So the story is told: One day St. Francis of Assisi invited a young monk to join him on a trip into town to preach. The young monk was so honored to get such an invitation from St. Francis that he quickly accepted. All day long he and St. Francis walked through the streets and byways, alleys and suburbs, and they rubbed shoulders with hundreds of people.
At the end of the day, the two headed back home, however, not even once had St. Francis either addressed a crowd, or had he talked to anyone about the gospel. The young monk was greatly disappointed, and he said to St. Francis, “I thought we were going into town to preach?” St. Francis responded, “My son, we have preached. We were preaching while we were walking. We were seen by many and our behavior was closely watched. It is of no use to walk anywhere to preach unless we preach everywhere as we walk!”
As the church, we have forgotten [or perhaps we outright avoid] what it means to preach the gospel. What does it mean to bring to others the good news; what does it really mean to evangelize. And then there is the BIG question that makes us all a bit uncomfortable: Upon whom does the responsibility of sharing the Gospel rest? The word evangelism [let alone the activity itself] has become a forbidden word in some churches, and if it isn’t outright dismissed altogether, then it is relegated as a task for only those who have been ordained, or for those who are the professional speakers, who make a living giving their testimonials and asking for altar calls, or for those who are missionaries overseas. I have heard some suggest that in any given congregation, approximately 10% have the gift of evangelism, yet less than 1% are actually engaged in evangelistic endeavor.
I think there are many reasons why we are reluctant to engage in evangelism. For some, it is because we are unsure of what we believe. For others, it is because we are unsure of how best to articulate what we do believe. Some are convinced that one’s personal beliefs are just that – personal, and therefore not to be cast into the public domain. We might think that evangelism is a spontaneous activity whereas we are really more comfortable with planning and strategies, but it wouldn’t matter if it was because we don’t have any anyway. Many of us simply have never had the teaching or been introduced to a model that seemed natural enough for us to embrace: One that wouldn’t in the end make us feel uncomfortable or awkward or downright silly.
I like the simple model of Philip in JN 1.43-51 because it is simple, practical and in the end, leaves all the work to Jesus [and the Holy Spirit]. Philip, in his approach to Nathaniel simply tells him what it is that has captured his own interest, yes, and answered some of his questions, and what might very likely be of interest to Nathaniel as well. Perhaps Philip was the other of the two initially un-named disciples of John the Baptizer who was directed to Jesus [JN 1.35-36]; Andrew later being named as one of them [JN 1.40]. If so, it would appear he was a seeker – at least one who was asking some serious questions, such as, “who was the one of whom Moses and the prophets spoke” [JN 1.45]? In Jesus he had found his answer[s] and this alone is what he shares with Nathaniel. Why? Because he knew that Nathaniel cared about such questions and such answers, and because he cared about Nathaniel.
And when Nathaniel responds with a sarcastic question about the place of Jesus’ origin [did anyone then really know the real origin of Jesus?], Philip makes no attempt whatsoever to become involved in a theological fencing match. Instead, he offers an invitation that is simple, straightforward and places the final responsibility on Nathaniel: “come and see” [JN 1.46]. The proof of the pudding is in the eating – the quality of something can only be truly evaluated through actual engagement – results are what matter. Jesus, and Jesus alone will prove His own worth, but it will proven in relationship with Him.
In its most simple form evangelism is simply one seeker [aren’t we all, every one of us?] who has found the answer[s] inviting another to come and see for himself. Don’t take my word for it, we say, come and see; come and see Him who has made the difference in my life. Come and see Him who alone is the answer to the many questions we have all been asking for I know now that Jesus will not leave you with your questions unanswered. Just come and see.