A friend and I go downtown witnessing in a small town where I live every week. While we obviously care deeply about the eternal souls of those we talk with, our primary purpose isn’t to make friends, but to preach the gospel.
A young man who hangs out downtown complained to his stepfather (who happens to be a pastor) about us, and the pastor proceeded to complain about us in a ministerial meeting my pastor also attended. Thankfully, my pastor used godly wisdom, stopped the gossip, and asked the man to talk with me and my friend directly about his concerns. We agreed to meet with him and explain our purpose and evangelism method.
Throughout the meeting, I felt his purpose was to communicate his point and to get us to change our methods so that we would put relationships before preaching the gospel.
This pastor insisted adamantly that Jesus always had relationships with those to whom He gave the gospel. My friend asked for biblical examples, and he gave us several; none, in my opinion, were examples of relationship-focused evangelism. For example, he mentioned the woman at the well.
I believe it is blatantly obvious from even a quick read of the passage in John 4 that Jesus did not have a great relationship with the woman at the well before he shared the gospel. First, they had just met. And there are clues in the text that point to obvious cultural barriers, such as the fact that Jews and Samaritans did not associate and men generally did not have friendly relationships with women, who were considered to be low-class.
Here’s a closer look at the conversation.
Jesus is waiting alone at the well, and the first words He speaks to this woman are,
“Give me a drink” (John 4:7, NKJV).
This is a command, and I would say not a very friendly way (at least in our modern American culture) to start a conversation or introduce yourself. Jesus very intentionally was asking her a question that would lead into a conversation about the gospel.
She responded, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?”
In other words, “Who do you think you are?”
Jesus replied, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”
The woman said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water?
Translation: Are you crazy?
Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?”
Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”
The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.”
This is where Jesus reveals His omniscience by letting her know that He knows she’s an adulteress. I wonder if Dale Carnegie would recommend this as a way to win friends and influence people.
Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.”
The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.”
Jesus said to her, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.”
The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.”
The woman was humbled by the law (the seventh commandment), and Jesus goes on to admit that He is the Messiah and explain the gospel. It’s an amazing conversation.
It seems obvious to me that Jesus’ words are a good model for our evangelism. We can come up with all kinds of excuses as to why it doesn’t work. We can rely on modern psychology or follow the trail of postmodernism to find better ways, or we can do as our Lord did.
No wonder American Christianity is in the state it is in when our pastors either don’t know the Bible or choose to rely on the wisdom of men rather than the Word of God.