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Q. Should pastors really stop giving altar calls?

I read your article on why pastors should stop giving alter calls. Should we really do that no matter what the sermon is about?

Answer

Dear Brother *****,

Thanks for your email. While I have written a number of articles, I do not remember writing that one should not give an altar call. It may well have been one of our other (many) authors on bible.org.

In the church we attended while I was in seminary the primary teacher was sure to give a kind of invitation at the end of every message. I think that is a very good thing to do. All of our teaching and preaching should be tied closely to the gospel.

Having said this, we also need to be careful not to forget: Aside from “He who has ears, let him hear. . .”, Jesus did not give an invitation as such. He challenged his audience to think about what He had said. He clearly called on His disciples to follow Him, but He also discouraged others by urging them to count the cost. Jesus did not water down His teaching to attract followers.

Now when you get to Paul and his presentation in the synagogues and elsewhere, it is all about the gospel, and he does challenge his listeners to believe in Jesus. (He does not call on folks to come forward, as is often the case with us today.)

Paul makes it very clear in 1 Corinthians chapter three that evangelism is not a solo, one-time, event. One sows, another waters, and another harvests. Thus, our presentation of the gospel may be one part of the process that God uses to save the lost.

Thus, any invitation needs to keep the above things in mind.

One additional thought came to mind, which is important. The primary purpose of the church meeting is the edification of the saints, to equip them for the work of ministry (see Ephesians 4). It is apparent from 1 Corinthians 14 that Paul assumed some unbelievers might be present, and he was concerned that the gospel would be clear to them.

One possible danger is that because the pastor gives a brief gospel message with an invitation, that some might wrongly conclude that further evangelistic effort is not as important. That would be the opposite of equipping the saints for the work of ministry, which would surely include sharing the gospel. Any evangelistic efforts from the pulpit should serve to encourage all the saints to share their faith, rather than to “let the Pastor do it.” Every pastor should be clear in his mind that his primary objective is to teach the saints, moving them toward maturity, while reaching the lost is a secondary (but very important) task (see Hebrews 6:1-3).

Blessings,

Bob Deffinbaugh

Related Topics: Ecclesiology (The Church)

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