One of the highlights of my year is teaching the membership class to prospective members. Typically we offer the class during three different months and it lasts 4-weeks each. During this time, I find great value in interacting with the new members who are pursuing membership in our church. I likewise enjoy teaching on the doctrine of the church and explaining the importance of a proper ecclesiology. Not only do I find value in it, but I believe the prospective members do as well. This class provides value to our whole church.
Guard the Front Door
In the church culture that I grew up in, joining the local church was not that difficult. It was more difficult to join a little league baseball team than it was to become a member in the local church. That was true among many Southern Baptist churches. Typically families would walk to the front of the church at the conclusion of the service when the pastor would give a formal invitation and invite people to come for counseling or membership. It was common to see families or individuals walk to the front, answer a few questions, and be presented as members immediately.
The membership class works in a different way to go beyond a casual introduction to a more formal introduction that provides a proper context of the prospect’s background, spiritual condition, testimony of conversion, and life dynamics before becoming an actual member of the church. This is not a pragmatic method and it may seem strange to guard the front door of the church, but it’s a needful practice that prevents people from joining who could be potentially dangerous to the church.
Although the church should be open to anyone, there are exceptions. For instance, unconverted people are not welcome to join our church. Church membership is reserved for Christians and you don’t become a follower of Jesus by joining the church. Secondly, prospects who are not in good standing in their local church should not be welcomed into membership. Finally, people who come from different theological and ecclesiological backgrounds may need to be evaluated more intensely before welcoming them into the life of the church. All of this is for the health and unity of the church.
Introduction to the Church’s Beliefs and Practices
During the 4-week class, we take time to teach what we believe and how our church operates. The class is broken down as follows:
The Church 201
Distinctive Marks 301
Becoming Productive Members 401
We always begin with a proper explanation of the gospel and this allows unbelievers to hear the good news of Jesus Christ at the beginning. On several occasions, I’ve had people go through the class and dropout after the first or second week when they realize that they aren’t a true Christian.
The class moves on to explain very specific distinctive marks of our church’s doctrine and ecclesiology that may overlap with other Baptist churches and will likewise be distinct from other churches in our community. We want prospects to understand how our church is served by a plurality of deacons and led by a plurality of pastors and this may not be something that some people are accustomed to and it’s good for them to hear it in the beginning.
Expectations and Responsibilities
The class ends with a focus on what is expected of members who come into the life of our church. We expect members to be productive and healthy as they contribute in ministry and promote unity among the church family. During the final class, we discuss spiritual gifts and how they are to be used in the life of the local church for the glory of God.
Finally, at the end of the process, each prospective member or family will meet with one of our pastors for an interview where they talk privately on a date set aside on the calendar for that particular meeting. During the conversation, the prospective member will be asked to share his or her testimony of conversion and to provide a simple definition of the gospel. We also provide an opportunity for the prospects to ask questions to the pastors regarding anything from the class or things pertaining to the life of the church.
In the end, the membership class provides a more healthy way of entrance into the local church. It is not fail proof—as I’ve had people lie their way through the new membership class, but it does provide a much more difficult process for deceptive people who have some motivation in joining the local church. In the end, I believe the new membership class is valuable for the prospective member, the pastoral staff, and the local church as a whole. We want new members and the church to understand the shared responsibility of membership from the very beginning.
One of the greatest decisions of your life will be centered upon what church you should join. This will be where you receive the teaching of God’s Word, grow in the knowledge of truth, are blessed through the ordinary means of grace, and where your entire family will engage in worship, discipleship, and missions. This is no small decision. Often I run across people at conferences or through e-mail who stop attending church because they can’t find the perfect church. What if you don’t have the perfect church in your community—what should you do?
Nonattendance is Not an Option
If you’re not presently attending church because you have become disgruntled with your present church and due to the fact that you can’t seem to locate the perfect church in your area—you are in a very dangerous place. God has never intended His people to journey to the Celestial City alone. The journey is long and treacherous and God’s plan has always been centered on the church. We need one another for encouragement, friendship, partnership, and accountability.
