This session is all about relationship and conversation. The gospel writers often depict Jesus in conversation with others. By examining the primacy of relationships for evangelism and the nature of Jesus’ conversations, this session aims to equip us to converse like Jesus did.
This session is based around Chapter 4 of Hannah Steele’s book Living His Story. A featured passage is below, but you are encouraged to read the whole chapter as the questions often reference the book.
When you read Jesus’ encounters with people in the Gospels you get the impression that each person is held in his gaze. When the rich young ruler claims to have kept all the commandments, we are told that ‘Jesus, looking at him, loved him’ (Mark 10.21). In the midst of the bustling crowd, Jesus seeks out the woman who touched his cloak. In that moment, the needs of the wider crowd come second to Jesus’ desire that this woman knows that she has been seen and that she is loved. There is in Jesus a relentless pursuit of the one over and above the crowd, and there is a personalized response given to each individual over and above a set formula or singular message.
Sometimes Jesus is the one who initiates the conversation. In the conversation with the Samaritan woman, for example, Jesus begins the conversation by asking her to give him a drink of water (John 4.7). In so doing, Jesus subverts the cultural norms of the day, but he does it in order to initiate conversation with her. Similarly with Zacchaeus, Jesus initiates the conversation. He senses Zacchaeus’ interest (the fact he had climbed up a tree to get a better view was a bit of a giveaway), but Jesus is the one who calls him out of his hiding place and into hospitality (Luke 19.5).
At other times we see Jesus responding to the initiative of others. Jesus responds to the secretive but courageous action of the bleeding woman who reaches out to touch his cloak. Mark tells us that as she touched his cloak she was instantly healed. However, Jesus is not content to leave it at that, seeking her out in conversation so that she knows she is precious and loved (Mark 5.34). Jesus responds to the question of the rich young ruler (Matthew 19.16), the cries of the demon-possessed man (Mark 5.7) and the request by Jairus, the synagogue leader, to heal his daughter (Mark 5.24).
On other occasions, Jesus responds to the initiative of a third party. He strikes up conversation with Nathaniel, but only after Philip has introduced them (John 1.47). Jesus is able to operate in a different mode in each of these conversations, sometimes responsive and at other times taking the lead.
While Jesus deals differently with each of the people before him in such a way that it would be impossible to construct ‘Jesus’ seven-stage approach to evangelism’, he does always seem to know what the next step each individual needs to make. In some instances, this next step is dramatic; for the rich young ruler the next step was to sell everything he had and give the money to the poor. But for the unnamed woman in the crowd, it was the knowledge of peace and reassurance. I have found it helpful to think in terms of ‘steps’ in my own encounters with people. It is rare to meet someone who is ready on the basis of one conversation with you to surrender their lives to Christ there and then. It can happen, but such instantly transformative encounters are few and far between. Thinking in terms of ‘next steps’ can be helpful and relieve the pressure. What is the one thing I can helpfully say to this person now that might help them to think Christianity is worth further exploration? What one comment might I make about Jesus that might make them intrigued to explore more about him? Viewing conversations in those terms can free us from either the paralysis of thinking we have to say everything and therefore saying nothing, or from saying too much and losing the person along the way. I like to imagine what it might take for someone to leave a conversation with me thinking, ‘Huh, I’ve never thought that before.’