Sharing the Gospel can be intimidating for many reasons, but we have a flawless evangelistic example from which to learn: Jesus himself. Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman reveals a wonderfully loving way to approach someone with the Gospel. (John 4:7-26)
First, Jesus overcame tremendous social norms by even speaking to the Samaritan woman. Jews considered Samaritans impure because they intermarried with surrounding nations while in exile. Additionally, Jewish rabbis at the time did not have women as disciples. Perhaps worst of all was that the Samaritan woman was despised. She had been divorced five times (divorce was seen as the woman's fault) and was by that time living with a man not her husband.
By reaching out to this woman, Jesus set aside custom and law. He came to her with a need (thirst) and dignified her with his simple request for water. He also honored her with rational discussion, revealing his confidence in her ability to understand. He even spoke graciously with her about her sin. Finally, he entrusted her with bearing the good news to her community, and she became a successful evangelist. This encounter teaches several lessons that can be applied to our own evangelism efforts:
- Overcoming Barriers: Jesus dismantled all the cultural barriers that their societies had erected to prevent the two from interacting. Do we as Christians today categorize or avoid people according to race, class, religion, social standing, etc.?
- Setting Aside Custom and Christian Rules: What Christian rules about living a separated and godly life have we devised to keep ourselves at a distance from non-Christians? Jesus shows us how to maintain purity while also practicing love.
- Being Vulnerable and Receiving the Good Gifts of Unbelievers: Jesus asked the Samaritan woman for a favor. We must acknowledge our need for the gifts, wisdom, or advice an unbeliever may give us, because it is encouraging and ennobling to those who may expect only scorn or condescension from Christians.
- Respectful Discussion: Are we prepared to follow Jesus’ example and to take people and their theology seriously and respectfully? Are we willing to have thoughtful discussions with them, even if we consider their ideas to be confused or heretical, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, or those who follow a “New Age” Jesus?
- Gentleness and Grace: Jesus gently and sweetly draws the Samaritan woman to himself—although he is fully aware of the moral disaster of her life. We must not express personal rejection or scorn when dealing with non-believers. Must must remember that we are all sinners and deserve to be outcasts, but Jesus meets each of us and leads us through our confusion to the knowledge of the truth, just as he brings this Samaritan woman to himself.
- Commissioned for Service: Just as he commissioned the Samaritan woman, Jesus also calls us to ministry, to take the message about him into our communities and out into the world.
Excerpts taken from chapter three of Learning Evangelism from Jesus.