Evangelism as Personal and Relational
November 30, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Evangelism as Personal and Relational: A Sermon on St. Andrew the First Called (11/30)
Reading from Wednesday of Bright Week (John 1:35-51)
We have an opportunity today to talk about evangelism. The story of St. Andrew the First-Called, as given in the Gospel according to St. John, provides us with a model of how to approach evangelism.
What happens in our story? Andrew and another are introduced to Jesus Christ. Christ invites them to “come and see” and spend the remainder of the day with him.
As a result of this encounter, the first thing Andrew does is:
- Finds his brother Peter
- Tells Peter that Jesus is the anticipated Messiah
- Brings Peter to meet Jesus for himself
What follows is Peter’s own conversion to become a follower of Christ.
We see in the remainder of the Gospels that Andrew does not play any other outstanding role in the accounts of the apostles’ ministry with Christ during His public ministry. Peter is made “first” among the Apostles. Peter, along with James and John, are counted as the “inner circle” of the 12 Apostles.
To be sure, Andrew is counted among the 12 Apostles, but we don’t hear anything distinct about him from this point on. He does have the distinction of being the “first called” and as the one who introduced Peter to Jesus as the Messiah.
Often, the mistake is made to think that evangelism consists primarily of particular techniques, approaches, or methods. We can get caught up in discussions of how we do or don’t advertize, what kind of pamphlets we have for visitors/inquirers, how or who follows up with visitors, what we say, what we don’t say, etc., etc., etc.
There can also be the mistaken notion that the priest possesses some specific formula or technique for successful evangelism, i.e., that there is some specific evangelism “switch” that the priest can flip and get masses of people to come to church. This is simply not true.
To be sure, the elements of methods and approaches are needed and important. Those who are looking for the faith need to know that we are here and how to find us. Those who are looking for us need to have the means to access us from where they currently are at.
The priest is important in the work of evangelism. He is the one who follows up with guests and can nurture their interests and involvement in the parish. He is the one who can do a significant portion of the administrative “leg work” on the methods and approaches. The priest is one of the ones who can keep the parish community focused and on-task with the parish ministry of evangelism.
But the priest, ultimately, is not the primary evangelist of the parish. The primary evangelists of the parish are the members of the parish.
How is this possible? Look at the story we have of St. Andrew. He is the evangelist in the story. He introduces Peter to Jesus. Andrew shares with Peter that Jesus is the Messiah. Next, Andrew brings Peter to meet Jesus as the Messiah. Finally, Andrew steps back and allows Jesus to take over the work of forming Peter as an Apostle.
Andrew does this work in three steps: (1) he finds Peter, (2) he tells Peter about Christ, and (3) he brings Peter to meet Christ.
This highlights Andrews approach, but a more important element needs to be emphasized: Andrew’s work as an evangelist was personal and involved someone he had an existing relationship with. Peter is his brother. Andrew had a face-to-face discussion with his brother, then brought him to meet Christ. There was no brochure, flier, or newspaper ad involved.
As such our work as evangelists needs to be personal and relational. It is personal in that we speak with people directly about the faith and it is relational in that it involves people that we have an existing relationship with:
- our friends and neighbors
- our family members/relatives
- our coworkers or classmates
As you can see, we shouldn’t think of this in terms of “beating the bushes” to find strangers that we have to make a “sales pitch” to. Instead, we should approach our faith as a cherished gift that we have and desire to share with those we know, but don’t have that gift:
- we find those we already have some relationship with
- we tell them about the gift that we have received
- we bring them to “come and see” the gift as expressed in our Sunday Divine Liturgy.