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"So, how do I get started talking to someone about Jesus Christ?"

Springboards to spiritual conversation

"'Do you understand what you are reading?' Philip asked." -- Acts 8:30

Lyle Pointer published a series of "spiritual conversation starters" in a little brochure. His suggested opening lines for what have been called soul-winning or witnessing conversations included:

Dr. Pointer gives some words of advice to those wanting to use his springboards to spiritual conversations:

Additional witnessing / soul-winning resources

"The Sinner's Prayer" -- Some questions

Have people been genuinely saved through an encounter in which they pray a four-sentence prayer that someone has prompted them with phrase by phrase? Yes, they have. Much good has come from outreach efforts in which that simple prayer is an element.

That being said, there are questions swirling around in my mind regarding the use of "The Sinner's Prayer":

  1. Can it come across as a magical formula for being reconciled to God? Simply reciting a prayer composed by someone else does not save anyone. Isn't it belief, repentance and acceptance of God's grace that saves people? Still, the implication sometimes given to people is that all they need to do to be saved is recite the brief prayer. We never give the impression that the recitation of a pre-formulated prayer has saving power in itself. That scenario of "formula salvation" actually is reminiscent of Roman Catholic missionaries in the 1200s who went from Europe to Asia and baptized huge numbers of people simply because those people learned to recite in Latin the Apostles' Creed and the Lord's Prayer. We have to be careful not to promote that kind of "formula salvation." Sadly, in both the 1200s in Asia and sometimes in today's use of The Sinner's Prayer, the invitation seems to be: "Repeat these words after me and you will be saved."
  2. Is there a possibility that coaching someone to say a few words composed by someone else may de-sensitize that person to the dreadfulness of sin, to the depth of depravity and to the price Jesus paid to redeem us? The prayer is brief. An emphasis on "just say these few words and you will be saved" may sometimes smack of what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called "cheap grace." Don't people need to "count the cost" of what it will mean to become a Jesus follower? The way The Sinner's Prayer is somtimes used may open the door to trivializing the awfulness of sin, cheapening the process of repentance, overlooking the enormous paradigm shift one undergoes in conversion, and giving no attention to the marvelous witness of the Spirit within one's self. A de-sensitization to all of that could easily lead to shallow conversions which end with people who said the prayer never progressing toward a deep relationship with the Lord.
  3. Does how The Sinner's Prayer is often presented give the impression that we're here to punch people's tickets to heaven? What may come across is that we are only interested in "getting people saved" rather than the more long-term objective of "making Christlike disciples"as the Church of the Nazarene mission statement puts it. A very narrow focus on just the moment of conversion can lead to what has been called the "baptistification" of Nazarene theology.

    To move toward making Christlike disciples, Nazarene JESUS film teams in some areas of the world will show that film three or four times before asking people to respond. Having multiple showings of the film before asking people to respond gives them time to think, reflect and even talk over the changes in worldview, lifestyle and lordship which Christian conversion would mean for them.
  4. Can the use of The Sinner's Prayer give people a false assurance of salvation? Who are we to tell people they are saved because we heard them recite a prayer line by line as we gave it to them? Isn't it possible that people have been declared saved before they have really "prayed through" (as we used to say). Only the Holy Spirit can give true assurance of salvation. People need to look to Him for that assurance.
  5. Can the way The Sinner's Prayer is used come off as a salesman's "close the deal" pitch? With a commendable goal of getting people to enter the Kingdom, have we adopted a crassly commercial way of "closing the deal" or "cementing the decision"? There is a danger that The Sinner's Prayer will become the conclusion to a well-rehearsed human sales pitch. Shouldn't our approach be that of boldly giving witness to the works of God and inviting people to respond to the leading of the Holy Spirit as He draws people to Himself?

Asking these questions does not mean we should shy away from pointing people toward Jesus. It does not mean we should not show them the way of salvation.

It might mean, however, that we should be careful to use The Sinner's Prayer in ways that ensure it is a prayer coming from deep in the heart of the person saying the words.

One version of the sinner's prayer

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe You died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow You as my Lord and Savior.

How should leaders respond when moral issues are at stake?

What should leaders do when key people in a congregation have unresolved morality issues? [ read more ]

     -- Howard Culbertson

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Howard Culbertson, 5901 NW 81st, Oklahoma City, OK 73132  |  Phone: 405-740-4149

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