This session is an opportunity to explore the importance of seeing and acting upon every opportunity to share the good news, not just those provided from a stage or platform.
We engage in conversations with a variety of people every single day. Many of these are face-to-face, but through the wonders of technology we can now converse in different ways with people all over the world in real-time. Whilst these digitally based conversations may not offer the same level of personal connection as a face-to-face encounter in the same room, they have still become an invaluable and normal way of connecting with friends and strangers for most of us.
Preaching from a stage doesn’t usually allow for dialogue. We proclaim the message and hope that it takes root in the heart of the listener. However, in conversation, there is scope for questioning, relationship building and, crucially on our part, for listening. Sometimes the one-directional word received from a platform can be rejected out of hand, whereas personal dialogue creates greater opportunity to speak more specifically and directly to the concerns of the listener.
“what do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks the blind man Bartimaeus (Mk 10:51). “I want to see”, is the simple response that reveals the need of the man as well as his belief that Jesus has the power to bring healing. This one-to-one encounter contains no explicit explanation of the gospel, yet affords Jesus the opportunity to discover and meet the need of the seeker, who moves from blindness to being a Jesus follower.
Not all gospel proclamation is from a platform. For most people in fact, the sharing of the gospel will happen through a personal conversation with a family member, friend, colleague, or even a total stranger. Many feel ill-prepared and under-equipped for such a task, lacking the confidence to share the gospel that so many gospel preachers exhibit when preaching up a storm to the masses.
Interestingly we have more accounts in the gospels of Jesus talking to people interpersonally than we have of him preaching to the masses. The one New Testament character to carry the title of evangelist, Philip, is instructed by an angel of the Lord to minster one-to-one with an Ethiopian eunuch between mass preaching missions (Acts 8:26-40). There are many things to be taken from this encounter, but surely one is that we are to be ready for every encounter the Lord provides for us. Even in the ministry highlight-reel that the gospels and Acts present us with, we can see that Jesus and the first evangelists were fully prepared to share the good news with the multitudes and with the individual. The question is, are we?
Read the following passage.
John 4:27-30 (NIV)
“Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, ‘What do you want?’ or ‘Why are you talking with her?’
Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, ‘Come, see a man who told me everything I’ve ever done. Could this be the Messiah?’ They came out of the town and made their way towards him.”
When was the last time you spoke to a not-yet-Christian friend about your faith? How about a total stranger? Many preaching evangelists can find interpersonal witness quite challenging. Give them a microphone and a stage and they can preach all day, but when the prompting of the spirit comes to talk to the stranger in the coffee shop it can be a different story.
Spend some time reflecting as a group as to why some who can boldly proclaim from a stage can struggle in the one-to-one encounters.
Jesus is interested in individual lives. For all the time he spent preaching to the crowds, the New Testament records him just as frequently engaging in one-to-one dialogue with people he met on his ministry travels, and some who intentionally sought him out. Whether he was preaching to the multitudes eager to hear his words; to angry religious folk trying to catch him out, or to a diverse array of individuals – the rich and the poor, male and female, sick and healthy, religious and irreligious – Jesus seemed perfectly comfortable communicating his message.
When Jesus meets the Samaritan woman in John 4, there are a number of key things we can take note of and learn from:
1. Be ready for the encounter
For the Samaritan woman this encounter was thoroughly unexpected, and potentially inappropriate, but Jesus is ready to talk to her, initiating the dialogue out of his physical need for water. This is significant, how many conversations could be initiated from a simple place of need or circumstance in our lives? The plumber who enters the Christian home to fix the shower? The barista serving your coffee? The doctor giving you a challenging diagnosis? There is opportunity all around us to speak, and whilst the encounter may take the ‘seeker’ by surprise, we should always be ready to offer the hope that we have in Jesus (even when we are tired, as Jesus no doubt was here).
2. Engage personally, naturally, positively and compassionately
One of the most beautiful things about this encounter is how Jesus treats the Samaritan woman, with kindness, sensitivity and compassion. The natural way in which he engages her in dialogue, the personal connections he makes to her life (in this example with a prophetic insight, at other times through basic observation and situational awareness), and the compassion with which he reveals the truth to her are all inspiring examples of how to engage in positive dialogue with ‘seekers’.
3. Listen well and be open to questions
It is inevitable that people will have questions about what we believe, the difference it makes to our lives, perceived contradictions and hypocrisies and so on. Instead of being placed on the back foot by these questions we should simply take the time to listen well, and then offer sincere responses as and where we are able. Often this will include asking questions of our own – as Jesus does with the Samaritan woman. Questions invite people to reflect upon the ideas we are presenting (and to reflect upon their own ideas too), rather than just asking them to accept what we are offering wholesale. Jesus was a master of using questions in his evangelism, confronting people with the frailties of their current worldview whilst offering them the truth in its place.
4. Move from misunderstanding to revelation
The woman misunderstands what Jesus is saying at first (v11). Jesus perseveres in the dialogue, giving her a more fully formed framework upon which to build her understanding until the moment of revelation comes for her. Misunderstanding and misinterpretation are part and parcel of human dialogue. Don’t panic, just persevere. Keep building bridges to the understanding of the person you are talking to until what you are saying is clear, this is all you are responsible for. It is the spirit of God who will turn simple understanding into true revelation.
5. Keep the main thing the main thing
It would have been easy for Jesus to get sidetracked with political and cultural conversation when the woman showed concern over the appropriateness of his request to her for water. Instead, he keeps the main thing the main thing so that the gospel conversation can move forward. Many times in conversational evangelism there will be opportunities to get sidetracked, but our aim (even if we have to take a few detours here and there) is to keep the cross of Christ central to the dialogue.
6. Recognise the potential in those you talk to…
…to both receive the gospel and to become a witness for it. Those who have been recently brought to faith are often the most compelling evangelists. This should both challenge us – that we must never lose the infectious joy of our salvation – and inspire us that those we witness to can immediately become effective and attractive witnesses for Christ.
Discuss the passage and any other thoughts that may have been prompted from the points drawn from it to encourage and challenge the group in personal evangelism.
Whilst not all may have a platform to preach from (or indeed the calling to be a ‘preaching’ evangelist), we are all called to engage in evangelism. The majority of the evangelism that takes place in the world is done through interpersonal conversation – individual believers talking with individual seekers. Jesus and his followers were committed to this kind of outreach, and we should be too.
Fill out accountability forms and feedback // Diary the next meeting and pray to close.
Make use of these through the session or all together in one section, whatever works best for your group.
* How comfortable are you in the one-to-one situations?
* What experiences of conversational evangelism have you had?
* Why is listening so important when talking to people about our faith?
* How can conversational evangelism change depending on if the person is a friend or a stranger?
* How can you be more intentional in seeking out opportunities for personal witness?
Integrate these quotes as part of your teaching or use them as discussion points if helpful.
“Our struggles in evangelism are not primarily about methodology but about maturity. Do we have a heart for God and do we care about the things God cares about (lost people)? If we have God’s heart, we will do whatever we can to advance His kingdom purposes in every conversation we have with our nonbelieving friends.” – Norman & David Geisler
Simply talk to someone about your faith this week. Ask them if they have any questions about your faith, and let them know you would be happy to chat, or ask them a question about who they think Jesus is and see where that leads.