Though Emmanuel Enid baptizes on average one hundred people every year, last Sunday was the first time in many years Emmanuel Enid had what some label as "an altar call." We are preparing for an Easter Event at the Enid Event Center, a time when we will be inviting people who need Christ to attend an Easter service in a non-traditional venue, so the worship services at our church this past Sunday, February 9, 2014 were designed to introduce our people to the evangelism team that will lead us on Easter Sunday, April 20, 2014.
I have been pastor of Emmanuel Enid for twenty-two years. Every message I give includes an invitation to trust Christ. However, I don't give "altar calls" in the traditional manner most Baptists give them. It's not that I believe altar calls are wrong or sinful, it's that the methodology I've chosen as a pastor is just...well...different. I invite people to turn to Christ during the message, and then we invite those who've given their lives to Christ to stay afterwards and tell us what God has done. Emmanuel Enid experienced something last Sunday that was unusual in recent years (an altar call), and it made a few people that I love and respect very uncomfortable. Two or three went on Facebook and expressed their displeasure publicly. One young lady whom I respect, a high school senior who feels God's call to be a missionary, has never before heard her pastor give an altar call at Emmanuel. She wrote an "Open Letter to Emmanuel" on Facebook.
"I was definitely disappointed in my church today.
When worship seems like a performance and the speaker seems to care more about conversions than relationships, the church is going backwards, not moving forward. Emotional manipulation is not what coming to Christ is supposed to look like. People can be "converted" or "say the prayer" all they like, but it won't save them. Only Christ truly saves them. Today truly did sadden me because the people that I have thought about asking to the Easter service mean so much to me that I do not want them to perceive the church or Jesus Christ as manipulative and do not want them to be manipulated into accepting Christ and not understand what being a Christian really means. It cheapens salvation to only focus on the fact that it saves you from eternity in hell. It is so much more than that. It is the bridge between you and God. It means that you admit that you are no longer in charge of your life and surrender yourself to Christ's control.
My prayer for Easter Sunday is that people will not be emotionally manipulated, but will actually receive Christ because God is truly working in their lives and has finally called them to himself. I am also praying that people will not be turned against the church or more importantly Jesus because of what is talked about and how it is presented."A few other church members also expressed their displeasure with what happened Sunday. I've taught our folks at Emmanuel that their pastor has no hierarchical spiritual authority over them, and they have every right to question, to disagree with, and to even criticize their church leaders and their pastor. I'm glad this young lady felt the freedom and had the courage to write what she wrote about our church. I responded to her on Facebook in this manner:
"C____, one thing I love about our church is that we have raised young women, like yourself, to be strong, intelligent, and wise! Keep on speaking your convictions, loudly and boldly! Also, be sensitive that others may feel differently - particularly the 30 or so who publicly professed faith in Christ today. I know one of the men gave me a big bear hug and said "this is the greatest day of my life." What is uncomfortable for some, may be very thing needed for others. Thanks, again, for being a strong, confident and bold young woman! Our world needs more like you."In this age of social media, it is often easier for people to communicate via the Internet than it is face-to-face. I have no problem with those who feel the freedom to express their displeasure about Emmanuel or me via social media. Frankly, discussion and disagreement over an important subject like this one is healthy for God's people! If nothing else, Sunday's worship service, the message, and what happened at Emmanuel is being discussed by people. It's a good thing that folks are talking about the worship services at Emmanuel, even though some of the discussion arises out of discomfort with what happened. When people think through what they don't like about worship, then they are thinking through issues instead of simply doing churchy things by rote.
I am going to do something unusual in this blog post. On most occasions I write about subjects in general, but today I'd like to address the particular discomfort some felt Sunday at Emmanuel with the methodology of calling sinners to come to the front of our meeting place to profess their faith in Jesus Christ (some would call the altar call "manipulative"), the style of communication adopted by the guest evangelist (clear, but forceful), and the difficulty some members are having with an emphasis of inviting people in need of Jesus to an Easter Event to hear the same evangelist preach.
