“Why in the world do you give an invitation at the end of every service?” The questioner, like me, is a Presbyterian minister. There was a hint of scorn in his voice as he asked. I could understand. We both know that such invitations are not automatically a part of typical Presbyterian worship. I suspect that perhaps only one of us knows this has not always been the case. 

My reply started out with the story of Fern. Fern attended the little church that was the meeting place for our rural Mississippi student congregation. She was married to one of our deacons and was in the first congregation I preached to there. Later, she and her husband, Joe, and their two children, Glen and Lisa, were in church pretty much every Sunday. Our family was invited on a number of occasions to their home for a visit or a meal. Fern was active in Sunday School and the programs for women. To the best of my recollection, the issue of church membership never came up in any conversations we had together. That led this young pastor to assume the whole family—all of whom readily and comfortably spoke of their faith—were all members of the congregation.

Attendance at our little church was growing despite the rookie preacher; and on a whim one Sunday, I decided to give an invitation at the end of the sermon. After all, I was taking classes at a local Baptist college and had heard some fellow students speak of the response they received to the invitations they gave. Imagine my amazement when Fern came bolting down the aisle with tears in her eyes. She told me that even though she had given her life to Christ many years before and was baptized, no one ever had invited her to join her husband’s home church in the eight years she had been attending. Being modest and unassuming—and having come from a different tradition—she was waiting to be invited to become a member. Needless to say, the elders of our little church were thrilled to receive Fern into membership then and there along with two others who came forward. Like me, some of the elders assumed that as active as Fern was, she was a member of the church.

Although others responded to my invitation that day, I speak especially of Fern because just a few months after that memorable moment, Fern died suddenly and unexpectedly from a brain aneurysm. She was 34 years old.

As I reflected on this experience, I resolved that I never again would leave a service in any church without extending an invitation for all present to consider the claims of Christ and the importance of being identified with a local church and its ministry.

Years of pastoral experience have persuaded me that there are typically three kinds of people in every worship service, and it is important that each be invited to pause for a moment of invitation.

There are the people such as Fern, who long before gave their hearts to Jesus, yet wait for an invitation to join His church. Some, such as Fern, are modest by nature. They will not, for a number of reasons, promote themselves for membership.

There is a second group that may attend church regularly but never has made a commitment to discipleship. The members of this group never have opened their hearts’ doors and invited Him to come in as Lord. Before my own conversion, I was part of this group for years. I attended church often because I liked the music and preaching, but I did not allow it to get past my head. I needed to be challenged the way Joshua called out to the people of Israel, who had a national and religious identity. He knew some of them had made no decision to follow God. He challenged them with these words, “Choose this day who you will serve. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!” (Joshua 24:15). John Huffman tells the story of a Pittsburgh trolley caught in an intersection because each set of trolley wheels was being drawn in different directions. There are people in our churches caught in similar binds, and they need to be challenged to commit completely to Christ.

Finally, there are those who once made commitments to be disciples; and for a while, they followed Him. Alas, the issues of life or other attractions stole their attention. Like Demas, they followed the allure of the world’s siren song. They need to be challenged and invited to come back home to the Savior.

“Why in the world do you give an invitation at the end of every service?”
Why in this world would I do otherwise? Wouldn’t you?

“Christ is faithful over God’s house as a Son. And we are His house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope. Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, ‘Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts'”

“Today!” There is urgency about this message you and I are called to preach. It is never better communicated than when we convey the necessity of making a commitment to Him who gave up His life for us. Who knows when your Fern will be there!


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