Evangelism

Rick Soto Interview: How To Give An Evangelistic Invitation (Altar Call)

From Pastor Paul: Recently, I had the privilege of having a practical conversation on ministry with Pastor Rick Soto. We talked about evangelism and evangelistic invitations (altar calls). Rick is the Pastor of The Ranch Church (TRC) in Santa Ynez, California.

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Paul J. Perkins:
Welcome to our podcast today here at Evangelism Press. I’m Paul Perkins. Today, we’re going to have a conversation with pastor Rick Soto. He’s the pastor of the Ranch Church in Santa Barbara county, California, or Santa Ynez, California, and we’re going to be discussing sort of the elements of an evangelistic invitation. I hope you enjoy this podcast.

Paul J. Perkins:
Be sure to check our website out at evangelismpress.com. There’s a lot of great articles there written by various people from our church there at Resurrection Church in Hillsville, Virginia, and also from folks all around the country. Check evangelismpress.com out. Enjoy the podcast. See you.

Paul J. Perkins:
I’m here with Rick Soto. And Rick, where do you live?

Rick Soto:
I live in Solvang, California, a very interesting town just outside of Santa Barbara in the Santa Ynez Valley.

Paul J. Perkins:
And you are the pastor of the Ranch Church. And so is the Ranch Church there in Santa Ynez Valley, or where is that?

Rick Soto:
The Ranch Church actually is in the Santa Ynez Valley. We’re a set-up tear-down church meeting in Los Olivos. This is somewhat of an ag area outside of Santa Barbara, so Los Olivos Elementary School is where we meet. We own property on a building project just right next to Solvang.

Paul J. Perkins:
Cool. Excellent. I’m playing possum. I know all this about you, Rick, but just for our listeners, we want to get this out there. Hey, so why is it called the Ranch Church, by the way? I wasn’t going to ask you that, but I’m just curious.

Paul J. Perkins:
Why is it called the Ranch Church? If somebody’s tuning in, they’re like, “The Ranch Church? Is this on a ranch? What’s going on?”

Rick Soto:
Especially since we’re sort of a bunch of more beach surfer kind of people here. We actually, in a small community, did not have a lot of infrastructure. There was basically no place for us to rent or meet, and the church was not a really intentional church plan, per se. And we just met in a barn to start.

Rick Soto:
We did Friday night services in a barn, and the name just stuck. It’s like we were meeting actually on a ranch in a barn, and the name Ranch Church stuck. I’d like to tell your listeners out there, it was a very nice ranch and a very nice barn. Let me say that. People would get married there if they were of the higher brow hoity-toity set or whatever, and so that lasted for a while. That’s how we got the name Ranch Church.

Paul J. Perkins:
Excellent. Listen, I’ve got a million questions about that, but we’re going to move on, and what I really wanted to talk about today, specifically, from you, Rick, is evangelistic invitations. And just a moment before we get to that, what’s your history as far as the ministry? How many years have you been in the ministry, Rick?

Rick Soto:
30.

Paul J. Perkins:
30. Wow. You’ve been at it quite some time [inaudible 00:03:38] evangelistically I remember years ago you had mentioned to me that you were involved in Campus Crusade. Were you involved in some sort of a evangelistic ministry like that? Tell us about that for a minute.

Rick Soto:
Thanks, Paul. I got saved through the ministry of doctor Bill Bright and the campus ministry while I was just about to graduate at San Diego State University. My wife had a similar experience while she was at Cal Berkeley, at the University of Cal, and then I got a chance to serve for more than a dozen years on the staff with Campus Crusade for Christ and got a chance to work on a few campuses and direct a few evangelistic projects for that ministry.

Paul J. Perkins:
Wow. Boy, that’s also interesting in itself, but I think that’s why I want to come to you with this question, because I’ve experienced services there at the Ranch before, evangelistic outreaches. One that comes to mind is the one you did at the Solvang Theater where at the end of the service, you had I guess some people call them altar calls.

Paul J. Perkins:
At least here in the south, we’ll call it an altar call. I don’t know what everybody calls it around the country, but it’s a Billy Graham-style invitation at the end of the service. And that particular day, there was quite a few people to come forward that trust Christ. And so the question I want to pose to you for this podcast is what happens in an invitation? What is an invitation to begin with, and then what happens in that moment of the invitation that causes people to come and want to give their life to Christ? What takes place, Rick?

