Mike Cope's blog

Friday, December 02, 2005

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.

51 Comments:

  • Reading . . . invitations . . . politics . . . soccer. I think it's the variety that I especially like about this blog. The staples seem to be sports, faith, and music. Plus, of course, guacamole.

    By Blogger Emily, at 12/02/2005 05:14:00 AM  

  • Mike - thanks for the note on Mel, my cousin's husband. I informed my good friend and fellow deacon Jim McReynolds - our east Texas state rep.- of this news Sunday and he was delighted that Bob's replacement could be a similar man of God (but from Jim's party of choice ;-) ). We need more people like Mel in Austin.

    By Blogger KentF, at 12/02/2005 06:04:00 AM  

  • I remember standing up to sing some "suck-'em-down-the-aisle" song like "Oh, Why Not Tonight?" or "Did You Repent, Fully Repent?" (which sounds like a drinking song, if you ask me) and thinking what eternal damnation I would face if I died in a car accident on the way home and if only I could step out into the aisle ("The first step's the hardest!" the preacher would yell out between verses), I could save myself.

    How ridiculous, I thought later.

    Then a family from church really did get in a wreck on the way home from church one night! They were all OK, but STILL!

    I think too many churches leave "soul-saving" up to the preacher. "Come to my church and listen to my preacher to learn about how to become a Christian." And then, "Oh, this must have been an off-Sunday for him. Come back next week." It's more comfortable that way -- takes the pressure off of us -- but it has no biblical precedent at all. It's just a big cop-out, I think. And an emphasis on the invitation seems to foster that.

    By Blogger Deana Nall, at 12/02/2005 06:25:00 AM  

  • "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."

    Amen. There is nothing more dis heartening when you put all out there and no is there, or they're at Luby's beating the crowd.

    By Blogger L, at 12/02/2005 06:40:00 AM  

  • Here is an additional way to look at “invitations”: Does the particular text in the sermon call for it? Sometimes (like last Sunday’s text I used, Mark 8:27-9:1) a text calls for offering an invitation to “come forward”. Other times, it does not. I want the text to dictate the kind of invitation that is appropriate. And last Sunday, I actually offered an anti-invitation. I told people not to come forward unless they are willing to deny self, take up their cross and follow. Hmmm...I had no responses that day.

    From an antidotal perspective, last weekend, I had someone thank me for offering an invitation. They then said (and I quote), “the person sitting next me was squirming, that is good.” Now that is a reason NOT to offer a “come forward as we stand and sing.” I don’t see Jesus calling people to squirm. Pharisees and religious egotists, maybe deserve to squirm, but people who are on a journey of discovering Jesus are invited (not the same kind of invitation) but not coerced and made to squirm.

    By Blogger Paul, at 12/02/2005 06:43:00 AM  

  • Good words, Paul. Recently as I've been preaching through Matthew 5, we've had leaders at the back to receive people for commitment and prayer as we seek to respond to the words of Jesus: don't live in anger/bitterness, don't be driven by lust, don't discard your marriage commitments, be people of integrity, don't retaliate, and love your enemies with the Father's love.

    As I said, I'm not trying to figure out how to do this for others. I'm just thinking out loud here about a small part of my preaching journey.

    By Blogger Mike, at 12/02/2005 06:49:00 AM  

  • What's a drinking song? ;)

    By Blogger Greg Kendall-Ball, at 12/02/2005 07:01:00 AM  

  • Well said Mike. In my first work in Pennsylvania on a Sunday night when my dad was visiting, I did not offer an invitation. (We had made this optional when I first moved there in 1969) When we got back to the house my dad remarked that he didn't feel like he had been to church. Thankfully he was a man with an open heart and we were able to discuss the reason we didn't have the invitation.

    Many lessons just don't lend themselves to an invitation, or you are forced to turn the direction at the end of the lesson to make the invitation fit.

    By Blogger Lee Hodges, at 12/02/2005 07:02:00 AM  

  • Re: assemblies for worship or encouragement?

    Here's my take...first, God never intended for his people to worship out of duty. How much sense does that make?!

    I think God has in mind that his people who have been set free from the slavery of sin and death will not be able to NOT worship. Think about it...you will never pay for the sins you commit but will live with God forever in a place reserved especially for you because of the gift of mercy through Jesus! How can one not worship when this reality takes hold?

