It is weekend – which means we are look at some point of the WOW of Worship. We have explored Awe, Attendance, Music (specifically the choir), and Prayer. This week is an element that has evolved over the years. And if you were to try to come to a consensus of form, you won’t. Some go old school, some adapt to modern trends, and some just eliminate it all together.
What is this element? The altar call, the sawdust trail, the time of decision, response call, or next steps – whatever name you are used to – this important aspect of worship needs to be explored. Some say the altar call was not in Scripture – and while the form most of us grew up on (a hymn – pastor down front – come forward), the concept of an altar call is there. Prophets called for repentance, there was the call, “choose today whom you will serve”, and the New Testament has record of people responding to preaching at events like Pentecost and others.
Some say the practice of coming forward can be traced to the Camp Revivals and Charles Finney in the 1830s. And while his use of the ‘anxious bench’ (one came forward to the bench to pray and be prayed for, may be the early formation of our altar call) is the early stages.
In recent years, I have experienced churches practice to come forward for prayer, talk to counselors/pastors after the service at sections called ‘next steps’, find the prayer room off the lobby after the service where people will be there for them, fill out the ‘response card’ and drop in the offering plate/box and someone will follow up, or just end the service and say, “See ya next week.” While I was pastor at Friendship, I used several options depending on the situation.
And while the methodology may have changed over the years – I think the principle of an altar call is Biblical. To eliminate something just because the method is not specifically laid out in Scripture, then lots of practices today would be cut out (we can dig into that on another day). The way I see it is that there should be a time to respond to the proclaimed Word. There should be opportunity for confession (Biblical), surrender (also Biblical), praise (Biblical), and to be prayed for (also Biblical).
You may adapt the methodology, you may call it by different names, and you may place it at different places in the worship order – but I encourage you NOT to eliminate the opportunity for worshippers to respond and to be given counsel and be prayed for. It should not be a ‘One minute fixes everything’ but a step in the journey of obedience. It is not to be emotional manipulation, but a time of wise and Biblical counsel.
One last point, we need to remove the stigma of one who do respond. Don’t look at those responding and try to figure our what they did wrong. Let the time be seen not as negative but positive – a time of victory. The person responding has not been defeated, but by responding, it is a time of victory in the Lord.
SO, may we preach the Word
– and pray that God will work in the heart of the listener.
May God’s Word not return void – And may the harvest be bountiful.