Bisagno On Extending the Gospel Invitation

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One of the books assigned to read for one of my classes is Pastor’s Handbook by John R. Bisagno which offers a lot of practical advice. The advice is mostly pragmatic seemingly from a consequentialist perspective. That is, Bisagno writes from experience with little Scriptural support for his advice. Bisagno’s advice is not intrinsically good or bad, right or wrong, but at times questions arise when experience seems to be his authority.

Bisagno offered an interesting perspective on extending the gospel invitation during corporate worship. I am not convinced the reasoning in the advice given about extending the invitation is logically consistent. What follows are some observations about Bisagno’s reasoning on the invitation.

While many forms of invitation may be extended, every sermon should be marked by an appeal to persuade the hearer to make a response to what he has just heard.1

While I agree with sharing the gospel in the sermon, Bisagno assumes every sermon is preached to the unbeliever rather than the body of Christ gathered to worship. In 1 Corinthians 14:23, Paul indicates the church gathering and explains the proper use of speaking in tongues in case unbelievers come into the service indicating the worship service is primarily a time for believers.

The physical expression of that response is important. It might be filling out a card, raising a hand, moving to an inquiry room, coming forward, or some other means, but it is important that the hearers be afforded the opportunity to make a tangible expression of their response. Everyone our Lord called to follow Him, He called publicly. He called Zacchaeus to come down out of the tree; He called Matthew to get up from his revenue table; He called Peter and Andrew to leave their fishing boats. A physical expression of the intent of the heart was always called for.2

A reason is not given for why a physical response is important. For Baptists, the ultimate physical response will be seen in public baptism. It is true that Jesus called people publicly to follow Him, however, Jesus call was more in the form of the Great Commission, while He was going, rather than during a worship service. Also, Scripture does not give any indication that the physical responses to Jesus’ calling was necessary other than the responses being a consequence of their physical location at the time.

It’s not that He needs our public stand as much as we need it. And the world needs the testimony and encouragement of our public profession of faith. For that reason I am most comfortable with extending a public invitation that calls for respondents to come to the front of the church and stand before the pulpit, although there are other acceptable ways.3

A public testimony is certainly encouraging to the body. Is such a testimony equally encouraging to the world? I’m not so sure for the world often criticizes Christians for their testimony being the beginning and end of one’s expression of faith. The world often hears a testimony rather than the gospel. The world often hears a testimony rather than seeing a life changed from the gospel.

The reasoning gets more interesting as Bisagno continues.

The invitation of our Lord must never be extended in the flesh without the powerful touch of the Holy Spirit. It must never be manipulative, high pressure, overly extended, embarrassing, or confusing.4

Agreed! However, Bisagno gives some interesting instructions on how to carry out the invitation.

One of the most important ingredients in the public invitation is the manner in which it is begun. A smooth transition from sermon to invitation is best accomplished with the help of background music and prayer. I finished every sermon by asking the people to pray. Immediately the praise band, organ, choir, or ensemble began to play or sing. A soloist should never sing during the invitation. It draws attention from the pulpit, the focal point of the invitation.5

A smooth transition makes sense as that is simply part of good public communication even though the Holy Spirit can use any gospel presentation regardless of the smoothness of transitions. I’m not sure why the best transition involves background music as some might see that at manipulative. Since Bisagno used Jesus’ examples of using a public invitation should we assume that Jesus also used background music or something to set the mood? Obviously, I’m being rhetorical, but to warn against manipulation and point to the power of the Holy Spirit while purporting background music with careful instruction to not use a soloist certain seems inconsistent. Can the Holy Spirit not work in the gospel with a soloist or without background music? I believe both of those items are missing from the gospel presentations in Scripture.

We should be cautious at the extremes of both an invitation too long and one too short. Don’t be afraid to sing more than two or three verses. If God is moving, let it go on.6

What constitutes an invitation being too long or too short? How does one discern if God is moving or not? How long were Jesus’ calls to those that Bisagno mentioned earlier?

Conversely, don’t extend the invitation beyond the movement of the Spirit of God. Don’t preach during the invitation, and do little, if any, ongoing exhortation. Let the Holy Spirit do His job; you’ve already done yours. When you sense He is finished, close the invitation. Don’t underestimate the power of a militant invitation. Songs like “Stand Up for Jesus” or “Onward Christian Soldiers” can stir the heart to respond.7

Again, how does one know when the invitation time has been extended beyond the Holy Spirit’s movement? How does one sense God is finished? While Bisagno warns against exhortation, he does advise readers to use stirring music. Using stirring music may not be direct verbal exhortation, but it is a device to try to persuade people. It seems that using such music would be trying to help the “Holy Spirit do His job.”

The traditional “come forward” invitation is powerful. Who could ever forget seeing hundreds and thousands stream down the aisle in a Billy Graham crusade? I want to be clear that I think it is still the best way. There’s a certain power and inspiration, a sense that “I am doing the right thing,” as others come to Christ, that makes it more conducive to come forward. 8

It seems that the gospel should be lifted up as the main point of what is powerful in any invitation (Rom. 1:16). Bisagno previously mentioned letting the Holy Spirit do his job, but also speaks to the power of walking the aisle. The self-congratulation that “I am doing the right thing” is to focus on the wrong person. Regardless of whether or not anyone comes forward, faithfulness to the gospel message of the Jesus Christ should be the measure of whether or not the right thing was done.

As Baptists continue the plight to get back to the Bible, it is clear that in some Baptist circles tradition still rules. Of course, we all have traditions, yet the desire should be to hold those traditions and the reasons for them based on the word of God as best we can.

For what it’s worth…

Mark
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  1. Bisagno, John R. (2011-09-01). Pastor’s Handbook (p. 209). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid., 210.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid., 210.
  7. Ibid., 210.
  8. Ibid., 212.
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tagged as , , in Baptist,Church Issues,Evangelism,Gospel,relativism,Sermons,Southern Baptist

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Clark Dunlap March 12, 2012 at 3:34 pm

Very good analysis. I remember reading this when I was first starting out as a pastor. I was trying to get the “hang” of the invitation. One slight disagreement, however, is with the idea of self-congratulations while walking down an aisle. I think the idea was that it was somewhat affirming that others are doing the same thing. Kinda funny if you’re singing, “Though none go with me, still I will follow…”

2 Zack March 12, 2012 at 3:54 pm

This is a well written and well thought out critique. Good job.

3 Mark March 13, 2012 at 12:08 am

Clark, thanks for the comments. The self-congratulation comment was meant toward the pastor who feels he’s doing the right thing because of the aisle walking. Either way, I agree that it can be encouraging. I just thought Bisagno presented the idea poorly.

Zack, thanks neighbor. We need to get together.

4 Ron March 13, 2012 at 5:57 pm

John Bisagno was a strong and straight forward preacher of the Word. He grew a great Church. May his tribe increase!

5 Mark March 13, 2012 at 7:59 pm

Ron, how much do you think God had to do with growing the great church that you mention?

6 Ron March 14, 2012 at 12:37 am

Mark,
God saved him, called him, empowered him, gave him His Word, the gospel was given to him … John walked by faith and stayed faithful. God gets the glory.

7 Zack March 14, 2012 at 6:12 pm

Mark, feel free to shoot me a FB message any time. I’m usually puttering around town most evenings.

.

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