Have you heard the story of a group who called themselves ‘fishermen’? There were many fish in the waters all around them. Week after week, month after month, and year after year, the fishermen met in meetings and talked about their call to fish, the abundance of fish, and how they might go about fishing. Continually they searched for new and better methods of fishing. They loved slogans such as ‘Fishing is the task of every fisherman’, and ‘Every fisherman is a fisher’. There was one thing, however, they didn’t do. They didn’t fish!
It’s a ‘corny’ story, and yet it points to the fact that all too many churches talk of winning people for Jesus – but fail actually to do so. It has been estimated that in spite of the efforts of all churches and para-church evangelistic agencies put together, it takes a thousand Christians an average of 365 days to win one person to Christ. On the other hand, it has also been said that if each Christian led one person to Christ each year, the whole world would be converted in six years!
In today’s blog I am writing about Andrew, because he is often regarded as the patron saint of evangelism. Certainly in St John’s Gospel he is forever bringing people to Jesus. In tomorrow’s Lectionary Gospel reading we have the story of Andrew bringing his brother Peter to Jesus (John 1.35-42); a little later it is Andrew who brings the boy with five barley loaves and two fish to Jesus (John 6.5-11); and toward the end of Jesus’ ministry Andrew, with the help of Philip, brings a group of Greeks to Jesus (John 12.20-26).
Andrew teaches us that, in essence, evangelism is very simple. It doesn’t have to be about standing up on a soap box and preaching to passers-by (although as a young man that was precisely what my grandfather did with great effect), but rather it is just about sharing good news with others. Once Andrew had discovered Jesus to be the ‘Messiah’, he couldn’t keep the good news to himself. Instead he told his brother about Jesus. Andrew reminds me of my mother, who to my great embarrassment excitedly told everybody on a London bus that I had passed the 11+ [for overseas readers, ‘passing the 11+’ used to be vital for getting into a decent secondary school]. Good news is for sharing. I have yet to meet a man or woman who has just become a grandparent who has kept that piece of news to themselves. People just can’t help themselves – they are so excited that they will tell all and sundry.
Alistair McGrath, an Anglican theologian, put it is this way:
The fundamental motivation for evangelism is that of generosity – the basic human concern to share the good things of life with those whom we love. It does not reflect a desire to sell or dominate; it arises from love and compassion on the part of those who have found something wonderful and want others to share in their joy.
Daniel T Niles, a great Christian leader from Sri Lanka, put it even more simply: evangelism “is one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread”.
Andrew’s bringing his brother to Jesus is a reminder too that the most effective sharing always takes place with friends and families. Research has shown that 80% of people who eventually commit themselves to Jesus and his church, do so due to existing contacts with Christians. In that respect I love the comment of John Finney: “Friends seem to be effective when they are examples of two things – faith and normality”. Finney also said:
If ‘friendship evangelism’ is one of the most natural and effective means of evangelism, are too many churches so over-busy with their own internal life that their members do not even have time to look after their own families let alone love their neighbours? Friendship needs time.
Andrew’s bringing a young boy to Jesus reminds me too of the importance of sharing the good news with the younger generation. I love the story told of an evangelist who said to a friend that two and a half people had become Christians at one of his services. “What do you mean ‘two and a half?'”, asked the friend, “Well”, replied the evangelist, “two were teenagers with a life-time ahead of them, and the other was a person in their 50s with only half a life-time left”. For those of us over-50 this may sound rather cruel, and yet there is a point. What’s more, it is often in teenage years that people are most receptive to the Gospel – for young people have yet to get into a rut in terms of their thinking and so are prepared to examine every new idea on its merit. A survey of 4000 people about conversion experience showed that 17% were converted under the age of 12, 59% between the ages of 12 and 19, and the remaining 24% at 20 and over.
The third occasion when Andrew brings people to Jesus has also implications for today. For the ‘Greeks’ whom Andrew occurred were what we might call ‘seekers’ after truth. Dissatisfied with pagan superstitions, they were searching for spiritual reality. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, many such seekers used to come to Jerusalem at the time of one of the great Jewish feasts – they were not allowed to take part in the temple worship, but they could observe it. Today there are many people outside the church who are also looking for meaning, purpose and direction in life. Many of them too are looking for community. Church attendance may have gone down, but God-hunger is as strong as ever. Instead of being busily closeted in our church ghettos, we need to be out there, mixing with such seekers, and – at the right time – sharing good news.