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.