Is the ‘Sinners Prayer’ Evangelical Voodoo?

7 04 2010


I posted the remarks below in 2008 on a forum that I participate in regarding church planting. On this occasion I was moved to talk about the ‘sinners prayer’ which is a standard prayer used to ‘lead’  people to Christ in the US and all around the world. My point was and still is that no prayer guarantees salvation.

I have said and heard it to those who would follow Christ, “If you pray this prayer you will be born again.” This is little more than Evangelical Voodoo. Our focus needs to be upon making disciples and not upon praying a specific prayer. It needs to be more about falling in love with Jesus and less about checking off a spiritual checklist. In our present climate the ‘Sinners Prayer’ is only confusing the problem. Our goal is to make disciples for Jesus Christ of all the nations. Our problem is that many religions pray prayers as a type of defense or talisman. Those involved in such religions will most likely see this sort of  ‘conversion’ as empty. Truth is, I continue to hear from colleagues in Brazil who use the sinners prayers and they are sincerely rethinking this ‘old wineskin.’ One colleague commented to me that he saw some 300 ‘decisions’ for Christ but when follow-up visits were made not a single one would even consider being  apart of a new church body. I have heard these stories over-and-over in Brazil for the past 10 years. Now in America with a growing Latino population isn’t it time to at least consider the way we have ‘always done it’ for the sake of making disciples of Christ so that we see real Kingdom growth.  

 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” (Romans 10:9-11) NIV

POST: “I enjoyed reading our colleagues post `Resting Upon False Positives´ (Ken Sorrels) very much. On our team ´hit and run´ evangelism and church planting have been an issue for us for more than a few years. I appreciate Ken speaking about this and wanted to add one example and some of my own thoughts. I met a young man here where I live (southern Brazil) 6 years ago and when he found out that I was a missionary he unleashed a load of anger on me for several minutes. During this time he told me how ´you´ evangelicals had lied to him just like the Catholic Church because `You all said that if I prayed the prayer of the evangelicals my life would change but I prayed it and nothing changed! You are liars!´ Now, you and I would agree that salvation is more than praying a prayer and this man clearly did not understand what he was doing. We would also agree that the present state he is in is worse than before because he was unwilling to listen to anything that I could say. I was discredited in his mind. The issue at hand is that here in the culture prayer is used as a type of incantation. People offer these ´prayers´ to the dead and to spirits in order to gain favor. For this reason we have to be very careful that the person we are asking to follow Christ does not presume that we are simply asking him to pray a prayer, which from his/her perspective, is little more than evangelical voodoo (my words not his). Here they will pray anything if they think it will help. Knowing this then we cannot be ignorant any longer. If we continue to prescribe to the ´sinners prayer´ as THE method to enter into the family of God we will continue to create confusion, frustration, and even anger and the latter state of the person will be worse than the first. In our context as well, praying the ´sinners prayer´ also lends to the idea that they do a  ´work´ to gain their salvation rather than to the idea of Ephesians 2:8-9. Again this is because prayer is used to gain favors. In Scripture there is no one method of becoming a follower of Christ. Some simply heard the message and believed (Acts 8: The Ethiopian) showing this in their willingness to be baptized. Others, like Zacchaeus, showed the Lord that they were different by their actions. But all were repentant. Without repentance we are in serious trouble. The story of the religious leader and the tax collector points this out very well (Luke 18) and it is confirmed in Romans 10:9-10.
I think that learning the world view of the people is vital. What does the culture believe about prayer? Who do they pray to on a daily and weekly basis? Is prayer treated among your people as a type of magical incantation? A type of talisman that is uttered over some object or place of attributed spiritual power? I know we have heard a lot about world view studies but they are for the intention of understanding what our people believe about specific aspects. It helps us to understand both bridges and barriers. In our situation praying a prayer for the purpose of declaring a person as ´saved´ is a barrier. We have seen a distinct difference in those who were told to pray the ´sinners prayer´ and those who accepted the gospel. The difficult part, for me, is waiting upon the point of salvation. For me, I define this as the time when the person understands who Jesus is and what he did and is repentant. With all of the baggage that the people have it takes some personal discipleship and rooting out of beliefs to get the person to accept a Biblical worldview. I have seen people born again while reading the Word, singing praise songs, even sitting around a table fellowshipping, as well as during a prayer (though not specifically the ´sinners paryer´. So, I don’t see how a prayer guarantees salvation any more than owning a Bible does. This leads me to ask why do we hold onto this method as the prescribed way of declaring someone as saved? Is this for them or is it for us?
Again, I appreciate Ken’s post and for his eloquence in writing. I also appreciate you all allowing me to express my own understanding of our team’s situation and challenge.”
Novo Hamburgo, RS, Brazil
Original post to: [cpf]
In Response to Ken Sorrels “Resting Upon False Positives”
Date: Sun, 6 Apr 2008 07:27:11 -0700 (PDT)
By: Daniel Allen (
Hit and Run Evangelism, as mentioned in this post, is the idea of a lightning strike evangelism with the idea of people coming and doing some sort of mission (evangelism) blitz. Ken posted that this does more  harm than good.


