Matthew 4:20 is one of the many Biblical verses that puzzle me. After Jesus invited two brothers, Simon and Andrew, to “Follow me,” the text says that “immediately they left their nets and followed Jesus.” Leaving their nets meant leaving everything that Simon and Andrew knew. It meant saying farewell to the familiar. Leaving everything so quickly…with so little information about Jesus…doesn’t “ring true” to me. Why in the world would they do that?
But, the verse starts to make sense me when I read the Apostle John’s insight in John 1:35-51. John explains that Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist before he was a disciple of Jesus. And when John the Baptist told Andrew and his other disciples on two occasions that Jesus was the Messiah …. they took it seriously …. because they trusted John the Baptist. Out of Andrew’s trust in John the Baptist, he invited his brother Simon to come and meet Jesus. Simon did just that and developed a relationship with Jesus. Then, Jesus met Philip in Bethsaida and invited him to “follow me.” Philip, Andrew and Simon Peter were all from Bethsaida. They must have spent time in their hometown discussing Jesus’s invitation to follow him. Now the story starts to make sense. The first disciples had time to get to know Jesus and to talk with one another before they followed Jesus. Then, Philip invited Nathanael, whom he knew well, to “come and see” if Jesus is the Messiah or not. Following Jesus did not come out of the blue…it grew naturally out of trusting relationships. This should be a clue to us about the importance of relationships in the work of evangelism.
I saw the principle of “relational evangelism” operative in the lives of my parents …Karl and Hazel Tewell of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania…home of the 6 Time Super Bowl Champion Steelers! (I had to get that in somewhere!) Both of them had a lively faith in God and a love of people of all ages. Although my parents had an authentic prayer life and an appreciation for the Bible and Christian theology, they did not use lots of “religious language.” The phrase that I would use to describe them is “contagious joy.” There was plenty of laughter in our home. My parents radiated the joy of living. In many ways they were “human magnets” who attracted lots of people to their church in Pittsburgh…just by their contagious joy and their genuine compassion and concern for people. When our church would have a special musical concert, or a Scottish Sunday with drums and bagpipes, or a class taught by a noted author, they often invited friends to come with them… and then to come to our home for dinner afterwards. Their invitations had what author Howard Thurman would call…” the sound of the genuine.” They were not phony or manipulative. My parents rang true. As a result, countless people professed their faith in Christ and joined Southminster Church in Pittsburgh because of a relationship with my parents.
To be honest, I learned how to authentically follow Jesus simply by watching my parents live their lives. I “looked over their shoulders” and saw a living example of Christian discipleship. In fact, I thought of my parents when I read these words (below) by William Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas in their book, Resident Aliens:
“The manner in which most of us became Christian was by looking over someone else’s shoulder, emulating some admired older Christian, saying yes to and taking up a way of life that was made real and accessible through the witness of someone else. So, although books, films, and lectures may play a part in confirmation, they will all be subservient to the main task of putting young Christians in proximity with exemplary older Christians, “mentors,” we shall call them, who will invite these younger Christians to look over their shoulders as they both attempt to be Christian.” — Resident Aliens, William Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas
There are three spiritual principles that I have found helpful in thinking about “relational evangelism:”
- The invitation to explore a relationship with Jesus grows naturally out of conversation. When Nathaniel found out from Philip that Jesus was from Nazareth, he asked a refreshingly honest question, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip did not get defensive…he simply replied, “Come and See.” Relational evangelism grows naturally out of a conversation. It is never forced! No one can “manipulate” someone into starting a relationship with Jesus Christ. Rather, the best evangelism is when a person asks questions, and we invite them to “come and see” …. and we walk with them as they wrestle with their questions…and the answers.
- Evangelism is not about us…it is the work of the Holy Spirit! As Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians, “No one says Jesus is Lord apart from the Holy Spirit.” Evangelism is the work of the Holy Spirit through human relationships.
- Different strokes for different folks. Faith develops in different ways… that are consistent with the life of that individual. God is not “a cookie-cutter God” who wants everyone’s spiritual experience to be the same. Rather, God treats each one of us as the unique individuals who we were created us to be. Our unique personhood is at the very heart of evangelism. The truth is that God wants to know us! And God can’t live without us! And God wants to know and love us… forever!
That is why the three keys to evangelism are…relationships, relationships, relationships!