How do we invite people to church? It can be scary and daunting, yet it is easier than we may think. We don’t need to take classes in evangelism methods. We don’t need special training. We just need to make an open-ended and simple invitation for people to come see for themselves.
The goal is to help us realize that the way we invite people to come to Christ ought to consider examples from the Bible more than fads and other inventions of mere men.
Let’s take a look at Nathanael’s epiphany and how he found Jesus, and how he was found by Jesus. Let’s also look at how some do not find Jesus. The invitation is to come and see Jesus. Let’s also look at how this non-threatening invitation, totally unlike an altar call is a model for how we should invite others to come and see Jesus.
When Philip invited Nathaniel to come and see Jesus (John 1:43-51), his encounter was a life-changing epiphany. Jesus revealed something simple about his previous activity and immediately Nathaniel realized that he was talking to the Son of God, the king of Israel. Those illuminating moments of the divine are magnificent. Many people encounter God in everyday events, but quickly pick themselves up, dust themselves off and move on as if nothing happened. However, epiphanies are important moments not to be so easily dismissed. It is precisely at those times that we realize what are the deeper, important things of life, and the nature of reality beyond what our physical senses perceive. An epiphany is like when the background noise of this world’s distractions suddenly fades to nothing and the only sound left is the still, quiet voice of God.
When Philip told Nathaniel that they had found the one Moses wrote about in the law (John 1:43-51), Nathaniel’s initial reaction was disbelief. We may react in similar fashion today. Can anything good come out of Mexico, Maine or Mumbai? Our prejudices blind us to finding Jesus. It may not be geographical prejudice. It may be linguistic, someone with a different accent or grammar. It may be racial, someone of a different ethnic group or skin color. It may be denominational, someone of a different church background. It may be educational, someone of a different educational level or field. Bigotry is not logical, but it is built within all of us, and it prevents us from finding Jesus. Mother Teresa once said that the dying, the cripple, the mental, the unwanted, the unloved they are Jesus in disguise. (http://www.servelec.net/mothertheresa.htm)
Found by Jesus
When Jesus found Philip he had a simple message (John 1:43-51), “Follow me!” That is the same message that Jesus gives to us today. The Christian journey is filled with mixed messages: “Follow a man! Follow a woman! Follow the rules! Follow the traditions! Follow the discipline! Follow the confession! Follow the whims! Follow the fads!” Yet none of those things defines Christianity. When we find Jesus, we are not satisfied with following him. So, we invent rules that neither Jesus nor the Apostles did and we ignore the things that Jesus taught. We follow our egos and worship our own ideas instead of the Christianity of Jesus. This passage contains one of the simplest and most profound definitions of what Christianity is all about. Let’s remember those important words that Jesus said when he found Philip, “Follow me!”
Not Finding Jesus
When Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses, God was very angry with them (Numbers 12:1-9). Blinded by their criticisms, they failed to find God behind his servant. When David had the opportunity to avenge himself against Saul’s persecution, he refused because he found God in the picture. He said that he would not lift his hand against God’s anointed (1 Samuel 26:22-24). When Ananias and Sapphira lied to church leaders about their offering, they only saw people (Acts 5:1-10). They did not find Jesus in the picture. When people killed Jesus and the prophets, they did not acknowledge the presence of God (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16). Philip found Jesus (John 1:43-51) and became a true disciple. Like Nathanial, have we found the Son of God, the king of Israel, or have we only found faulty people?
Come and See Jesus
When Philip found Jesus (John 1:43-51) he told Nathanael who initially scoffed. Philip then invited him to come and see. When we tell people about our faith they sometimes scoff. Philip set a good example. He did not try to argue with Nathanael, but simply invited him to come and see for himself. That’s a great way to handle scoffers. Ultimately people must see Jesus to come to faith. Our local church has strengths. We are a praying, compassionate and giving church. We put on great pot luck meals. But, ultimately unless people find Jesus among us, they have not found the purpose behind it all. Like Nathanael, when people come and see Jesus in our midst, then they find faith. That’s the same invitation that Jesus also made to two disciples of John the baptizer, come and see.
A Non-Threatening Invitation
The invitation to come and see (John 1:43-51) is non-threatening. It is not an argument. It is not applying pressure or any kind of manipulation. Why are so many of us afraid to offer such a simple invitation? When people are tired of this world and its false advertising, let’s invite them to come and see Jesus. When people are weary and heavily laden with the consequences of wrong decisions, let’s invite them to come and see Jesus. When people are beset with every kind of worry and anxiety, let’s invite them to come and see Jesus. When people are tired of false religion, let’s invite them to come and see Jesus. Not once did Jesus’ disciples ask if others had given their heart to the Lord or where they would spend eternity. They simply made a non-threatening invitation.
No Altar Calls Made
Jesus and his disciples did not make altar calls. Charles Finney popularized them in the 1800’s. In Defense of the Altar Call Steve Deneff quoted Charles Spurgeon, who did not use altar calls. He criticized churches which no longer have altar calls as watering down the Gospel. Such rebuke promotes human techniques and also criticizes Jesus? Deneff claims that altar calls build an accountable community via testimony and confession. Are we more righteous than Jesus? Why not follow Jesus’ example? Altar calls are not a condition of salvation. They can cause false confessions manipulated by hype. They can be misused to promote a preacher more than Jesus. They are something seen, but faith is the evidence of things not seen. What did Jesus' disciples do? They often issued a simple invitation to come and see Jesus (John 1:43-51).
Inviting people to church can be scary and daunting, yet it is easier than we may think. We don’t need to take classes in evangelism methods. We don’t need special training. We just need to make an open-ended and simple invitation for people to come see for themselves exactly what this Jesus thing is all about. Let’s each invite someone soon.