ArticlesRelational Evangelism

Relational Evangelism

By Josh Breslaw, Lead Pastor at FBC Gonzales

 

A Roofer’s “Good News”

In Texas, Storm Season is a misnomer. As most of you are aware, storms can happen in any month of the year. And that’s exactly what happened in South Central Texas during the first week of this year. At about 2 p.m. on January 7, a severe storm blew through the Gonzales area sending hail anywhere from dime-size to tennis ball size down from the sky. The storm lasted about 15 minutes and then, as the weather does in Texas, the sun came out as if nothing ever happened.

By 5 p.m. that day, when I arrived home from the church, roofers were already on our street handing out business cards. Like moths to a light, roofers come to potential hail damage just as quickly as the weather changes. By nightfall, we had multiple business cards from roofing companies. Then, the next day, 2 more roofers came by the house by 9 am. By noon, 3 more roofers. Within a 24-hour span, we had 7 knocks on the door from people trying to sell us a new roof (“Hey, it’s no cost to you!” “Hey, all you gotta do is…”). We were annoyed by all the interruptions.

How do you feel when a salesman comes to your door? How willing are you to buy what they are selling if a) you don’t know the person at the door and b) they are interrupting whatever it is that you were doing? This is how most non-Christians feel when we knock on doors to “evangelize the lost.” This is how most non-Christians feel when we hijack a conversation to sell them Jesus. Instead, I believe that a more effective way of sharing Jesus is to develop relationships.

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman

Looking at the story of the Samaritan Woman in John 4 is most instructive for us as we consider this style of evangelism. (Note: Dr. Julio Guarneri’s message from John 4 at the State Evangelism Conference occurred between the first draft of this article and final publication. Any duplication of points in this article is purely coincidental). What intrigues me about this story is how long Jesus has a conversation with the woman without mentioning he is the Messiah. Jesus knew what this woman needed in order to not only listen to but hear the message he was sharing.

When looking at this story, we need to understand the setting. My assumption is that most who are reading have studied the Woman at the Well story before, so these comments will be brief. First, John 4:6 tells us that it is the sixth hour or about noon. Women usually went to get water together in the morning when it was cooler. This woman is going at a different time and by herself, so something about the situation is immediately off. Secondly, Jesus is at a well and a woman comes up. The Old Testament archetype is that when a man (or a man’s representative) meets a woman at a well, they get married. See Isaac’s representative, Jacob, and Moses. Those who know their Old Testament immediately get a sense that some type of relationship will be developed. Third, she is a Samaritan, and we know that Samaritans and Jews don’t get along.

Ok. Now, to the story. The Samaritan woman walks up to the well at which Jesus is sitting, and Jesus says immediately, “Can I tell you about myself? I am the Messiah. Do you want a relationship with me?” …oh, that’s not how this goes?… No, Jesus asks for a drink. I think this is significant because I don’t think Jesus has any pretense here. He’s thirsty, his disciples have gone to town, and so he asks for a drink of water. When we are focused on relational evangelism, we need to not have ulterior motives. We aren’t trying to say things that will hook the person or manipulate the conversation. In relational evangelism, talking about Jesus will come organically. It comes from a normal conversation.

As the story moves along, the Samaritan woman is taken aback that a Jewish man is talking to her! This doesn’t happen, and her response indicates this fact, along with her hesitancy to fulfill Jesus’ request for water. With the conversation about H2O seemingly done, Jesus then begins to talk to the setting which he had to have immediately noticed. He uses the metaphor of water to begin to describe an eternal relationship with God. In relational evangelism, we do not have ulterior motives, but we do have ultimate motives. Jesus saw this point of the conversation as a step in moving the conversation away from the physical toward the spiritual. When we are wanting to share Jesus with others, we need to look for those opportunities as well. Jesus used parables and metaphors that his audience was familiar with all the time. It doesn’t have to be a perfect metaphor. It just has to get your conversation partner thinking.

Jesus says he has living water. This water allows a person to never thirst again. And the Samaritan woman is interested. But she isn’t thinking about the spiritual just yet. She is thinking about physical water. Hearing this, Jesus starts to show who he is, so that the woman knows what he is talking about. This is when the conversation about the husband comes up. I’ve come to believe that this conversation is not used to condemn the woman. It is actually Jesus telling her that he understands her situation, and it takes the conversation to a deeper relationship. Remember, we are at a well. People meet their forever partners and providers at wells. In my opinion, the woman’s situation is that she has been taken advantage of by multiple men. She is likely considered damaged goods. She has not chosen to divorce 5 different men. She was not legally able to do that. For whatever reason (and the reasons are not important, otherwise Jesus would have mentioned them), she was discarded by her husbands and now her only protection was by being with a man who would not marry her. Jesus knows all of this and attempts to tell her that he can take care of her.

But the woman changes the subject quickly. She doesn’t want to talk about that. In relational evangelism, a conversation is just that…a conversation. It is not a monologue that you can dominate. So, when the Samaritan woman changes the subject, Jesus rolls right along. If she doesn’t want to talk about relationships and husbands, then we can talk about something else. Jesus is able to use the new conversation topic of where to worship to point the conversation back to his messiahship again. It is here in verse 26 that he finally tells her that he is the Messiah.

I see at least 3 different points in the conversation when Jesus could have stopped and just said “I am the Messiah. Believe in me.” At the beginning in verse 7, which is similar to what those roofers that I mentioned above did. Again, in verse 10, like we sometimes do when we ask a question in a conversation just to make a segue to Jesus. And a third time in verse 16, like we do when we think the person is ready to receive Christ, but they haven’t fully understood that we are talking about the spiritual and the physical. Relational evangelism takes the time to have a relationship with a person. It is not a cold call.

The Fruit of Relational Evangelism

But verse 26 is not the end of the Samaritan woman’s story. Because Jesus took the time to talk with her, she not only became a follower but others in the community did as well. The thing that drew them in was “he told me all the things I have done” (v. 39). Jesus telling the woman about her life was after the 3 points I mentioned above of when we might stop the conversation and go for the “do you want to receive Christ?” Jesus’ time spent building a relationship with the woman brought others to follow him as well. Not just on the word of her testimony, but they discovered who he was too.

In summary, it is my belief that relational evangelism is the best way to bring others into a relationship with Christ. I think that Jesus models this behavior with the Samaritan woman. The fact that then the Samaritan woman brings others into a relationship with Jesus shows how effective relational evangelism is. It is disciples who make disciples who make disciples who make disciples…

I’m gonna get my roof looked at soon enough (probably even before you are reading this article). But I’m not going to use any company that just shows up at my door and promises that they are the best. The company that takes the time to prove that they are reputable and attempts to build a relationship will get my business. As we represent Jesus in the world, we need to build relationships with people just like Jesus did with the Samaritan woman.

 

 

 

*The views expressed are those solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pastor’s Common

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