An important practical question is "How should a call be given?" What are the essential elements of a call?
Spurgeon says that the most important element in a call is the earnestness of the individual giving the call. The audience must perceive that you believe that the call is significant, that you are in earnest about it, that God has given you an urgent message.
Before Billy Graham went to Scotland, he was told that it was impossible to make an invitation there. He was warned, "No one will respond." Throughout his sermon he struggled, wondering what to do. As he came to the conclusion, he, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, made a direct appeal. At first no one moved. As he often does, Graham stood, arms folded, head bowed, praying. It was as if he were closed in with the Almighty. Raising his head, looking out upon that great stadium, he noticed hundreds coming forward. The Scottish clergy sitting on the platform had tears in their eyes, sensing that his earnest, prayerful appeal had touched hearts.
Not only must the appeal be earnest and prayerful, it must be clear. Leigh ton Ford says: "When I ask people to come forward at the end of an evangelistic meeting, I try to make it clear what I'm asking them to do. At the beginning of the sermon I may say something like this, 'Tonight at the end of my talk I'm going to ask you to do something about it, to express your decision. I'm going to ask you to get up and come and stand here at the front. This is an outward expression of an inward decision. Just as you make a promise to someone, mean to keep it, and shake hands on it; just as a young couple come to love each other, want to give themselves to each other, and then openly express that covenant in a wedding, so I'm asking you to express your coming forward. There's nothing magical in coming forward. Walking down here doesn't make you a Christian. You could come down here a thousand times with your feet and it would make no difference at all if that's all it was. But as you come here with your feet, you are saying with your heart, God, I'm coming to you and leaving behind those things that are wrong and sinful. I'm trusting Christ as my Saviour and I'm coming to follow Him in this church from tonight on.'"
People need to understand what the invitation means and what it doesn't mean. The call must be clear. Are you inviting people to accept Christ? Say so. Are you inviting them to prepare for the Second Coming of Jesus by surrendering some sinful habit? Tell them! Are you inviting people who once knew Christ to come back to Him? What about those who once used to be Adventists; are they being invited to return? If you're inviting people to keep the Sabbath, to give up unclean foods, to be baptized, make that clear. Be sure, of course, that you do not include too many groups in a single call.
One of my typical calls goes something like this: "If you've never accepted Christ, I invite you to make that decision tonight. If at one time you had accepted Christ and you've drifted away or allowed some sin to control your life, come."
This particular call is effective early in an evangelistic series. Later in the series my call might be: "If you believe that you've been hearing the truth of God and are convicted that God wants you to follow it and you want to say, 'Yes, Jesus, I'm going all the way with You and following Your truth,' I invite you now to get out of your seat and come forward."
For a call to be effective, the evangelist must have a sense of urgency. He must believe that there are people in the congregation that very night who will respond. In every discourse fervent appeals should be made to lead people to forsake their sins and turn to Christ. There is something about an evangelist with a sense of urgency that God can use to enable audiences to respond.
On October 8, 1871, Dwight Moody preached a sermon entitled "What Shall I Do With Jesus? At the close of the sermon Moody said, "I want you to take the message home with you tonight and think about it. Next week when you return, I will invite you to make a decision for Christ." Then Ira Sankey began to sing, "Today the Saviour calls, for refuge fly; the storm of justice falls and death is nigh."
Sankey never finished the hymn. While he was singing, there came the rush and roar of fire engines on the street outside. Before morning Chicago lay in ashes. To his dying day Moody regretted that he told the congregation to come next week and decide what to do with Jesus. He said, "I have never dared to give an audience a week to think of their salvation since. If they were lost, they might rise up in the judgment against me. I have never seen that congregation since. I will never meet those people again until I meet them in another world. But I want to tell you of one lesson that I learned that night which I have never forgotten and that is, when I preach I press Christ upon the people right then and there and try to bring them to a decision on the spot. I would rather have my right hand cut off than give an audience a week to decide what to do with Jesus."
Such urgency in appeals enables the Holy Spirit to work powerfully on hearts and minds.
Mark Finley writes from Thousand Oaks, California where he serves as the director of It Is Written, an international evangelistic telecast program.