Frank Viola’s INTRO: Break Out At House 2 House Conference 2009

15 09 2009
Viola at the H2H Conference in Dallas 2009
Viola at the H2H Conference in Dallas 2009

Frank Viola is well known in the Brazilian House Church movement and for that reason I wanted to hear what he had to say personally. He is the author of several books that are widely read here in Brazil, Rethinking the Wineskin, Pagan Christianity (co-authored with G. Barna), for example. Books are very expensive here so when an aurthor has a following as he does you should take notice.

He shared this time with Milton Rodriguez.
Frank began by briefly introducing himself for those who are unfamiliar with him.
He expressed his love for pastors saying, “I have a great love, concern and tenderness for pastors. Many are frustrated. Maybe the most frustrated on the planet because they have a job description they can’t fill. God never intended this description. Most are God-called yet they are locked into a system of pastor, youth minister, missionary… More than 1,500 pastors per month in the U.S. leave the pastorate. They leave positions on Sunday and try to start a house church on Monday. That is a huge problem.”
Normal Pastor Guages..How to tell you are a pastor…
1. Everyone stops talking when you enter the room.
2. Lied at least once at a funeral.
3. Anxiety attack at least once when playing Bible trivia.
4. Lamentations on Monday
5. Wish someone would steal some of your sheep.
6. Your denominational convention meeting and armageddon are one-and-the-same.
7. Have taught the people all you know and they still act dumb.
In 1988 he left the institutional church (If I remember correcly he was involved in the charismatic movement) and never returned. Foun d himself with asmall group of Christians and it was organic, ‘a sovereign work of God.’ So intense, he said, that we crammed 16 years into 8. Made plenty of mistakes too and experienced 2 bloody church splits. He credited these men with having influenced him….Watchman NEE (he specifically stated he was NOT influenced by W.L.) including Robert Banks (Australia), and a person who was with Watchman NEE that he did not name.
He spoke at times on the verge of speaking his mind, i.e. sharing his heart with us. I wish that he had. He appeared troubled about some things in the American House Church Movement but did not go into detail. He also appeared to have differences of opinion with leaders in the U.S. House Church movement and with the exception of the CO2 (Church of 2) he did not speak directly in opposition to them. He was very, very careful in what he said. He was very kind all the way the through. But he say that the CO2 idea he had spoken with his colleagues (i.e. HC movement leaders) and that he did not see that 2 people should be considered church. The idea that Jesus will be with 2 who gather in his name is in the context of correcting a brother who is living in error. The context supports his interpretation in Matthew 18:19 and should be looked at by all of us. (note: John White spoke at length and often during the Conferences General Sessions and also to the pre-conference leaders of house churches and networks about CO2 and S.A.C.H.E.T. There were multiple testimonies given about CO2’s. The basic focus behind is that 2 are sufficient to be a church. Viola did not dispute this when he spoke. He simply felt that 2 is merely the beginning. 1 person does not a church gathering make he said. But the New Testament community went beyond two. A church gathering should not have the idea that 2 is complete either saying, we should want to grow the body of Christ. It was clear to me that the CO2 idea of church is not something he feels is a good idea. Certainly, an incomplete understanding of New Testament Church.)
Here, let me say what I am thinking about the CO2 and even the S.A.C.H.E.T. excercise for developing group connectedness (my words here not theirs, for sure…It is more than an ice breaker so I was not sure quite what to term it…I’m sure they would do better than I have.) In regard to S.A.C.H.E.T. (posted on blog already) I find it lacking for me personally. The idea is good, developing closeness and transparency in a house church. Who doesn’t want that? My hesitation is that it is forced….artifcially instilled. Now, why do I say this? Well, I think it is about discipleship. Discipleship, to me, involves the building up of a shared-life in followers of Christ that was not present prior. S.A.C.H.E.T. is an attempt to bring followers together but in a very North American mind-set. It seems too programmed. I know what they are getting at and applaud the idea, the effort. However, I just feel it is artificial life in the body of Christ. If we are talking about organic church then this is anything but organic to me. O.K. maybe it is a half-way house. But, I am still not into it because it is not the ideal. I want all or nothing. Jesus lived with his followers, his disciples. He ate, slept, walked, etc… with them. Spending time with other followers of Christ, i.e. other disciples, is essential to organic life. I agree completely with Viola on this point. Now, he did not speak anything about the S.A.C.H.E.T. excercise so his comment was in regard to something else. However, his statement fits here, for me anyway. We have to learn to BE with others. If we are too busy with our jobs. Too busy with our lives and find we just don’t have time to BE then S.A.C.H.E.T. is second-best option. Albeit, artificial.  As I said, it is NOT the ideal. I believe that the Holy Spirit connects us in supernaturally organic ways that make this type of excercise superfluous. In fact, this exercise seems to focus too much on the individual, for me. Also, nothing can guarantee sincerity. If it is a detox excercise for Institutional Christians then say so. CO2 is a second-best option if you just do not have the time or the option of meeting with more than 2 of the body of Christ. If the goal here is disicpleship then just say it. Maybe, we need to start calling ourselves disciples. Mentior and Mentored just does not cover the New Testament idea of a disciple/follower of Christ. Therefore, if your aim is the organic then you will need to press on through these. Yeah, they may be good a beginning point but only a beginning. I am leary of anything that smacks of a programmed activity. If CO2 is a way of describing church in simple terms for detoxers… O.K., I see that. But for me, it just does not strike me as WOW! Church! CO2! Rather, it seems like one more model. The American House Church movement needs to be very careful treading here. I know that it is not their intention but they may be heading toward a typer of ‘commercialization’ of a model of church. OK, enough of my thoughts back to Viola’s.
For this Post I will bring it to a close with two things…Something heavy on Viola’s heart and 5 reasons why people are leaving the Institutional Church.
Heavy on his heart
-Simple Church is not a unified movement. It is monumentally diverse. Diverse in vision, practice, and understanding of the church.
1000’s of different kinds.
Some are cults of doctrine and personality.
Some are led by pastors calling themselves pastors. Others are led by pastors NOT calling themselves pastors. Some are glamorized Bibles studies with no shared-life and therefore no authentic community.
Organic Church has become a clay word. Viola said that he attributes T.O. Sparks, England, with coining the phrase and uses his definition.
Sparks Definition:
A group of people who are learning to live by divine life togeher. It is about a new relationship with Jesus Christ that is corporate.
How do I live as Christ with other believers. Learning how to display Christ together.
5 Reasons Why people leave the Institutional Church
1. Boredom
2. Hurt by someone
3. Into Evangelism or Church Multiplication. The best strategy. Note he said, house churches for  church planting and multiplication do not last. You cannot have depth with rapid multiplication. Must be equipped to do it. Finding these groups is near impossible. Must ask…what is the reason for the Church?
Viola spoke of D.L. Moody’s idea that the goal of the Christian and God is so that you can win others to Jesus. This is explained further in his book Pagan Christianity, coauthored with George Barna. Correct, Viola said, but not complete. Jesus wants more. If salvation was the main thing then why is it that God did not create human beings in need of salvation. God had something else in mind. Salvation only gets me back on the right road.
4. Want a platform for the ministry. Usually started by a guy who sees himself called to a specific ministry.
5. Relationships
Here’s a nice quote to wrap up this post…
Frank Viola, 2009 H2H Conference, Dallas/FW

Bridging the Gap between the Mega and the Micro Church at the 2009 House 2 House Church Conference, Dallas, Texas

11 09 2009
Bridging the Gap between the MACRO and the MICRO CHURCH

Bridging the Gap between the MACRO and the MICRO CHURCH

While there were many streams flowing in the conference I felt that the overarching aim of Tony Dale and the House 2 House team was to allow some mega-churches to demonstrate how the gap is being bridged between the mega and the micro. There were several mega-churches represented that are involved with house/simple church.
Austin Stone in Austin, Texas. They form what they call missional communities which you can check out in more detail on their site.
From their site: “Missional CommunityThe Austin Stone is a network of Missional Communities – small groups of people joined by a common cause or centered in a specific community who live life together intentionally, throughout the week. Missional community is the primary way to connect with others at The Austin Stone and pursue life on mission.”
-They shared how they are reaching out to unreached peoples in the community through simple church and they are seeing a growing desire of these followers of Christ to return to their birth nations with the Good News of Jesus Christ. 

APEX Church, Dayton Ohio
This is a Southern Baptist Church that is dedicated to making disicples through house churches. In the conference they pointed out that they are small churches that meet together in a large gathering and backed this up by stating that the Lord’s Supper is eatten in the house churches and not the large gathering. Some 60% of those who attend the large gathering are involved in the house churches. This page sates, ”

Who We Are

A Network of House Churches

We operate as a network of house churches because we believe that they are a great environment for discipleship. Plain and simple. Being smaller, they allow disciples of Christ to be the church in ways that you simply can’t in a large gathering. The New Testament lists over 50 “one another’s” in which the church ought to be active. Love one another. Encourage each other. Serve one another. We simply cannot live life together as the church without opportunity to do these things… and these things simply don’t happen when the church remains a sea of anonymous people.”  This Southern Baptist Church is made up of house churches that gather together in a large group meeting. Check out their site.

Northland, Longwood, Florida
They call themselves “A Church Distributed”
This page of the churches site gives a lot of info. Check it out.

As I mentioned the theme was bridging the gap between the mega and the micro. House 2 House did a good job bringing several churches that are solid examples of MEGA using house/simple church ideas. The debate over this idea will not be going away any time soon. I did feel it was helpful to begin to focus energies where they need to be. Too often we fight one another rather than the ENEMY of us all. After all, “Jesus said, if they they are not against us they are for us……

Some Resources off of Apex’s resource page

Apex site reads, “Many of these books have been influential in the life of Apex as we seek to be obedient to the commands of Jesus as the church. They challenge us to see the church for what God intends it to be, rather than what we may assume by our own experience.”

Brothers We Are Not Professionals by Jon Piper

A Church Every Half Mile by Jon Zens

Vintage Church by Mark Driscoll

Organic Church by Neil Cole

Houses That Change the World by Wolfgang Simson

Paul’s Idea of Community by Robert Banks

ReImagining Church by Frank Viola

Nexus: The World House Church Movement Reader by Rad Zdero

Loving God’s Way by Gary DeLashmutt

Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Life in Community by Deitrich Bonhoeffer

Some online resources indicated by APEX are worth checking out as well.

Christ in Ya’ll by Neil Carter

Porn Again Christian by Mark Driscoll

Bethany: The Lord’s Desire for His Church by Frank Viola

Pastor Dad: Scriptural Insights on Fatherhood by Mark Driscoll

Fight Clubs: Gospel Centered Discipleship by Jonathan Dodson

Church Multiplication Associates (CMA) & CMAResources exist to support and encourage church multiplication movements by developing new resources focused on reproducing disciples, leaders, churches and movements from the place where you’re planted and finishing at the ends of the earth.
Welcome to Present Testimony Ministry. We are dedicated to the centrality and supremacy of the Lord Jesus Christ, the restoration of God’s eternal purpose, and the organic expression of the church.
Discuss simple church. Network with others. Create your own blog. Form your own page. Start a group. This is your site!

