Author: Ron Graham
In our introductory lesson, we began to look at the first step in the outreach process, the opening. In this lesson we look more deeply into that step. Most of our lesson is taken up in studying the example Jesus sets us in his dealings with the woman at the well (John 4). Let's look at some features of his approach to her.
Jesus shows us how to create an opening with someone. His conversation with the woman at the well is an example (John 4:1-42).
Jesus did not "ambush" the woman at the well. He did not contrive somehow to meet her. Believe me, if you approach somebody under a pretext, they will know it. They will see through your pretense.
Jesus was obviously and genuinely tired and thirsty, and had no means of drawing water. His asking for a drink was a most natural thing, not a gimmick for starting a conversation.
There is a myth among bachelors, that if one only knows the right "line" one can have the pretty girl of one's choice. This of course if rubbish. Most girls will not be impressed by a fellow who "chats up the chicks" with contrived and clever lines. However a girl might respond to a tactful, genuine, and sincere expression of interest in her.
In the same way, we should not learn "lines" but just be ourselves when we speak of Jesus, genuinely interested in people's souls. What I have just said, however, does not preclude technique.
While Jesus did not contrive anything, he did maximise the natural opportunity. He stirred the woman's curiosity.
That is a powerful technique. Curiosity is one of the most powerful forces in human nature. Jesus used it to get more out of the occasion than just a drink of water.
The woman was Samaritan. Normally Jews had no dealings with Samaritans (verse 9). If Jesus had ignored her, the woman wouldn't have been the least bit surprised.
Or if Jesus had acted as though he were only speaking to her out of desperate need for water, she probably would have understood. But he approached her in a manner that fit neither the cultural norm nor the need of the moment. She was made to become curious.
We, too, can do natural things in a "curious" manner. For example, when someone says, "Nice day!" we can say, "Yeah!" But what does that do in the cause of creating an opening for spiritual dialogue? Not much. It creates no curiosity, it leads nowhere.
But what if we say, "Yes, a real blessing don't you think?" For a Christian, that is a perfectly natural thing to say, is it not? Yet it does not quite fit the cultural norm, nor the need of the moment. It's got that something extra that could just possibly create an opening for outreach. It stirs curiosity and invites a response.
Of course, the moment would have to be appropriate. If the person were rushing past to catch a bus, you would hardly shout after them, asking at the top of your voice whether they thought the nice day to be an example of divine providence! "Yeah!" together with your great big Christian smile, might be the best you can do in that case. If the person had a loaded shopping trolley and three tired kids, it might be more appropriate if you said, "Can I give you a hand to get to your car with this lot?"
The woman at the well wasn't in a rush. People going to the well would be on the lookout for a chat. Although the woman would not have expected to be having a conversation with a Jewish man, she would have been ready to pass the time of day with somebody. It was an appropriate time to open up a conversation.
What we have to learn, if we would be good outreachers, is to be ready with the right word at the right time. We quoted Colossians 4:5 earlier, about redeeming the time. The next verse says, "Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned as it were with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one" (Colossians 4:6 Ephesians4:29).
The woman at the well started to argue with Jesus, but he avoided argument, not even answering her questions. There is a place for argument, but not at this early stage in contact with a soul. This is the moment for "opening" not "proving." Jesus took the woman's skepticism as an indication of interest, and tactfully invited her to drink of his living water.
Jesus did not spoil the opportunity in arguments to no profit, but used the opportunity as an opening to give the gospel invitation to hear his words of truth and be saved by them. Jesus did not allow himself to be led too far ahead, but encouraged her first to receive his invitation.
That is a most important thing. Don't have a debate with somebody until they have expressed genuine interest in your invitation to share the word.
The Lord would have made himself the woman's enemy, if he had taken up her argument. Instead, he made her his friend, by waiting until she had taken up his invitation. Using this technique, he was able then to speak with her about the most sensitive matters without the slightest offence.
Even the newest Christian can assist outreach by creating openings and issuing invitations. We just use what passes between us and the people with whom we come into contact from day to day. The theory is rather simple. The practice can start immediately.
8. What have we learned about the opening up of opportunities and of people’s hearts? As you try to create openings for outreach, what should be the main characteristics of your approach? There are four we have learned. Select them from these: (A) Natural not contrived? (B) Argumentative? (C) Stirring a little curiosity? (D) Appropriate for the situation? (E) Trying not to be different? (F) Avoiding premature argument? (G) Keeping your voice down? (H) Issuing an invitation immediately?
Before any attempt is made to issue an invitation, one must have created an opening. Otherwise one's invitation will be rejected, and may even be regarded as offensive. There are two extremes to avoid.
One extreme is to be argumentative, to be the one in the crowd who is up on the soapbox. The other extreme is to blend right in with the crowd, and not dare to be different.
The right approach is in the middle of those extremes —avoiding premature argument, yet stirring a little curiosity. It is important also to be genuine and sensitive in your approach. Make sure it is not contrived or a pretext, but natural and appropriate for the situation of the moment.
If you keep in mind what you are trying to find an opening for, that will help you to approach people in the right way. Remind yourself that you are trying to create or seize upon an opening to invite. You are at the beginning of a process, and you are wanting to issue an invitation that will be accepted.