The congregation I serve is a gem. The members are some of the most incredible people you’ll ever meet, dedicated to following Jesus and showing God’s love. They are welcoming and inclusive and committed to ministries of justice and compassion. Together, we ask big questions; we support each other in challenging times; we pray together, march together and stand in solidarity with undocumented neighbors. When I was in the call process, I thought, “this is precisely the kind of faith community I want to help with the spiritual formation of my children.” And yet sometimes, I think we’re one of our city’s best-kept secrets. Our lack of evangelism, which can sometimes feel like self-promotion, means that our Christ-centered communities can fade into the background.
We want to let our actions speak louder than words, to witness through our works. There is a lot to be said for that, certainly. If we’re witnessing with our words but our actions don’t match up, that’s a problem. For instance, I think of the many modern messages that are being proclaimed in the name of Jesus that are not reflective of God’s expansive and inclusive love. If we remain silent, people may not realize that the love we show in our lives is the fruit of our faith in Jesus Christ.
Since it can feel like a tricky tightrope to walk between proclaiming Christ and demonstrating love, maybe we should look to Jesus for guidance.
“What are you looking for?” These are the first words that Jesus speaks in this John’s Gospel. He sees the first two disciples following him, and he asks this question. They don’t seem to know how to answer the question, or maybe they just ignore it. They just ask him, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” Jesus’s second utterance is the invitation — “Come and see.”
In John’s Gospel, witnessing is the heart of discipleship. If John has a patron poet, it’s Mary Oliver. In her poem “Sometimes,” she offers “Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” That’s John in a nutshell. When you’ve found what you’ve been looking for, you tell others about it. It’s that easy!
What we are looking for matters. How often do we articulate the answer to that question? If we don’t, our everyday choices will dictate it for us, whether or not the result is actually in line with our stated values or goals. The new year is a good opportunity for us to meditate on that holy question. Whatever the answer, if it brings us closer to God, if it brings us more in touch with abundant life, we’re probably on the right track. When we find it, we ought to share it with others.
We live in an increasingly secular and religiously indifferent world, and yet, seekers abound. People are hungry for meaning, purpose, connection and belonging — all needs that have historically been met within the walls of churches. Today, there are plenty of secular opportunities to meet many of those needs. For those who are specifically looking for a church, denominational affiliation is rarely a factor in the search. Many say they are looking for a “great children’s program,” or lots of young adults or fill in the blank. Things that many Presbyterian churches don’t have in abundance, especially not since COVID. Evangelism can feel like an uphill battle.
It’s ok not to have everything figured out. The invitation is to “come and see.” To stay curious and open to God and to other people. Jesus invites us to come and see, and when Nathanael questions whether anything good can come out of Nazareth, Philip doesn’t try to convince him. He just says, “Come and see.” It’s an open-ended invitation, this call to discipleship. The disciples saw something different, something that would forever change them – and the world – in Jesus Christ, and so they stuck with him. They stayed curious. They followed. And they told others about what they experienced and witnessed. Not in doctrinal formulas, but from personal experience.
If this whole God and Jesus Christ thing is all it’s cracked up to be, there’s nothing more we really need to say than this: “Come and see.” Seek. Find. Be found. And then tell about it.
Questions for reflection
- What thoughts and feelings arise when you hear the word “evangelism?” Can you recall particular experiences with evangelism, positive or negative?
- What are you looking for in 2023? What do you think your friends, family, and neighbors are seeking?
- Thinking about the church and your faith, what would you like to invite others to “Come and see?”
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