Why We Don’t Do the “Sinner’s Prayer” On Sunday Mornings
Goal- Not to excuse or accuse. It is only to explain.
Most churches I know still have a moment at the end of the speakers message where they talk about salvation and give people an opportunity to receive salvation by asking them to repeat a prayer. Our church did this for years and many of the people following Jesus today are doing so because of those moments at RLC. This blog is not intended to downplay what God has done in anyone’s life or what He continues to do all over the world every day as people come to know Jesus. This is an attempt to answer a question I have been receiving as to the way we are currently doing things at RLC. I personally repeated a prayer when I declared my allegiance to Christ. However, the caveat was that I also had to step out and come to something we use to call an “altar” as a declaration of my allegiance to Jesus. That is the point of this blog and, hopefully, a new chapter at RLC. We want to do more than pray prayers. We want to declare our allegiance to the only Living God.
So, let's get to it. Here are a few reasons why we currently do not offer a public "sinner's prayer" on Sunday mornings...
1- It is not necessarily a Biblical model. 📖
There is not a single place in the Bible where someone led someone else in a prayer to receive salvation. In the book of Acts, people were instructed to repent and turn to God. The first message of the church was in Acts 2. Peter told the crowds the story of the Gospel and then told them to repent and be baptized. Repentance is turning away and turning toward. It is not only to be sorry for what you did. It is also making a commitment to go another way. When someone wants to receive Jesus, they are making a commitment of eternal significance. Therefore, the Bible instructs us to “do business” with God and repent of our sin. It is a calling out of darkness and into the Light of God. This is something that is not possible to stay low-key about. Repentance involves feeling the weight of our sin so that we understand the power of Christ's forgiveness. There needs to be a moment of reflection and talking with God, not just about the nature of sin in general, but the specific ways we have walked away from God. This is why it is intensely personal.
My concern is by offering a 'quick and easy' gernal forgiveness prayer, we are robbing people of being able to feel the weight of their sin and repenting of specific sins in their lives. When we repent specifically, we are able to realize that God has washed those specific sins away.
Pushback: We have always done it this way.
Answer: Just because we have done this for a long time does not mean it is necessary for us to continue.
2- It is too easy. 😅
I may sound like an old-school preacher when I say this, but Jesus died by Crucifixion. He was nailed to a Cross, completely naked, and fully exposed to the ridicule of all. He did this out of great love for us and to pay for our sins. It seems to be embarrassing that we would tell people they can repent of their sin in the secrecy of their seats and no one has to know. If it cost Jesus His life, it is okay if it costs us a moment of pride.
Pushback: But people will be embarrassed. They will just simply not respond.
Answer: That's fine. 🤷 We are not interested in being edgy or needlessly hard. But, we are also not interested in making people feel comfortable or like they are at a time-share presentation. We are interested in connecting people to the Gospel. The Gospel is actually quite offensive. It tells people they are wrong and Jesus is right. Not sure there is a way to make that easy.
3- It might kickstart an unhealthy precedent.🏁
In the early church, people were not perfect. Just read 1 and 2 Corinthians if you are unsure about this. 🤣 However, their relationship with God was a public thing. They were part of a Christian community and were “working out their salvation” together. If we tell people they pray a quiet prayer all by themselves, it is possible we are also setting an unhealthy precedent that our relationship with God is supposed to be divorced from the Christian community. We are supposed to be able to do life as a community and grow together. It would make sense, then, that we should also receive Jesus in the context of community. This does not mean that we come to Jesus as a group. We all stand before God alone. However, there is something amazing about declaring our desire to follow Jesus in front of our church family. It starts off our relationship with God with the understanding that we are doing this together.
Pushback: This is not about the crowd, it is about me and Jesus.
Answer: Absolutely! This is not about gaining attention or "street cred" from the crowd. All I am saying is that it is unwise to set the tone that our relationship with God is private. Jesus says that if we deny Him before others, He will deny us! That is a sobering idea. I have heard some preachers lead a congregation in a prayer and then encourage those who prayed that prayer to go and tell someone later. I like that.
4- We are not interested in numbers. We are interested in changed lives. 💯
I am not trying to throw any stones when I say that many churches enjoy letting everyone know how many people raised their hand for salvation. We use to do this too. In our best moments, we hope this is purely so we can all celebrate what God has done that day and not to gain approval or gain clout. We also use asked people to fill out a connect card to let us know who they are so we could help them with next steps. I started to notice that some people were getting saved almost every week. They would fill out connect cards and raise their hands over and over again. Yet, we would count them each time and celebrate them on social media. For me, this started to feel dishonest. I started to wonder why I needed to post a number on social media that day. Why is it a shame that no one told us they got saved that Sunday? This is not a disrespect to us. Our job is not to fill a quota. It is to plant seeds. Why do we feel the need to keep up with others? We all have different seasons and opportunities.
The whole thing started to feel weird and gross.
So, we are not interested in publishing numbers but walking with people and making disciples.
