At one of the churches I pastored I gave an appeal for baptism, and or re-baptism, at the end of my sermon. To my surprise a 70-year-old couple came forward. They had been coming to the Seventh-day Adventist church for over 30 years. They had been baptized by immersion in the Pentecostal church. Later that week I asked them why they made a decision to be re-baptized. They told me they had wanted to for a while. I asked them “why now?” They responded enthusiastically, "You were the first one who asked.”
There are many things we do as pastors. The most import is asking for people to make a decision for eternity. We are not called to give information; we are called to facilitate incarnation. Which requires powerful appeals. "At the close of every meeting decisions should be called for." Manuscript Releases Vol. 14, 161
Making powerful appeals can be broken down to three parts: prepare, appeal, close.
The first part of making a powerful appeal is to prepare. The first step in preparing is prayer. Remember, "It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies," (Zechariah 4:6 NLT). Every week adequate time should be spent in prayer time, asking the God of the universe for help, for miracles, for decisions to be made. I spend a lot of time preparing a message, (at least 15 hours per sermon) but I have discovered through the years that if I have to spend my last few hours either preparing or praying, praying is more important. Dallas Willard says "One of the greatest joys came when I got up from the chair to walk to the podium and the Lord said to me “now remember, it's what I do with the word between your lips and their hearts that matters,” Biblical Preaching
Prayer leads to something called "holy confidence" and "faithful expectation." We have to believe that the Holy Spirit will work in and through our appeals. "Don’t ever dare to stand in front of a group of people with a Bible in your hand and not expect change," Biblical Preaching, Haddison. If you lack holy confidence, pray for it, plead for it. Ask God to give you the faith to step out. Appeals are like anything else – the more you do them, the more comfortable you will be doing them. However, there is always a sense of vulnerability, fear, which exists. In fact I would have concerns if there weren’t.
The next part of preparing your heart is to understand the value of a soul. "One soul is more valuable than the entire world," Evangelism 34Ask God to help you see people as heaven sees them. "This Good News has been announced to you by those who preached in the power of the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. It is all so wonderful that even the angels are eagerly watching these things happen," 1 Peter 1:12 (NLT)Of all the things angels have to look at in heaven the Bible says they like watching the plan of salvation play out in the lives of people the most.
If we are going to be prepared we need to learn from others. 1 Corinthians 11:1 says, "Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ." Learn from people who have been effective giving appeals. Watch their body language. Listen to what they say, and equally important, how they say it. I grew up watching my father, an evangelist, give many appeals. I came forward for many of them. I have watched hundreds of appeals from other pastors and have learned something from each one.
The second section of making powerful appeals is the appeal itself. First and foremost MAKE IT ABOUT JESUS! John 12:32 says, "If I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all peoples to Myself." Don't lift up your hobby horses, your agendas, your opinions, your preferences, or yourSELF. Lift Jesus up if you want people to come up. Never forget "we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake," 2 Corinthians 4:5
When making an appeal, you must also be passionate. Everyone shows his or her passion different ways. Just make sure it comes through. If we don’t get excited about the appeal why would we expect anyone else to get excited? You have to want their salvation more than they do. You have to plead with them as though they are your loved ones, your family, your children. Speak to them with love and compassion. Leonard Ravenhill says, “Preaching is not a profession, it’s a passion. If you can’t preach with passion you shouldn’t preach at all.” If you don't preach with passion start over with prepare and pray, pray, pray some more.
While making the appeals you must also empathize with the people you are speaking to. Stephen Covey says, "When you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it. That's when you can get more creative in solving problems." Come down off the stage and meet people at the altar. Admit that you have struggles, that you need the presence of God's Spirit; you need to re-dedicate your life to God. Don't remain distant. Hug people, welcome people, love people. When they come up whisper a prayer in their ear. Reassure them of their decision.
There are many types of appeals. You can ask people to raise their hand, or stand up. You can even make an appeal to the heart. Often during the prayer I will invite people to come up to me privately and tell me their decision for baptism, re-baptism, rededication, profession of faith, or whatever God has put on their heart. Appeal cards are great to use, not only during evangelism reaping events, but also throughout the year during ordinary church services (no church service should be ordinary, but you know what I mean). However, my favorite appeal, and the one I have seen God do some of the most powerful work in is the good-ole-fashioned altar call. There is something powerful that happens when the Word becomes flesh and moves from the seat to the Savior. When people come forward keep them facing you, not the audience, as you point them to Jesus.
Music is another important part of making appeals. Make sure you communicate with your musicians when you will be making an appeal. I always have them start playing music softly, in the background, as I build up to the appeal. There are good traditional, and contemporary, songs for appeals. One of my all time favorites is Amazing Grace.The congregation knows it, and it communicates a vital message. It is important to choose music/musician that can lead the music while allowing you to jump in and out of the song with the appeal.
Make sure you are clear and specific with your appeal, (what do you want people to do). Every sermon should have some sort of an appeal. Maybe it is to call people to get more involved, or a call to sacrifice. Maybe it is for baptism, re-baptism, and profession of faith. Whatever it is be clear and specific so that the ripe, and right, fruit may be plucked. Ask, ask, and ask some more. Give the Holy Spirit time to work on people's hearts. Remember that this is God's work, so the times you are not speaking is just as important, if not more, than when you are speaking. Speak cerebrally and emotionally. We are emotional creatures. Every decision we make is with emotion. The same goes for spiritual things. It is not manipulative to speak to the heart. People make more decisions with their heart than they do with their heads. That is a fact. I was teaching a field school when I used the phrase "push for a decision" a young seminarian spoke up and said, "I don't like that word push," and although I understand where he was coming from I reminded him, "You can be sure the devil is pushing people into hell, why can't we help push them into heaven." The bottom line is you need to ask. We should never be coercive, or manipulative, with our "pushing" "encouraging" "asking" but we need to be persistent. "You do not have, because you do not ask." James 4:2
The last section on making powerful appeals is closing. In the sales industry there is an acronym: A.B.C Always Be Closing. I have seen sales people talk themselves out of their own sale. I have seen pastors talk themselves out of a decision. The moment someone makes a decision, seal it. Whenever I have an alter call I will have decision cards with me. I will keep people up front with me after the appeal for a special prayer and for them to fill out "My Decision for Christ" decision cards. I follow-up on the decisions people made the following week. I don't wait for days, weeks, and months. Those decisions become top priority. Meet with the people who have made decisions individually, pray about their decisions, set a soon date on the calendar and make plans for their decision to become a reality. Make sure you affirm, and praise God, for their decision each time you see them.
Making powerful appeals takes preparation, action, and closing. Making appeals is what we are called to do as ministers of the Gospel. If you want to see more results in your ministry, ask more. Remember it is 99.9% God and .01% your willingness. Step out and watch God step in. Remember when He is lifted up, people will start to come up.
Richie Halversen is the senior pastor for the Bowman Hills church in Cleveland, Tennessee