1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20) – The Lord calls to Samuel, who thinks it is Eli. “Speak your servant is listening.”
Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 – Lord you have searched me, and know me… Where can I go to flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. You knit me in my inner parts…
1 Corinthians 6:12-20 – All things are lawful for me, but not all things are beneficial. Your bodies are members of Christ… You were bought with a price, therefore glorify God with your body.
John 1:43-51 – Jesus finds Philip and says to him, “Follow me.” Philip goes and tells Nathaniel. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” “Come and see.”
January 18-25 is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
Come and See
Since this week will be the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we will be having an ecumenical prayer service at Lakewood Church on Friday night, January 23 at 7:30 PM. I hope you’ll make time to pray with brothers and sisters of other Christian traditions and be a witness to the unity we have in Christ, despite our various differences in polity and doctrine.
This is our last text from the Gospel of John until March 8, in Lent. In Epiphany the gospel goes out. The coming of the Magi is about the gospel being for the Gentiles, the nations. In John 1 this week, Philip shares the gospel with Nathaniel. There is a lot to learn about evangelism and witnessing in this text. Rebecca McDonald, our office manager in the Gulf Coast Synod, shared this cartoon with staff recently:
Perhaps this would be a good week to talk about how we share our faith, since it’s the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, and we have Philip witnessing to Nathaniel. We can see in this text that witnessing is not arm-twisting, but simply sharing what you’ve found. It’s hard for people to argue with your personal experience. It is what it is. Philip’s comments are a kind of fishing for people (next week’s text). He dangles the bait, and Nathaniel bites.
Know that when people bite, it may be snarky: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” If you share what God is doing in your life or in your church or in the world, don’t be surprised if people are a bit leery. Some have been burned by religious folks. They’re likely to be suspicious. Expect skepticism. I’m impressed that Philip is not put off. How do you respond to a snarky question like, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” or “Can anything good come out of the institutional church?” My gut, as a lover of the church, is to say, “Of course!” Perhaps Philip’s response is better, “Come and See.
This comment suggests that evangelism is a community effort. Philip is not saddled with the burden of proving or convincing. His role is only to invite. He is not responsible for Nathaniel’s response. That is the work of the Holy Spirit.
I would observe that while Philip was prepared for Jesus’ deeper invitation into discipleship: “Follow me,” perhaps Nathaniel was not. Not yet, anyway. Most newcomers are probably not ready for such a deep commitment. They’re probably only ready for a simpler commitment to just come and see. When inviting people into a life of faith, we need to be intuitive enough to not under-challenge or over-challenge people.
Rick Warren suggests we are dealing with, say, five different groups of people: the community, the crowd, the congregation, the committed, and the core. Or at least five stages that people find themselves in at one time or another. Each requires a different approach. You can’t relate to these folks the same way. Jesus didn’t. To one he says “Follow me.” To another, “I’m coming to your house today.” To another, “How about some water from that well?”
As leaders of congregations, we need different strategies to reach people at different stages. To the community you say, “Come and see.” They may have no commitment to the mission of the church. They’re not ready to be invited to tithe. They’re probably not ready to be invited to join. I have yet to see anyone join a church before visiting. Evangelism begins with an invitation. “Come and see.”
This means, of course, that a congregation intent on making disciples needs to have something people can actually come and see. Come and see our committee meeting, or worse, come and see us fight about something inconsequential at our congregational meeting is probably not going to bring them in. It’s more like repellant. There need to be multiple, compelling, life-giving entry points. Where does the gospel meet the world in the life of your congregation? Come and see us play with children. Come and see us serve those in need. Come and see the joyful worship life we have. Come and see how we gather in homes to study, to eat, and to make life-long friends. Big events can also be “Come and See” opportunities. Easter is a great time to invite. Shape worship so that every Sunday is a super time to invite. Let preaching be compelling, life-giving, and relevant. Let ministry be vibrant and enticing. Have an event once a quarter off of Sunday morning that’s fun and inviting. Include food, free food, or at least free will offering, so that the poor can eat and guests find hospitality. Some folks will come to a social event long before they’ll ever step foot in worship.
The church evangelizes one-on-one, but also through large seminal events. Jesus invited Philip to follow him, one-on-one in this Sunday’s text, but later his reach expanded as he fed the five thousand. John the Baptist had mass baptisms. Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount. Evangelism takes place both through one-on-one interaction, and also through seminal events, that allow people to bump into each other, so that good things (including a one-on-one) happen. Invite the community in: neighborhood gatherings, Oktoberfest, VBS, Your preschool, Christmas concerts, programs, and worship. Organize a prayer vigil around a community concern. Find a way to draw a crowd.