Rick Soto:
An invitation is an apologetic for a person to respond to Jesus Christ. It’s not an apologetic for the gospel itself. It’s not an apologetic for the pillar foundational truths of the gospel or Jesus Christ. An invitation is an apologetic for why must you right now respond to the introductory thoughts, the seminal thoughts that you just heard? Why must you make an immediate public declaration of Jesus Christ? Why must you immediately humble yourself before God and in a public manner that is being described? An invitation is an apologetic for a public and immediate response.

Paul J. Perkins:
Interesting. What happens in the invitation? Let’s say pre-invitation, you’re preaching the gospel. The moment you call the worship team up, I mean, walk us through an invitation. What does the invitation look like for you?

Rick Soto:
I’m going to assume the event you’re talking about, for our listeners, was a outdoor venue that holds 800 people, and we would pack that out. And it’s Easter, so you get a lot of your quote unquote CEO-type folks, Christmas Easter only kind of attenders. And then you get a home team.

Rick Soto:
You have people from other churches looking. You have a lot of out of towners, which is actually what happened to us. You had a lot of out of town visitors, so you have a really mixed crowd, but it is a mixed crowd kind of expecting something to happen, so that’s a little different than if you’re on a normal Sunday, depending upon your Sunday culture, what that might be. What happens at an altar call, if it’s more as the event that you’re describing, is that you’re going to take the better part of about 20 minutes to describe to the crowd what you want them to do and why you want them to do it.

Rick Soto:
And it’s going to take about that long to get it clear in their minds what you’re asking. And so the first thing you want to make clear is that Jesus Christ himself talked very clearly about the need for a public recognition of faith, that faith is not so private that you never would make it public and that it would never be operating in a public square. You’d want to reference Jesus’s statements that I will deny you in front of the father if you deny me in front of men.

Rick Soto:
And I think that’s actually really easy to get across, but it must be done because people, I think, will understand, “Well, if I deny God here, maybe he would deny me there,” but they don’t make the immediate connection. You want to reference the scriptures that way. You want to reference that Jesus himself said those things, and you want to really begin that way.

Paul J. Perkins:
And you’re making it clear. It’s not beating around the bush. You’re not banging them over the head with the Bible, right, Rick? But you’re –

Rick Soto:
That’s correct.

Paul J. Perkins:
You’re making it clear though that this is what this service is about, right?

Rick Soto:
That’s right, and it’s not a guilt trip. The word clarity, like if someone wants to do an altar call at a church or whatever, just it has to be clear in their mind, what are you asking them to do? I’m asking you right now to get out of your seat and come down here and receive Jesus Christ. And it’s interesting because there’s a lot of philosophical conversation with the next generation of millennials and Generation Z and all of that of what you should and should not say. I think what’s so beautiful about what’s going on is that we’re in such a grossly un-churched culture that when you get up, myself in mid-life, amongst a bunch of teenagers and twenty-somethings, say, “Look, man. You all got to get saved,” they look at that and go, “Man, that’s the most awesome thing you ever said.”

Rick Soto:
They have not been poisoned that way. They’re so un-churched and un- everything related to matters of significant faith, and for you to tell them, “This is what it looks like to be an authentic Christian. Real Christians do this all over the world. The whole history of the world, whole history of the church culture, church history is that people have made public declaration of faith. And so I want you to do that right now, and I want you to place Jesus Christ first and foremost in your life. What’s going to happen?”

Rick Soto:
And the second thing you got to tell people is you got to tell people what’s going to happen when they do that. And so you have to tell them, “This is what’s going to happen when you come down here. First of all, what’s going to happen is that I’m going to pray with you. Second of all, what’s going to happen is that God’s love is going to invade your life. Third thing that’s going to happen is that you’re going to experience humility. It’s a humbling thing for you to come down here and admit this before family and friends or separate yourself from the crowd. The fourth thing is that when you do that is that you’re going to become very courageous.”

Rick Soto:
“The fact that you would get out of your seat and come down and make a public declaration of faith means that you are in the beginning of leading a courageous life. These are the things that are going to happen to you, and the Holy Spirit is going to come upon and seal this. And we’re going to pray together, and I’m going to introduce to you some most beautiful people that you’ve ever met who are going to actually help you do that. I need you to get out of your seat right now. I need you to come down here and make a public declaration of your faith of Jesus Christ.”

Paul J. Perkins:
Rick, I want to get saved right now, and I’m not saying the health and the wealth sort of positive … And this is what I miss about you and I miss about the Ranch Church and west coast, but it’s a very positive gospel call. I know God calls us like Bonhoeffer to come and die. But the positivity of grace, that’s inviting.