Consider the words in Hebrews 10:23-25:
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
How is it possible to stir up your church to love and good works if you’re not in attendance with the church? How can you encourage your church if you’re not gathering together with your church family for the purpose of worship and service in ministry? The church gathers weekly for worship and service, and regularly sits together at the Lord’s Table remembering the sacrificial death of Jesus. Nonattendance was not an option for the early church and it shouldn’t be an option for the modern church.
Work Hard to Make Your Church Better
Perhaps that’s the reason you’re unhappy is because you’re searching for the perfect church. It’s like the husband who is unhappy with his wife because he’s consistently looking at other marriages and examining them as he searches for the ideal marriage. Perhaps if you stopped shopping around and became focused on your local church things would suddenly improve.
When talking to people about what type of church they’re searching for, words that often surface in such conversations include “authentic,” “missional,” and “serious.” Before leaving your church and looking for a better church, have you considered working to improve the deficiencies within your local church? As we consider the reality that all churches will have blemishes and deficiencies, we must not become a “Statler or Waldorf” who sit on the sidelines and criticize. The church needs more and the Lord deserves much better from us all.
As the church is often described through analogies of the human body, a building, and a family—the idea of slacking off and not pulling your weight within your local church based on complaints that you have is simply not biblical. Work hard to love one another (yes, we are called to actually go beyond liking one another), to serve with one another, to promote unity, and to engage in the mission of the local church for the glory of God.
Drive, Move, or Both
There are times when it’s necessary to leave a church. As you consider leaving your church, you must honestly evaluate your desires from a biblical lens. Are your concerns based on cultural preferences or essential biblical truth? This is a heartbreaking decision and should likewise be approached carefully and biblically. Never leave a church out of emotion, anger, or petty complaints.
If sin is not addressed by the church and if unrepentant sinners are allowed to persist in their rebellion—this may be a reason to consider leaving your church. If leaders within the church do not take their responsibility to teach the Bible seriously and if they replace serious exposition with silly sermonettes and puppet shows, this may be an indicator that you can’t stay. If unbiblical doctrines are being taught, you should leave. However, in all cases, it would be wise to confirm the unbiblical doctrines by meeting with the elders of the church to avoid any misunderstanding and to hold the leaders accountable.
If you find yourself searching for a church because you’ve had to leave a church on the basis of heretical teaching or if you’ve recently moved to a new city—don’t be persuaded that your couch and YouTube will be a sufficient substitute for a healthy local church. God has not given us another option in place of the local assembly of the saints. If you need to drive to the next town to attend church—do it. If you can’t drive and be faithful—consider moving. Yes, moving to be closer to your church may prove to be the best decision for your family. It will prove to be much healthier than spotty attendance that keeps you and your family disconnected from the life of the church. It may be that such a move causes you to have a longer drive to work each day, but that too may be the most healthy option.
Whatever you do—don’t choose YouTube and podcasts as a substitute for your local church.
Last year I was introduced to Stephen McCaskell and I knew immediately that he was a gifted man. McCaskell uses his gifts to tell an important story from church history—one that all of us need to know. The official trailer of his new film documentary of Martin Luther was unveiled at the 2017 G3 Conference back in January. Just a couple of weeks ago, the film was released and I had the privilege to view it with my wife this past weekend. If you’re looking for a simple summary to describe it, I would say it’s historically accurate and brilliantly presented through the interviews and the motion graphics.
Why should you consider watching a documentary on the life and legacy of a man who lived 500 years ago in church history? Not only is history important, but the study of church history should be something that all Christians give themselves to at some level or another. It’s important to know where we stand in a long line of gospel people. This film on the life of Luther gives us a unique look into his life and reminds us of the importance of the Reformation.
This year marks the 500th anniversary of what’s known as the Protestant Reformation. A simple document, intended to spark a debate among the scholarly world and Roman Catholic community in Wittenberg, Germany, was nailed to the castle church door and turned into a spark that set the world ablaze. Martin Luther wanted to talk about the theology behind the selling of indulgences, and it turned into a massive world-changing controversy. This eventually led to a movement which eventually morphed into a protest.
This is a wonderful year to learn more about Martin Luther, the central figure in the Reformation. If you don’t know much about church history, this documentary will aid you in building your knowledge about the Reformation and key figures of the protest known to us as the Reformation. Often with documentaries and historical biographies, men can become giants—exaggerated to the level of super human where we often fail to remember that they too have feet of clay.
Stephen McCaskell does a great job of reminding us that Martin Luther was a unique and gifted man that God raised up for a unique purpose in church history. However, like all of us, he had both flowers and flaws. In a balanced way, McCaskell tells the story of Luther’s life and provides us a balanced view of his flaws. This is perhaps best explained by Carl Trueman in one of the sections of the documentary as he called Luther a “bull-headed man.”
As you can expect with any documentary, the film contains footage of interviews with authors, scholars, and preachers on the subject of Luther’s life and legacy. In a masterful way, these segments are woven together along with the motion graphic sections to make for a stunning presentation. McCaskell interviews some of today’s leading voices and personalities on the life and ministry of Martin Luther including R.C. Sproul, Carl Trueman, Steven Lawson, and more.
In a way that does more than attempt to memorialize Luther, the authors, theologians, and preachers who are interviewed do an excellent job of providing details pertaining to the man known as Luther. As Dr. R.C. Sproul stated, “Luther blazed the rediscovery of justification by faith alone, and he restored the church’s focus to Christ alone.”
The Motion Graphics
Not many historic documentaries use animated graphics to tell the story of a person from history, but McCaskell employs animation in his film in a natural and non-distracting manner that ads great value and appeal to the story.
No matter what your knowledge base of Martin Luther’s life and place in church history is, you will find this documentary to be a great resource for your library. Luther accurately covers the life and ministry of the central figure of the Reformation. This documentary is powerfully presented with key interviews and stunning motion graphics. This is a great time to learn about Martin Luther and the Reformation that not only rocked the false church of Rome—but impacted the entire world. This resource would be good for both a home and church library.
Some people call it “drawing the net” or an “invitation,” while others simply refer to it as an “altar call.” It’s typically a time of decision at the end of a sermon where people are invited to the front to counsel and pray to receive Christ. What methods do we see employed in the Scriptures?
Years ago I was approached by our local association of Baptist churches to support a local evangelism event in our community. Since I value the work of evangelism and the collective work of local Baptist churches, I supported the event. Each evening the sermon came to an end by the guest evangelist offering an invitation to respond. It was a fresh reminder that methods matter.
As I watched the whole scene unfold, I became very uncomfortable. When the “invitation” was given, the counselors all got up and walked to the front from where they were seated in the audience. All of this was a preplanned and well organized routine that happened each evening at the conclusion of the sermon. It was a means of priming the pump—resulting in others following in their footsteps to be counseled. As you can imagine, it worked. Many people over those few days walked to the front for counseling. I’m not saying that there wasn’t a single true convert in that meeting, but I have yet to meet one in the years that have passed since that meeting. Tactics like this have been employed for many years in the evangelical church. What does the Bible teach about altar calls and the public invitation system?
God calls people to Himself. He invites sinners to come to Him. As early as Genesis 6:18, we see God directing Noah to come into the ark with his family where they would be spared from God’s wrath. Later, through the mouth of the prophet Isaiah, we see these words, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Is. 55:1). It’s clear that God calls people to come to Him for salvation.
In Jesus’ ministry, we see similar language. Jesus once said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). God loves sinners and He calls sinners to come. God calls sinners to Himself where they will receive mercy (Rom. 10:13). In Mark 1:17, we see Jesus calling His first disciple to “follow him.” In Matthew 10:32-33, Jesus said these words, “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”
The Bible comes to an end with a glorious invitation from God. We find these words in Revelation 22:17:
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.
