Walking the aisle
By Brett Younger
For years, some people have assumed that a real worship service hasn’t taken place unless it ends with a constantly interrupted invitation hymn. After a long sermon, a preacher with a booming voice says something along the lines of: "This is the time of commitment. If you feel God pulling at your heart, then you need to come forward. If you feel something in your heart and you’re not sure what it is, you need to come. No matter what you’re feeling, you need to come, as we stand and sing."
Time is now fleeting, the moments are passing, passing from you and from me.
"If you would like to rededicate your life, this is the time for that decision. You may have rededicated your life 50 times; come again. Maybe you rededicate your life every revival; come now. Maybe you rededicated your life last Sunday, but had a bad week; come again, as the choir hums."
"If you are a male, then you may be called to full-time Christian service, or if you are really brave then you should be a missionary. Come as the pianist plays only the black keys."
Shadows are gathering, deathbeds are coming, coming for you and for me.
"I know that many of you wish this invitation was over. Maybe your leg has fallen asleep from standing so long. Even so, I think that there is someone here who needs to come forward." (A husband whispers to his wife, "Do you think you could rededicate your life? I’m missing the kickoff.") "Let’s have every head bowed and every eye closed." (At this point almost every head is bowed and more than two-thirds of the eyes are closed.) "If you are a member of the church, pray for those who are not. If you are not a member, then know that there are people near you who are telekinetically pushing you to the front. Raise your hand if you feel like you need to make a decision. Raise your hand if someday you might make some decision. Raise your hand if you want to encourage me. If no one comes on this verse, then we’ll close the invitation." The less-spiritual members of the congregation offer a sigh of relief. For some, the measure of worship is whether anyone joins the church.
"Walking the aisle" has its roots in the 1830s, when Charles Finney began utilizing the "anxious bench," where those in need of salvation were to sit. The job of those who had already made decisions was, one can only assume, to stare the anxious into the kingdom. This practice evolved into the bizarre evangelical custom of shaking the preacher’s hand as the primary expression of the desire to become a Christian. (The early church thought of baptism as the primary expression of the desire to become a Christian.) Most churches that ask people to walk the aisle will keep doing so (and with some good reasons), but even as we invite those who are weary to come home, we should know how peculiar it is.
Brett Younger, pastor of Broadway Baptist Church, Fort Worth, still hopes people will walk the aisle on Sunday.