Convictions on the “altar calls” and planned “revival responses”
I grew up in a church system where a public call for “walking the aisle” or “raising your hand” to receive Christ was a semi-regular occurrence in my Evangelical Free Church, though not too ostentatious. I remember this as normal but began to have some concerns as I worked at Bible Camp and saw the same kids come forward for the same experience on Decision Night (Tuesdays at the chapel) year after year, regardless of the content of the message.
My clear, personal, and abiding conviction on these issues came when I became the Camp speaker and was actually in charge of the Altar Call (circa 2003). I remember this night clearly as one of a fork in the road for ministry after which my ministry direction was altered and set on a different course. The night I am referring to came during a week of camp where there was a big thunderstorm and a significant power outage, which meant for chapel, the lights were off, candles were lit, and the music was acoustic. After two days of games, lack of sleep, and storms, the ambiance was one of the emotions, a “revival spirit.” Kids and counselors were swaying and raising their hands. Was it the Holy Spirit at work, or was the atmosphere unique and intimate?
Before I got up to speak, I remember that a very clear thought came to me and was crystallized. It was my turn to get the big decision numbers, and I knew exactly how I would do it. I was sure that I could get up, share the horrors of crucifixion with all the dramatic emotion I could muster, and then make a plea for the decision to receive Jesus.
As I considered this, I then realized that I could easily, not because I was a great speaker, but because of the emotive atmosphere, simply calling for a decision, and most or all of the kids would do whatever I told them to do. I knew it. I held this in my hands. And then I was gripped by Fear. I knew it was in my power to do this and I then realized their response might have nothing to do with God, but only by using the right words, and in this, I could give false assurance. They would have their faith in that night and the feelings of that night, but not in the Abiding Truth of God’s Word. It was one of those ministry crossroads. The temptation was great and the power and pull of immediate success were terrifying. I knew that God would hold me accountable for my words and actions.
I remember going to the bathroom and staring at the mirror with this realization and this Holy Fear. I knew I could go in the altar call direction and I knew the results would be immediate and marked. I knew we would have numbers to report and decisions to count up. In my fear, I resolved to do the opposite. I went up on stage and gave a simple, clear, and sincere gospel message. Then I did the opposite of what I had been indirectly trained to do: I sent the kids back to their cabins. I shared that I and the counselors would be available to pray and answer questions. A few kids stayed. Most departed. The Lights came on. I didn’t have the revival I had craved, but I had a clean conscience and the methods of my preaching ministry were changed. This was 18 years ago. I have only grown stronger in my convictions: Real Salvation is seen in the Spirit working on the individual to believe in Christ Jesus and Repent. This will lead to a lifetime of discipleship, love of the church, and marked maturity. This person will love God’s word. Their assurance will be Christ Alone as their King and High Priest (Hebrews 10:19-25), as they obey His word for the rest of their early lives.
Friends, you need the Word of God, preached, sung, obeyed, and meditated upon. Will your life be marked by experiences? Sure, both of victory, hardship, and repentance. You need to first realize that you are a Sinner who is separated from God and headed to Hell. The Gospel is Christ’s Work of mediation through his perfect life and atoning death. Believe this.