Responses have been on my mind. By responses I mean what typically happens at churches across America after a sermon is preached. A lot of churches have what is called an invitation. In an invitation you invite people from the audience to come to the front and respond in some way to the message that was preached. The response might be confession of sin, prayer for strength, or desire for baptism.
For many responses are what make a sermon a hit or not. When those in the church see a response the preacher normally hears an extra word of encouragement concerning that sermon. If you are a preacher you might even get an extra amount of pride that your sermon was able to impact someone enough to get them to “come forward.” I’ll admit it is cool when people publicly respond to a message.
But this week I was thinking about this idea of public response and the language we use concerning it. Normally after the sermon is finished and people respond we will say something like “five responded this morning” and then we will pray or baptize those who responded. The reason I am apprehensive about that language is because I think it misses the point really.
When the word of God is preached everyone who hears the word responds. On an average Sunday at the church where I preach between 470-520 people are in attendance. After every sermon I have somewhere in that range respond to the message. No they don’t all come forward, although some do, but they all respond.
A father responds to the message by dedicating himself to be the leader of his home and to take a more active role in teaching his children, but he never leaves his pew.
A teenager responds by dedicating themselves for another week to stay away from the temptation that they face.
A well-seasoned member responds by continuing to pray for his/her family that they remain faithful to God.
Someone responds by deciding to be honest in their business practices.
Someone responds by turning off the computer rather than visit another adult website.
Someone responds by going to a brother and asking for forgiveness. Another responds by forgiving and removing bitterness from their life.
A group responds by going out and visiting those in need among us or by inviting a friend to a Bible study or gathering.
The church responds by putting their trust in Jesus and the grace of God.
Others might respond negatively. They might respond by refusing to listen to the word. They might respond by listening but letting the cares of the world keep them from bearing fruit. They might respond by hardening their heart and continuing a life of stubborn disobedience. They might respond by ridicule and mockery.
The point is whenever the word of God is preached every person who hears that word responds in some way; either to obey the message, accept the promise, live for God or to stubbornly ignore, disobey, or harden their hearts.
I know we can get excited (and if we are honest even prideful) about people coming forward in a public way to respond, but to those preachers, Bible class teachers, and so many others who share God’s word, I want you to know that every time you share a message everyone you hear responds.