    Put together a group of people who have grasped this reality in a house or building, experience their unhindered and unadulterated joy, and one can't help but be encouraged. There's nothing more obscene than a boring ritualistic assembly of believers who have not caught the deep reality of their status with the Father. That must make God sick.

    By Blogger MarkS, at 12/02/2005 07:10:00 AM  

  • Thanks, Mike. We are too are on a similiar journey in congregation (specifically with the shepherding group) and are asking what things might be articifial props to worship versus what actions encourage (recognizes) genuine Spirit moments. "Come Forward" invitations just might run counter to the Spirit at times.

    BTW, skip soccer. Come to the north and enjoy a real sport...ice hockey!

    By Blogger Paul, at 12/02/2005 07:23:00 AM  

  • I just spent a few days at a conference in Dallas. The one thing that struck me the most was the worship and how free it was. I loved it. I long for the days when we (I) can lose (my)ourselves in worship and focus only on Him. By this I mean giving up fear of man and what people will think of me if I were to follow my heart and look different than they were used to seeing me look, like by, dare I say, dancing. I am by no means there - I still had those thoughts running through my mind. I just saw so many people who didn't and I admired them and their loss of self. I'm not sure what that has to do with invitations but I guess I needed to say it.

    By Blogger Candy, at 12/02/2005 07:56:00 AM  

  • Candy - Have you ever seen a room full of Church of Christ people trying to dance? It's not so much a theological issue as an aesthetic one. :)

    By Blogger Mike, at 12/02/2005 08:10:00 AM  

  • Ha! that is a mental image of the Dancing, Like Elaine off Seinfield.

    I once heard my father-in-law rant about an invitation because it didn't include the a run through the 5 steps and their key scriptures. Does anyone else have memory of that extreme branch of our little tree? Where not only did we always offer "because there might be someone here to respond" but that it didn't count unless you got 5 step dance in.

    By Blogger TCS, at 12/02/2005 08:46:00 AM  

  • OUR five step dance in. I should really learn to proof.

    By Blogger TCS, at 12/02/2005 08:48:00 AM  

  • Mike--the "invitation" has been something I keep meaning to ask you about--but always forget. Thank you for sharing these thoughts.

    By Blogger RPorche, at 12/02/2005 08:55:00 AM  

  • I am HAPPY we got away from offering an invitation and the grueling song, all 15 verses, and everyone looking to see who walked.

    I love my church, our minister gives the best lessons, that make me want to be a better person every moment of my life, and I don't forget the message and know my responsibility is to act on what I have just heard.

    I am a Church of Christer who has rythym and can dance. Thank God I married a Pentecostal Presbytarian and we ballroom dance.

    By Blogger Hoots Musings, at 12/02/2005 09:00:00 AM  

  • Mike, you are forgetting about Cisco.....he could "cut a rug"! That is what my grandparents used to say when talking about dancing.
    And how about Funky? :)

    Ahhh....those Harding dances we attended! :)

    DU

    By Blogger David U, at 12/02/2005 09:02:00 AM  

  • Those Harding dances were called Spring Sing.

    By Blogger Thunder Fan, at 12/02/2005 09:08:00 AM  

  • Could it be that we have often put so much focus on particular moments of salvation, rather than on a process?
    A few invitation songs come to mind:
    "Why Keep Jesus Waiting?--which include the lyrics--"Waiting in the cold...waiting at the door...soon he'll cease his pleading..."
    Or, "O Why Not Tonight?"
    Mike, I must agree that I am an advocate of the prayer times that are offered in worship services. They provide healthier atmospheres and environments for people to express their concerns.

    By Blogger Josh Ross, at 12/02/2005 09:14:00 AM  

  • Ah....Matthew 5...I think the series was called "Righteousness Inside/Out" back in the mid 80's at College Church in Searcy. Still have the tapes and return to them on occasion. Great stuff and as you say, really not fitting for an invitation to walk down the aisle.

    By Blogger Paul W, at 12/02/2005 09:31:00 AM  

  • Candy, you sure have been talking a lot about dancing lately. I don’t know if you are trying to start something are if you are responding to God just as David did when he brought the ark back to where it belonged. If it is the latter, then it has everything to do with the invitation.

