This morning and a little last night we discussed a topic that we discussed last year as well. It is also a topic that has haunted/followed and caused me to re-evaluate what I believe about it. It is the topic of the Altar Call or Decision Time in regards to the presentation of the Gospel message. As a person who LOVES the communication process and loves telling students about Jesus, this is something that I have been dealing with for about three years. Dealing with what? Is the Altar Call or having a student fill out a Decision card the best way to track their decision to follow Christ and do we need to track their decision. I understand that if we know about their decision we can help them, disciple them, etc. But, is an altar in 2006 the best way or is life on life the best way. I know the "preaching" process is extremly important and scripture tells us that we need to share the truth in love, but I think many "preachers/teacher's" misuse their gifts and end up manupilating students instead of simply sharing Jesus with them.
A little history. I have been a youth pastor for 11 years and in that time the part I love the most is teaching/communicating/speaking/preaching or for me, telling kids about Jesus. The first 8 years I was all about the Altar Call, having them come forward, pray the sinners prayer, take them to a back room, give them a bible, have them fill out the card and welcome them into God's family. But, about 3 years ago, I started to re-think, re-evaluate the whole process and especially with young teens. In my short time in ministry I have been asked to be a guest speaker often (Is that a tool alert?) and that gives me opportunities to see how other churches/youth pastors help students make a decision. Just like countless of youth pastors, over the years I saw many students come forward time after time and that was one of the parts I began to think about a lot.
While I was at my last church we would host an "outreach" event a couple of times a year and it was mandated to me that we needed to have a decision time. And I think at that time in my ministry life, I thought it was necessary as well. So, typically we would have hundreds of kids attend these events (TOOL ALERT..I used numbers, but not specifics, even though I wanted to) and at one point we moved them all together and I would do a fun, laughter filled talk that I hoped would present who Jesus was, how he could change your life and how could they respond to him. Then we would lead them through a prayer and then have them fill out cards with some simple boxes. I think that was sort of affective. The problem was we could never follow up with all these kids, heck we couldn't follow up with all the kids in our ministry, so I just wondered what good it did. I would go home that night and imagine if we had an adult just ready and willing to pour into that students life.
I mean I have done "altar calls" for years and then something happened, can't explain, I just started getting a little uneven about them. I guess my question is do we need to give students an opportunity to respond and if so, what is most effective way. I know the most effective way is through a relationship, but in large group settings what is the best way?