Author: Ron Graham
—The second step in outreach
We have been thinking about creating and watching out for openings. Now let's turn our attention to the second step in the outreach process, the invitation that we might hold out to someone with whom we have found an opening.
Having found what seems to be some genuine interest, we invite the person to share God's word with us just as Jesus invited the woman at the well to drink his living water.
1 Not Too Direct
Notice the form of Jesus's invitation in John 4:10, and again in verses 13-14.
When I was a salesman, I used to make appointments by saying something like this: "Would Tuesday at 8pm be alright, or would Wednesday at 7pm be better? Which night would you like me to come —that's Tuesday or Wednesday?"
Well this was a good approach for selling insurance, but it is far too direct for soul winning. Be cautious about applying selling techniques to soul winning. They are often inappropriate.
It would be more appropriate to say something like this: "We often study such matters as you've just mentioned, when we gather in small groups in private homes. Interested people are allowed and encouraged to attend these meetings."
This is not an invitation directly. It cannot be answered with a yes or no. Suppose you said, "Would you like to come?" That could be answered with a yes or no. That wouldn't be a sin, of course. But it is better to be less direct.
Leaving it as I first stated it above, the person has some responsibility placed on him or herself. It requires the person almost to invite himself. When that happens, you can quickly encourage, welcome, and affirm. The person is left feeling that he or she has made a decision, rather than being trapped into something.
2 Not Left Indefinite
We must not confuse indirectness (which is good) with indefiniteness (which is undesirable).
An invitation such as, "Maybe sometime you'd like to join us?" is only inviting people to respond like Felix did: "When I have a convenient season, I will call for you" (Acts 24:25). We will have enough procrastinators like Felix, without encouraging them!
My pitch for selling appointments, which I mentioned a while ago, is inappropriate for soul winning in its directness, not in its definiteness.
Once somebody tells you they would like to join you in a Bible study, tie them down to a definite time. (Now perhaps you can find a legitimate use for my selling technique).
If you get a put-off in the form of "maybe one day", just write it down as a polite way of saying "no." It usually is. You treat your invitation as accepted when you have arranged a definite place and time and the person is happy about that arrangement.
(Of course, it might be right then and there that you immediately go on to study together; the principle does not change, of being definite about time and place, even if that means "here and now").
3 Not a Detailed Contract
We must not confuse being definite with being tied down to every detail.
Many people make the mistake of taking a particular subject or question, and promising that this will be the topic of study. This is OK provided the question or topic is right on target as the real issue of concern to the person.
Often, however, the question brought up is just a smokescreen, and the wise teacher will want to give it a miss and get on to the real issue that the person needs to face.
The woman at the well tried to side-track Jesus into an argument she really didn't care about. It was an argument about which mountain was the right mountain to worship on. The real issue was who is the Messiah. That was the issue Jesus got her around to (John 4:15-26).
In John 3:1-3, Nicodemus tried to start a discussion on whether the signs Jesus did indicated that he was from God. Jesus gave that a miss, and started teaching Nicodemus about being born again — his real concern and need (John 3:1-21).
To promise a discussion about something which a person seems to be concerned, interested, or in error, may only hamper the soul-winning process.
Be definite about the time and place, but try not to commit yourself, or the one who is going to teach, to a particular subject. Try not to make the invitation any narrower than an invitation to share God’s word.
4 Don’t Lose Too Much Sleep
The guidelines I have given you in this lesson are simply that. They are guidelines. If you break one of them, it may not be the end of the world. Don't lose sleep over it.
You are better off having a go at personal outreach, and making a few mistakes, than you are being afraid to do anything in case you break some rule.
The Lord's providence and the genuine heart are very tolerant of mistakes, and you are not going to send a soul to hell just because you muffed an outreach opportunity!
On the other hand, don't sleep on the job. The tolerance for mistakes is no excuse for you being lazy and not trying to lift your standard.
If you will take notice of the things I have pointed out, and make a conscious effort to apply them, you will become a smart soul winner wide awake to the opportunities that will surely come your way from day to day.
5 Questions for review
1. Discuss in class: Can you boil down the things we have been studying about beginning the outreach process? What are the two steps, and the main points to consider when taking those steps?
2. What are the three characteristics of the Lord's method of giving invitations, as demonstrated by his dealings with the woman at the well?
3. What two extremes should be avoided, regarding being on the alert for outreach opportunities?
4. Explain, in class discussion, how an invitation to Bible study should be indirect yet not indefinite. Also explain how it should be definite but not detailed. (There's a curly one for you!)
The following story should be discussed, not for its literary quality (it's not up to Mills & Boon standard), but for how it might illustrate a part of the outreach process.
Jennifer and Norman
Jennifer was feeling that something in her life was missing. She'd drifted away from God since her grandmother died. The dear old lady had taken her to Bible school and church every Sunday.
When Norman, a neighbor, strolled by, Jennifer was at the front gate.
"Oh! Hello um... Jennifer, isn't it?" ventured Norman, pausing in his stride and looking back with a smile. "I'm Norman. Excuse my whistling. Not very tuneful, but it comes from the heart," he laughed.
Jennifer giggled. "Well at least you seem to be happy, that's the main thing."
"Well," Norman grinned, "I give the Lord credit for that." At that remark, Jennifer's eyes became downcast. Norman waited, sensing that his remark had hit a nerve. Then he probed gently, "I can see you respect religious feelings. Tonight there's a prayer meeting at my home. Perhaps you know of someone who needs our prayers?"
Jennifer took a moment to answer. She looked Norman in the eye again and said, "You could pray for me. I feel the need of God in my life. But it's not easy..."
Norman smiled reassuringly. "Of course you'll be mentioned in prayer. By the way, our home meetings are open to anyone interested..."
Jennifer felt like taking the plunge. "Maybe I might come tonight?"
Norman beamed, "Fair enough! We have a short Bible study after the prayers. Meeting starts at eight. My eldest son will call by at ten to eight. He won't mind walking you home afterwards."
Jennifer said, "Thanks."
Norman smiled and made to walk off, but he paused and looked back at her. "You could look up Acts 20:32 in your Bible when you go inside. It will explain what is happening to you. See you tonight, Jennifer."
Sitting by the bookcase, Jennifer found the place in the Bible that Norman had mentioned. There was a lump in her throat after reading it, but she felt that something very good might be about to happen in her life."