It sounds so simple on the surface, but the art of invitation is an incredibly difficult skill to master, especially if it doesn’t come naturally.
As we’ve talked about discipleship, especially in discipling Millennials and Gen Z-ers, we’ve mentioned repeatedly the importance of approaching and initiating with an invitation. And repeatedly, we’ve been asked, “How?”
Well, let’s take a look at Jesus – who was the master of invitation! There’s a passage in John 4: Jesus’ Approach to the Woman at the Well that we’ve found helpful to see how Jesus invited someone into deeper relationship with him. Here are 7 principles from John 4 to help you build relationships through invitation using Jesus’ approach:
- Jesus is unconcerned by the reactions of others at whom He chooses to minister to.
In John 4:1, we learn that Jesus has just discovered that the Pharisees are comparing how many disciples Jesus is baptizing to how many John is. Instead of allowing His ministry to turn into a competition, or exalting in the public “proof” of His ministry’s “success”, He amazingly chooses to leave the region altogether and travel through Samaria. (Note: we know that because Jesus was omniscient, He chose to move His ministry to a despised minority instead of continuing to thrive with the population everyone wanted to claim.)
Application: Reflect on the ways you may/may not be comparing your personal ministry with people? Is there anything you need to change? Is there a new direction God is calling you to?
- Jesus puts Himself in the path of those He wants to reach.
In 4:6, we learn that Jesus was weary from His journey, yet in His omniscience, He knew that this was the best place for Him to reach the Woman. He didn’t self-protect to recharge: He very intentionally and quite literally set Himself in her path.
Application: Think through times you’re tempted to pull back instead of pressing in to relationships. List the ways you can be more intentional about putting yourself in the path of those God is calling you. Does anything need to change in order to “get in the path” of others?
- He initiates in a way that gives the people he meets with self-worth.
In 4:7, we see that He doesn’t wait for her to approach Him; He initiates by asking a question. Moreover, the question He asks — “Will you give me a drink?” (NIV) — provides her with a sense of self-worth on two levels. First, Jews of that day not only didn’t normally associate with Samaritans, they also would never have even used the same dish as a Samaritan because it would make them “unclean”. By asking for a drink, Jesus is saying He doesn’t see her as beneath him, dirty, unworthy or too undeserving of notice. Second, He gave her an opportunity to serve. According to modern psychology, you’re more likely to get people to like you by asking them for a favor over offering to help them because it makes them feel needed, wanted, or important. By asking her for a drink, He’s acknowledging her value and the fact that she not only has something to offer, but can choose whether or not to give it to Him.
Application: The Bible is clear that we each have a part to play in the Kingdom work of Christ (1 Corth 12: 12-27). List the attributes you appreciate about those you are discipling/influencing – is there an area you can be more vulnerable in your own life and invite them to use their giftings?
- He meets those He ministers to where they’re at.
In 4:13-14, we see Jesus answer the woman’s question not by going off into high homiletics, but by explaining the Gospel of Himself in terms she not only would quickly and easily understand, but be intrigued by.
Application: Think through the last few conversations you’ve had about spiritual things. Do you automatically jump to high-level theology, or are you able to keep the conversation at the level of the other person’s spiritual background? Brainstorm some illustrations that you could use to explain theological topics in simple, understandable ways.
- He makes His Gospel message (the Good News of Himself) the central message.
Again, when she brings up theological differences, we see in 4:13-14, 21, and 26 that He doesn’t go into philosophical truths, but brings the conversation back again and again to Himself and what He offers.
Application: Where are you easily distracted from the main Gospel message by topics that aren’t essential to the Gospel? Pray through ways you can lay those down and keep Jesus the main topic of conversation.
- He addresses sin.
We see in 4:16-18 that He doesn’t ignore the Woman’s sinful lifestyle and He doesn’t pretend it’s okay. But neither does He call down fire and brimstone on her: he addresses her sin without condemnation. He knows that she can never have true peace or joy apart from Himself, so in love He speaks the truth to her in a way that doesn’t turn her away from Him but draws her into even deeper conversation.
Application: Do you struggle to feel comfortable with addressing the sin of another? Pray through Matthew 18:15-17 and Galatians 6:1, especially asking the Father to give you wisdom, gentleness, and the ability to talk to the person, not about the person. Interested in how others have done this? Check out our Podcast 11, “Foundational Truths You Need to Know About Millennials and Gen Z”, to hear how one of our friends is forging ahead in discipling the next generation!
- He lets people walk away.
It’s easy to feel like we fail if someone doesn’t make that “final decision”; however, we don’t know how God will continue to work in hearts. Jesus knew His words would keep working: the Woman went home and told many others about Him! So, too, must we continue to initiate, but then let the person we are pursuing have the freedom to walk away: to think, to explore, to even say no to what we’re sharing. All we’re called to do is be faithful stewards with the conversation we’re given.
Application: Want to know more about how Jesus initiated conversation and invited people in? Check out next week’s blog and resource, created around the questions Jesus Himself asks!