Kevin Harney: “Like the Master, we need to meet people where they are and not impose our agendas on them.”
Jesus was a leader in every way. With humble acts of service, profound insight and piercing love, the Savior met people where they were and led them to the glory of heaven. If we want to do effective outreach, we must let the Master mentor us. If we want to see lasting kingdom fruit, we must walk in the dust of the Rabbi and listen, watch and learn. This is how Jesus taught the first disciples and it is how he still instructs his people today.
In chapters 3 and 4 of the gospel of John, we find a perfect setting to learn from Jesus, the ultimate leader. I encourage you to read these two chapters closely. In this article I will not give specific verse references, but we will look at the whole narrative together. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you see, hear and experience the evangelistic leadership of the Master in these two accounts.
You will find Jesus encountering two radically different people. First, in John chapter 3, a wealthy, powerful, educated, influential, Jewish leader named Nicodemus. On the heels of this encounter, in John chapter 4, we see Jesus in an intimate theological conversation with an outcast, powerless, thirsty, Samaritan woman. In both accounts, if we pay close attention, we can be mentored by the Master and grow in our ability to reach out with the gospel and teach others to do the same.
Lesson 1: Start where people are.
Nicodemus came seeking Jesus under the cloak of night. Jesus encountered the woman at the well in the blistering heat of the day. We need to be ready to share the love and message of Jesus when people are ready and when the Holy Spirit opens the door. Day or night, at all times, we should meet people where they are and be ready to walk with them toward Jesus.
Both Nicodemus and the woman at the well were spiritually open and curious. Nicodemus was a religious leader and hungry for the truth. The woman was a Samaritan and was thinking about the religious questions of her day. Jesus was perfectly comfortable starting with what was on their mind and heart, not his own agenda. Like the Master, we need to meet people where they are and not impose our agendas on them.
Lesson 2: Love.
It is impossible to read John 3 and 4 and not sense the authentic love Jesus has for these two people. The Savior longed for them to have their spiritual eyes opened. He wanted Nicodemus to be born again and move from empty religion to a vital relationship with God. He desired the woman to drink living water that would quench her soul for the rest of her life and for eternity. He wanted her to stop throwing the bucket of her heart down relational well after well. Jesus wanted her satisfied with his heavenly love. All of our outreach must be driven by a love for God and for the people who need to know his amazing grace. Outreach is not a chore or a duty. It is an outpouring of the undeserved love we received freely at the cross of Jesus.
Lesson 3: Listen.
In both accounts, Jesus listened to the words and hearts of the people he encountered. Nicodemus and the woman had questions and Jesus not only listened, but he heard them. As we help people move toward God, we need to listen, invite questions and really hear what people are wondering about. Defensiveness is never helpful. Focused listening is essential.
Lesson 4: Talk life.
Jesus talked with each of them about what was on their minds. Nicodemus was interested in who Jesus was. The woman was interested in water. So, this is where the conversations began. Christians who reach out naturally, like Jesus, will take time to talk about whatever is on the minds and hearts of the people in their life.
Lesson 5: Talk theology.
The conversation moved to deeper places as Jesus dug into the rich theological questions that were just under the surface. Neither Nicodemus nor the woman knew fully the questions that were percolating in their hearts. Jesus naturally went deeper.
One shocking fact is that no Rabbi in Jesus’ day would have engaged in a robust theological discussion with a woman, and certainly not in a public setting. But Jesus pressed through cultural norms for the sake of changing lives with the gospel. We need to be ready to talk with people about deep things of faith. We must be comfortable engaging in the theological implications of what people say, think and believe.