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THE DAY THE PREACHER RESPONDED TO THE INVITATION

I want to warn you that “the preacher” who “responded to the invitation” was me.  I cannot remember the exact date, but it was in the early 2000s.  I made the decision that I needed to respond during the middle of my sermon (talk about dealing with distraction when you preach).  I was addressing a very personal, soul-affecting subject, and I knew that a public response was in order.

I coped with the normal concerns one faces when he or she anticipates making a public response.  “What will people think?” “Will they talk about me?”  “Will they make judgments or wonder what else lies beneath the surface?”  “Will I be chastised or piled on by some ‘older brother’ (cf. Luke 15) who meets me up front?”  “What will my children think?”  “What will my wife think?”

The closer it got to the invitation, the faster my heart raced.  Of course, being in control of delivering it, I may have been tempted to prolong it.  I can’t recall now.  But, finally I swallowed hard and said something like, “If you need to respond, why not do so now as we stand and sing.”  With that, I stepped out from behind the pulpit and down onto the front row.  I am sure I heard some people stop singing, maybe even a whisper or two.  I was embarrassed and in tears.  But, in a moment’s time, I also remember hearing the sniffles of some shedding tears.  Quickly, an elder’s arm was around me, consoling me, and assisting me.  He shared my confession with the church, prayed a loving, emotional prayer.  After the last amen, I was swarmed by spiritual family offering encouragement and support.

Did I get special treatment because I was the preacher? Maybe, in a few instances.  But, that cuts two ways.  At times, preachers are held in too high a regard and at times to a much higher standard.  What I anticipated and what I received were two different things.

Every congregation has those “older brother” members who risk losing their own souls for their suspicious, judgmental, hypercritical behavior.  But, the overwhelming majority are like those who faced and embraced me the day I responded to the invitation.

How would you have responded if you were there the day I went forward?  Would you have wondered why I responded when I first sat on that pew?  Would you have loved me and encouraged me?

You may wonder why I answered my own call to respond that day.  You may think you have a pretty good idea.  That says as much about you as it does about me.  My sermon was, “The Need To Be More Evangelistic.”  At the time, I felt I was falling short in that area and I wanted both forgiveness and prayers that I might do better.  But, if it had been a personal, moral, or doctrinal shortcoming, I would have needed the same kind of response that I got the day I made my response.

Every other person assembled every time an invitation is offered needs and deserves the same assurance.  No matter what drives my need to respond, I need love, acceptance, and assurance of help and forgiveness.  You know what I learned that day I responded?  There’s almost an entire church out there eager to give it!

–Neal Pollard