This portion of the Conference was specifically for those leading a house church or a network of house churches and focused upon bridging the gap between the micro and macro. There certainly are a lot of misunderstanding out there. Part of this is due to the fact that each house church is unique. It is not a movement that has a single person at its head or has a single expression of church (the way it looks is what I am getting at here) so it is in this sense hard to describe. That is not a criticism though. Rather, that is just the way it is. I enjoyed this portion although it left me with many more questions than we had the time or format to deal with. It was a good beginning to bridging the gap.

The Gravity of Social Groupings: Neil Cole

6 09 2009

Here I think it best just to present Neil’s diagrams. Sorry…my writing is not the best…but you will get the idea of things. His point is that the most significant influence is in the Mentor (up to 3) and in the Discipler (up to 12) which are the core of the concentric circles. Concentric CirclesHe noted that they are also the least demading. He sees that the high rate of pastor burn-out, especially among mega-church pastors is due to the fact that they work mostly in the outter circles as Event Coordinators, etc. His advice is to invest in the smaller first. Making healthy Disicples makes Healthy Churches.
Remember, The church is not your kingdom. You are a part of God’s Kingdom. With 2-3 the best learning opportunity occurs at this, a deeper level. He acknowledged that there are reasons for each level and they are important. However, 2-3 is where the most significant learning takes place.

Who is where?

Who is where?

The circles expanding outwardly are:
Mentor (3), Disicpler (12), Facilitator (70),  Shepherd (120), Event Coordinator (500), Visionary Teacher (Multitudes)
I will try and get more up tomorrow but this was the Cole session.

House 2 House Conference 2009

6 09 2009

O.K. It has been a full day but I wanted to put some more of the conference on the site from my notes.
Let’s pick up with Neil Cole again.++



He said, “No where in the Bible can you find Jesus commanding us to plant churches. What Jesus commands us to do is to make disciples.”
The church is not the mechanism of making disciples rather it is the by product of disicple making.

next he focused on the chain (decentralized) and the Hub (centralized).

Chain and Hub

Chain and Hub

The positives and negatives.
Postives of de-centralized                                         The Negatives of Centralized
-More rapid reproduction                                    -Slower
-Global impact much faster                                -Regional restriction
-Less cost to maintain                                        -Higher cost to Maintain
-God gets more glory                                         -Obvious human ingenuity
-Resistant to persecution                                  -More vulnerable to persecution
-Resistant to Heresy                                          -More vulnerable to heresy

Neil stated that the worst heresies have developed in seminaries over the past 100 years to back up his statement.

Disadvantages to De-Centralized                            Positives of Centralized

-Weak Communication                                             -Better Communication
-Slower impact on a region                                      -Faster regional impact
-Dispersed resources                                                -Pooled Resources
-Less visible in Community                                     -More visible in Community
-Weakened Longevity                                              -Greater Longevity

General Assembly on Friday Night
General Assembly on Friday Night

Organic: The Spirit of God must be implanted in the lives of the Followers of Christ for the movement to continue.

Can’t keep doing a chain if the Word of God is not central.

A couple of things he said that were of interest…

-Why don’t more churches in the West multiply? Because God doesn’t want any more of them.
-We are more competitive with one another rather than the enemy.

Friday at the House Church Conference

5 09 2009

Thursday I found myself with a dead battery in the car so I missed the openings for leaders of house church networks on Thursday night but I made the most of it. Might as well, right? Cars breaking down are a part of life. God had other things for me and that was fine too.Drinking a Fruit Smoothie while I wait to be Jumped (with cables)HA

John White opened the morning session with SACHET which is what I call an ice breaker bent towards creaing trust and intimacy. Probably necessary here in the USA among professionals. It forced most to set aside their electronics for a few minutes and actually look one another in the eye and find out how they are doing.
White, “Healthy churches have developed even smaller connections.” Refering to the idea that many have that the small group of 12-15 is the ideal.
The ice breaker is called SACHET (SA-SHAY”
Each person in the group, 3-5 max, was to listen only, no advice giving, you could ask questions, while one shared what emotions narrowed to the above they were feeling at that moment. That person is to say, “I’m checking in with, ” When finished you say, “I’m in!”

