I have been having an online conversation this past week on a Nazarene Pastors Group. Someone posted a topic asking about how we preach regarding homosexuality. I ended up having a verbal wrestling match with a pastor who approached the subject in a manner that seemed at odds with what I was suggested. We eventually let it go, and the comment from others kept adding up so it is currently close to 70. I have been thinking about how we converse with the world around us. There are multitudes out there who don’t believe what we believe what we believe, and we often stand back in our spiritual fortresses and run little skirmishes out into the world and call it evangelism. Our evangelism looks similar to guerilla warfare. And sometimes we wonder why people don’t look favorably on the church. I went through the Evangelism Explosion course as a teenager, and we did door to door visitation, often in connection with a big event. There was very much an “us/them” sense of the world. It continues to be there in church culture, and sometimes is quite strong. I see many people starting the Gospel at Genesis 3, at the Fall and judgment. We tell people they are sinners and going to hell unless they convert. The church often “couches” this language as if it is the judge, as if we have gone beyond the ability to sin and so stand in our self-righteousness with our finger pointed out and warn of impending wrath to come.
The truth is that is part of the Gospel, in a sense, though it is not the whole Gospel, and it places us in the wrong position within the kingdom of God. Let’s look at what Jesus did with a woman of the world, a sinner who is lost and on the road to hell, so to speak, and then at the role we play in the kingdom of God.
And He had to pass through Samaria. So He came to a city of Samaria called Sychar, near the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph; and Jacob’s well was there. So Jesus, being wearied from His journey, was sitting thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour. There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.
Therefore the Samaritan woman said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered and said to her, “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.” She said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water? You are not greater than our father Jacob, are You, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself and his sons and his cattle?”
Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” John 4:4-14
We used to do drama as part of our church ministry. Four guys would write our own scripts and we had a lot of fun with it. We never took it too seriously in the sense it wasn’t ever a consideration for a career, but God used us to speak to people about biblical truths. One of the skits we did was called the Witnessing Skit. We pretended we were 4 of Jesus’ disciples heading to the town to get supplies and we see this lady at a well. We get our heads together and we suggest different ways we can go out and talk to her about salvation. Each way we try is rather obnoxious and a caricature of different “evangelism techniques”. The skit ends by us being shot down time after time and then we watch as Jesus does it the “right” way. We learn that evangelism isn’t about techniques. It is about real conversation with real people about real needs.
Notice where Jesus didn’t start. He didn’t say, “You are lost and going to hell.” In fact, He doesn’t ever say that. What He does do is admit He has a need. He is thirsty. Are we afraid to admit needs we have? I know people who do that because they are too proud. They won’t even admit their pride, they are so proud, but they will not let others helps them because that is weak, or needy, or something. Admitting you haven’t got it all together is rather human, isn’t it. It is in this being human that conversation develops. When we allow ourselves to be ourselves, it is amazing the doors it opens. Notice that it is the woman who asks the first question – Why are you talking to me? Sometimes we are so afraid of what to say, but often we simply respond to the questions people are asking because God has been making them uncomfortable – He has been preparing them to have a conversation with us.
Jesus says that there is more – you don’t know what you are missing, and the conversation continues to the point where Jesus declares that He is the Messiah. In the middle He does bring up her sinful lifestyle. He still doesn’t condemn her or it – He allows the conversation to continue. It is fascinating to read how it all plays out – to the point where this woman goes in and testifies to the city about Jesus. Many people get saved and Jesus uses the situation to talk about the priority of witness, or evangelism. Here are a few key lessons:
It is God who saves, not us. This means you can’t ever blow your testimony by trying. God is in control, and some of us are like Peter, always putting our foot in our mouth – but so what? We are who we are, and while we are being transformed by the power of God into the likeness of His Son, our foibles and gifts and strengths and weaknesses are still a part of who we are. And God desires to use all of that in His service, and He is big enough that He can. He takes our weaknesses and uses them for His glory, because He is that big.
It is the Spirit who convicts, not us. Jesus let the Spirit work on that woman. If God saves, and the Spirit convicts, our job is simply to speak. We speak the truth about what God is doing in our hearts, in our lives. Are we experiencing the grace of God? Do we seek it, so that when someone asks us for the reason for the hope that lies within us we can say, “Jesus. It is all about Jesus.”
Don’t isolate yourself from the world. Not only will it give you a stinky attitude about people in the world, but it makes you dull when dealing with the world. By dull I don’t mean boring, I mean not sharp. I enjoy commenting on blogs and getting in discussions because it helps sharpen my thoughts and my understanding of the things I am talking about. The guy I ran into a disagreement this week is 61 years old, has been a Nazarene pastor for decades, has seen 1000s of people come to Christ in his ministry and pastors a large church with over 600 people. My track record is a little bit different than his. I took and am taking the scenic route. But in my conversation, I could see where I wasn’t understood, and could begin to see why he said what he did and where he was coming from. It is in the context of community that I continue to learn and grow, and sharpen my skills, my brain. Make sure you seek fellowship, that your closest friends are like you, desiring to have Christ in all of their life.
Finally, put on Christ. Love God with everything you have, and love your neighbor as yourself. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love is the character of God showing through in your life. Most of us, if left to our own devices and absent of God would be angry and bitter. We would be selfish and greedy. We would be hurtful with our words. We would be deceptive with our thoughts. But God died so that we would be more than those things. We make the choice to deny ourselves, our rights, to take up our cross daily, and follow Jesus. We make the commitment to be spiritual sacrifices, to reject the world, to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. We allow ourselves to be a new creation in Christ, to be changed from glory to glory until we fully reflect the character of Christ. Live that out in the world – letting God be God, and He will use you mightily in the kingdom.