    By Blogger Clint, at 12/02/2005 09:39:00 AM  

  • Mike having recently witnessed you trying to cut a rug - you're right about it being an aesthetic issue.

    By Blogger J A Pierpont, at 12/02/2005 09:44:00 AM  

  • Mike, about us dancing, What till Jerry and Steve are through with us.

    By Blogger Clint, at 12/02/2005 09:54:00 AM  

  • Mike, excellent thoughts.

    Hey, I've got one for everyone. Before moving to Portland I preached in Missouri. We used the Sacred Selections (or we called them the Scared Selections or Scarred Selections). The song "When We All Get to Heaven" was changed to "When the Saved Get to Heaven." We wanted to make sure that every lost visitor knew they were lost and if the sermon didn't hit them that invitation song might make them come forward!

    Ron Clark, Portland

    By Blogger KMiV, at 12/02/2005 09:58:00 AM  

  • Mike,

    This is off the subject but as we were getting to our Christmas boxes yesterday I came across my old LP's.

    There was one in there called "Harding University Presents: Times Are Changing" with Kent Wells, David Slater, and Wayne Bailey.

    Looks like it used to be a group called "The Time of Day". Wish I had the turntable to go with the album!

    By Blogger Amy, at 12/02/2005 10:06:00 AM  

  • Mike,

    I loved reading what you had to say on worship. Keep posting! :)

    Matt Tapie

    By Blogger Matt Tapie, at 12/02/2005 10:37:00 AM  

  • Mike, NT Wright has an even newer book out called The Last Word: Beyond the Bible Wars to a New Understanding of the Authority of Scripture

    I'm gratified to see Wright gaining more weight in popular American theology. I truly believe (and understand the blasphemy I'm about to commit) that he may be a more important thinker for our time than C.S. Lewis was for his time.

    By Blogger Phil, at 12/02/2005 10:45:00 AM  

  • How about "Troublesome times are here, filling men's hearts w/fear"...."Jesus is coming soon, morning or night or noon, many will meet their doom, trumpets will sound". My older son turned toward me one Sunday when this was being sung & whispered(of course),"Mom, WHO wrote these depressing lyrics with this kind of hip-hop beat & we're acting like it's a big happy party or something?" YIKES! I hope no congregation uses that song to "extend" the invitation.

    By Blogger annie, at 12/02/2005 10:49:00 AM  

  • Annie,
    If memory serves...that song was written shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor -- as the USA was entering World War II. Many will meet their doom certainly takes on a whole new meaning when filtered through that lens, doesn't it?

    Were we really celebrating the idea that our soldiers were going over there to send our enemy to meet their Maker?

    By Blogger john alan turner, at 12/02/2005 11:00:00 AM  

  • Amy - "Time of Day" rocked! Anyone out there remember the Chuck Hicks "Time of Day"? Don Eudaly (who peeks in here from time today)? And how about you Otter Creek (Nashville) folks? Surely you have copies of the old albums with your minister, Tim Woodroof, singing and picking for "Time of Day"!

    Stonebridge - There have been lots of sightings of me dancing -- including here in Abilene at my son's wedding. And yes, it's an aesthetic issue! (Now my wife, on the other hand, grew up dancing . . . .)

    By Blogger Mike, at 12/02/2005 11:27:00 AM  

  • In a recent video class from Liberty, Elmer Towns talks about worship is the time that the church body gets together to celebrate. I would like to see more of that.

    Also I went to a church when I was younger where people would come forward at the invitation to share good news so that we could all "rejoice with those who rejoice." It was a great time for the church. "We're going to have a baby, I got a promotion" whatever made you rejoice you shared that with the church and we all got to rejoice with you. I have tried to get folks to do that in every church where I have worked and you would think that I was speaking Spanish. Alas old habits and traditions die hard.

    By Blogger Jeremy Houck <>, at 12/02/2005 11:29:00 AM  

  • Mike,

    I've been following your blog ever since Zoe this year, and haven't bothered to comment because, well, you have so many comments, and I wasn't even sure you read them (apparently I didn't, but you do). I'm glad I realized some of your comments are funnier than your post:

    Have you ever seen a room full of Church of Christ people trying to dance? It's not so much a theological issue as an aesthetic one.

