Jesus' Method of Personal Evangelism
We are returning to mine yet more information from John 1:1-42 that describes Jesus' encounter with the woman at the well.
In our last chapter over this passage I pointed out how all three themes of John's book are brought out in this passage:
- Jesus is tired and thirsty, and asks for a drink showing His human nature.
- The Lord demonstrates His divine nature in revealing this woman's past.
- We observe as she goes from disbelief to belief and how the village goes from disbelief to belief.
In this chapter we will examine the passage again, but this time to note the way that Jesus approaches the evangelizing of another person. Perhaps we can adapt this method to our own advantage today.
Everyone who has received the gift of salvation should have a desire to share that gift with others. We have received something precious because of the kindness and generosity of others. We ought to be ready to pass it on to others who have not yet heard or received the good news.
This process of sharing the gospel and bringing others to Christ is called "personal evangelism." Now when I'm teaching a Bible class, this is not personal evangelism, it is preaching and teaching in the assembly. When I write a blog post or add content to BibleTalk.tv, that is mass media evangelism and teaching. When, however, I sit down with one person and share my faith or teach the gospel, this is personal evangelism.
Now in the Bible I have explained that we find through commands, examples and inferences, the pattern for how to do certain things like communion or organizing the church, etc.
In John 4:1-42 we see a pattern or method Jesus used in the work of personal evangelism. The method He used, I call the "multiplication system." Let me try to explain how it works using this passage.
The multiplication system
First of all, a few rules of mathematics. We know that multiplication is a faster way of increase than simple addition.
A great example of this was demonstrated on TV a while back. Here is what they explained:
- If you took a simple checkerboard or chessboard and placed a single sugar cube on each square you would end up with 64 sugar cubes. That is addition.
- If, on the other hand, you simply multiplied by 2 the number of sugar cubes you put on each square… for example put one cube on square #1, then double that for square #2, then double that for square #3, and continued to double until you reached square #64.
- According to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, if you multiplied the sugar cubes in this way you would have enough sugar to cover the State of Texas with 30 feet of sugar.
- Such is the power of multiplication.
Now pretend that those sugar cubes are people who are becoming Christians.
- If each Christian simply adds one Christian as a result of their conversion (a spouse, a child, a friend) you have the kind of growth the church has traditionally had (slow, small, steady).
- If, on the other hand, each Christian continually doubles himself and teaches others to double themselves, then the process of multiplication begins.
Our concept of evangelism is that we turn over to the ministers the responsibility of putting one sugar cube on every square or pew instead of reproducing ourselves and thus exponentially increasing the number of souls saved.
Jesus did not use the addition model, as we will see with the woman at the well, He demonstrates how to first make, and then multiply disciples.
Making and multiplying disciples
Now before multiplying, one must first make a disciple, and the passage in John reveals to us the process that Jesus used to accomplish this first and basic step of personal evangelism, and that is to convert one soul.
In this passage we are able to identify 7 steps in the making of a disciple of Jesus. A disciple is a follower, a learner, one who is committed to following, learning and obeying Christ and only Christ.
There are 7 steps to making one of these disciples:
Step #1 – Contact
The point of contact is anywhere when two people enter a conversation: any situation where two people connect in some way (sports, work, service, family, friends). Connecting with people.
Note that Jesus made contact by asking for a drink of water. Note also that He did not allow social, religious or barriers between genders at that time to stop Him from making contact with this woman. The rule about contact is that if the gospel is for all, then there should be no barrier we are not willing to cross in order to make contact.
Step #2 – Challenge
Challenge is when you step out from the normal course of polite conversation in order to open up a dialogue concerning spiritual rather than temporal things. This is difficult and where we fail most often. It is when the conversation turns to serious and important matters that challenge the non-believer to explore the true meaning of life or spiritual aspects of their lives that things get awkward.
Obviously it is difficult to do this at first, but with time these probes can be launched gently and without pride. Perhaps this can be a question about the Bible or religious background, church attendance, etc. Somewhere along the line, the time and opportunity present themselves for this and we need to recognize the moment and challenge our non-Christian friends or family to enter into a spiritually oriented discussion.
After having discussed the water He asked for, Jesus seized on the opportunity to talk to her about the "living" water. There is nothing to say we could not ask someone the same question at some point.
Step #3 – Confirmation
Once the challenge is made and the discussion entered into, it is up to the disciple to prove or confirm that he or she knows what they are talking about. It could be a demonstration of Christian kindness, a proof of Bible knowledge or an example of a good and pure Christian life. Once the disciple has engaged another in this spiritual dialogue, they need to be able to demonstrate the proof of what they are talking about in themselves somehow.
This is the second area where personal evangelism often fails. The unbeliever rejects the message because the messenger does not embody the message. It is just talk. For example, one Sunday there was a visitor looking for someone who had invited them to services but that person did not show for Bible class or worship. Do you think that guest will come back?
In His dealing with the woman, Jesus resists being offended by her initial rebuff and goes on to demonstrate His wisdom and knowledge of her life, her needs and her questions. He proved who He was.
