Successive Steps in Decisions

The shepherd should make it as easy and as natural as pos­sible for the sheep to enter the fold.

Fordyce W. Detamore, Evangelist, Texas Conference

The shepherd should make it as easy and as natural as pos­sible for the sheep to enter the fold. The minister should make it as easy and as natural as pos­sible for individuals to enter the church. Jesus drew His hearers. He developed in them a desire for eternal life. Then the steps into the king­dom follow more naturally.

The evangelistic sermon itself should aim at decision and action. There is little point in tacking on a call at the end of a formal dis­course that has not challenged the listeners to decision and action. The sermon and call to­ward decision or for decision should all blend into one. The following set of methods in mak­ing calls has proved quite effective in various lands and under varying conditions.

Hand-raising Calls

Each night the audience should be given some opportunity to respond to the evening's appeal. The easiest response is raising the hand for special help while all eyes are closed and heads are bowed in silent prayer. Having the heads bowed and eyes closed makes the call easier for minister and listener alike.

One reason we dread making calls is our fear that the response will be weak. One reason we do not hold more evangelistic meetings is our fear that they may not be much of a success. Is it not a pity we are so afraid of what others think of us?

We busy ourselves with all manner of table-waiting, machine-oiling, and campaigning, con­vincing ourselves that we just do not have the time to hold meetings. Actually it is our fear of failure that is largely responsible for the lack of evangelists among us.

We fear to make calls lest no one respond. So we reason ourselves out of the solemn re­sponsibility by arguing that calls are emotional. And of all things, higher education is against emotionalism! You would think our aim was primarily to the head instead of the heart. Jesus' appeals went straight to the heart. He let the scribes and Pharisees work on the head.

If the initial calls are made with the eyes closed and heads bowed in prayer, the minister will not feel so timorous in making calls, for others cannot see how many are or are not re­sponding. Also, individuals feel freer in re­sponding when they know that others are not watching them. And why should the curious be peering at the struggles or responses of those in the valley of decision?

At the end of the sermon the minister bows his head and prays. Then he stops short to give others an opportunity to be remembered in specific prayer.

One evening's appeal might be worded something like this: "And now as your heads are bowed in prayer, I am wondering how many of you desire special prayer that the Lord will help you in the matter of overcoming tobacco. Please raise your hands and then lower them again. . . . Are there still others?" And then fol­lows the closing prayer.

Each night's appeal fits the topic presented. But every night there is a call for hand raising, except on nights when the other types of calls are used. Some of these nightly appeals are quite general, to encourage all to respond. Others are very specific and apply to a smaller portion of your audience, but every night some appeal should be made.

Standing Calls

Occasionally it is good to ask for a bolder re­sponse than hand raising. After a sermon on the three Hebrews and the burning, fiery furnace, the call may take this turn as all heads are bowed in prayer:

"Tonight I am wondering how many of you are weighing your decision in the matter of taking your stand to follow the truth all the way. There is a final and full step you must take in order to be saved, and tonight you wish to register your request, 'Pray for me that I will have courage and strength in taking my stand before it is too late.' Would you just stand to your feet and then be seated again? I am not asking you to come forward or to join a church nor am I asking for your name and address; but I do want to remember you in specific prayer that you will not put off decision too long. Will you just stand and then be seated again? . . . Are there still others?"

Then follows the closing prayer with the min­ister remembering these persons who have just stood. It takes more courage to stand than merely to raise the hand. So this second step is gradually strengthening those in the valley of decision for the eventual and final decision—for baptism.

Aftermeetings

Occasionally it is helpful to ask a particular group to remain after the evening service for an aftermeeting. This may be a call to remain for a special season of prayer or for special in­struction.

The aftermeeting brings truth seekers and minister closer together and is an effective way of drawing out the more specific interests. There are so many ways of conducting after-meetings that we cannot cover them in this immediate discussion. That really is a whole subject for consideration in itself.

Altar Calls

Friday evening before our first Sabbath after­noon call for surrender and baptism, we con­duct our initial altar call. The sermon that night is entitled "Is It Necessary to Be Bap­tized to Be Saved?" It is, according to the Scrip­tures. I am afraid we as Seventh-day Adventist ministers have not stressed, as we should, that baptism is imperative to salvation. We recog­nize, of course, the physical exceptions such as the thief on the cross, the dying invalid, the prisoner, et cetera. But those are the extreme exceptions. We also stress the danger of delaying baptism once one has seen the light of truth.

At the close of the sermon all heads are bowed in prayer as usual. Then an invitation is given for a general call forward: "Tonight we want all who believe in God and in prayer to come forward, standing around the 'altar' with heads bowed quietly in prayer as I offer the closing prayer. Will you all stand and come forward pressing up near the front. . . .

