You’ve heard of WWJD — What Would Jesus Do? Now I present to you (actually, I pinch from Bill Hybels and repackage for you) … HWJE — How Would Jesus Evangelise?
Of course, the translation from Jesus to us isn’t straightforward.
He proclaimed the kingdom of God ‘at hand’, we proclaim him crucified and risen — the expectation-shattering way in which the kingdom has been inaugurated. His achievement is unrepeatable. There’s no foundation apart from that which has been laid.
And yet we are to build on that foundation. We are to imitate him (even if that’s not all we’re to do). His life and ministry is to provide the pattern and template for our lives…
And so, with this in mind — and because I’m heading off for a week of College Mission at St Ann’s Anglican Church in Merrylands starting Sunday — here are five ways (adapted from chapter 8 of Hybels’ book, Just Walk Across the Room) I hope to imitate the evangelistic approach of Jesus, taking John 4 as an example:
1. Don’t be afraid of people who are different.
The deck was stacked against a Jewish man approaching a Samaritan woman — and one who was ‘breaking commandments left, right and centre’ (as Mark Driscoll would say) as it turns out. But Jesus wasn’t afraid to cross the chasm between himself and the woman.
But why bother making this an explicit aim at mission? Isn’t the whole point bridging this kind of gap?
Yes. But mission is busy. There are lots of things to do. Programmes to make sure are running smoothly. Team dynamics to help see to. Team members to get beside and encourage. All of which means that I find it all too easy to put a nice construction on my sinfulness and wimp out on actually approaching people — lost people who need to know the Good Shepherd. What a waste!
2. Ask thought-provoking questions.
Just as he does with the Samaritan woman, Jesus habitually opened with a question. The answer often revealed something about the person’s spiritual openness, possibly leading to something deeper.
Sometimes I have an itchy gospel-trigger finger. I barge through any apparently open doors in conversation all guns blazing. But asking questions can help stop me simply dumping information on them or scoring a few debating points.
Alternatively, if I’m tempted to wimp out and keep things light and shallow — where it’s comfortable, after all — a good question can open up a natural pathway to something deeper (without violating the usual ‘laws’ of relationship in which it’s unnatural — and kind of creepy — to expect to discuss people’s deepest values when you hardly even know their names).
3. Treat people as people not projects.
On the one hand, Jesus didn’t muck around with the Samaritan woman. He was straight to the point. Pulling no punches. Opening up her heart and exposing her most shameful secrets. Yet, on the other hand, he was patient and persistent. And he looked at her as a real person with real needs and aspirations of her own. So he starts a discussion with her about water and getting hold of lasting refreshment instead of launching straight into rebuking her for her sinful lifestyle.
As far as I’m concerned at mission I guess this will mean taking time to be with people. To listen to them. To be available for them. To care about them and understand what makes them tick, rather than just chugging through the agenda set by the programme.
4. Watch out for red herrings.
When things start hotting up, the woman throws out the line about Jews worshipping on one mountain and Samaritans on another. And, while Jesus doesn’t dismiss it outright, his few tantalising words on the matter brings things right back to the point at issue — his own identity and authority.
With all this listening and trying to understand people as people, I could potentially get side-tracked. Stuck in insignificant side-issues instead of helping people go head to head with the real issue: Will they keep living a life that orbits around money, pleasure, family, sex, success, holidays, property … or will they let Jesus be where he should be — right at the centre of their personal solar systems?
5. Sell the benefits.
Jesus didn’t just make demands of this woman. He offered her possibly the first non-exploitative relationship with a man that she’d ever had. He looked her in the eye (rather than everywhere else) and offered her living water to quench her deepest thirst, revealing himself as not just her personal saviour but the Messiah, God’s anointed king over the whole earth.
This is something I’m only just beginning to learn how to do (selling the benefits, not the revealing myself to be the Messiah part). But ultimately it’s not a matter of technique. It’s about faith. For me to be as bold in sharing the tremendous benefits of being reconciled to God in Christ, I need to be sold myself. I need to feel it. To believe it. ‘I believe, help my unbelief!’