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  • Sonya Leigh Anderson

Altar Call

“I think those kids were responding to an invitation to be Jesus’ disciples.”

Jill was talking, and I was only half-listening, distracted, focused on choosing ingredients for my Chipotle bowl. We sat around the conference table in the church library for Thursday’s Family Staff meeting. I submitted my online order, wondering if I’d remembered to order the lettuce with my chicken and black beans. My heart skipping a beat with what I’d thought I’d heard Jill saying.

I’d been the teacher Tuesday for T & T—the third, fourth, and fifth graders of our AWANA club. A week or two prior, in another meeting, Jill had mentioned how last year Ben and Heather frequently invited the kids to respond to the gospel, our numbers of children professing faith worthy of celebration. This year those numbers have been significantly lower. And I was quick to make mental note, quick to recognize the source of the discrepancy. Which is to say—it might be ME.

Me doing the bulk of the teaching this year, Ben and Heather taking a break to focus on raising their four small children and a pack of puppies. And truth be told, I’ve been relishing the opportunity, without a doubt my sweet spot every time I get the chance to share my Jesus stories with all those kids. I’m made for this. And then Jill’s comment about the numbers.

I’d confessed out loud, there in Jill’s office. Altar calls are not really my normal. Not that I don’t believe in leading kids to trust in Jesus. Or “helping kids connect with Jesus” as our vision statement reads. It’s just that—do I dare admit this?—I’m a bit of bumbler when it comes to evangelism.

Case in point. Last Tuesday. I’d prepared my message, crafted questions, to elicit response. I’d even brought it up at Staff Prayer a few hours before. “I’m teaching tonight; giving the kids a chance to respond.” Later with Pastor Sean, leader of all things evangelistic, he’d prayed Psalm 19:14 over me. The same Psalm I’d read the very same morning, and it had reminded me of Sean. How he used to pray it before preaching. May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

My sentiments exactly.

I’d told Peter’s story. All the ups and downs, beginning to end, I’d painted a picture for the T & T kids of this fiery disciple who Jesus dubbed “The Rock” one minute, and then scolded with “Get behind me Satan!” the next. Peter was the guy who walked on water with Jesus for a bit, before freaking out and going under. He also said he’d die with Jesus until, again freaking, he claimed he never knew the man. All this, and yet Jesus prayed for Peter, that his faith wouldn’t fail, and in the end his Messiah restored him over a fish-fry breakfast with a poignant question. Peter, do you love me?

Which, of course, he did.

And then I’d asked the kids. Where are you in Peter’s story? Maybe you’re at the beginning where Jesus invited Peter to “Follow me.” Or maybe you’re Peter telling his lies, the rooster crowing, catching the look in Jesus’ eyes. Or maybe it’s there at the beach that morning, and you hear Jesus’s question. Do you… love me?

I prayed, then, for all those kids, and gave the invitation. If this is you, wanting to follow Jesus... If this is you, needing forgiveness... You, wanting to say, Jesus I love you…

And they’d responded. A dozen or more. Kids gathered at the fireside area. Kids, answering the invitation. Later that night, sleepless dreaming, I could see them still. Could hear their questions. Could feel the—confusion. Still wondering. What, exactly, happened tonight?

Most of those kids. Professing Christians. Solid believers. The pastor’s own daughter, somber expression, off to the side.

And then it’s Thursday. Staff meeting, Jill talking.

I think those kids were responding to an invitation to be Jesus’ disciples.

I click “submit” on my burrito order. Look up quick, tears in my eyes. Because THIS. Is my HEART. Deepest passion. Kids who want to be. HIS DISCIPLES. Following Jesus. Loving Him.

Of course, I love you.

Of course. They do.

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