Will Campbell was a Baptist minister and civil rights activist and award winning author, based in Mississippi in the 1960’s and 70’s. Campbell’s prophetic ministry earned him death threats and opposition as well as helping others gain insight into what it truly means to be a follower of Jesus.
As a Baptist Will was familiar with the practise of the altar call, where people are invited to indicate a response to Christ by walking to the front of the church and being prayed for. Yet in a sermon Campbell once turned the idea of the altar call on it’s head. “I hope that someday there will be an evangelistic service in which, when the preacher gives the invitation and people start coming down the aisle, he yells back at them, ‘Don’t come down the aisle! Go to Jesus! Don’t come to me! Go to Jesus!'” said Campbell.
“Upon that declaration, the people who were coming down the aisle turn around and exit the auditorium and get in their cars and drive away. He then yells at the rest of the congregation, ‘Why are you hanging around here? Why don’t you go to Jesus too? Why don’t you all go to Jesus?’ The people rise en masse and quickly leave the church, and soon the parking lot is empty.”
“What I imagine is that about a half hour later the telephone at the police station starts ringing off the hook, and the voice at the other end says, ‘We’re down here at the old-folks’ home and there’s some crazy people at the door yelling that they want to come in and visit Jesus, and I keep telling them Jesus isn’t in here! All we have in here is a bunch of old ladies who are half dead. But they keep saying, “But we want to visit Jesus! We want to visit Jesus!”‘
“The next call is from the warden down at the prison. He’s saying, ‘Send some cops down here! There’s a bunch of nuts at the gate and they’re yelling and screaming, “Let us in there! We want to visit Jesus! We want to visit Jesus!” I keep telling them that all we have in this place are murderers, rapists, and thieves. But they keep yelling, “Let us in! We want to visit Jesus!”‘
“No sooner does the cop at the desk hang up the phone than it rings again. This time it’s the superintendent of the state hospital calling for help. He’s complaining that there are a bunch of weird people outside begging to be let in. They, too, want to see Jesus! The superintendent says, ‘I keep telling them Jesus isn’t here. All we have here are a bunch of nuts, but they keep yelling at us, “We want to see Jesus.”
Source: Biographical information from University of Southern Mississippi website. Sermon reported in Tony Campolo, Let Me Tell You A Story