Through the Holy Spirit and the work of God’s church, sinners hear the words, “come.” This is the work of evangelism. As we go teaching and preaching as God’s ambassadors, we are to implore people to be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:20). We direct people to find their hope in God through Jesus Christ. Through the power of the gospel, God calls sinners to Himself (Rom. 1:16).
Charles Finney and the Manipulation of the Invitation
In many cases, the images of Billy Graham’s crusades are still fresh on the minds Christians in the evangelical church in America. Graham used the tactics that were greatly popularized by Charles Finney in the 1800s. Finney, an unlikely convert, rose to great popularity during the days of the Second Great Awakening. Finney directed people to come to the “anxious seat” at the front of the church where they could literally agonize over their soul. It would be there that they would receive counsel and be instructed to pray the “prayer of faith” for the salvation of their soul.
Still today, at the conclusion of many evangelical church services, you will hear these familiar words, “Please bow your heads and close your eyes.” It’s at this moment that music is often played softly as the pastor gently speaks to unbelievers. Soon, he will say something like, “If you believe you need to be saved today, please raise your hand so that I can see it. Nobody is looking around, and I don’t want to embarrass you.” As you sit there with your eyes closed, you often hear his voice echoing in the quiet room, “I see that hand. I see that hand.” Soon, he will direct them to come forward to receive counsel.
In many of these cases, the person who responds is counseled with and then immediately presented as a new brother or sister in Christ. Without any fruit demonstrating genuine conversion, the entire church is expected to embrace the individual as a fellow Christian. However, if we’re all honest, the glorious invitations by God in the Scriptures—including the direct invitations to specific men by Jesus—look and sound different than what we see practiced in our modern churches today.
Charles Finney severely manipulated the biblical invitation methods that we see used by the apostles. At one point, Finney told parents that he could assure the salvation of their children in 15 minutes if they would come to the “anxious seat” and pray the “prayer of faith.” Today’s form of Finneyism is full of all manner of tricks, gimmicks, and games to elicit a response. As the golden rule of pragmatism always says—whatever works, do it. So it is with so much of the modern invitation system. Charles Spurgeon once lamented, “It very often happens that the converts that are born in excitement die when the excitement is over…. Some of the most glaring sinners known to me were once members of a church; and were, as I believe, led to make a profession by undue pressure, well-meant but ill-judged.” 
Toward a Biblical Invitation System
As we look at the preaching and teaching of Jesus and the apostles, we hear the echoes of the ancient prophets. All of those men were faithful and bold preachers of God’s Word. Rather than giving an “invitation” at the end of their preaching, their entire sermon was invitational. That’s what we should strive for in our church ministry. Rather than using gimmicks and trickery to entice people to come to the front of a room, we should point people to faith alone in Christ alone for the remission of their sins.
Charles Finney, reflecting on his ministry, doubted the authenticity of the overwhelming majority of the decisions he witnessed. R. L. Dabney, in his day, commenting on the invitation system said that most people had come “to coolly accept the fact forty-five out of fifty, or even a higher ratio, will eventually apostatize.”  Not only do we see many people who seem to fall away after making such a decision through the modern invitation system, but we likewise see many false converts coming to faith and needing to be rebaptized.
The same Jesus who called sinners to Himself also made a very important statement in John 6:44 (later repeated in John 6:65). He said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” In all of the debate about the methods of the altar call and public invitation, we must remember that the preacher is not in charge of the souls of people. Only those whom God calls can respond to embrace Jesus. Sadly, too many pastors and evangelists truly believe that if they can get people to the front of the room, they can get people saved by having them “ask Jesus into their heart” through a quick prayer.
How many people are in hell today who once walked to the front of a church and repeated a prayer? How many went to hell with a false assurance that they were saved when in all reality their assurance was based on their decision to walk to the front and pray? We must not lose sight of the fact that there are two very different calls that take place. One call is offered by a preacher (general call) while the other call is offered by God (divine or effectual call). The preacher calls everyone to repentance in a general manner, but only those to whom God calls by His effectual and special call will respond in true saving faith.
