What is going on when a pastor gives an altar call or invitation? Is this appropriate? Is it manipulation?
When I was a kid, at church there was a weekly altar call with the hymn, “Just As I Am” playing and we knew that if God was working on someone’s heart, they’d get out of their seat and walk down the aisle to the altar, sometimes in tears. As a kid, I didn’t know what the big deal was.
Here’s a Willie Nelson rendition of “Just As I Am.” It might take you back. Do churches still sing this song at altar calls? I’ll bet there are some that do.
Later, at a different church, I remember the pastor giving invitations to come forward if someone wanted prayer. Sometimes it would start out with the pastor asking for people to raise their hands and get eye contact with him as “everyone’s head is bowed and all eyes closed.” By the way, I was the kid who peeked – – yea – probably 99% of the time – lol. I did wonder if God would punish me for peeking. Was that a sin?
As I got older and matured in the faith, I was more concerned about my walk with the Lord and hearing His voice. When the pastor urged people to come forward, was He speaking to me? Did He want me to come forward? What if I was supposed to go forward to the front, but didn’t. Did God care? Would that mean I was disobeying God? I got very confused about these things – especially when my friends would go forward and I remained in my seat. There was a lot of internal pressure I felt, and I didn’t know what to do with it, so I usually stayed in my seat.
Earlier this week I read a blog article by Don Johnson, “on invitations,” and appreciated his words as it related to some of my church experiences:
But that is just it – so many invitations are vague, unclear, manipulative, dependent on the crowd management of the evangelist, psychologically damaging and entirely unscriptural. Let me give you an example of what I mean. Not long ago, I sat in a service where the speaker was passionate about something. I am not sure exactly what it was, it certainly wasn’t found in his text. But he did make it clear that times were bad and we need people to do something. At the end of the service, the invitation went along these lines: “If you know that you need to be more committed to the Lord and stand for him, raise your hand.” Apparently a lot of hands were raised. Next the preacher said (after a bit more exhorting), “All of you who raised your hands, would you stand up and show you are committed to doing something for the Lord.” Well, a lot of those folks stood up. I don’t know if they all did, but many did. Next (you knew it was coming, didn’t you?) he said, “Now I want all of you standing to come forward and tell the Lord you mean business.”
Be sure to check out Don’s article. I have a hunch that some of you may have some stories to share about altar calls or invitations.
What do you think about them?
Are they Biblical?
Do you find them manipulative?
Are they necessary?
I leave you with this hilarious video. See how many expressions you are familiar with: