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.
Previously, I commented on Bisagno’s perspective on extending the gospel invitation during corporate worship.1 Below I will comment on the three reasons he offers a partially contributing to a decline in baptisms in Southern Baptist churches.
Throughout Southern Baptist history, more conversions and baptisms have come through traditional invitations in the church than marketplace evangelism. From 1998 to 2010, baptisms in Southern Baptist churches consistently spiraled downward.
Three critical invitation factors are at least part of the problem.
- Lack of clarity in articulating the terms of the gospel such that no one can misunderstand.
- No sense of urgency. Don’t hide it. Stand up on your feet, look people in the eye, and urge them to be saved now.
- No music. I repeatedly hear it and it’s too sad for words: invitation music sung by only one person with one guitar singing an unfamiliar song that says nothing about coming to Jesus right now. Always use a praise band or choir, never a soloist. And sing something that is recognizable and conducive to everyone joining in. The power of surrounding music contributes to the ease of the “come forward” invitation. Even the most sincere soloist cannot help but draw attention to himself. And the better the soloist is, the worse it is. No solo should be sung during the invitation.
Find new ways to get the impact of “Softly and Tenderly,” “Only Trust Him,” “Oh Why Not Tonight,” or “Just as I Am” before your people in a musically contemporary manner.2
On point one, I agree. I have heard the gospel invitation given as – just ask Jesus into your heart or just receive Jesus today or just pray telling Jesus that you receive Him as Lord and Savior, etc. Absent from those gospel presentations is a clear explanation of sin, repentance and faith. The lack of gospel clarity ties into Bisagno’s second point on urgency, but for different reasons.
On point two, lack of a sense of urgency is a good observation. However, the solution is not biblically based. Scripture gives no indication of the physical action or appearance that Jesus and His disciples displayed when sharing the gospel. Rather, a sense of urgency is created by the Holy Spirit moving and people being convicted of their sins by a clear articulation of the gospel.
On the other hand, since Scripture gives no description of how a preacher should physically hold himself while sharing the gospel there is nothing wrong with Bisagno’s suggestion. A preacher should be able to stand and look someone in the eye when sharing the gospel. There is also a possibility of creating a false sense of urgency by using certain physical actions when sharing the gospel.
On point three, I find the most disagreement. In my mind, this point wreaks of pure pragmatism. The amount of emphasis and power Bisagno gives to music is chilling. He even mentions the “power of surrounding music.” No doubt that music has the power to move people emotionally. Believing the gospel is more than a simple emotional experience. The gospel, not any particular type of music, is the power of God unto salvation.
When so much emphasis is put on music as Bisagno does in point three, I want to ask how Jesus and His disciples ever shared the gospel with out a traveling choir.
Bisagno ends the chapter with the following two sentences.
I recommend that you always begin with a “come forward” invitation. Other options are fine but only following the “come forward” invitation, not instead of it.
Preaching the gospel without a specific, public, immediate opportunity to respond to it is unthinkable. Jesus never did. How can we?3
Notice that responding is equated with coming forward. When the church was gathered for worship in Scripture there is no indication of people coming forward in reply to the gospel. Bisagno’s last sentence comes across as if his suggestions are explicit, biblical commands on how to share the gospel during corporate worship. Where exactly are examples of Jesus giving out “specific, public, immediate” opportunities to respond to the gospel in corporate worship?
I think Bisagno’s suggestions above partially illustrate reasons for the divide among some older and some younger Southern Baptists on methodology. Some groups put forward what they seemingly believe is the Southern Baptist method for giving invitations. Southern Baptists claim to be people of the Book. Ironically, Bisagno, a faithful Southern Baptist minister for over 35 years, offers mostly pragmatic advice in his Pastor’s Handbook.
Christians are called to be Bereans so when some younger Southern Baptists strive to be people of the Book they are going to biblically challenge long-time pragmatic methods and find them wanting.