Charles Spurgeon would often point people to respond to God’s call by saying, “Today is the day of salvation, tomorrow is the devil’s day.” Spurgeon was urgent in his invitational preaching, but he didn’t employ the tactics of men like Charles Finney. For Spurgeon, he preached the gospel boldly and left the work of conversion up to God. In one sermon titled, “Now,” preached on December 4th, 1864, Spurgeon repeated the word, “now” 173 times in the sermon as he urged people to cling to Christ. In his sermon on that day, he said:
As a sinner, I also address thee concerning this “now.” “Now is the day of salvation: thou needest it now. God is angry with thee now. Thou art condemned already. It is not the torment of hell thou hast to dread only, but if thou hast thy senses, thou wouldst tremble at thy present state. Now without God, now without hope, now an alien from the commonwealth of Israel, now dead in trespasses and sins, now in danger of the wrath to come, thou wantest a Savior this morning, young man. 
Offering a time for biblical counseling at the end of a sermon is not a bad thing. Allowing people to meet with the pastor for counsel—especially those who have a troubled soul—is never a bad idea. However, if your idea of an invitation and biblical counsel time is three verses of “Just As I Am”—just long enough for the individual to repeat a robotic prayer before being presented before the church—you need to seriously rethink your methods. If your idea of an invitation is a pastor challenging people at the end of his sermon to stand up and come to the front in order to prove they aren’t ashamed of Jesus, you need to rethink your methods.
We must stop treating the public invitation at the end of the service like a salvation pill. Please stop giving bad invitations. If you need mood music and a team of counselors to march forward at the end of a sermon to prime the pump and get people moving to entice people to respond, then you don’t need the Holy Spirit to do His work. Bad invitations hurt the local church and provide false assurance to lost sinners. Remember, the most biblical way to offer a public profession of faith is through baptism, not by walking down the aisle at the end of a sermon.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Soul Winner (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1963), 19-20.
Jim Ehrhard, “The Dangers of the Invitation System” (Parkville, MO: Christian Communicators Worldwide, 1999), 15.
“Now” – A Sermon (No. 603), Delivered on Sunday Morning, December 4th, 1864 by C. H. SPURGEON, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington.
Today marks what would be the 274th birthday of the third president of the United States of America—Thomas Jefferson. As the early leader and president of the United States, Jefferson was greatly respected by many. Jefferson was a great thinker, one who loved books, valued learning, and was the founder of the University of Virginia.
His leadership came during the pivotal era of the American Revolution and is the primary author of the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America. Jefferson is also remembered for his compilation of the Bible that has become known as The Jefferson Bible. Today, his Bible can be seen in the Smithsonian Museum and is the property of the United States National Museum.
The Jefferson Bible
Originally the work of Jefferson took on a much longer name and was never intended to be looked upon as a Bible. It was eventually called – The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. With a knife blade, Jefferson cut out the moral teachings of Jesus, excluding the miracles, and compiled what he thought to be the purest doctrines of Christ.
In a letter to Joseph Priestly, a Unitarian minister, from Washington on January 29, 1804, Jefferson wrote, “I had sent to Philadelphia to get two testaments (Greek) of the same edition, and two English, with a design to cut out the morsels of orality, and paste them on the leaves of a book, in the manner you describe as having been pursued in, forming your Harmony.” 
Jefferson would eventually carry out his work in Greek, Latin, French, and English. His desire was to have a comparative compilation in order to compare the texts of Jesus’ moral teaching. In a letter to John Adams on October 12, 1813, Jefferson explains his idea and the intent of his work by saying:
In extracting the pure principles which he taught, we should have to strip off the artificial vestments in which they have been muffled by priests, who have travestied them into various forms, as instruments of riches and power to themselves. We must dismiss the Platonists and Plotinists, the Stagyrites and Gamalielites, the Eclectics, the Gnostics and Scholastics, their essences and emanations, their logos and demiurges, aeons and daemons, male and female, with a long train of … or, shall I say at once, of nonsense. We must reduce our volume to the simple evangelists, select, even from them, the very words only of Jesus, paring off the amphibologisms into which they have been led, by forgetting often, or not understanding, what had fallen from him, by giving their own misconceptions as his dicta, and expressing unintelligibly for others what they had not understood themselves. There will be found remaining the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man. I have performed this operation for my own use, by cutting verse by verse out of the printed book, and arranging the matter which is evidently his, and which is as easily distinguishable as diamonds in a dunghill. The result is an octavo of forty-six pages, of pure and unsophisticated doctrines. 