Once you have a crowd, your message shifts. Draw the crowd into a deeper place. Invite them to help with a Habitat House. Many people come into the church through the servants’ entrance. They become a part of what the church is doing before they become a part of the church. People want to participate in ministry, not become members of an institution. Invite them to have a low-commitment opportunity to participate in something that matters. Invite them to a small group Bible study. First find a way to draw a crowd, then make sure every event you have that draws a crowd has an invitation to go deeper. Have fliers about the various ministries and small group opportunities of the congregation laying around so guests can’t miss them. Be sure to give a verbal welcome and invitation at every event. This is how evangelism works. It’s gradual, organic, and communal. It takes a community.
Once people are a regular part of the crowd they need to be invited to become part of the congregation. There need to be frequent invitations to a new member class or forum. If you use the catechumenate or Alpha, be sure fliers are everywhere and people are verbally invited regularly. Be sure your new member class is more than club orientation. Don’t assume everyone knows what the church is, the Bible, or the Christian faith. Feed them. Teach them about daily prayer. Introduce them to faith practices like table prayer, Scripture reading, generosity, and serving.
Once people are part of the congregation, make sure they get connected with a small group or choir. If folks don’t make friends or get connected to a ministry group within six months, they will fade away. Use the new member class to introduce them to opportunities. Many churches effective at welcoming newcomers turn the new member class into a new small group. It’s often very hard to graft newcomers on to an existing group with history. Members of the congregation need to be challenged to “Follow me.” “Come and see” no longer works. They already have. They need meat. Help people not just join a group, but to find their calling in life. Where do my gifts and passions meet the worlds need? How is God calling me to serve? People will find fulfillment when they make sacrificial commitments to things that have holy significance. This is the deeper invitation Jesus gives to Philip and Andrew, James, and John: Drop what you’re doing and follow me.
Not everyone will take this plunge. The road becomes increasingly narrow. Some will choose the way of the world over the way of the gospel. This is an irrefutable reality experienced by the church of every age, and even Jesus himself. Consider the rich young ruler. If you are going to invite people to give their lives away for the sake of the gospel, prepare yourself to be disappointed more often than not.
For those who move from the congregation to the group of committed folks, some will have high-level leadership capacity. They will not only be committed, but be prepared to lead others into commitment. Some will be prepared to spearhead groups of the committed to efforts that cannot be done by individuals alone. Some will be called to be part of the core. This will be the smallest group. Choose carefully.
I’ve seen pastors invite newcomers to become part of the core too soon. It’s not pretty. They may be new to the faith. They have fallen in love with grace, with Jesus, with mission. We then invite them into the inner circle of leaders, and they are exposed to the dark underbelly of the organization. They get to hear the complaints, mediate the angry divisions, struggle with the organizational deficits, bottom lines, and other realities. They become overwhelmed and potentially sour. And frankly, ministry for the sake of the world can lead us to the cross. I could imagine hearing Nathaniel say, “I didn’t sign up for this.” Not everyone is ready. Not everyone has the stomach for the rigors of leadership. They are like the seed that feel on the shallow soil, sprung up quickly, and then withered in the sun because they had no root. Jesus knew what he was talking about.
Everyone in the community should be invited into the crowd. Everyone in the crowd should be invited to the congregation. Everyone in the congregation should be invited to deeper commitment. Not all of the committed, however, should be invited to be part of the core. An enthusiastic man once wanted to join Jesus’ inner circle of itinerant disciples. Jesus declined the request, telling the man to focus on ministry where he was. Jesus didn’t go running after the rich young ruler. Don’t invite all of the committed to be part of the core, and certainly don’t invite the uncommitted or nominally committed, with the hopes of jump starting them. Your core will set the course for your congregation’s ministry. Choose those who are spiritually mature, with a demonstrated track record of faith, commitment, and follow-through. In 1 Timothy 3:6, the apostle says overseers of ministry (episkopoi) should not be recent converts. This sounds like wisdom borne from experience.
Epiphany is a great time to rethink our evangelism efforts. This coming Sunday’s John 1 “come-and-see” and “follow-me” gospel and next Sunday’s Mark 1 “drop-your-nets-and-learn-to-fish-for-people” texts lend themselves to this theme. They also lend themselves to messages about hearing God’s call in our lives. If your annual meeting is coming up, think about it evangelically. Think of it as a celebration of what God is doing in your community, and what you believe God is calling you to do in the coming year. Show pictures that bring people to tears – tears of joy at what God is doing, not tears from being part of a family squabble. Make plans to go into the world. We are missionaries who are sent. Jesus didn’t sit in the Temple. He went out into the world. We follow a “GO” God. Abraham and Sarah were called to “GO from your home and kindred to a place you do not know.” Moses was called to GO to Pharaoh. Jonah was called to GO to Ninevah. Isaiah was called to GO to Judah. Samuel, in today’s Hebrew Bible reading was called to go. Jesus told his followers, “GO. Make disciples.” So we in the church today are called to GO into the world, inviting them to come and see, inviting them to follow Christ, making disciples.