Pushback: We want to know what God is doing! When people raise their hands, we can celebrate with them and it is encouraging to know God is moving in our church.
Answer: Amen! I agree that it is encouraging to know God is doing something. It's hard to imagine a greater blessing than to see people so comitted to following Jesus that they walked forward for salvation. Also, the best way to know God is up to something is by personally leading your friends and neighbors to Jesus yourself. Yikes! That's a different topic for another day about no longer being spiritual consumers but spiritual contributors.
5- It needs to cost you something. 😳
This is close to number 2. The only change is that I think it is important to set the precedent that Christianity is costly. It cost Jesus His life. It costs us living our own way. We follow Jesus. He is in charge and not us. If we are unwilling to take that first step of stepping out of our comfort zone, perhaps we are not ready. When we fully understand the power of the Cross, the sacrifice Jesus made, the glory of salvation… we will do whatever is necessary to run to Him. If not, perhaps we should think on it a little more. That does not mean we fully understand everything. Of course not! I have been a Christian for a long time and still don’t understand everything there is to know about God. I hope I never do! I always want to be discovering something new. However, I DO know enough to make a good decision. I also realize the decision to follow Jesus costs me something every day. Christianity is expensive. It costs us everything. The beauty is Jesus turns around and gives us everything we have truly been longing for… joy, peace, etc.
Pushback: This sounds like you are pushing legalism or works based salvation.
Answer: Not. At. All. Salvation is by Grace alone, through Faith alone, in Christ alone. That is actually the point. My hope is to help others discover that Christianity is not as easy as it has been portrayed for years. It is not like making a friend request on social media. It is giving your entire life to Jesus. It is not Jesus and your life. It is Jesus... period.
My Story 👋
When I was a teenager, I was at a church service in Pensacola, Fl. I grew up in a pastor’s home so I had heard the Gospel many times. It was that investment that prepared me for what happened. A preacher quoted John 3:16. I had heard it many times so was unmoved. However, after quoting it he said, “Take the word ‘world’ out and place your name there instead.” When doing so, the text read, “For God so loved [Brandon] that He gave His one and only Son so that if [Brandon] would believe in Him, [Brandon] would not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) Wow! He then quoted what has become my favorite verse in the Bible, John 3:17. The Message paraphrase says it this way, “God did not go through all that trouble sending His Son into the world to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help and to set things right again.” In that moment, the Gospel finally made sense. I wanted that Jesus!
There was a caveat though… the preacher said, “If you want Jesus to be the Lord of your life, I want you to get out of your seat and come up to the front of this church. Let’s go all in for Jesus. He died on a Cross, on top of a hill, in view of everyone for you. Will you not walk a few steps to the front of a church for Him? He is not ashamed of you. Don't be ashamed of Him.” That made a lot of sense to me, but I didn't want to do it. My family was sitting beside me. I didn't want them to think I wasn't already a Christian. That would be embarrassing. I didn't want to embarrass my dad. He had told me about the Gospel for years. What would they think of me? I felt that white-hot fear grip me and my stomach was in knots.
However, what that preacher had said was true. If I truly believed this message, it was worth it. So, with my family sitting next to me, I set my pride aside and ran toward Jesus. I literally ran. The moment I stood up, my life was different. I still remember that feeling. It was like a waterfall of God’s presence hit me and I’m not over it yet. When I slid down at the front (literally), I started confessing every sin I could think of. I eventually just said, "Take it all Jesus." After a few more people responded, the preacher led all of us in a prayer of salvation. (Don't forget, we had to respond first. Then we prayed.) It wa a glorious moment that has marked my life ever since. By the way, when I got back to my seat my family was not ashamed. There were tears of joy, hugs, and laughter. We were now not only related by last name, we were in the family of God.
This is what I hope for everyone at our church. I have no desire for anyone to feel embarrassed or to make a spectacle of anyone. My hope is for the goodness of Jesus to flood soul to the point we come in one way, but we leave another.
Bottom line- 〰
This blog has not been to say praying with others and repeating prayers is bad. As you just read, I came to Jesus by being led in a prayer. I think it is important to have a prayer for people to pray because do not alway know how to repent. We need someone to guide us. However, my hope is to call us all higher and call us to something more. Let us respond to the Gospel by more than our desires but also by our actions. Let's go "all in" for Jesus. This is also not intended to be works based salvation or an attempt at legalism. It is an attempt to help salvation mean more than an impulse buy. It is a heart transformation.
So, for clarity... no matter whether you are having a general prayer that everyone repeats, asking people to come forward, setting up a meeting with an elder, or whatever... the goal is the same... Allegiance to Jesus Christ. I am NOT saying that asking a crowd to repeat a prayer does not work. I am NOT saying someone is not really saved if they do it that way. Of course not. I was saved as a hybrid of that way and what we are doing now. What I AM saying is that my heart longs for people to fully grasp the life-changing experience of salvation. We have been doing it one way for a long time and it has been a good thing.
We are going to do the same thing (leading people to salvation) in a new way. This is also a good thing.