CAMINANDO WITH JESUS: The Perfect Process
Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
- John 1:43-51
Every time I have read this account, much less preached on it, I focused on Jesus! This time, I looked at the other participants, and, most importantly, looked at the process. The process is exactly what the church, the people of God, should be doing. Think about it: (1) Philip got to know Jesus; (2) Philip told other people what he knew; (3) Philip did not try to answer all the questions but simply invited Nathanael to explore it himself; (4) Philip invited Nathaniel into the community where he could ask his questions, too. I assume Philip physically walked with Nathanael. That makes the process perfect.
Years ago, when I had just graduated from seminary, I strongly believed the primary Christian ministry was to serve the poor and needy. Many times, I have pointed out the only time Jesus speaks about judgment day is when he talks about what we have done for the "least of these." During my first few years of ordained ministry, serving and loving the people in my congregations, I began to see pastoral care as the most important aspect of my ministry.
I have not changed my mind, but I have re-defined "pastoral care" to include feeding the hungry, being with the sick and encouraging those who seek a deeper spiritual life. Every single time Jesus enters a village, he begins with concern for physical needs. He heals those who are sick. And Jesus does not stop there. He also teaches.
Every study done has shown approximately 90% of Americans believe in a higher power, and most believe in God as Christians understand God. Yet only about 25-35% of Americans attend worship regularly. (The variation is caused by the definition of "regular," and I believe 25% is more accurate.) Studies also show many of the unchurched pray regularly, and some even read the Bible on a regular basis.
Approximately 200,000,000 Americans believe in God and pray, yet do not have a spiritual home. Yes, I know that some are connected to other religions, but the number who are interested in Christianity is still huge!
Let’s be pessimistic and say that 90% of those will never talk to a believer again. Therefore, as many as 20,000,000 Americans are waiting for someone to speak to them. They yearn for connection to that higher power, to God, to Christ….
Another fascinating number: One study reported 61% of millennials said they will never go to church. Yes, this is very sad. But it also means that 25,000,000 millennials said they might someday go to church.
I have often pondered the questions about the impact of our missional opportunities to invite, welcome and connect our neighbors to church. We might reflect on how many minutes we spent this month deliberately reaching out to the wider community.
Two real-life examples of efforts to reach out: Trinity Church in Mt. Airy began actively seeking to touch base with non-members via social media. In about six months, something over 300 families from the Mt. Airy area have connected with the church. YES, the overwhelming majority are "one and done" contacts. But in the last two weeks about 75 families have had some type of ongoing engagement with the church.
Grace Church in Clayton is not as far along in the process, so it does not have as many initial connections. But what’s interesting there is that about one-third of the people we can identify through photos, etc., are people of color. How fascinating! Through social media, predominantly white churches could look more like their surrounding communities!
I will end with the observation that most of us, including me, have completed phase 1 from today’s Gospel. We have a relationship with Jesus. But we have not moved into phase 2. Feel free to prove me wrong.
May we become Philips in our time.
The Rev. Ken Kroohs is retired.
Tags: Caminando with Jesus