"And now, as you stand with heads bowed in prayer, I am wondering how many here tonight have specific burdens upon your hearts.

"First, how many have unsurrendered loved ones you desire to be remembered in special prayer? Will you raise your hands on their be­half?" (Almost every hand is raised.)

"Second, how many of you have some specific problem in which you need help: perhaps in overcoming tobacco; perhaps in the matter of arranging your Sabbath work so you can keep the fourth commandment; perhaps in overcom­ing impure thoughts or evil temper. Whatever your specific request for your own need, will you raise your hand and then lower it again?

"Third, I am wondering how many here are weighing the question of baptism or of rebap­tism, and you wish to say, 'Do remember me in special prayer tonight that God will guide me in my decision regarding baptism {or rebap­tismy—just raise your hands and lower them again, will you?—all of you who are weighing the question of baptism or rebaptism. There are many."

And then follows the closing prayer mention­ing the above groups and their requests. At the close of this special prayer a further announce­ment is made:

"And now, just a word before you leave the auditorium. Tomorrow afternoon at the end of my sermon on The Prodigal Son' [or some other appeal sermon], I will give an opportu­nity for any considering baptism to register their desire. Of course, none will be baptized tomorrow, but you will be given the opportu­nity of indicating your desire to prepare for baptism. So please go to your room and make this a matter of special prayer."

As the audience is dismissed an appeal song is sung softly, "I Will Follow Thee, My Saviour." Usually we meet with ministers and local church leaders after this service for a special season of prayer on behalf of those in the valley of deci­sion, and the call for surrender the next day.

The Call for Surrender

Our calls for surrender are made on Sabbath afternoons and, of course, also on the closing Sunday night of the series.

At the end of a half-hour appeal sermon, we begin the prayer as in the night meetings, but the appeal is different.

"And now, as your heads are bowed in prayer, I want to give an invitation to all those who are weighing baptism or rebaptism to come forward in just a few moments and be seated here at the front. Some of you have never been bap­tized by immersion. Or perhaps you have had only infant baptism. You must take that step for full baptism and should come forward to­day.

"Second, I want to include also those who have been baptized by immersion, but addi­tional light and truth have come to you and you desire to take an additional step forward to unite with God's commandment-keeping church. You, too, should come forward. You may come into the commandment-keeping church by vote of the church by your former baptism if you prefer, but do come forward to­day to register your desire to prepare for church fellowship!

"And, third, I wish also to include those pres­ent who used to be in the fold, and then for a time have slipped away. But today you wish to indicate your desire to come back to the fold. Will you also please come forward and be seated here at the front?

"Remember, none will be taken into the church today. Each will be given an opportu­nity to study fully and review every point of faith before being taken into the church. But do come forward now as the choir sings softly and be seated at the front. . . . Who will stand and come? . . . Please come now."

The minister steps down to the auditorium level to greet those who come forward. Those on the front row are asked to move to make room for those coming forward. If the front row fills, ask those on the second row to go quietly to the back to make room for more decisions.

This call is conducted while the audience is seated with heads bowed in prayer and as the choir continues singing appeal songs.

After the call has continued for five to eight minutes, the evangelist adds: "If any of you have friends or loved ones in the room in the valley of decision, I do wish you would speak a word of encouragement to that dear one to come forward. Sometimes just a word of en­couragement will help one in the balance to cast his lot on the side of right, and in the judg­ment day none will ever hold it against you that you helped him find eternal life."

That is the signal for fellow workers and lay­men to speak to those who should come forward.

As we approach the end of the call we ask the audience (not those who have come forward) to stand while the choir sings three final stanzas before the appeal closes. Thus those trying to decide know that the call is definitely about to close.

When these last three stanzas have been sung, we add: "And just now before our closing prayer, I wonder how many of you who did not come forward are weighing your decision, and you wish to say by raising your hand, 'Do re­member me in prayer that God will help me as I weigh my decision that I will not wait too long in deciding'—just raise your hand and lower it again, will you please?"

Then follows the closing prayer, as we re­member those who have just raised their hands for special prayer as well as those who have come forward.

The audience is dismissed, and we then meet with those who have come forward, getting their names and addresses, announcing the time of the baptismal class (calling it the "special Bi­ble class") and praying with them before they leave.

The baptismal class must be organized im­mediately. This is imperative. We ask all to meet each night Monday through Friday. At this point it is very dangerous to delay and the longer time between decision and baptism, the higher the fatalities. "Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of sal­vation."


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Fordyce W. Detamore, Evangelist, Texas Conference

June 1958

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