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#8: “Relational and Invitational Evangelism: Come and See”

Today we are concluding our series of sermons on “Living as a Disciple.”  Throughout the past couple of months, we have considered the seven essential spiritual practices all true disciples of Jesus engage in.  Those practices we have learned about are Prayer, Meditating on Scripture, Corporate Worship, Small Group Accountability, Financial Generosity, and Serving Out of Our Gifts.  Today, we conclude with Invitational Evangelism, which simply means: Inviting Others to Seek a Relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

Today we will be challenged to share the good news about Jesus with those we know who do not yet have a relationship with Christ.

I’m sure we all are in agreement that we ought to share the gospel with our friends, neighbors, and co-workers.  But if the truth be told, few of us actually do it out of fear or embarrassment.  And, for most of us, we fail to become an evangelist for Christ because we don’t really have a clue how to go about it! 

The secret to effective evangelism is what I call, “relational evangelism.”  People are most likely to be open to hearing about Jesus from people they know and trust – in other words, those they have built a relationship with.  This conversion process can be compared to the steps required by a farmer in bringing in a crop. 

Do you remember the parable Jesus told about a sower casting seed onto various types of soil?  As you may remember, the seed is a metaphor for the word of God that is shared with others.  Those we are trying to reach are like hard-packed, thorny, or rocky soil, who are not ready to hear the word of God.

Jesus explains that there is a time for cultivating the soil, a time for sowing the seed, and a time for harvesting the grain.  So, the first thing we must do, is that we must determine precisely what type of soil represents the friends we want to share the gospel with. 

If the soil of their heart is hard they will resist the word of God.  No matter what you say, they will not listen.  If that is the case we first must cultivate the soil of their hearts – we have to build an authentic relationship with them, so that one day, they may be willing to hear the gospel and respond.  Our role in the harvest may be tilling the soil of our friend’s heart, breaking up the hardness so that eventually, they will be open to receiving the seed.

I believe that relationships are key to winning people for Christ.  If we are really serious about helping our unbelieving friends give their lives to Christ, we must utilize this “relational” approach, – especially when we encounter those who are resistant or hostile to religious things. 

It can be a real challenge to help them overcome the barriers they have erected that prevent them from coming to Christ.    But there is a much simpler thing any one of us can do in reaching out to those around us who are receptive to the good news, those who are in the “sowing seed stage.”  And I want to call this approach, “invitational evangelism.”

You know, the word “evangelism” has become unpopular among many people these days . . .  It has sort-of a bad connotation.  What do you think of when you hear the word “evangelism?”  Chances are, your mind flashes back over the years to those infamous “TV Evangelists” who got themselves into trouble; men so drunk with power and fame that greed and lust compromised their ministries and brought shame on the cause of Christ.  Or perhaps the word “evangelism” conjures up bad memories of pushy door-to-door “evangelists” who try to peddle their neatly packaged brand of the gospel, selling Christ in the say way people used to sell vacuum cleaners, brushes, and magazine subscriptions.  Or maybe, the “evangelist” that comes to mind is a Bible-thumping preacher standing under a circus tent, preaching the “Good News” of hell, fire, and damnation.

It is true that the word “evangelism” HAS gotten a bad reputation and, if you base it upon these examples alone, that reputation is well-deserved!  It’s no wonder people are so turned-off by the word.  Many United Methodists have become so negative about evangelism that we tend to ignore it, or at the most, leave it to the preachers’ to carry out.  How else do you explain the steady decline in membership of our denomination at the same time that the US population continues to increase?  Methodists used to lead the way in evangelism.  But we have forgotten how to do it . . . because we have lost the passion for it!

And that is a tragedy.  It’s tragic because, in reality, evangelism is the life-blood of the Christian Church.  The very last message Christ gave to us before he ascended into heaven was a command:  “Go into all the world, and make disciples.” 

So you see, evangelism is NOT an option.  It is an obligation.  It is far too important to be left to preachers alone, or even to a committee within the church.  It is the responsibility – and privilege – of every disciple of Jesus Christ!

As I said, our beloved United Methodist Church is shrinking in size and influence (in America, that is – in Africa we are growing rapidly!).  There have been many suggestions as to the cause of our membership decline, but I think this is key – you and I have become complacent about evangelism. 

One of the first persons to sound the alarm about this crisis (way back in the 1980s) was the UM Bishop Richard Wilkie in his book, And Are We Yet Alive.  In his book, Bishop Wilkie suggested that we, as United Methodists, have become barren Christians, unable to reproduce ourselves; we’ve forgotten the art of evangelism; we’ve neglected our responsibility to win the unchurched for Christ.  We must reverse the trend, says Bishop Wilkie, or the United Methodist Church faces extinction.  Friends, that clarion call to evangelism was written thirty-five years ago, but our denomination continues its downward slide into oblivion.  As people who desire to call ourselves disciples of Jesus Christ, we dare not let that happen!