(1). For a while now I've felt we at Emmanuel are too comfortable and a little too self-oriented in our worship. We like that Wade Burleson speaks 28 minutes, that the worship service fits "my style" of worship, and that everybody is made to feel at ease at Emmanuel. We are large enough to offer various styles of worship in different services on a typical Sunday, but this past Sunday we had one style--a style we will be using for the Easter Event. That may have caused some people to be uncomfortable. The avoidance of discomfort is not one of our purposes at Emmanuel! On the contrary, I believe it is essential every now and then for us to be shaken out of our comfort zone in order to be reminded that the Kingdom of Christ has very little to do with our comfort and everything to do with Christ's reign over us.
(2). Evangelists in the Kingdom of Christ have been given the gift of evangelism. I am a teacher with the gift of teaching. All Christians are called to be soul winners, but there are some who are particularly gifted to motivate Kingdom people to win souls. Even I need a fresh reminder from evangelists that unless I am continually building relationships with people in need of Christ, and actively and intentionally telling my lost friends of their need to receive Jesus Christ as their Savior and King, I am no different than the man who sits in his posh house and dines on sumptuous fare while he watches his neighbor's house burn to the ground through his kitchen window. Evangelists stir our hearts to notice the spiritual condition of those we love. Yes, I believe God saves His people. But I believe He uses His people as instruments to deliver sinners through telling them the truth about Jesus Christ. I believe when we have no desire or joy in seeing the lost come to faith in Christ, we have lost our Kingdom focus. Evangelists like Scott Camp, a friend of mine for many years, have burning hearts to see the lost saved, and their gift of evangelism can energize our church to become more active and intentional in our evangelism.
(3). For six months I have been praying for--and preparing our staff for--the Easter Event. I believe it can be the greatest evangelistic outreach for our church since Franklin Graham came to Enid in 1993. One of the persons saved at that 1993 was Judy Bonnet, a lesbian who gave her life to Christ at the Franklin Graham festival and then spent every day of her life until she died of cancer helping other people come to know the saving power of Jesus Christ. The entire purpose of our 2014 Easter Event is to invite lost, un-churched people to an Easter service where they will hear about Jesus Christ. This is not your grandmother's Easter at Emmanuel. We are praying that God will save hundreds of people who will hear the Good News for the first time! Scott Camp, saved while in jail for drug and alcohol problems, is precisely the kind of person who can reach people with the Good News on Easter. If I have said it once, I've said it a hundred times: This 2014 Easter Event is not like any past Easter service at Emmanuel Enid. The focus is totally, one-hundred percent different. Not everybody is going to like or accept change, but I believe this Kingdom event is needed in our church and in our community. It gets us focused on our friends and family who are lost.
(4). Because we believe and practice grace, those church members who do not wish to participate in the Easter Event will be loved and accepted as they are. Our members are always free to attend other churches on Easter Sunday or any other Sunday. We are not a cult. Follow the Spirit of God, and if the Spirit is leading you not to participate in Emmanuel's Easter Event then don't participate and have no guilt. The Holy Spirit is far more important for the direction of your life than any pastor. All I ask is that before you give in to any discomfort over inviting lost people to the Easter Event that you take it to the Lord in prayer and listen to Him.
