“Why don’t we ever have altar calls?”
I’ve heard this question many times over my ministry. Perhaps you have too. But over the years I’ve realized what’s behind that question. When my parishioners ask me about an altar call, they are asking about salvation. They want someone who hasn’t accepted Christ in the worship service to have an opportunity to “walk the aisle” and “get saved” at the altar. When they ask, “why don’t you give an altar call?”, they are asking, “Why aren’t you offering them Christ?”
“Offer them Christ.” These were John Wesley’s words to Thomas Coke as he boarded his boat and headed West to America. If you Google it, you’ll see a famous painting depicting that moment. John Wesley was in his 80s and unable to return to America, so he sent newly ordained Thomas Coke to America to ordain Francis Asbury to become Superintendent of the new Methodist denomination. Go to America and offer them Christ!
But what did Wesley mean? I believe that he meant to preach Christ’s salvation to the people of America. But this isn’t a call to host revivals and have mass altar calls like Billy Graham and other evangelists that we’ve gotten used to in America. I think my parishioners’ question about having altar calls is shaped by that model. Wesleyans, however, understand salvation in a much more holistic way. Our journey in the faith is a journey of salvation. Salvation isn’t just that one moment when we walked the aisle. We’ve been saved, we are saved, and we are being saved. Wesley was challenging his preachers to preach Christ to non-believers and believers alike. No matter where the Methodists are on the way of salvation, offer them Christ.
Sunday after Sunday, we face a congregation full of people in need of Christ’s salvation. Sinners and saints alike hunger for it. I believe that every sermon should be inviting us into the way of salvation and helping us develop a holistic understanding of God’s salvation. We need Christ every step of the way. So whether our hearers are unchurched, new believers, or lifelong Christians, we should always “offer them Christ.” We never get beyond the need to be saved by God. After a sermon everyone should be able to answer this question: “How is God saving us?” Think about your congregation. Think about where they are (and you are) on this salvation journey:
How is Jesus saving them?
How is Jesus saving you?
How is Jesus saving the nice middle class family on the third pew?
How is Jesus saving the lonely widow on the back row?
How is Jesus working to save those in the impoverished neighbor a few blocks from the church? How is he invited us to participate in that work?
Sunday after Sunday we come to worship in need of God’s salvation. How will your sermon connect that salvation to the people? What a privilege we have to preach God’s word. And what a gift that’s been given to us to share with the people. This Sunday, offer them Christ!
Questions for Sermon Prep:
- What is God’s salvation plan from Genesis to Revelation?
Every scripture is a part of the entire sweeping story of God’s redemptive work. It begins with Israel and includes us. How can this sweeping story of salvation in the entire bible inform today’s sermon text?
- How is God saving us in the text you are preaching?
How does this scripture fit in to the broad narrative of salvation? How do we fit in? How does it speak to your specific context?
- How has God been saving you lately?
How does this scripture speak to you, the preacher? What’s going on in your life that this scripture can address?
- Where is my congregation on the scriptural way to salvation?
We are all a work in progress. From the new Christian to the old one, we are still being shaped back into the image of God. God starts with a broken lump of clay and is reworking it into a beautiful piece of art. That’s salvation. Where is your congregation?