So – have I convinced you that evangelism is important?  I hope so, because I can’t think of anything MORE important – can you?

“OK,” you might say, “so evangelism is important.  But, what are we supposed to do?  become like those others you mentioned who gave evangelism a bad name?”

No.  There is a much better way, and it’s found in the scripture passage from John’s Gospel that was read a few moments ago.  In that passage, we can find a model for evangelism – a model that is both biblical and effective.  In that Scripture passage, we see evangelism at its very best – the kind of evangelism that anyone can do – the kind of evangelism that changes lives. 

The text really contains two parallel stories that make the same point – the stories of Andrew and Philip.  Together they reveal, what I want to call, “The Cycle of Faith” – the way we gain our faith, grow in our faith, and then share our faith with others.

Quickly, let’s take a closer look at this Cycle of Faith. 

First of all, we are led to Christ by another person.  This was Andrew’s experience.  Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist, until John pointed him to Christ and proclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”  And Andrew followed.  Andrew was led to Christ – by John the Baptist.

Have you been introduced to Jesus?  If so, who was it that led YOU to Christ?  Who was YOUR “John the Baptist?”  – your parents?  – a Sunday School teacher?  – a friend?  – your spouse?   Someone, somewhere back in your past, pointed you to Christ, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God,” and you followed.

For me, there wasn’t just one person – actually there were many who pointed me in the right direction. But, I suppose I’d have to say that my parents played the biggest part in my journey to Christ, and for that, I am eternally grateful to them.

Who was responsible for pointing YOUR way to Christ?  Whoever it was, you owe them a debt of gratitude, for they played a key role in your salvation.

So the first stage in the Cycle of Faith is that someone pointed you to Christ. 

The second stage is the growth stage when we claim Christ as our own.  Our text says that, after Andrew came to Christ, he followed him and dwelled with him.  “What do you want?” Jesus asked Andrew, literally “what are you looking for?”  That’s a good question.  “Andrew, are you here because John told you to be here?  Are you here merely out of curiosity, or are you searching for more?  Andrew, what are you looking for?”

Andrew was looking for the Messiah.  And he found him.

You see, once we have been pointed in the right direction by someone else, the rest is up to us.  “What are you looking for?” Jesus asks each one of us.  Are you seeking after the Messiah?  If so, you have found him!

During this second stage in our Cycle of Faith, we develop our personal relationship with Christ, our level of commitment grows and deepens, and our faith matures.  As our text describes it, Andrew found where Jesus was staying and spent time with him.  He established a personal relationship with the Master.

Now, many people stop at stage two in the Cycle of Faith.  They get stuck there.  But there is one more stage we must reach if our faith is to be fully realized – we must share our faith with others.

Andrew and Philip couldn’t keep it to themselves;  they felt driven to rush out and bring others to Christ.  And, did you notice who they evangelized?  some stranger on the street?  No.  Andrew went to find Peter, his brother; and Philip sought out his friend, Nathaniel.

You know, all the studies of evangelism show us that this is a key to all growing and vital churches today (hear this, Church!) – their members are witnessing to, and inviting to church, their friends, relatives, associates and neighbors – in other words, the people in their unique sphere of influence.

Who is in your unique sphere of influence?  Who do you know who needs to be introduced to Jesus?  Pull out the Evangelism insert in your bulletin.  As I continue with this message, I want you to begin jotting down your FRANs, that is, your Friends, Relatives, Associates, and Neighbors – people you know who either have never made a commitment to Christ, or who have no active involvement in a congregation.  This list is for your eyes only, to help you identify those God is placing on your heart.  Now keep the insert handy, because we’ll be referring to the insert again in a few moments.

In a Gallup poll of the unchurched in America, people were asked, “Would you join a church?”  More than half said that they would!  Then, when asked why they had NOT joined a church, they said, “No one has asked us.”

Andrew and Philip knew better.  “We have found the Messiah!  Come and see for yourself”

You know, Andrew wasn’t very prominent in the New Testament.  He was easily overshadowed by other, more dynamic disciples, especially his brother, Peter.  But in reality, Andrew was VERY dynamic in his own quiet sort of way.  HE wasn’t the Rock on which Christ would build His Church, but he WAS the one who brought the Rock to Jesus.  He may not have fed the 5000, but, if you’ll remember, HE was the one who brought the boy with the loaves and fishes to Jesus.  Andrew was always bringing others to Christ. 

This is what we need at Tomoka.  We need to unleash hundreds of “Andrews” on Volusia County.  I am challenging each of you to become an “Andrew style evangelist for Christ!

What does that mean?  What are the hallmarks of “Andrew-style” evangelism?  What exactly am I challenging you to do?  This is what I’d like us to focus on in closing this morning.  I’d like to give you a crash course in “invitational evangelism,” modeled on this passage from John’s Gospel:

First, is witnessing to our faith.