(5). Some who were uncomfortable during the worship services this past Sunday (February 9) and are choosing not to participate in the Easter Event might respond that they too are concerned for the lost, but it is the manner and method of the evangelist that bothered them, and that is the reason why they don't want to participate in the Easter Event. They say, "We are used to hearing from you about grace, God's grace in saving sinners, and the tactic and methodology used by the guest evangelist during the message and the invitation (i.e. "pray out loud," "come to the front," "turn and ask the person next to you, 'Do you know for sure you are going to heaven when you die?" etc...) made us very uncomfortable!" My answer:
"The Apostle Paul said, "I become all things to all people in order that I might win some." If you truly believe, as I do, that God will never fail in saving His people, then you must understand that the same God who used a donkey to speak His word to Balaam can use whatever means He desires to speak to sinners. Last Sunday, February 9, 2014, God spoke to the hearts of many men and women through an evangelist that is not your pastor. You are uncomfortable with his methodology? I understand. Let me ask you a question: 'Are you rejoicing in the salvation of those nine Department of Correction offenders? Are you happy over the conversion of that electrician who has been brought to church for two months by his girlfriend? Do you delight in the salvation of the woman in her seventies that morning? Of course you do! Then why are you allowing your personal discomfort over another's methodology to overwhelm your joy for the salvation of several people? Kingdom work at times will make Christians uncomfortable."By the way, I'm not unsympathetic to any concerns over evangelistic methodology. I have written in the past on the very subject of altar calls. I have said over and over that true Christianity is measured in changed lives, not numbers. When is the last time you've ever heard me talk about numbers? I'm talking about numbers now because the goal for the Easter Event is to invite lost people to come so that the 4,000 seat arena is filled! We are asking God that there be many "professions of faith" at the Easter Event (far more than there were this past Sunday), and it is our responsibility as a staff to disciple and follow-up on all these new professing believers. Time will tell whether these hopeful converts are truly converts, but at least we are getting excited about seeing lives changed.
Take for example the man whose life was radically changed by Jesus Christ this past Sunday, so much so that he grabbed several Easter Event advertising pens and left Emmanuel and went "to the most wicked place I could think of" and passed out all the pens to the employees of the sex shop. That man told me he was overtly and utterly rejected when he issued his invitation to the people there to attend the Easter Event, but he's so excited about the Easter Event that "I'm going back next Sunday after church with another stack of pens." By the way, this is the same man who tried to kill himself before he met Christ. Now he can't wait to go see his lost friends and invite them to the Easter Event. That's powerful. Of course, not everybody has responded like this man to the prospect of inviting people to the Easter Event. I understand that not everybody is affected the same. It doesn't mean one person is better than another.
Let me tell you a true story. I was speaking to evangelist Scott Camp several weeks ago over the speaker phone with Rachelle listening. I told Scott, "Listen, Scott, when you come to Emmanuel Enid
on February 9, 2014, I do not want you to give an altar call."
Scott was very quiet. Dead silence on the phone.
"Scott, I know that to tell an evangelist not to give an altar call is like telling a duck not to swim. But listen, I know my people. I know what makes them comfortable. I know how they think. If you give an altar call, some will be offended because they've never seen it done and they will think it is manipulation. I know your heart. I trust you. That's why I'm asking you to come to Enid on Easter, but on February 9, I'm asking that you motivate our people to invite their friends to come to the Easter Event on April 20, 2014 and then close in prayer and turn it over to me. At the Easter Event in April, you can close the service the way you usually do with a traditional altar call."
To Scott's credit he said, "Okay pastor, I'll do whatever you ask."
A few weeks later, in my time alone with the Lord, the Spirit spoke to me and convinced me I was wrong in placing restrictions on Scott for February 9. I called him back and said this:
"Scott, the Lord has changed my mind. You are the evangelist. I am a pastor. I am asking you to come and do what you are gifted by God to do. Follow your heart. Do as you desire in terms of an altar call. Truth is, our people will see what it will be like at the Easter Event. If some don't like it (and some won't), then it was not meant for them to be at the Easter Event. Our purpose is to get the lost to come to the Easter Event, and it would not be right for people to come to the Easter Event and not know how it will be! February 9 will show them."
Was I right in changing my mind about the altar call? I think that question should be answered by those who gave their lives to Christ Sunday. I'll be talking to them this week as we give them John Blanchard's newest book "Meet the Real Jesus" and tell them about the "New Believer's Class" we will be starting. I think I know what they will say. The success of an evangelistic service cannot be measured by whether or not members were comfortable. The Easter Event will be successful if people come to know Jesus Christ. We are not designing the Event for church members to be comfortable.