Step #4 – The call
Usually after a personal study, a discussion or a sermon, there is a call to decide to accept as true what has been shared.
In the case of personal evangelism, the call is to follow Jesus. Even at the preliminary stage, the call is to follow the Lord, even if it is from the far off position of curiosity and finding out more. No one was ever saved without making a series of decisions. No one gets to heaven by someone else's decision or by accident. If you have not made a conscious decision to become a disciple of Jesus, then you are not a disciple!
Jesus tells the woman, "I am the Messiah," He called on her to believe this but could not force her, it was her decision to believe or not to believe. All He could do was call on her to choose.
We do this when we invite to church, ask for a Bible study, encourage hearing the gospel; every one of these is a "call" to follow Jesus.
Step #5 – Conversion
At some point the entire good news is conveyed, sufficient proof is provided through study and a good Christian example.
The amount of time differs from person to person, but eventually everyone must decide to follow Jesus or not. Eventually we bring them to the point of expressing their faith in obedience to Jesus' commands of repentance and baptism.
Sometimes we fail here by going to extremes:
- We never ask or encourage the person to make up their mind, to make a commitment. We think that they will come to it by themselves. Even Paul the Apostle, when he was brought to this point, only moved when Ananias pushed him with these words, "And now why do you delay? Arise and be baptized and wash away your sins calling on His name." (Acts 22:16)
- We also fail by asking too soon. We have only shared the basics, not developed a relationship, have not provided sufficient evidence. Faith grows at a slower pace than understanding. We may understand something without necessarily believing that it is true, right or good.
For example, democracy in Middle Eastern countries, they understand the concept but are not all convinced that it is better or true.
We rush to conversion and when people balk, we turn away from them instead of continuing to provide contact, challenge, proof, calling and encouragement to convert.
In the story of the woman we see her believing the proof Jesus gave her, confessing that faith by acknowledging her hope for a Jewish Messiah that would save her, a Samaritan. Today she would confess Jesus' name, repent of her sins and be baptized to demonstrate her conversion.
Step #6 – Consecration
This step is where the convert actually is trained for discipleship. The one who was formerly a non-believer, now becomes a believer and follower of Jesus. The convert, or new disciple, begins to act and sound like a disciple.
For example, he begins to have a prayer life; read and study the Word; identify and assemble with the other disciples; find ways to serve the Lord with his own skills.
The burden for this consecration of disciples rests with the leaders of the church. It is their job to make sure that there is a conscious effort by the congregation to integrate and equip the new disciple for effective and fruitful Christian living.
The woman, after her contact with Jesus, is immediately energized to share her brief but powerful encounter with Jesus among her family and community. Not everyone's consecration to service is as fast as the woman's, but not everyone is discipled by Jesus Himself.
Step #7 – Multiplication
In the addition model the woman would have gone home and maybe shared her experience with her partner so that he might know the Lord and become a disciple with her… another sugar cube on another square.
But this woman begins the multiplication model by sharing her experience with everyone in town who would listen. We do not see all the details, but in verse 28 she goes to the men of the city (ones she already had contact with) and she challenges them to consider what has happened to her. We then read that they believed because of her word and they brought others who then believed because of Jesus' word.
John does not spell it out, but at the end of the chapter the number of those who were converted and bringing others to Him was multiplied in much the same manner. One woman multiplies to several men who multiply into a great number, all in the space of a few days. That is the power of the multiplication system in personal evangelism.
If we used this model in our personal evangelism approach, we could plant churches everywhere they are needed in this state, in this nation and across the world in one generation. The question is: why are we not doing it, what is stopping us?
2 main reasons:
- We are not consciously implementing this approach. Most churches use the addition approach, not the multiplication approach, usually because they do not know or are not trained.
- When churches do try to use the multiplication approach they only use parts of it or it breaks down due to human weakness.
For example: We either do not ever go from contact to challenge leaving most of our communication with others at the non-spiritual level.
- We give up too quickly if the person does not respond to the challenge or the call.
- We drop people who do not convert the first time we present the gospel to them.
- We try to "qualify" our contacts by guessing which ones are sympathetic to the gospel and those who are not.
In the multiplying method of personal evangelism everyone is a potential contact. We are always looking for the opportunity to challenge our contacts. We are ready and able to provide proof of our faith and eager to repeatedly call on our contacts to follow Jesus in some way.
In multiplying disciples we are not afraid to go for closure in asking our contacts to be converted, to obey the gospel.
In multiplying ministry, the church is equipped to train and build up new converts and multiply their potential for new contacts, greater multiplication, etc.
The risk with all of this of course is that when the power of multiplying disciples takes hold, it is like riding a tidal wave. We are then once again like the Jerusalem church, doing incredible things, making incredible sacrifices, truly leaving the world behind to manage the harvest that God can and will give.
In the meantime, we stick to the addition model because we can control it, and growth at this rate does not disturb the status quo too much, leaving us in the boundaries of our comfort zone.
We leave our comfort zone one step at a time.