Thomas Jefferson enjoyed reading moral teachings and philosophies before drifting off to sleep at night. According to historians, “The Jefferson Bible” was a very private project. He ordered Bibles while living in the White House and cut them with a razor knife to organize his understanding of the moral teachings of Jesus. Years later, Jefferson’s work would be purchased by the United States National Museum in 1895.
Jefferson and the Resurrection
Today is Thomas Jefferson’s birthday (April 13th), but this Sunday is the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. If Jefferson was alive today, he would celebrate his birthday, but would most likely overlook the significance of what the evangelical church will celebrate this Sunday. Jefferson desired to look beyond the miracles of Jesus to the morals of Jesus. However, all such attempts to separate the miracles from Jesus’ morals is like separating the light from the sun. If Jesus is not God and didn’t perform such miracles as recorded in the New Testament, He would be an immoral liar and deceiver of men—not a worthy teacher of morality.
Jefferson didn’t embrace the deity of Christ nor did He believe the New Testament authors were accurate in their transmission of the pure doctrines of Christ. Jefferson rejected the Trinity and believed that the apostle Paul (the New Testament’s most influential teacher and brilliant theologian) was guilty of corrupting Jesus’ teaching. In a letter in 1820 to William Short, Jefferson wrote:
We find in the writings of his [Jesus’] biographers matter of two distinct descriptions. first a ground work of vulgar ignorance, of things impossible, of superstitions, fanaticisms, & fabrications. intermixed with these again are sublime ideas of the supreme being, aphorisms and precepts of the purest morality & benevolence, sanctioned by a life of humility, innocence, and simplicity of manners, neglect of riches, absence of worldly ambition & honors, with an eloquence and persuasiveness which have not been surpassed. 
It’s one thing to deny Jesus’ power over nature and His ability to walk on water—which is a subtle way to deny Jesus’ deity, but Jefferson went much further in his theological downgrade. As a result of his attempt to shrink down the Bible to the morals of Jesus, Jefferson was led to deny the foundational truth of Christianity—the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. If you read “The Jefferson Bible,” you will not find one word about the resurrection of Christ. In his cutting and pasting, he skipped over the miraculous works of Jesus and this included the resurrection of Christ—the foundation of Christianity. Without the resurrection, there is no Christianity. Without the resurrection, Jesus is far from a good moral teacher.
For Thomas Jefferson, reason transcends revelation. This is where many people have trouble as they attempt to “make sense” out of God. The sovereign God of heaven and earth who rules the totality of the universe is beyond reason. The God who spoke the world into existence from nothing—ex nihilo—doesn’t make sense. The God who sent His Son to enter the human race through the womb of a virgin is far above human rationale. The God who lived in the very flesh He created and subjected Himself to death, even the death of a Roman cross, transcends human explanation. Jesus Christ, God in human flesh, died in the place of sinners and was resurrected from the dead on the third day. This doesn’t make sense. This is why we gather for worship each Sunday.
Jefferson traded in the highly exalted and resurrected Jesus for a cheaper version—one he could reason with. Jesus does’t make sense, and His gospel is considered foolishness to the learned minds of sinners. The Jews demanded signs, the Greeks sought after wisdom, and the sons of the Enlightenment in the early days of the United States pursued reason. All of them missed the resurrected Jesus who rules over heaven and earth.
Make no mistake about it, today Thomas Jefferson understands with brilliant clarity that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Some day you will too. Why not bow before Him and confess Him as Lord today? He is worthy of your attention and worship because Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead.