    That's great! But the real reason I wanted to comment is that I love what you have to say about the invitation song - I've thought for awhile that that is one of the most formal ways to do something that is really informal, and I'd love to stop that tradition.

    On a side note, I have seen this effective at one church - Landmark church of Christ in Montgomery, AL. We've visited there, and when someone goes forward, the preacher invites anyone else who has that problem to come forward, sit with them, and pray with them. That's powerful; especially when you are dealing with private sins that we don't normally announce. Of course, it appears to me that Landmark is like a big family, and they have tightly knit small groups, anyway, so I'm sure a lot of that is going on there already. I was just honestly surprised to see a place that appeared to make the "invitation song" work, so to speak.

    But I'd still like to un-tradition it. :)

    By Blogger Jim, at 12/02/2005 11:38:00 AM  

  • I don't think the problem is that some do an invitation song. The problem is when we make it a requirement. When we make idols of our rituals. Communion is another example. We use little cups for convenience. Jesus certainly never used little plastic cups. But I've heard of places in uproar at the thought of changing that. Our we worshipping God or our traditions?

    By Blogger Beaner, at 12/02/2005 11:47:00 AM  

  • UGH! Spell Check! Sould read "ARE we worshipping..."

    While I'm back, why is Communion so solemn? Shouldn't we be having a fiesta? Just wondering!

    By Blogger Beaner, at 12/02/2005 11:50:00 AM  

  • Mike - No, I've never seen a roomful of Church of Christ people "trying" to dance. That does sound, well, interesting. My point however was not that we should "try" so much as we should just move, dare I say - in the Spirit. It's not about striving, it's about experiencing Him, meeting Him, glorying in His presence. And Clint - though it may sound like I'm trying to start something, I am not. I am rather lamely trying to respond to Him. Thank you for your reference to David. Seems I have some studying to do. Mike - sorry to use your blog for this discourse with Clint, but if we could get him to open up his own blog this wouldn't be necessary!!!

    By Blogger Candy, at 12/02/2005 11:58:00 AM  

  • We've only been meeting officially for about 2 months now (a new church plant in Salem, OR) and I don't think we've once offered an "invitation", yet each week we have a "sending" song or two with Scripture.

    It's probably because we have the missional outlook on things right now, being so new, but if all we focus on is sucking people in, instead of equipping people to go out, then we're not doing a very good job as God's called people.

    Thanks for your words Mike, even if I don't like the same sports teams as you.

    By Blogger Tim Lewis, at 12/02/2005 12:10:00 PM  

  • Mike, great post.
    I'm an elder (no boos please)in Central Florida. I agree with your opinion concerning invitations.

    One of the many goals of preaching (my opinion) should be behavioral change. It doesn't do me any good to come forward and ask for forgiveness unless I'm willing to make a behavioral change to stop that particular sinful behavior. I like the way you said that you try to "call people out" with your preaching.

    It has also been my experience that most folks that come forward during an invitation already "came forward" in a smaller setting with a concerned friend, small group, or even an elder or two.

    By the way, we have a member at our church named Sue (married name)Pinch. She said that she went to Harding with you and you use to call her "Sue-bob." If you remember her she says "hi."
    Take care.

    By Blogger cwinwc, at 12/02/2005 12:24:00 PM  

  • Speaking of church families, Mike may I also take a moment out of your blogtime and ask the wonderful prayer warriors here to keep my former church family in San Diego in prayer, especially about an hour from now (4pm CST)

    There will be a memorial service for the former wife of the pastor there who took her life last Sunday. She leaves Pastor T, two girls, their husbands, and baby grandchildren. To be such a big congregation, it is a very close family so you can just imagine the pain everyone is going through, including yours truly.

    Please hold up all of us in prayer this afternoon, as well as throughout this beautiful Christmas season. It's going to be tough!

    Thanks Mike, and bless all of you for your prayers!

    By Blogger Kathy, at 12/02/2005 12:55:00 PM  

  • NT Wright is one of my favorites! In addition to a lot of insightful books, he's got a great web site with many PDF's and MP3's to download. You can find it at:
    N.T. Wright Page

    By Blogger reJoyce, at 12/02/2005 12:58:00 PM  

  • Yea for MEL!! That would be awesome!

