Geared to the Times, Anchored to the Rock
I had a professor in college who used an expression that stuck with me. He said that the church needs to be “Geared to the times but anchored to the Rock.” This statement communicates the need to teach our glorious never-changing gospel to an ever-changing culture. The message never changes but the method often does. I am a new pastor at First Baptist Church Fairborn, a loving church with a rich history. This history includes 60-plus years of doing a formal invitation time at the end of the service. I define “formal invitation” as a time after the sermon where the pastor receives those who wish to respond to the sermon by accepting Christ, joining the church, or simply praying with someone who is struggling. This was the very first thing I changed when I got to the church. It certainly raised a few eyebrows and prompted a few questions when I did not immediately present decisions to the church for the first time in 60 years. I have received many good-spirited questions about this from a wide range of people at the church who simply desire clarity on the matter. The first thing I wish to say is just how appreciative I am that folks felt comfortable to come and ask me directly about the matter. Because of my desire to shepherd well, I have decided to write my reply to these good-spirited folks in this short document. I pray others will read, ask good questions, and sympathize with this change. So, why did I do away with a formal invitation?
The primary reason is because we live in a Biblically illiterate culture. I am not trying to sound harsh. I am only stating a fact. It breaks my heart to type it but it’s true. American believers, in general, know very little about the Bible compared to previous generations. By and large, churches have experienced a downward spiral in attendance which is one of the main factors that has led to our Biblically illiterate culture. Your Christian grandparents listened intently to sermons by Bible believing pastors and, at the end of the service, they responded to the invitation issued by a man who called them to repent and place their faith in Christ. It was a monumental decision to your grandparents because they understood that they were laying down their life and placing it in the hands of the Lord Jesus for better or for worse. They understood words like “repentance” and “faith” because their parents taught them about the Bible and the cost of discipleship. It meant something back then to pledge your life to Jesus in front of the whole congregation. The pastor was fully aware of what he was asking people to do, and the listener understood what he or she was doing when they responded. I stopped inviting people down front for all the church to see for the much more preferable method of meeting with people in a private room at the conclusion of the worship service because people do not understand what they are committing themselves to anymore.
Biblical illiteracy explains why so many people who made professions of faith as a young person have walked away from the faith as a young adult. They are the second seed in the parable of the sower where Jesus says,
“Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away.”
Grandparents are perplexed and heartbroken by their children and grandchildren who made professions of faith very early in life but currently demonstrate no evidence of ever actually being born again. My fear is that well-meaning churches and pastors have failed to slow down and adequately explain the gospel to a culture that has dramatically changed. My evidence? Stacks of decision cards in church records from the 80s and 90s that currently lack representation in a local church. What does Jesus mean when he says that they had no depth of soil? This second seed represents someone who lacks the Biblical understanding of conversion and therefore appears to have been saved (they quickly sprout up) but were never born again (they wither away for lack of root).
Can you see how difficult it is to determine someone’s understanding of conversion and explain the gospel in 5 minutes to a lost person who did not grow up in church and has very little comprehension of Biblical conversion? A formal invitation does not grant me the time. A sit-down conversation after the service is simply the beginning of a long conversation that may last weeks or months.
Another age-old problem in the church is false prophets. Jesus promises that there will be people who purposely try to deceive the church by pretending to be a believer but are actually motivated to harm God’s people. He says,
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.
As the shepherd of this church I am constantly aware of my responsibility to guard the flock against wolves. These false teachers look so much like genuine believers that time and observation are the only two responsible methods to discern the difference between a sheep and a wolf. I fear that many churches and pastors with good intentions have allowed wolves into their flock by not slowing the membership process down, which allows the much-needed time to observe if someone’s claim to Christ is genuine. There are other reasons why I have decided to move the invitation time to a counseling area after the service, but these two are the main reasons. We live in a Biblically illiterate culture which has exposed the church to wolves. In a church culture that puts immense pressure on pastors to grow the church numerically, pastors have forgotten that their first responsibility is to protect the sheep. I pray that my motives are always Biblical and that these changes would be well received. May God bless our church.