As thrilling as it is to ensure that at least a moment in every sermon points to Christ and him crucified, it is even more so when sermons issue an urgent yet loving appeal to surrender to his Lordship. Doing this well involves doing it with variety. It includes recognizing that people come in with very different understanding of their own needs.
Some people before they meet Jesus have a deep need to belong.
Others have a need to feel worthy.
Still others have an overwhelming sense of guilt and so need to feel forgiven. (This is, of course, the ultimate human need and the most frequent way we preachers have to craft invitations. However, not everyone feels guilty – whether they should or not – giving rise to Albert Outler’s famous address, The Gospel For The Guiltless.)
Others need to feel loved.
A few need to feel an overriding sense of purpose.
In my own case, the deepest need that I had at 17 and the sense that I had upon surrender was this: Winning.
Winning? What in the world does that mean?
Here’s why winning was the initial appeal of the Gospel to me. When I was 17 and my best friend shared faith with me in a compelling way (complete with room-spinning, Holy Spirit soaking power, no drugs or alcohol needed), I did NOT have an awareness of my sin. I was so rudimentary in my understanding of faith that the notion of Jesus dying on the cross for my sins, even mine, was not in my personal vocabulary.
What I was sure of that night — and all the days since — is that Jesus was one day coming back and when he returned I wanted to make quite sure I was on HIS SIDE because his side wins. He is Lord, he is King, and it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
The point of all that is for the preacher to recognize that there is no “one size fits all” in crafting an invitation. While one Sunday may well focus on forgiveness, another should dwell on purpose, and yet another lift up the joy of belonging in the world of abandonment. And if your congregation includes a hyper-competitve, pre-Christian tennis player or two, you might want to center your invitation on the fact of Jesus’ ultimate victory.
The Jesus who is everywhere is also available to everyone.
In 2017, I opened up the Hell Or High Water series with a message called “What The …” (Yes, other messages in the series were “Why The …”, “Who The … “ and “How The …”) Towards the end of that first message, after explaining that we learn the most about hell from meek and mild Jesus, I turned towards an invitation. This would have the most appeal to those motivated by a) guilt b) fear c) join the winning team or d) all of the above. Here’s what I said:
Because the good news is this: the only force more powerful than the wrath of God is the love of God. The only thing that triumphs over the judgment of God is the grace of God. Run to that. Pursue that. God’s decision are right, they are just, they are UNfair (in our favor), and his heart beats that all would be saved. His heart breaks when they aren’t. Run to that. Not your goodness. His grace.
So who here today wants assurance of your forever realm? Who here knows you have a king who while he won’t be mocked he will be loved? Who would like to give that king your life today? When I say the words “Jesus is Lord,” you stand. Where you are. Some of you are standing on the inside right now. Others can’t believe you’d stand in a room full of people you barely know. You know what? There’s no better group for you to start your new life with than this one. They will applaud and love you here just like one day, many years from now, the angels themselves will greet your arrival in glory. So .. you ready? Here goes …. JESUS. IS. LORD.
Message simplified. Savior magnified. Impact multiplied.
The above is an excerpt from Simplify The Message; Multiply The Impact, released by Abingdon Press on February 4 and available for purchase here.