    By Blogger Brandon Scott, at 12/02/2005 01:22:00 PM  

  • Most of the congregations in this part of NY don't offer such invitations on Sundays either. Those that do were planted by Texans or have a larger than normal contingent of southern transplants.

    I've always found it an odd practice for those assemblies that are made up almost entirely of Christians. And, sometimes it seems "tacked-on" and completely inappropriate to the message preceding.

    By Blogger James, at 12/02/2005 01:26:00 PM  

  • I really wish that the whole invitation thing never became elevated to a "have to" part of a service, but I always want to be care to be careful to respect the intent of many of those invitations. I, like so many, was moved to walk down an isle on a Thursday night of a "Gospel Meeting." That night is still special in my memory. I was baptized as a kid by Rubel Shelly when he was of the far right persuasion. Mike I like your words and I appreciate your freedom that you give people to practice as they feel they should. I have to admit that it was pretty thrilling on the opening Sunday of that Gospel Meeting when 56 people "came forward," and old brother V.E. Howard clapped his hands and shouted to the top of his lungs, "Were having a revival."

    By Blogger RC, at 12/02/2005 05:03:00 PM  

  • For my friend Greg Kendall-Ball: A drinking song is a ditty like "How Dry I Am / How Dry I Am / Nobody Knows / How Dry I Am."

    An invitation song is when we take a drinking song like that and substitute the lyric "O Happy Day / That fixed my choice / On thee my savior / And my God."

    By Blogger Keith Brenton, at 12/02/2005 05:45:00 PM  

  • Along the same line of an invitation to come forward at the end of the service, what strikes me as odd is the emphasis on baptism every single Sunday, even if/when 90% of the congregation has been baptized, and the other 10% are infants and toddlers. This may be a small church phenomenon primarily, but I've discussed it with folks from larger churches who have similar experiences.

    By Blogger Jeff, at 12/02/2005 07:05:00 PM  

  • Unfortunately, many churches need an invitation because there is no other outlet or opportunity for confession. No small groups, no home Bible studies, no spiritual discussions of any kind. They sit in an auditorium class and then after church is over they talk about the weather, sports, and their kids. Repeat on Wednesday night. Start over on Sunday.

    I always grew up with the impression that going forward publicly in the assembly was for reasons in which the "sinner" made the church look bad in a public way. Anybody else think that?

    By Blogger John, at 12/02/2005 08:37:00 PM  

  • Here's a link I ran across on the history of the "Alter Call" or "Invitation."

    http://www.biblicalstudies.com/bstudy/ecclesiology/altar.htm

    By Blogger John, at 12/02/2005 08:47:00 PM  

  • Sorry..another musing. I am sure as a fellow minister you noticed that when "extending the invitation" it was merely a cue for everyone to stop listening, pick up all the crayons, paper, and toys from the pew and put them back in the diaper bag, and get the song book out and open to the invitation song. It's like a race. "Can I get all of that done before he finishes talking to those sinners and non-Christians?"

    By Blogger John, at 12/02/2005 08:58:00 PM  

  • John said: I am sure as a fellow minister you noticed that when "extending the invitation" it was merely a cue for everyone to stop listening, pick up all the crayons, paper, and toys from the pew and put them back in the diaper bag, and get the song book out and open to the invitation song.

    I'm not even a minister and I notice it.

    By Blogger reJoyce, at 12/03/2005 06:40:00 AM  

  • I'm not even a minister and I notice it.

    Sure you are, Joyce.

    By Blogger Steve Jr., at 12/03/2005 08:15:00 AM  

  • Good thoughts. I started doing a "double invitation" a few years ago that includes the tradional "if you have any needs" but I added "most of us are going to stay in our seats but we still have a decision to make". I then invite them to make a decision concerning the message they just heard. If we heard a message about forgiveness, then I invite them to forgive, etc. It seems to keep me focused as well, because I'm always thinking while I'm preparing a sermon, "What am I asking them to do?"

    By Blogger Ryan, at 12/06/2005 08:13:00 AM  

  • I've always found it interesting how preachers kind of have to wrap it up by stearing the sermon toward an invitation. When I was a kid I always felt sorry for preachers if they tried really hard, but still no one came forward. Sometimes I felt like walking up there just to make the poor guy feel good.

    By Blogger Kyle, at 12/07/2005 11:26:00 PM  

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