Paul J. Perkins:
What you’re talking about is inviting. I need to improve myself, but a lot of us, we come to that moment; it’s really solemn. I like what you’re saying. Tell them what happens next. I really like that, and I think our listeners appreciate that too.

Rick Soto:
And to those that are saying, “Look, that feels soft gospel,” because I’ve heard that all the way, I would just say, listen, and the clarity, whether it’s in them to make a public declaration, usually I will do it when they’ve come forward. I will say for you to pray what we stereotypically call a sinner’s prayer. You are actually turning from sin, and is that what you’re doing right now?

Rick Soto:
You’re actually turning from sin, right? You’re done with sin. You’re tired of sin. That’s what the Bible says is the most dominant problem with our human condition is that we are dominated by sin. I got good news for you: You no longer need to be dominated by sin. You can now be dominated by the love of Jesus Christ.

Rick Soto:
I don’t see how any of that is so negative that it betrays the former comments. The great thing, again, about Generation Z … I mean, gosh, let me just tell you, Paul and whoever wants to listen, these are kids who want to know the supernatural. And I think we need to put that in an evangelistic context. They want to know God. They really do.

Rick Soto:
And they want to know that God could save them. My son showed me his football picture of … What was that? 50 kids in the photo, so this is 50 kids in the photo, and if I got the number right, I’m not grossly off by this, there were only four kids that came from what we would call a nuclear family. Forget if they’re saved or not; we’re just talking about they have a mom and a dad in the house. And you know the community that I live in and pastor in. It’s a nice place.

Rick Soto:
There’s a lot of beautiful people here, but that’s what divorce has done. It has literally meant that when you look at a football picture of high school kids with all their wonderful, shining faces, out of 50, 46 come from a divorced home and do not have a mom and a dad consistently in the home. And so when you tell them that you can know God as father, that there’s a savior out there, that they can have love in their hearts, that they can have stability, and if you will take the first step right now and make a public declaration, become a courageous individual, they’ll do that.

Rick Soto:
And it’s really the message, and that’s why I’m glad to have this conversation. I’m by no means going to ever claim to be the resident expert out there. Obviously, Billy Graham in his day and Greg Laurie probably right now are it. I think it’s really fascinating. We should have another conversation about Kanye and what God is doing with that. That is really fascinating to talk about.

Paul J. Perkins:
There was somebody bagging on me the other day just because I was talking about Kanye, and we can’t rabbit trail off into this, but the thing is, of course he’s young, Rick, and of course he’s a new Christian. But who in the world could survive the unjust scrutiny? He’s going to make mistakes, but let’s just sit back and watch God use him, and pray for him, and let him navigate his Christian life just like you and I did.

Rick Soto:
That’s exactly right. That’s exactly right. And I think, man, there’s so much to talk about Kanye. We’re going to have to do that on another time, but let me tell you what Kanye is doing that you and I can’t do, and I’m sad for what I’m about to say. He is able to speak into black culture and black church life in a way that we cannot because the gift of black culture and even black church to you and I, in my opinion, even as it relates to the altar call subject, is that that is a people group that have suffered.

Rick Soto:
And they understand suffering, and may I even say graciously, in a way that, by and large, the white majority culture does not understand and accept very easily. And so, he has a message into that that is so beautiful and of Christ. And let me just tell you, I’ve been doing this 30 years. I don’t know when the change happened. Maybe it has never happened.

Rick Soto:
But I think if we had social media when I was first preaching, I might be called a heretic. I mean, I was just still learning, and I was being faithful to God and being faithful to what he had asked, but I was preaching as a brand new believer, and so there’s no way –

Paul J. Perkins:
I mean, think of all the things we had wrong in the beginning on the trinity, I mean, and you didn’t know it until a year later into preaching or any number of things. That justification or all these doctrines, it’s going to take a while, and I think of D.L. Moody, Rick. They gave him such a hard time. He didn’t pass his ordination. People bagged on him so much, and his response was … I can’t remember his quote, but you might remember it. Something about he does evangelism his way. You do it your way, and –

Rick Soto:
Well, he said, “I’d rather live with the evangelism I do than with the ministry you don’t,” and there’s versions of that. And again, I might’ve butchered that quote as well, but –

Paul J. Perkins:
There’s a place for –

Rick Soto:
I think –

Paul J. Perkins:
Go ahead.

