In the last seven weeks, God has moved in beautiful and profound ways in the church I am honored to serve as pastor. We have seen nearly 500 people stand and declare “I Believe” in public gatherings… which I realize needs a bit of explaining.
Every church I have served has invited people to “repent and believe” (repent of trusting in themselves and believe the good news of Jesus) in different ways. If we believe that Jesus brings forgiveness to people in the moment one turns from trusting oneself to trusting Christ, and that at the moment of salvation the person is crossing from spiritual death to spiritual life, then this is clearly the most important moment in a person’s life. It is quite truly a matter of spiritual life or spiritual death. The moment of receiving God’s grace, of becoming His, of being “born again” into His family impacts this life and the life to come.
Some churches invite people to pray and ask Jesus for forgiveness, perhaps letting the church know by way of a communication card. Other churches invite people to come forward during a song after the message and talk to someone. I am great with all of the approaches. We don’t see a prescriptive formula in the Scripture of how to lead the moment of people receiving Christ at a church service, but we certainly should be inviting people to turn to Jesus and receive Him.
Here is how we handle the moment of inviting people to receive Christ at Mariners Church. We simply ask people to stand and publicly confess their faith in Jesus. The one teaching/preaching will explain the gospel and then invite those who are ready to believe in Jesus and receive Him as Savior and Lord to stand and declare “I believe.” There is no music playing in the background. The room is usually really quiet. And one-by-one people stand and confess, “I believe.” After the sacred time has passed, we celebrate through singing and we invite those who have received Christ to come forward and receive prayer with some of our pastors and elders.
The moment is sacred. In those moments you know that God is bringing people to Himself, wooing people to Himself. Even the awkward silence as we wait for people to stand is a holy and sacred silence. It reminds us of the moment Christ saved us, of the time when Christ won us to Himself. It is epic.
A few weeks ago, I was leading this moment at one of our weekend services. And someone massively disrupted the moment. On purpose. Disruptions happen but the vast majority are not on purpose (someone forgets to silence their phone, an emergency happens, etc.). But this guy stood up, as if he was going to say “I believe” and yelled out a critique, framed as a question — like many critiques are. He yelled, “When are you going to bring the cross back?”
I had just finished preaching a message where I taught that Jesus experienced hell for us on the cross so we can experience heaven with him. The auditorium he walked into has a massive cross hanging above the entrance. We typically have a cross on the side of our stage, but it was moved during the stage transition after our Christmas services and was unintentionally not moved back. Instead of talking to one of us pastors on the patio (we are super accessible) or emailing or calling, he chose to stand up and disrupt the most sacred moment in one’s life – a moment that impacts eternity.
I had no idea what he was even talking about when he said it. I thought he was saying I need to preach the cross more. By God’s grace, I quickly answered with “I am preaching the cross of Jesus right now,” and by God’s grace people continued to stand and place their faith in Jesus. We sang as people came forward for prayer and God did what God does – He brought people to Himself.
For a few days, the interaction messed with me. How could someone intentionally disrupt the moment a person is meeting Jesus? I talked with a few pastors on our team who also said they were having difficulty shaking it. I thought of the verse where Jesus said the religious leaders shut the door to others entering the Kingdom as I felt this guy could have been a tool of the enemy to shut the door on others. I thought of the verse where Jesus said that “sin is going to come but woe to the person through which it comes.” The more I thought the more frustrated I became, so I asked Jesus to teach me, to work on me, to mold me through it.
Here is what God has done in my heart. He reminded me of all the rejoicing going on in heaven when one sinner repents. Here I was saddened when I should have been rejoicing. Rejoicing as salvation has come! He has given me a deeper sense of awe for those moments, a deeper sense of appreciation of the battle that is taking place. He reminded me of the importance of being prepared for those moments, of praying in faith for those moments, of asking others to pray as we go into those weekends. He reminded me of the power of the gospel – that His power is bigger than any disruption (Romans 1:16). He reminded me that He makes His appeal through broken and messed up people like me (II Corinthians 5:20) and He is the One who does the saving. We are responsible to open our mouths. He has the results and the response and the attacks covered. I can rest in Him. A moment of disruption has become a few weeks of God developing me.
If you attend Mariners, I want to remind you of the beauty of those “I believe” moments and invite you to enjoy them, to pray through them, and to remember the goodness of our God in the midst of them. And never be “that guy.”