I lead ministry in a context where an invitation to respond to the message that has just been spoken is almost always given. I believe the invitation is biblical and necessary to call hearers to a response. Otherwise, we’re merely entertaining folks.
Leading in the context of student ministry where there are so many variables for the listener (ie. such as roller coaster emotions, heightened impressionability, yet fully developed ability to process and fully comprehend, etc), I am very aware and sensitive to how an invitation is given and the clarity of the moment. Having worked in student ministry for 10+ years with many of those being an itinerant speaker, I am concerned that far too many of us who have the great privilege of speaking to teenagers don’t give enough attention to planning how an invitation is given.
About 10 years ago, I was speaking to a group of around 600 teenagers at a summer camp. This particular night there was an emphasis on the Gospel and calling students to be saved. At the end of the message, students were responding by going to see their small group leader at the front of the auditorium. I was standing to the side taking all of this “God moment” in when one of the campers approached me with a serious look on his face. I recognized the student and knew that his youth pastor had been praying for him that week. To say that my joy was complete in this moment thinking he was about to confess Christ and be saved was an understatement until he opened his mouth and his first sentence was, “Hey, you know that game we played the other night at Late Night?”
Curious, I said, “Um, yeah…”
He then says, “Well, I was thinking of a way we could make it better.”
I’m not sure what else he said in that conversation because I was so mad that he either a) he clearly hadn’t been paying attention to a single word that night, or b) he was a worse sinner than his youth pastor made him out to be.
It took a while to reflect on that particular invitation and what I actually said to call students to a response, but I walked away from that summer with several takeaways in my own preaching…one of the most important being attention to how students are asked to respond.
I hear far too many people that speak to students err in clarity and definition as to what they are asking students to do after hearing their message. Some of the clarity could be cleared up by simply having a clear message during the first 25 minutes. But, if that isn’t the problem, then here are several mistakes I think are made giving the invitation:
1. Matching the invitation response to the message.
Extreme ie. If you’re preaching on tithing, call students to obedience to tithe, not some other fuzzy unrelated response that didn’t come from the message.
2. Using confusing terms about salvation like “Start a conversation with Jesus,” or “Get right with God.”
Assuming that students “understand what you mean” in the name of being different and new only breeds confusion.
3. Demanding that they unashamedly stand up in front of their friends with everyone looking or else God won’t stand up for them.
There may be a time and place for this, especially when a message is powerfully given. However, if you consistently give invitations like this and consistently no one stands up, the message might only be powerful in your own estimation. Standing up in a moment of time doesn’t prove someone is unashamed. Rather, it’s a consistent lifestyle of obedience. Don’t pin an already skeptical unbelieving teenager who…oh by the way is also desperately concerned about peer pressure…down to an almost dogmatic form of response that is only acceptable by God.
4. Assuming students know how to respond
If your method of connecting student’s response to appropriate follow-up is by raising their hand and an adult leader coming to them, make it clear as to what is going to happen and what will happen when they respond.
5. Waiting to explain application and response until the last 2-3 minutes of the message
Application and response to a carefully developed theme should be woven throughout the message to be most appropriate. That’s why I believe real-life illustrations of how biblical principles are worked out in a persons life are the most compelling illustration.
6. Failing to call students to respond
The purpose of preaching is calling people to faith and exercising that faith as believers. I believe a response should be asked for after every message is given. If not, the last 30 minutes could be equivalent to the chemistry lesson they heard at school today and believed to be just as inapplicable. If I’m going to spend hours preparing to teach, I want students to believe it is true and has real life value if practiced.
Are there any other “mistakes” you see people make who speak to students?
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