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After the Altar Call: The Seven Best Ways to Ruin an Invitation

3. What made you respond to the message?

4. Are there any particular struggles, habits or sins you have in life?

5. What decision have you made as a result of the message?

6. Very specifically, how can I pray for you?

Counselors shouldn’t talk too much … but at some point, they will need to speak. That brings us to our next mistake.

Mistake #6: Focus on the symptom, not the Savior.

I saw it happen recently in a church where I was speaking. A young man had responded to a message I preached from Psalm 20 and was partnered with a (young) counselor. The two of them were engaged in a serious conversation when I walked in a few minutes later. I quietly sat down beside them and silently listened as the counselor tried to help the young man with his addiction to pornography.

The counselor talked on and on about the best ways to overcome this destructive addiction: get accountability, download filtering software, read the Bible, ask for God’s help, etc. All of it was good advice. Then the counselor stood up to leave; he’d said all that could be said about porn.

However, he’d said nothing about the Savior.

Acting quickly, I asked if I could pose a few questions to the young man. I was given his permission, so I cut right to the chase and asked him about his relationship with Jesus. Did he have one? How did he know? What was the quality of it? How was the sin of pornography affecting that relationship? What was his plan in dealing with that sin?

Sadly, it was the first time this young man had discussed Jesus. I spent a few minutes asking him more questions about Jesus and then prayed with him. When he left the room a little while later, fully assured of his relationship with Jesus, I nonchalantly held the young counselor back.

I gently pointed out to him that he focused only on pornography and never once got around to offering Jesus’ forgiveness of that sin. I reminded him the young man’s ultimate problem wasn’t pornography; it was his sinful nature! “Think about it,” I said. “Suppose he actually breaks the chains of bondage that porn has him in—Terrific!—but he’s still in debt to God for his lust, not to mention his various acts of sexual immorality. He’ll still be guilty before God. That is the reality we must focus on first.”

Too often, counselors start off their conversations by focusing on the symptoms instead of the Savior. They discuss every form of sinfulness—anger, lust, lying, gossip, unforgiveness—but run out of time (or breath) before talking about the Savior and His cure for sin.

Don’t let your counselors get sidetracked from their main task of helping people respond to Jesus. Make sure they focus their conversations on the Savior, not the symptoms.

Mistake #7: Pray for them instead of with them.

“Just repeat after me: Dear Jesus …”

I probably should say I vehemently hate the Sinner’s Prayer. I know it’s been used by mighty men of God for decades, but the practice has its drawbacks.

Tell me something. If Jesus truly wants a personal relationship with us, then why do we need someone else telling us what to say to Him? Given that so many Christians, counselors included, view the prayer as a formula for salvation, it’s no surprise doubt ensues afterward about whether the right words were used.

When the time comes for a person to pray to receive Christ, why not let him or her use his or her own words? You might have to guide the person a little bit, but if we pray with people instead of for them, they never will look back on their salvation moment and realize it was someone else’s words that were used instead of their own.

Some very simple guidance is usually sufficient; they need to confess their sins and ask for God’s forgiveness, committing to walk with Jesus every day for the rest of their lives. Then, after taking a moment to show them the confidence Jesus had in our heavenly Father hearing our prayers (John 11:41-42), give them a chance to pray from their hearts.

They may mess up words, but they can’t mess up heart.

Getting It Right

As pastors and church leaders, we have lots of great reasons to correct these mistakes when it comes to giving an altar call.

For starters, Jesus deserves our very best; and so do those who listen to us preach. Furthermore, these mistakes are too easy to fix, so there are no excuses for tolerating them. Finally, too much goes into our preaching to have it derailed at the last and most important moment.

As we preach, let’s remember eternity is on the line. That alone is reason enough to get it right.