There is something done at certain churches and large Christian events called altar calls. For those of us who aren’t incredibly familiar with them, the Episcopal Church doesn't do this. Altar call is a time where we ask people to make a public acceptance of Jesus and their faith.
Essentially you hear a moving message about how Jesus can save your life, then you’re asked that if you feel Jesus moving in your life come forward and accept him as your savior.
I've experienced this a few times, mainly at the Creation festival in Pennsylvania. One night they have a very moving speaker come up and really describe how Jesus has an unconditional love for us and how he sacrificed himself so that we can live without gilt and shame. No matter what you've done wrong, if you accept Jesus and live your life for him, your past is behind you. Then there’s a prayer where you should stand up if you love Jesus and feel him moving in your life.
While I see some benefit here, in my experience Jesus has always been a personal relationship. I want to share that relationship with others, but my own walk comes through lots of interaction and discussions with other people who already know Him. A single prayer or speech can move me for a moment but it doesn’t keep the staying power you get from a real support network of other people who believe what you do.
I mainly mention this because I read a bunch of different blogs for Christian preachers (priests, speakers, rectors, whatever). In many cases they have services every now and then where they call people forward to accept Christ, then the are really excited when 300 – 1,000 people come forward in accepting him by either going up to the altar (that big area at the front of the church where the preacher speaks and service is led) or by filling out a card signifying your acceptance.
I just always wonder about these numbers. How many of these people make an acceptance knowing what they are getting into? After leading teenagers for a few years there have been a bunch of them who have gone to the prayer tent or filled out the acceptance card during some event without really understanding what they are accepting. They also make these acceptances without any support in the way of how to go forward in this new relationship.
I was reading this post on Invitations and Altar Calls and found myself really resonating with what Michael said. I think their approach to meeting new people and finding out where they are in faith is far better.
It makes sense that someone is initially curious about the whole Jesus thing and wants to get some questions answered. We want to see why it’s important that Jesus and God are the ones to follow over the gods or religious leaders of other religions. I also think most people want to know what it actually means to accept Jesus Christ as my savior. Very often we talk about all the good things that come from loving him, but we never seem to talk about the sacrifices we also need to make (I suspect this is mainly because most people who have decided to follow Christ have not yet decided to fully commit their lives to him).
Ok, this has become something of a rant. My opinion is pretty clear at this point, so I’ll just quit. I’ll leave you with this.
If you know someone who is looking to learn about Christ, don't expect them to publicly decide to follow Him. Don’t try to trick him into following by only giving the good parts and not explaining what Jesus asks of us in return. If you don’t know what Jesus acts of you, figure that out too.
A life in faith isn’t easy. It’s content, it’s trusting, it’s full of love, but certainly not easy. We can’t expect that a full understanding of what accepting Jesus means with only a half hour public speech about him.