The last two chapters of R. Alan Streett’s The Effective Invitation: A Practical Guide for the Pastor are called “Music and the Invitation” and “Inviting Children to Christ.”
“Music and the Invitation” presents a historical overview of the role music has played in Evangelism. Streett begins this at history of music and evangelism with Acts 16 when Paul and Silas sang in the Philippian jail; this surely had as much effect on the jailor as the earthquake. Streett quotes Donald P. Ellsworth: “Unquestionably the jailor was moved to ask this question partly because of the great earthquake which they had just experienced. However, there is nothing intrinsic in an earthquake which would encourage a man to seek to be saved. Paul’s and Silas’s singing must have had something to do with it. We can be reasonably sure that the songs were at least meaningful to those prisoners who were listening, because Paul writes elsewhere (1Cor. 14:15) that singing is to be done with the understanding.” Paul said he used all means to win others to Christ (1Cor. 9:22); music is certainly one of these means. In fact, all great moves of God have involved singing. In the forth century, John Chrysostum and Niceta of Remesiana spread the gospel with the singing of hymns. The role of music in individual Christian’ lives almost became extinct during the Middle Ages (St. Francis of Assisi excepted), but was revived by Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation. Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield turned to Isaac Watt’s hymns to find appropriate musical accompaniment to 18th century revival services. Watts had three criteria for a hymn: 1. it had to be evangelistic, presenting the gospel, 2. it was freely compose rather than an exact translation of scripture, 3. it was written to express the thoughts and feelings of the singer. Charles Wesley wrote over 6,000 hymns and is credited with both introducing a congregational style of singing which expressed the thoughts and feelings of the individual and with writing the first invitational hymns. (Streett repeats the legend, which is incorrect, that the Wesley’s used bar tunes as the melody for their hymns. To set the record straight in your own mind, see here.) Streett closes out this historical overview with the development of the gospel song and the development of the role of song leaders in evangelistic crusades.
Streett lists five functions music plays in evangelistic services. First, music can attract non-Christians to the service. Second, once non-Christians come to a service, music prepares their hearts to hear and accept the gospel. They come loaded down with the cares of the world; music temporarily removes that load so the word of God can penetrate their hearts and minds. Third, music helps prepare the heart of the evangelist to preach the gospel and give the invitation. Fourth, music is just as effective, if not more so, as a sermon in preaching God’s word since it touches the heart and emotions. Fifth, it aids non-Christians in surrendering to Christ.
History is filled with examples of young children coming to Christ: Corrie ten Boom, Ruth Graham, and Leighton Ford came to Christ at the age of five while Jonathan Edwards was seven. Most developmental psychologists agree that children begin to develop a conscience between the ages of five and nine. When a child can internally distinguish between right and wrong, he or she is morally accountable to God for their sins. The Streett’s last chapter, he gives much practical advice in presenting the gospel to children. He writes: “Because pre-adolescent youths are intellectually, socially, and emotionally immature, the minister of the gospel must realize that evangelism among this group is an extremely delicate process. Most children can be easily manipulated into making shallow or even pseudo-commitments to Christ. Through the use of peer pressure, the promise of rewards, or the inward desire to please the Christian worker, unwary children are often cajoled into quasi-conversion experiences. Such unscriptural methods can lead to undesirable consequences, and sometimes hinder children from making legitimate decisions for Christ in later years. Inadequately-trained youth workers, despite good intentions, often do more harm than good.” Children come to Christ the same way adults do, through the proclamation of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. There are not two gospels, one for adults and one for children. We greatly err when we assume a child cannot understand the gospel. Children can only come to Jesus through His cross. The problem is not “Should I preach the kerygma?” but “how can I preach the kerygma so a child can understand?” The first obstacle is a theological language barrier. The preacher/teacher must redefine terms for children as they think in concrete terms. Terms such as sin, conviction, crucifixion, resurrection, Holy Ghost, repentance, faith, blood of the lamb, give your life to Christ, admit you are lost, come to Jesus, washed in the blood, ask Christ to save you, invite Christ into your heart, make a stand for Christ, etc., need redefining for children who are uninitiated in Church vocabulary. Children must be taught that God is their creator and loves them and cares for them, and wants to be their friend forever. When presenting sin to children, don’t use adult examples but the acts of rebellion they engage in everyday. Children must be taught that the acts they commit against family and friends are also sins against God; sin is him/her choosing to do what they want to do when God wants them to do something else. Children understand the concept of punishment, yet must be taught that God loves them still when they rebel. Children must be taught that Christ had to come to earth in the form of a man so to be the perfect sacrifice for sins. Children have no problem accepting the truth of the resurrection. When presenting the gospel, remember that a child’s attention span is short. Do not drag out the presentation. Repetition is the key. Children must be taught that acts such as coming forward or raising their hands does not save them. They must be taught repentance with the acknowledgement that the child’s sins caused Christ to die. Children can be convicted through God’s word and the Holy Spirit. Repentance should be presented to a child as meaning to be being sorry enough for his/her sin that they no longer want to do them again. Children must also be taught to trust their savior, which is not difficult for a child to do. When extending the invitation to children, the problem of peer pressure must be eliminated. Instead of asking them to come forward, the children should bow their heads and signify their commitment to Christ by raising their hands or lifting their heads. The preacher/teacher must convey to them that they should not express a commitment just to please them. Never offer rewards or privileges in exchange for a verbal commitment. Never embarrass a child into making a commitment. After a child makes a commitment, he/she should be counseled immediately to cement the decision made and to encourage them to share their new found faith.