that they were already saved but to show the Jews that God was willing to accept Gentiles and it was okay to go ahead and baptize them (Acts 10:47; 11:17).

Trevor Allen

commented on Sep 22, 2016

Having been a fully trained and commissioned preacher in the Methodist Church in the UK for over 30 years I would also plead for the preaching of the Gospel that the Lord Jesus preached - not the one based on later interpretations placed upon His life and then reinforced by cultural and historical prejudices ever since the so-called reformation . That Gospel is about bringing God's kingdom of heaven into our lives and this world- not about a freeway ticket for our selfish needs into heaven . The atonement is a tiny part of the gospel which the reformation seized upon and magnified out of proportion and so eclipsed the commandments and words of our dear Lord Himself to love even our enemies and bring Gods Kingdom of justice and peace into lives and this world .

Sam Collins

commented on Sep 22, 2016

I never thought I would see a discussion of baptism in this forum. I have to go along with James. James, you did such a good job in your comment, I just have to say, "Amen!"

Danny Thomas

commented on Sep 22, 2016

Acts 2:21, Acts 16:31; and Romans 10:13 among others say nothing about water baptism for salvation, but to "call upon" and "believe" (as Bro Moyer has stated above, "trust, depend upon, rely on). If we try to fit everyone today in all Acts experiences, perhaps we should tell them to wait for a light from heaven and an audible voice. After all, wasn't that the way Paul was saved?

James Williams

commented on Sep 22, 2016

That's true that sometimes apostles summarized what God requires of us as trust, depend on, rely on Christ. But that did not exclude baptism anymore than it excluded repentance. Genuine trust in Christ involves obedience to Christ. If one does not obey Christ then he does not truly trust Him. And everyone saved in the book of Acts, though in a great variety of circumstances and having had various experiences from each other, was saved through the same response to the gospel. And that response every time was belief, repentance and baptism.

Roland Ramsdale

commented on Sep 22, 2016

If baptism does not accompany conversion then we are not practising new testament christianity. I suspect that many of the problems we encounter of people being uncertain of their faith is because we do not put baptism in its right place. Believe, be baptised, and receive the Holy Spirit should all be part of the one act of salvation.

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