I read about half of N. T. Wright's new book, Paul in Fresh Perspective, yesterday. Wow. The man is a force of nature when it comes to New Testament scholarship. More about it later. - - - - All right. Why I quit offering invitations years ago. Has it ever hit you that the early church very likely didn't end their house church gatherings with an altar call? As far as we know, no one came to the front, filled out a card, and said, "I haven't been the example I should be." The nature of their gatherings, however, offered ongoing chances to encourage each other, confess to each other, and pray for each other. And through the vast majority of church history, the assemblies didn't lead up to an invitation. It's tied into frontier revivalism. As the church pressed forward, the assemblies became focused on a time of response. Basically, worship gatherings became revivals or, as Churches of Christ have preferred, "Gospel Meetings." (By the way, here is a good time to say I get weary of the discussion of whether our assemblies are for worship or for encouragement. They're for both. Just because Paul points out that worship has broader implications in a Christian's life doesn't mean there isn't something called worship that focuses on adoration of God and re-formation of God's people.) To me, this is a cultural thing that just doesn't fit most of the time. It's not the big ending, the reason for gathering. In my mind, the big assembly isn't the best place -- most of the time -- for the kind of responses you occasionally hear. That's best made in smaller settings: with covenant groups, small groups, accountability groups, Bible classes, etc. Someplace where a group gathers around a person and commits to help them (and be helped by them) over the long haul. And baptism? We have lots of baptisms. But they aren't usually because people hear one message and walk to the front. It's because they are in the process of being formed in the Way of Jesus, and baptism becomes an obvious part of that journey. Were there ever baptisms-on-the-spot in the NT? Yes, but not in the gatherings of the churches in response to an "invitation" (as far as we know). The point of the sermon isn't to see how many can walk to the front. It's to continue moving people along into the story of Jesus, forming them into a Way that is counter-cultural. If you preach on "loving your enemies," e.g., the goal isn't to have people walk down the aisle, make a confession, and then dismiss. The goal is to rattle people, shake them, and immerse them again into cruciform living. Hopefully it sends them out into families, small groups, and Bible classes to be stirred by the implications. This isn't to say that I never offer invitations. And it isn't to say that my way is the right way. I have noticed that when you get outside of Churches of Christ and a few other revivalist-based denominations, you don't find many invitation songs. You do find constant invitations to continue pursuing the Way of Christ, however! I very much like the movement now toward offering times of prayer, where people can bring prayer concerns (for repentance, for healing, for intercession) to leaders of the church. We've found that to be a very valuable time on Wednesday evenings, especially those evenings when people are invited to be anointed with oil. (More on that some other time.) Again, this isn't me telling others how to do it. Just a bit of insight into what I've been thinking. - - - - Yesterday my friend Mel Hailey made his formal announcement that he's running for the state legislature. You can read about him at www.melhailey.com. He is chairman of the political science department at ACU, an elder at the University Church, and an incredible man. His wife, Jan, is a Bible faculty member at ACU and one of the best women you'll meet in your life. - - - - Now . . . back to soccer.