(6). I have been so convicted that this Easter Event is needed by our community that I went to a friend and asked him to fund it. It's not cheap, and when I told him how much we needed, he responded, "How can you put a dollar amount on the price of one soul?" and then gave me $10,000 more than I asked. As we reach out to those in the community who do not attend church on Easter, one of the things we will be doing is making sure anyone and everyone who comes to the Easter Event has something to eat. People from our church who work in the New View Apartments, those who minister to the homeless in the parks on Tuesday night through Forgotten Ministries, and a number of our volunteers in the Celebrate Recovery classes that we host on Sunday night have told us that offering a meal after the service for families will help. Thus, in cooperation with the city, we have confirmed 2,000 box lunches for anyone who wants to stay at the Event Center and eat lunch after the Easter Event - for free! Of course, many of our members will be going to restaurants or to their homes after the service, inviting their guests to join them, but for anyone in our church who desires to eat at the Event Center with those they invited, we will be providing lunch. This isn't about "numbers." It's about seeing souls saved, and we are doing all we can to make that Event accessible to all socio-economic and racial groups in our community.
(7). Ultimately, it's my responsibility to cast vision for this event. I have the vision, but only the Holy Spirit can transmit what I feel from my heart to yours. Julie Davis woke up 2:30 am Monday morning and felt impressed to write something down and give it to me. I woke up at that same 2:30 am hour Monday morning and felt impressed to pray for Enid and for the Easter Event. Here's what Julie wrote to me, giving me permission to use it however I deemed best:
"If our lives were to flash before our eyes on a cinema screen, we would all instantly see our sinfulness and come face-to-face with our need for mercy. Last Sunday at Emmanuel Enid, many experienced being caught by Christ's convicting grace, and were saved.
For this, we celebrate the power in the conviction of sin, and the peace these men and women now have, as result God's Grace that soften and saved!
This is a moment marked in time, and in the life of our church, where the Divine Love of God melted hearts down, and His hand extended hope to the lost. I believe the Holiness of God was displayed for us to see, as His loving and powerful presence drew these new brothers and sisters into His Great Hall of Faith, where He displays His children as Trophies of Grace.
Thank you Emanuel for reminding us once again, that Amazing Grace and it's sweet sound, is a two-sided coin. Because of the wretchedness of sin, God's mercy comes down to rescue us into the transforming folds of His grace, where we are forever saved, sealed, and made new.
Let us not stop here while the momentum is still rich. We've been called to such a time as this and there's work to be done. Let's not apologize for providing and creating an atmosphere in our church where forgiveness ushered in and The Spirit of God moved in the hearts of men and women.
And let us never forget that throughout time, God as our Loving Heavenly Father, has used many gifted Evangelists and Worship Leaders as instruments that help tender the hearts of His prodigal children, while He ushers them home to a forever relationship with Him.
Celebrate what God Almighty has done today!!!
Let us come around our new family members and invest in the opportunity to disciple them in their journey of faith; where relationship with Jesus, The Father, and The Holy Spirit, can continue to grow in grace, and hearts and lives are forever changed!
Be blessed! Julie DavisOn my way to Emmanuel's building on Sunday night to do some Think Ministry interviews, I called our pastor of singles and evangelism. I asked him, "Kevin, do you feel like what happened this morning has empowered our people to catch a vision for the lost and invite them to the Easter Event."
He didn't answer.
I asked him again, thinking Kevin didn't hear me. Then I realized why he wasn't talking.
Kevin was weeping. I got emotional too. His passion moved me.
When Kevin got control of his emotions he told me he was torn up over the spiritual state of his own family. Kevin didn't grow up in a Christian home. He's burdened for the salvation of his parents, his siblings, and all his nieces and nephews. "I'm going to invite my entire family to come to the Easter Event. I want them to come to know Christ. I don't want my family to end up in hell."
May God grant a renewed passion in our hearts for the lost of Enid. May He pour out His blessings on Emmanuel's Easter Event for His name's sake and the advancement of His Kingdom.
We just finished our staff meeting today. God is up to something big at Emmanuel Enid. Be prepared for some discomfort. Kingdom work sometimes requires us to leave our comfort zone.
I love you all.
Pastor, Emmanuel Enid