Recovering Evangelism

Let me begin with a confession: the word “evangelism” makes me cringe. It’s not that I don’t like talking about God, I certainly love doing that. It is just that I associate “evangelism” with programs: Evangelism Explosion, The Way of the Master, or other simplistic techniques: the Roman Road, the EvangeCube. I often find that evangelism,. as I have experienced it, is somewhat anemic. We are called to make disciples, not just converts. Additionally, the focus is usually solely on getting to heaven and after-death salvation, as if this world is simply a waiting room for heaven. Therefore, if we just go and evangelize, are we really fulfilling our call to help form disciples?

In studying for my sermon on Sunday, the appointed Gospel text is from John 1:

“Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’ Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’” (vv. 45-46).

What I find fascinating about this, is Philip’s simple response, “Come and see.” Now Philip’s response was first and foremost an invitation. Philip didn’t say anything about heaven or hell, he didn’t try to give irrefutable proof of why he believed that Jesus was the one whom Moses and the prophets wrote about, he didn’t try to convince him that he was a sinner who was destined for destruction unless he said the sinner’s prayer. Philip simply offered an invitation, “come and see.”

This simple invitation says so much in so few words. First, this invitation is to come along with Philip and not “go”. Philip didn’t say, go see him and see for yourself. Philip was going that way, and he invited Nathanael to come along with him. Second, Philip appeared to truly believe that Jesus had something to offer them right then, not simply after they died. An invitation such as this only works if you think that one’s faith impacts life right here and right now, not only after death. Third, his invitation focused on the good of Jesus. He didn’t condemn Nathanael for asking such a question, he didn’t try to convince Nathanael that without following Jesus he would be lost, Philip knew that Jesus had something good to offer Nathanael and Philip invited Nathanael to come and see for himself. No threats, no promises, simply an invitation.

This is the business that we as Christians need to be in. We must always be offering people the invitation, “Come and see.” We cannot threaten people, nor can we promise people particular things, all we can do is offer an invitation, “Come and see.” We cannot even offer anything, only Jesus can offer anything, we can only extend an invitation. While I won’t be walking around with an EvangeCube any time soon, nor will I be asking people if they think that they are “pretty much a good person”. However, I will continue to invite people to “come and see.”

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