Rick Soto:
The benefit, I think, to anybody who would listen … Let’s just say there’s somebody on this that they go, “Well, I don’t preach. I just want to try and share Christ,” or, “I’m just curious on this.” Listen, kind of the standard gospel presentation in a booklet form is the four laws, and I have no disagreement with that in principle at all, but really, your average person just listening to this who just knows a Bible verse or two … And it could be opening up to Psalm 42, verse one and reading that with somebody, and they could just ask them, “Listen, friend. Are you willing to give your life to Christ right now?”

Rick Soto:
And I was recently with somebody who is unsaved. I’ve known them for a long time. They’ve never, never been to church. They got a lot of … not churcher, but they have a lot of father brokenness. They were abandoned as a child. They’re now multimillionaires. It still grieves them, and so they’re the classic projecting that negatively on God.

Rick Soto:
And when I said that God is father, when I kind of even had a few sentences to explain Trinitarian thought, they really reacted. And so I said, “Listen, friend. Will you just allow me to read a Bible verse to you?” And what I did was I had them read a part of a Psalm. I think it was Psalm 42, and I had them read it out loud. And then, I just asked them to make a declaration of faith, and they weren’t ready to do that right now. But what I did say to them, I said, “Well, will you just pray out loud with me?”

Rick Soto:
And I led them to pray out loud that their heart would cry out to God, and they loved it. And after it, they go, “What was that? I really felt that.” I go, “That’s just God beginning to soften your heart.” And to this day, which is really about 60, 90 days later, their heart is getting softer and softer. When we think invitation, we think narrow, but it works like that as well.

Paul J. Perkins:
Oh, I love it. And because God’s at work and not on our time schedule, ad he’s tenderizing when we’re busy doing other things. When we’re taking out the garbage, he’s working on that dude’s heart, right?

Rick Soto:
Oh, exactly, and praise the Lord that he is. I mean, really, thank God that that is exactly what is going on.

Paul J. Perkins:
We’re here at the end here, but I want to ask you in closing just about the Holy Spirit for a minute. We’ve talked about how the Holy Spirit works. We’ve touched on it. You’re in a regular church service on Sunday morning, and you’re preaching. How do you think about the Holy Spirit yourself, his work? In other words, do you consciously say to yourself, “Hey, Holy Spirit, work,” or what do you do? How do you think about the Holy Spirit in preaching, Rick?

Rick Soto:
I ask to be filled with the Holy Spirit. I know doctrinally that I am sealed with the Holy Spirit. I believe that there are more than one fillings for reasons that I think the scripture just says be filled, which seems to be an ongoing continual act, so I believe even by asking to be filled with the Holy Spirit that I’m exercising faith.

Rick Soto:
And most times, I don’t feel any different, but I just assume by faith that God has answered that prayer, that he’s pleased with that, and that I am filled with the Holy Spirit. And then I pray and believe that the Holy Spirit is working in people’s lives. And then, I will act by faith in the service in like manner.

Rick Soto:
I’ll believe that he has either given me some sort of insight or supernatural knowledge to maybe a circumstance that might be in the house that day, or that he is actually asking someone to make a faith statement at that moment. And so that’s really how I handle it on Sunday. I just really ask the Holy Spirit to fill me, and I believe that he has, in fact, done that. And since I believe that, I will now act upon it in some manner.

Paul J. Perkins:
Excellent. All right, I’m going to ask you one crazy question. Are you ready? You’re like [crosstalk 00:22:08]. What is the best meal that you had this week, brother? What was the best lunch you had all week long? What was it? What does that look like for Rick Soto? What is your best dish that you like to eat?

Rick Soto:
Well, Paul, it’s a shame that you don’t live down the street here anymore, but The Hitching Post has an outdoor burger where what they do is you sit outside in this gorgeous kind of knoll, and this guy, when you make the order, he gets on a bicycle kind of trike thing, and he goes over yonder into this kitchen where they’re grilling up. And then he will bring you out the burger about five minutes later, and it’s actually a fresh kill. It’s actually steer –

Paul J. Perkins:
A fresh kill.

Rick Soto:
[crosstalk 00:23:01] local. It’s only a local burger. It’s only a local beef where it’s been butchered. That thing is worth you and all your listeners getting on every plane and flying out to my neighborhood for because that is to die for. It’s juice. It’s meaty. It’s manly, and it’s good, and there it is.

Paul J. Perkins:
There you go. It sounds like a commercial. Rick Soto, thank you, brother, for taking time with us.

Rick Soto:
I love you. I love you, and I pray that our conversation was worthy of all your listeners’ times, and let’s do it again.

Paul J. Perkins:
Cool. See you, Rick. All right.

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