Friday, 17 January 2014

J.John: makes you laugh, then the challenge of the Gospel

J.John is an evangelist and writer. He has preached to hundreds of thousands in sixty nine countries; shared platforms with well known Bible teachers such as Joyce Meyer and Reinhard Bonnke; and written several best-selling books.  

 J.John is humorous. His preaching is full of wonderful, sharp, pithy one-liners. So he asks what would have happened if the wise men in the Christmas story had been three wise women? He waits a little for people to start thinking. They would have asked directions and turned up on time. The audience erupts in laughter.

The audiences are large. Every year J.John speaks live to about 300,000 people. And they don’t just laugh. He says the humour is just the sauce to accompany the meat. J.John was recently asked whether he had ever asked people for a commitment and seen no response. The answer – after thirty years of preaching: never. In every meeting he has always seen people commit or recommit their lives to Christ.

 Becoming a Christian

 J.John is a Greek Cypriot. In Greek his name is Iouannes Iouannon, which in English translates as John John. So he became J.John. Brought up in Cyprus he came to London where his parents were restaurateurs in the early 1960’s. Regarding God, his family were Greek - so they were Greek Orthodox. The faith came with birth. As a teenager J.John wore this religion like a familiar coat, but by the time he got to college he admitted that in his heart he was an agnostic.

 At college J.John became friends with Andrew Economides, another Greek. Andrew was a Christian. Every week he would take J.John out for lunch and share the Gospel with him. J.John says that Andrew, ‘built a bridge to me and when he did Jesus walked over it.’ On 9th February 1975 J.John invited Jesus Christ into his life. The next morning he knew something had happened because walking to college he noticed a homeless man begging. He stopped, talked to the man and took him for breakfast in a nearby cafe. Here he found out that this man was always at the same spot begging. But this was the first time J.John had noticed him.

 Becoming an evangelist

J.John immediately started talking to others about Jesus. He asked that homeless man to gather his friends in that cafe and every week and J.John shared the Gospel with them. At college he kept on talking about Jesus. The very morning after he had become a Christian he sat next to his friend Richard in a lecture. J.John asked Richard, ‘Are you a Christian’. Richard said, ‘I don’t know’. J.John said, ‘Well, you should know’ and gave him a Christian booklet and told him he had to read it. Richard read the booklet during the lecture and then J.John said, ‘Well, do you want to receive Jesus?’ Richard said, ‘Yeah, I do’. So J.John said, ‘You’ve got to pray the prayer at the end of the booklet’. Richard became a Christian. The evangelist had started his life’s work.

 J.John studied theology, became an ordained priest in the Church of England, and was soon in great demand as an evangelist both in the UK and abroad. Earlier in his ministry he spent a lot of time preaching the Gospel to university students. To date he has ministered on over a hundred campuses. J John met his wife Killy when preaching at Cambridge University (They have now been married for thirty years and have three sons and a daughter in law)

Christmas is also an especially busy time for J John. Many people of all faiths or none enjoy a good carol service, and J John makes the most of this seasonal interest in Christianity. Some years he would preach at over thirty services in one month to audiences that regularly reached a thousand. His book, ‘What’s The Point Of Christmas?’ has sold over a quarter of a million copies.

Just 10

 As  the year 2000 approached J.John was praying about what the evangelistic emphasis of his preaching should be for the new decade. He sensed it should be about the Ten Commandments. He started doing some research. Between 1979 and 1999 he could not recall hearing a single sermon preached on the Ten Commandments. There were not many books either. J.John got to work. The result is ‘Just 10’, a series of ten evangelistic talks on ‘God’s Timeless Values For Life Today.’

Just 10 has been a massive success. Used by hundreds of churches over a million people have attended a Just10 Series. For the commandment, ‘Thou shalt not steal’, J.John brings in bins and invites people to hand over anything they have taken dishonestly. The bins fill up. So far about a quarter of a million pounds have been given back. All the money is given to hospitals, homeless shelters and hospices. His team have just re-filmed the series for a new DVD. Iranians will soon be able to hear J.John preach his ‘Just 10’ series in Persian.

Much to learn, much to look forward to

J John has been a successful evangelist for over thirty years. For other would be preachers and evangelists he has much to teach. In one interview he emphasised two ‘non negotiable criteria’ for ministers: holiness and humility. That’s worth pondering. In other interviews he also stresses that preachers and evangelists must be ‘who they are’. That’s also worth thinking about.
Though an evangelist, J John, whose first hours as a Christian involved taking a homeless man for breakfast, has never forgotten the poor. His organisation, the Philo Trust, is involved in a lot of relief work, all very actively supported by J John. His ministry shows that it doesn’t have to be preaching the Gospel or serving the poor. It can be both, as it was back in the days of the early church.

There is one other aspect of J John’s ministry that is worth noting: hard work in preparation. Listening to J John is enjoyable. Speaking, usually without notes, the stories and the application are simple to follow. It’s virtually impossible to get lost. It’s easy listening – for us the audience. Behind the easy listening though it’s clear a lot of hard work has gone into the preparation. The funny stories have been collected, mainly from ordinary life, carefully written up, and then filed. J John was asked about this during an interview and he showed the audience just his file for his Christmas illustrations. It was very thick. In his sermons there are memorable sentences, like ‘Remember that the main thing is to ensure that the main thing is the main thing!”. J John loves this sort of word play. Another example - there was a wife who said her husband was ‘temperamental – fifty percent temper, and fifty percent mental.’ And another.  ‘People live in one or two tents, content, or discontent.’ From the pulpit this stream of enjoyable words and memorable sentences flows effortlessly. But in fact each word reflects hard work at the writing desk.

Another part of the preparation is prayer which J.John takes very seriously. On the way to a meeting he will spend parts of the journey in prayer; and before actually speaking, he will be quiet before God. Talking about prayer, word-play again features. He says his philosophy is PUSH. Pray Until Something Happens. And if you know some English and want to hear a hilarious story that illustrates this, google ‘J.John, Kitten Story’.

Holiness, humility, being who you are, hard work, and prayer, these are some of the qualities that for thirty years have kept J.John in the pulpit preaching, calling people to give their lives to Christ. Recently he said he wants to work, ‘not harder, but sharper’. That means the church has a lot to look forward to. 

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