Out of the best of motives, at the end of my evangelistic talk, I invited the young people who prayed the prayer of commitment, to raise their hands as they did so. I wanted them to make some definite movement to show that they had given their lives to Christ.
Why? To encourage them.
But a much more experienced youth evangelist took me on one side afterwards and pointed out some of the problems with what I’d done.
- I had muddied the response to the gospel. Did I want people to pray? Yes. Is praying adequate? Yes. So why, he asked, had I added to it. Um…
- And after they had prayed and raised a hand, and when Satan later caused doubts to come, where would they look for assurance – in the gospel, or in their action of response? Um…
- What about those who prayed but didn’t raise their hands – were they converted? Of course they were – but he pointed out that I had also sowed a seed which could rise into doubt in their minds over whether they had responded properly. Where would they look for assurance? Um…
- And was there biblical precedent for this practice? God looks at the heart, doesn’t he? Um…
- More to the point, said my friend grimly, for whose benefit had I asked them to raise their hands? Had I, he wondered, kept my eyes open? Had I counted? Um…
He had me, nailed.
On reflection, I think there are lots of ways to handle this that would have been massively better and still both pastorally sensitive and biblically faithful. ‘If you’ve heard this message and responded to Jesus, come and talk to me or one of the other staff afterwards – we have a booklet we’d love to give you.’ ‘If you still have a head full of questions, I’d love to chat things through.’
But my friend was right – a large part of what I did had made the gospel obscure, and I had done that to gratify and bolster me as an evangelist.
3 comments on ““I see that hand!” #evangelismfail”
My Chinese brothers and sisters are always much more pushy than me in looking for an active response. I tend to be patient imagining that there is probably a long hard battle ahead. My Chinese friends expect to see quick professions of faith (and often do).
I’m certainly not going to argue for a show of hands, but a mild challenge every now and then to wake waverers from their slumbers and push a few to make a well thought through decision might have some merit.
I’m very happy to push, Graham, and for a ‘right here, right now’ response, too. But my point was on some kind of external, validating response that really only served to flatter me as a preacher, and cause them (subtly) to lean in the wrong direction.
Yes Chris, I wasn’t disagreeing with your points. I just know that my problem is that I would tend in the opposite direction and avoid pushing for a decision because I’m so used to friendship evangelism where people are very gradually drawn.