On November 14, 2011, a sincere husband and wife approached me after my Contemporary Evangelism class to present a serious request. They asked, “Dr. Queen, we are the only Christians in both of our families of origin. When we go home for Thanksgiving Break, we are going to evangelize both of our families. Will you pray for us?” “Of course,” I replied.
Two weeks later they walked into the classroom. Having prayed earnestly for them and awaiting their arrival from Thanksgiving Break I asked, “How did it go? Were you able to share the gospel with both of your families of origin?” “Yes,” they answered. “How did it go,” I asked, “Did anyone in either of your families accept Christ?” “No,” they said. I responded, “I’m sorry to hear this news, but hopefully they will in the future.” Blitzing them with one question after the other I asked, “What do you think prevented them from believing? Was it because they thought you were crazy? Was it because it was their first time hearing the gospel? Were they simply unwilling to repent of their sins and make Jesus their Lord?” To each question they replied, “No.” I inquired, “Why, then, do you think none of them received Christ when you told them the gospel?” They soberly answered, “They didn’t receive Christ, Dr. Queen, because we failed to ask them to do so.” How many unbelievers who have heard our preaching in the churches failed to receive Christ because we have failed to instruct them and invite them to do so?
The invitation matters in preaching. Because pastors cannot know the spiritual condition of everyone under the sound of their voices, they should include the gospel and its appeal in every one of their sermons. Public evangelistic invitations can take many forms, from pastors instructing unbelievers to come to them during services or after services, to completing and submitting information on a card for a subsequent meeting, to quietly exiting the sanctuary to spiritual counseling rooms.
Why does the invitation matter in text-driven preaching? First, the overwhelming majority of sermons recorded in the New Testament include a call for unbelievers to believe in Jesus Christ for salvation and to repent of their sins (e.g., Matt 3:2; Matt 4:17; Mark 1:14–15; Acts 2:38; Acts 3:19; Acts 14:15; and Acts 26:20). Second, unbelievers who hear sermons do not know how to respond to the gospel apart from receiving instruction through an evangelistic invitation (e.g., Luke 3:10–14; Acts 2:37; and Acts 16:30). Last, the implicit nature of preaching itself anticipates preachers extending an invitation. The nature and purpose of biblical preaching can be distinguished from the nature and purpose of biblical teaching. Biblical, or text-driven, preaching principally aims to convince both believing and unbelieving hearers to change in conformity to the text; whereas biblical teaching primarily seeks to instruct hearers with the truth of the text in order that they may gain an understanding of it.
The inherent nature of both the Scriptures and the gospel elicits a response on the part of those who hear it. Effective text-driven preachers who call sinners to salvation in Jesus Christ alone by faith in Him alone should not tack-on generic and weekly repetitive invitations to the end of their sermons. For example, numerous preachers who extend a public invitation usually say something like, “Today, I call you to Christ. I call you to salvation. I invite you to come and inquire about how to join this church family.” However, imagine how their calls for sinners to repent and believe Christ would sound if such invitations naturally flow from the text’s genre and immediate application.
For instance, when preaching a narrative passage, identify either the sin problem or righteousness example presented in the text’s narration and call for those struggling with that particular sin, or falling short in that area of righteousness, to accept and apply the gospel’s remedy for them. If preaching an instruction passage, ascertain how the text’s teaching connects with the gospel and instruct hearers who disobey it to repent and receive the gospel’s power to enable their obedience. Whenever preaching a wisdom passage, associate the text’s wisdom admonition with the gospel’s ability to assist hearers to practice it. Last, when preaching an apocalyptic passage, appeal to the way in which the gospel provides an eternal way of escape from the judgment to come.
A text-driven preacher who desires to make the invitation matter in his preaching should consider answering the following questions in order to make any necessary changes to his sermon preparation and delivery:
- Do you take time during your sermon preparation to pray for sinners to be convicted upon hearing the Word of God in order that they may receive Christ? If not, why not incorporate such a prayer time in your sermon preparation?
- Do you spend any time during your sermon preparation crafting an invitation that flows out of the textual idea of the text? If not, consider taking the time to identify the genre of the passage, as well as the spiritual need(s) to which the textual idea addresses, in order to determine how you can instruct your hearers to apply and/or receive the textual solution to their spiritual deficiencies.
- Do you invite sinners to receive Christ with the exact same words when preaching from the Old Testament that you do preaching from the New Testament? In other words, does the text you preach inform and influence your articulation of the public invitation, or do you say the same thing at the end of every sermon?
- Do you present the gospel in such a way when you preach that your hearers realize they have a decision to make; or, do they leave the your sermons indifferent and unaware of their responsibility to receive the forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with the Father, eternal life, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit by believing in Christ for salvation and repenting of their sins?
Matt Queen is Associate Professor of Evangelism, the L.R. Scarborough Chair of Evangelism (“Chair of Fire”), and the Associate Director for Doctoral Programs for the Roy Fish School of Evangelism and Missions at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
This article has been adapted from content in Matt Queen, “Seeking the Lost and Perishing” in The Ministry of a Shepherd, Deron Biles, ed. (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2018), 151 and Mobilize to Evangelize (Fort Worth: Seminary Hill Press, 2018), 76–78.