By Ken Whitten
When I step into the pulpit, I am keenly aware there are three kinds of sermons:
- Those you can listen to
- Those you can’t listen to
- Those you must listen to
We must always make ours a “must listen to” sermon.
Every “must listen to” sermon has three great components:
- A Concise Introduction
- A Clear Exposition
- A Convincing Conclusion.
In the introduction, we tell them what we are going to tell them. Then in the exposition we tell them the message. In the conclusion, we tell them what we have told them.
Good preaching is not just to inform, but it also transforms. D. L. Moody said, “The Bible was not given to increase our knowledge, but to change our lives.” So true.
But even when we preach a “must listen to” sermon, James reminds us there is one other thing we must remind our listeners. James said, “… be doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22).
While I believe the Word is always faithful to tell us what to do, I don’t always walk away from my sermons convinced I have told my listeners what they are to do. Great sermons have great introductions, great instructions and great invitations.
I am sensing something and for several years have seen a trend in our own denomination that is weighing heavy on my heart. I do not need to remind you or rehash with you the declining baptisms or the lack of evangelism we are experiencing as Southern Baptists.
While it is true God did not call us to make decisions but to make disciples, I remind you there needs to be a decision before becoming a disciple. Or better said–Becoming a disciple means you have made a decision.
Every message needs to have an invitation.
Could it be the prevailing thought of pastors today is we have sanctimoniously said, “The Invitation is the work of the Holy Spirit, and I am not giving an Invitation after my message”? Let me remind you, friend, that preaching is the work of the Holy Spirit, too. Are you so foolish as to think up to this point you have been doing the preaching? Why don’t you just keep your mouth closed, and see how well that plays out? You wouldn’t do that, and you know why? Because you believe Romans 10 that says–“How shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard, and how shall they hear without a preacher” (Romans 10:14)?
Could it be one of the reasons baptisms are declining is because we are not giving a biblical and fruitful invitation?
When we preach, we are preaching for a verdict.
We have something we want people to know, do or believe–and we are calling for obedience.
All preaching should have some kind of invitation, or it is not preaching at all. Why do I believe invitations are biblical? Because our Bible is full of public invitations. It began in a garden with a voice, not that of a detective, but of a brokenhearted Father, when He asked Adam, “Where are you?” It concludes with an invitation when John says in Revelation, “And the Spirit and bride say, Come! And let him that heareth say, Come! And let him who thirsts come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17).
Now let me be real clear here because I can almost hear the pushback. Nowhere, and I mean nowhere, is there a “walk down the aisle” Invitation given in God’s Word. You and I both know a person’s public profession of faith is their Baptism–not walking down an aisle.
Now with that being said–an invitation does not mean a “come forward” Invitation. But a sermon still has an invitation. Peter gave one at Pentecost (Acts 2:38-40). Joshua gave one when he said, “Choose you this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15). Elijah gave one when he asked–“How long will you halt between two opinions? If God be God, serve Him” (1 Kings 18:21).
When you preach, give an invitation. And as you give it, let me ask you to consider giving it in three ways:
GIVE IT CLEARLY
Beware of clichés like–“Are you willing to make a profession of faith?” Or how about this one–“Would you like to move your letter?” Lost people, and even most saved people, have no clue what those two statements mean.
Save enough time for the invitation.
Don’t re-preach your message.
Be clear. Be concise. Eternity is in the balance.
GIVE IT CREATIVELY
You can preach truth, but only the Holy Spirit can reveal truth.
You’re not preaching for decisions – you are preaching for a decision. There’s a big difference. You’re not any less a man of God if one person makes a decision than if 100 people make a decision.
Remember, you’re inviting people to a feast–not a funeral. Be positive. Be creative. But be biblical. Anything you can talk someone into, someone else can talk them out of.
Biblical Invitations are not pressure-packed or man-motivated. Your job is to make the message clear. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to make the message convicting. You do your job. Let God do His.
Give the invitation clearly–give it creatively–but be sure to …
GIVE IT CONSISTENTLY
Whether the message is evangelistic, about spiritual growth, stewardship or obedience, every biblical message demands a decision; and therefore, an invitation.
Sometimes people do need to come forward. Other times you may meet them down front after the service. You may even point out there’s a card in the pew rack or a tear out section in the program. But don’t be so afraid people will say no, you don’t give them a chance to say yes.
They called Charles Spurgeon’s church a “soul trap.” Jesus called us fishers of men. They caught fish with a net. Do you know what a net is? It’s a bunch of nothings tied together. That’s what we are. He is everything. We are nothing. But when our people are praying during the invitation, and inviting in community, and you are giving it clearly, creatively and consistently, our churches will be soul traps for the glory of God.
Make your sermons a “must hear,” and whatever you do and wherever you do it, make your invitation a “must do.”
God will be glorified, your church will be blessed, and lives will be changed!
Ken Whitten is senior pastor of Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Fla.
Published May 30, 2018