Ethics: Pastoral Candidate Preaches Salvation through the Sinner’s Prayer

What would you do Wednesday!

The following scenario is based on a true story that was submitted through the contact page. What follows is the blog reader’s main concern in this church’s path to find a new pastor. The following scenario gets to the heart of the concern while not precisely describing every aspect of the situation.

A deacon friend comes to you with concerns over the pastoral candidate most of the search committee favors. He is also on the search committee along with two other pastors and three other deacons. The former pastor gave a five month resignation notice and established a search committee, but ended up leaving in three months due to some internal power struggles. The current leadership of the church was struggling even before any candidates were chosen.

Your heart broken friend explains that his biggest hurdle right now in affirming the pastoral candidate in question is that he calls people to repeat the sinner’s prayer from the pulpit using it to assure people of their salvation. The former pastor was a great expositor from the pulpit who preached against the sinner’s prayer many times.

You precede cautiously being sensitive to your friend and not wanting to bring an unfounded charge against a pastor. Challenging your friend you ask, “What exactly did the pastor say about the sinner’s prayer from the pulpit?”

Your friend brings up last weeks podcast and plays it for you without commentary.

The pastor concludes the altar call saying:

You have just heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. I want everyone to prayer this prayer with me. Yes, I want everyone including Christians to pray together to help take pressure off those who may still be a little intimidated. [leads the congregation in prayer] If you prayed that prayer for the first time and you meant it – welcome to the family of God!


How would you advise your deacon friend?

a. Tell him to find a new church.
b. Have him attend another church on Sunday, but keep his membership, deacon and committee position.
c. Stay at his church, but step down from his deacon and search committee roles.
d. Stay at his church, in his current roles, supporting the ministry with reservations.
e. Stay at his church, in his current roles, unconditionally supporting the ministry.
f. Or….

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tagged as , in Christianity,Church Issues,Culture

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Larry February 6, 2013 at 9:45 am

Unless what he said in the podcast is an anomaly, I could not vote to confirm such a person and I would advise my friend not to as well. However, I’d also advise him to share his concerns with the committee as well as directly with the pastoral candidate. If the man does indeed believe in decisional regeneration and giving immediate assurance to any who repeat his prayer then this deacon (and I) will have some decisions to make about his ongoing relationship with the church should the man be called.

2 Ajay Pollarine February 6, 2013 at 10:06 am

I’ve never disliked the sinners prayer, but I’ve also thought it was a crutch of the lazy pastor who was trying to convert without convicting in times past. I think I’d be saying lets go sit down and talk with him, perhaps there’s some fear in his mind that if he doesn’t step up with the sinners prayer. He may just be zealous to win souls for Christ, and that can mean he just needs a bit of rebuke and reminder (ala Aquilla and Priscilla with Apollos)

3 Ajay Pollarine February 6, 2013 at 10:08 am

“That if he doesn’t step up with the sinners prayer he won’t be an effectual pastor…” (Sorry, hit post before looking to notice I’d not finished that sentence)

4 mariep February 6, 2013 at 11:39 am

“Yes, I want everyone including Christians to pray together to help take pressure off those who may still be a little intimidated.”

Actually, this quote seems the more disturbing of the two sentences. Take the pressure off??? If someone is embarrassed to confess Jesus as Lord and Savior in the church, then how in the world do you expect them to confess Jesus in trial and persecution?

The “and you really mean it” tagged onto the second sentence seems to soften it a bit- he’s not saying that the sinner’s prayer in and of itself saves anyone.

It’s ironic how baptism is often downplayed and the sinner’s prayer is trumped up in so many modern evangelical churches. If they were consistent, they’d ask all the Christians to get baptized too!

5 Chris Roberts February 7, 2013 at 10:24 am

Depends on other circumstances. Is the man married? Does he have kids? What is their discernment level? What other aspects of the pastor’s preaching are problematic? I always encourage people – even those visiting my own church – to stay at their churches unless there is a really good reason to leave. I wouldn’t necessarily consider this conclusion to the sermons a really good reason to leave – unless, perhaps, it demonstrates a pattern of preaching found throughout his ministry.

Certainly I’d think the man should speak with the pastor before doing anything else, share his concerns. Might not get anywhere, but it is the right first step.

6 Michael February 7, 2013 at 11:04 am

I’m with Larry. Don’t turn tail and run. Prepare a response in love that addresses and makes clear the issues resulting from decisional regeneration and evangelism.

7 Mark February 7, 2013 at 11:15 am

Larry, the other problem is that the rest of the search committee don’t seem to be bothered by it.

Ajay, interesting. I’ve not heard it put that way before. I’m sure it’s more zealousness than laziness (I hope).

Marie P, I thought the issue of taking pressure off was more bothersome when I first read about the issues. I’m with you, sister.

Chris Roberts, good, encouraging words, thanks.

One thing I wonder about staying in the church is if this is a pattern and his conscience is bothered so much that staying is not good for his spiritual health.

8 Ken Cook February 8, 2013 at 12:16 pm

I know some people are in favor of retaining here, but this is a deep seeded theological issue. This pastor is lying to people from the pulpit. He is forwarding an unbiblical form of evangelism and he is attempting to strip God of His rightful authority. This man is untaught as it relates to the qualifications for an elder and as such should be disqualified. Paul says in Titus 1:9 that an elder “must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” Given that in this area ( which isn’t a small issue at all) he doesn’t meet the qualification… we must submit to scripture.

9 anthony April 2, 2013 at 10:30 pm

If the former pastor was “a great expositor from the pulpit who preached against the sinner’s prayer many times”, then it should be very easy for this person to go to the other folks on the search committee and explain the problem he has from a biblical position. Then, they could go together and speak with the pastor and address these concerns?


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