Some of the reasons mentioned for this activity were:
Wanted us to show up!
Learn by doing!
Break barriers.
Take of the masks.
Meet a need for relationship.
 The idae is to do this with 2 or 3 on a daily basis in order to knit hearts together.
Try it with a small group and let me know what you thought.

John White is involved in planting churches in Colorado and is involved with the Luke 10 ministry site. He also talked about CO2: Churches Of 2. The idea behind this is that while Jesus chose and trained 12 men he sent them out in twos: Matthew 10. He pointed out Ecclesiastes 4:9 where 2 are mentioned as being better than one because of more production, help if one falls, to keep warm, and defense if attacked.

CO2 is smaller still…Where 2 or more or gathered in my name there I will be in their midst, Jesus said. It is getting at the simplest expression of church that there can be which is 2. 1 is never a church.

It is about listening to me.
listening to others.
listening to the Lord.

It is about Listening, Obeying, and Teaching others to do the same.
No doubt that this is true.
Do remember that the context of this meeting is America and for the most part I noted that it was multi-generational and principally professional people.

Next up was Neil Cole and it was the most informative for me as my context is S. America this section crossed cultural lines to provide some interesting information. He authored Organic Church and Organic Leadership. Early next year he will be releasing his new book entitled Church 3.0: Upgrades on the Church to see multiplication. (Don’t hold me to the exact title. He was talking fast and those who know my writing….well)
Some things he spoke about were….

-He focused on the size of groups and said more thought needs to be given to the size of groups and the specific funcion of that size of a group.
-Multiplying disciples is the answer to multiplying churches. Teresa, my wife, says this all the time. I thought of her when he said it.
-Learn how to resolve conflict.
-If you are multiplying at all levels you can handle any amount of growth.

Cole said that there is little true multiplication in the West. Best we see is addition. However, we are very good at subtraction in churches and also division concluding that he believes that Christians are too easily offended.
Things that are not multiplication to Cole:
-Church planting that is not multi-generational. He believes that it is not multiplication until you see the 4th generation. He did not describe 4th generation though so I don’t know the particulars of this.
-Gathering and assimilating Christians from other churches to form new ones.
-A centralized leadership development that sends off church plnaters is not multiplication. That is institutional addition.
He said, “Addition is better that subtraction and division but let’s not be content until we see multiplication.” I couldn’t agree more. In Brazil this is the challenge. So many church planters are willing to aim for addition only…you have not because you ask not. We have to begin to believe in God and expect that He is capable of a movement in which 100’s of thousands and millions turn to Jesus Christ in months. Could we handle such a movement? Cole asked that. You can if you are releasing people at every level to do ministry. Cole said, “If you are multiplying at all levels such growth will not be a problem.”
Buildings, Bucks, and Big Shots, he said, inhibit church multiplication. Movements can be served by these but never dependent upon them.
I will put the rest of his comments concerning the size of groups which was highly informative on here, most likely Sunday. Tomorrow I will be at the Conference again until 10:30pm or so….TCHAU!


Tony Dale, right standing, gave time for the internationals to say hello at the leaders pre conference meeting

Tony Dale, right standing, gave time for the internationals to say hello at the leaders pre conference meeting

2009 House Church Conference, Dallas,Texas, USA

3 09 2009

I am here in Dallas this weekend for the House2House House Church Conference and looking forward to some exciting oportunities to hear from the likes of Tony and Felicity Dale, Robert Fitts, Frank Viola, and others.
Catch the live stream from the main sessions at…
I will be posting some things here during the weekend.
Barna says that 9% of adults are involved in the growing house church movement. I know that we are seeing an explosion of house churches in Brazil where I live and work for kingdom growth.
Truly, there is no one like our God!