Luke 24:6 – He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee,
Thomas Jefferson, The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth Extracted textually from the Gospels in Greek, Latin, French & English, (Digireads.com: 2009), Loc. 257 – Kindle Edition.
Thomas Jefferson, A Letter to John Adams, Dated: Oct. 12, 1813, [accessed: 4-12-17 at 2:23pm].
I recently returned from a trip to Ecuador to preach, evangelize, and train leaders in our church plant in the Andes mountains. After six years of traveling to this remote mountain village, I always return overjoyed about how our sovereign God is working out all things for His glory—even in a small and relatively unknown part of Ecuador. During my trip, I heard many different prayers by different people. Some of the people prayed during worship while others offered prayers of repentance. In each case I heard prayers that were shallow, not theologically precise, and often very short. However, I believe God was honored with the prayers of His people.
Prayers of New Believers
As we met with people in small homes and discussed the gospel, a couple of times we witnessed people come under the conviction of the Lord and ask how they could repent and be saved. We explained the gospel to them, explained repentance, and they responded with a desire to call upon the Lord for salvation. This is a rare thing for us over the years since we don’t engage in high pressure sales techniques in our mission trips. We teach the truth of the gospel as we begin with the Law of God and move to the hope of salvation through Christ alone, but we never engage in manipulation techniques.
There were other times where we heard people pray who were young in the faith and didn’t have a fully developed theology of the Trinity offer prayers to God. In such cases, we heard prayers that were offered from the heart, but they weren’t organized properly nor were they filled with theological precision. No matter what, I truly believe that God delights in the shallow prayers of new believers. Just as a father or mother delights in the immature cries of their baby, so does our heavenly Father delight in the prayers of babes in Christ.
Prayers of Growing Believers
Through the years in our ministry in Ecuador, I’ve heard prayers from growing, but still immature believers in the church. Some were teenagers while others were men who attended our training sessions out of a desire to grow in their walk with Christ. Not one time did I listen to a prayer and think it was profoundly deep or theologically precise. Most of the prayers were short, shallow, and childlike. In all cases, I think God was honored. I never felt as if the people were praying in order to impress the ears of the people in the congregation. They were praying from a heart of devotion to God and a desire to know Him more intimately.
We can all learn a profound lesson from the prayers of new believers and growing believers alike. Although they pray with language that’s often childlike and shallow, their prayers are offered from a heart of love and praise to God. When we call on the Lord and engage in a time of prayer to Him, not only does He hear us, but He delights in such sincere childlike prayers. God loves to see our dependence upon Him and rejoices in the praise of His people. Even when people have limited knowledge regarding the absolute sovereignty of God, a simple, short, and childlike expression of dependence honors God. Jerry Bridges once said:
Prayer assumes the sovereignty of God. If God is not sovereign, we have no assurance that He is able to answer our prayers. Our prayers would become nothing more than wishes. But while God’s sovereignty, along with His wisdom and love, is the foundation of our trust in Him, prayer is the expression of trust. 
Over the years through my Christian life and pastoral ministry, I’ve repeatedly heard pastors, church leaders, and fellow Christians pray to impress others as opposed to communicating to God. When praying, they suddenly speak in the language of the King James Bible praying long circular prayers filled with theological accuracy. However, I often end such times of prayer feeling as if the individual was really seeking to impress me rather than praise God.
We need more simple prayers from the children of God who have a proper perspective of their ultimate dependence upon the God who saves sinners. Just as baby talk delights the father as he hears his son learning to speak, so does the immature prayer of an immature Christian delight our heavenly Father. Sometimes bad prayers can be good prayers. Sure, our prayers will get better over time, but I’m certain that the bad prayers of new believers are a delightful sound to the sovereign God who rules the universe.
Psalm 102:17 – he regards the prayer of the destitute and does not despise their prayer.
Jerry Bridges, Is God Really In Control? Trusting God in a World of Hurt, (Carol Stream, IL: NavPress, 2006), 69-70.