We see that neither Andrew nor Philip were hesitant to witness to their faith.  “We have found the Messiah,” Andrew told his brother.  And Philip said virtually the same thing to Nathaniel. 

Notice that they were very resolute about their new faith.  They didn’t say, “We think we MAY have found the Messiah,” or “We have found one who CLAIMS to be the Messiah.”  No.  They said, “We have found the Messiah…” a very personal statement of faith.  Andrew and Philip were not afraid to tell others of their faith, and what Christ meant to them.

You know, evangelism involves both words and deeds.  Sometimes we hear people say, “Actions speak louder than words,” or “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day.”  And that may be true.  The truth is – some people need to see our faith lived out before they will be open to hear us talk about Jesus.  Yes, actions are important. 

But we must also be willing to share our faith with others when the moment is right; to tell them our story of what Christ has done in our lives.

Some years ago, there was a commuter on the Long Island Railroad.  He was known to every regular passenger on the 5:00 local.  He was a well-dressed soft spoken man from Jamaica.  Every evening, after the train left the station, he would stand up and go to the front of the car.  As he walked back, he would speak to every passenger, saying, “Excuse me, but if anyone in your family, or any of your friends are blind, tell them to go see Dr. Carl.  He restored my sight.”

Now, friends, THAT is “evangelism.”  To be an “Andrew” we must have a story to tell, and we must be willing to tell it.

You may not think so, but your personal story is very powerful.  It can inspire and challenge another person to accept Christ for the first time.  So never underestimate the power of personal witness in evangelism.  It can change lives.

What is your “faith story?”  Do you know it?  Could you tell it to another person?  If not, try putting it down on paper.  You will be surprised how just writing out how God has impacted your life will help you clarify your witness, so you can share your faith story with more confidence.

Andrew shared HIS story, and it changed Peter’s life forever.  I hope that you have a story to tell, and that you will share it with others.

The second guideline for Andrew-style evangelism is the issuing of an invitation.

 Andrew and Philip didn’t stop with their witness;  they also invited their listeners to respond.  “We have found the Messiah . . .” they said, “come and see for yourself.”

You know, we’ve been guilty in our churches, and I’m sure, even here at Tomoka, of not giving people an invitation to respond.  Sure, in our worship, people are always welcome to come to the altar rail (at least we HAVE an altar rail!), but do we really expect anyone to respond?  We proclaim the Gospel through the music, the Scriptures, and the sermon, and then we forget to issue an invitation for response.  We should be more intentional about doing that.

Let me say right now, parenthetically, that you are always welcome to respond on any Sunday, if you feel so led, to come to the altar at any point in the service for a time of prayer and commitment.  Whether we say it or not, we mean it.

So then, when YOU share the gospel with someone by your witness, don’t forget to issue them an invitation to respond.

So, to be an invitational evangelist, we must first, witness to our faith, and second, invite a response.  But that’s not enough.  We must also take action.

Andrew and Philip were not just men of words, they were men of action.  They actually physically BROUGHT Peter and Nathaniel to Jesus.  They felt so strongly about Christ that they took it upon themselves to make sure that others would have the same chance to know Christ;  “I have found the Messiah . . . come and see . . . And he brought him to Jesus.”

Who is here in worship this morning because YOU brought them to church at some time?   Or maybe I should turn that around – who could be sitting in that empty seat next to you, if only you had brought them?  There are a lot of empty seats – someone “out there” needs to be “in here,” and YOU know who that someone is!

Sometimes witnessing to your faith and inviting a response isn’t enough.  Often times, the unchurched people around us need to know that someone cares enough for them to physically bring them into the presence of Christ.  Do YOU care enough about them to take action – to physically bring them to church?

My friends, these three guidelines for evangelism WORK!  Andrew knew it, Philip knew it, – and now YOU know it!  It’s the kind of evangelism that each of us can do.  It’s the kind of evangelism each of us MUST do if we are truly to be called “disciples of Christ.”

So, the Cycle of Faith is complete:  Others brought you to Christ, you have grown in your faith, and now it is your turn to bring someone else.

There are Peters and Nathaniels all around you just waiting for some Andrew or some Philip to care enough for them to bring them to Christ.  YOU may be that “someone!”  In fact, you may well be the ONLY “someone” who is in a position to do that! 

Pull out that insert again.  Before we close this message time, I’d like for us to spend a few moments in prayerful reflection.  As Steve plays, let God bring to mind the Peters and Nathaniels in your life who have yet to meet Jesus, and write their names in the blanks on the sheet.  And be in prayer, that God would show you how to be an Andrew or Philip for them. 

(time of reflection)

Now I’d like for you to take your list home with you and put it in your house where you will see it every day (put it on your refrigerator or tape it to your bathroom mirror).  Pray daily for those on your list.  Look for opportunities to show your love in tangible ways.  And when the moment is right, invite them to “come and see” for themselves, so that they may be found by God.

I’d like to invite you to stand and join me in our commitment to become an Andrew for someone else, that they might come to know Jesus: