Most Christians want to share the gospel of Christ with others. But many people feel awkward in their attempts to talk with others, or they simply don’t know how to establish contacts for a Bible study. Thus many experience frustration that discourages them from trying again.
Jesus, the Master Teacher in evangelism, often engaged in personal evangelism as well as public preaching. For example, think about His conversation with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well (John 4:1-26). Observing Jesus in action, it is possible to glean some principles of personal evangelism.
I. CONTACT PEOPLE SOCIALLY
We must have social contact. In John 4:1-6, we can see the importance of Jesus passing through Samaria. Because of their disdain for Samaritans, many Jews avoided Samaria. Jesus and His disciples chose to pass through Samaria, assuring contact. A similar example of Jesus making social contact is found in Luke 5:29-32.
When people aren’t coming to Christ, it’s because we are not going to the people! We can’t be fishers of men by fishing in a barrel; if the fish won’t come to the barrel, then we must go where the fish are! The problem with sowing the seed is not that there is no good ground, but that the seed is still in the barn (Hag. 2:19).
A. Do not confuse separation with isolation. Yes, the Bible tells us to be separated from the world (2 Cor. 6:14-18). But this does not mean we are to isolate ourselves. Note the prayer of Christ (John 17:15). Note the command of Paul (1 Cor. 5:9-11). Withdrawing ourselves from those who have not heard or obeyed the gospel is contrary to the will of the Lord!
B. Opportunities for social contact.
• At school with fellow students. Don’t think you are too young to be involved in leading others to Christ.
• At work with fellow employees or employers. We spend much of our lives with these people, and we have great potential to influence them, especially by our example.
• At home with neighbors, friends, and family. Do we even know our neighbors? Those closest to us can be difficult sometimes, but they are reachable (Matt. 13:54-58).
Remember, Jesus said “Go into all the world” (Mark 16:15). We must go where the people are!
II. ESTABLISH A COMMON INTEREST
Common interests create a bridge. Note Jesus’ first words to the woman (John 4:7, 8). She had come to draw water. He was thirsty. His first words centered around their common interest—water.
Common interests are many. They include family (such as children, grandchildren); activities (such as work, community projects, hobbies); shared experiences (such as travel or even tragedies), etc. Don’t feel that you must immediately begin talking about spiritual matters. Take time to nurture common interests.
III. AROUSE SPIRITUAL INTEREST
We can arouse spiritual interest by showing kindness and compassion to all, even the evil and the wicked. Don’t harbor racial or social prejudices toward those who are different. Set an example of faith and hope (1 Peter 3:1, 2, 15).
At the well, Jesus’ statement shifted the conversation to spiritual matters. He led the woman into a discussion on a common spiritual interest (living water).
We can raise questions or make statements that shift conversations to spiritual matters. For example: ”Why do you think our world is in such a mess? Would you be interested in what the Bible says about . . . ?” The discussion should first involve matters of common agreement. Start with things upon which you agree, to build rapport and instill confidence. This was the practice of apostolic preaching (Acts 13:16-22).
IV. DON'T GO TOO FAR, TOO FAST
Give a person what they can handle. Note Jesus’ discussion with the woman. She wanted “living water,” but did she really understand what it was? Jesus saw the need to slow her down and provide the proper groundwork. She needed faith in Him as the Messiah. He needed to provide evidence that He was the Messiah.
Some people want to study Revelation before they are grounded in the rest of the Bible. Some want to discuss issues related to church organization, work, worship, etc., when they ought to focus on the “first principles” of the gospel. It is important that a person not choke on the “meat” of the Word (1 Cor. 3:1, 2).
V. DON'T CONDEMN UNNECESSARILY
Jesus could have focused on the fact that the woman was an adulteress. But as was stated elsewhere, Jesus came to save the world, not to condemn it (John 3:17). This is not to say that He will never judge the world, but rather that the primary purpose of His first coming was to offer salvation (John 12:46-48). God seeks reconciliation with sinners, and ours is a ministry of reconciliation too.
VI. STICK WITH THE MAIN ISSUE
In the case of the Samaritan woman, she turned the subject away from herself to where one should worship. Jesus answered her question while effectively turning the conversation back to the original subject: Who He is and what He offers (John 4:21-25).
In seeking to establish a common ground of agreement, avoid jumping ahead. As you move from common to uncommon ground, take one step at a time. Do not go on until agreement at each step has occurred. If your objective is simply to obtain consent for a home Bible study, avoid getting into a detailed discussion at that time (Prov. 15:28).
VII. CONFRONT DIRECTLY
Finally, Jesus confronted the woman with His identity (John 4:26). This came after He had laid the groundwork.
In trying to set up a home Bible study, take advantage of social contacts. Develop common interests. Be open to comments that indicate a spiritual interest while demonstrating your own faith through actions and words. Avoid fruitless arguments; instead, emphasize common beliefs. Praise a person’s good points and encourage him or her in the right direction.
Have one primary objective: to encourage the person to study the Bible even more. Ask if he or she would like to learn more about Jesus, the Bible, the church, and gospel plan of salvation (Mark 16:15, 16; 1 Cor. 1:5, 6).
The result of Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman was the conversion of many people in the city of Sychar. This demonstrates the potential of personal evangelism. Who knows whether the one person you teach may in turn bring many to Christ? That one person may be like a seed from which many seeds may come forth.
Realizing this potential, we can better appreciate the words of Jesus. (Read John 4:35).
General Conference Ministerial Association