Approach the Unconverted
“See how I blow!” the wind boasted. “Tree branches tumble to the ground, clouds race across the sky, and great ships sail across the ocean. As for you, sun, you do nothing but shine. You can’t make things happen.”
“Well,” replied the sun, “let’s put our forces to a test. See that traveler walking along the road? Whoever can make him take off his overcoat will be the winner.”
“Fair enough!” responded the wind confidently. “I’ll just blow that man’s coat off!” The wind started to blow on the man who promptly buttoned up his overcoat. The harder the wind blew, the tighter the man held on to his coat. Finally, the wind gave up.
“Now it’s my turn,” said the sun shining brightly. Soon the traveler unbuttoned his coat. As the sun continued to send down warm, friendly rays, the man took off his coat and carried it.
Though just a fable, the little story carries a truth. Where force fails, the warmth of love and friendliness wins. Showing the love of Christ becomes a guiding principle in soul-winning.
A man who had been hostile to the gospel message was converted to Christ. Joyful in his newfound faith, he obtained a copy of the Bible and began to read it. Each time he came to a Scripture that spoke to his heart he would rush out into the road near his home and stop anyone walking by. After reading the verse his finger pointed to, he would then ask the passerby, “Have you ever heard about this?” Though his zeal is to be commended, his approach might not always be the most effective.
In this lesson, you will study several ways of approaching the unconverted. Seek the Lord for guidance and use the approaches you find most helpful.
MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE PROSPECTIVE CONVERT
Objective 1. Evaluate reasons for making friends with nonbelievers.
Though there are no rigid rules about how to approach people with the Good News, making friends with the unconverted does seem to be basic. The Lord Jesus did this. He was called “a friend of tax collectors and other outcasts” (Luke 7:34). He deliberately associated with those whom the religious leaders of His day despised. They grumbled, “This man welcomes outcasts and even eats with them!” (Luke 15:2). Jesus made a point of contacting people with spiritual needs. He willingly sat down to eat and fellowship with them. We must follow His example and make friends with the unsaved whenever possible.
The more contact a person has with nonbelievers, the more potential there is for people to be converted. This is because the message of the gospel and the love of God flow through contacts or associations made between the saved and the unsaved. Where contacts are few, fewer people are converted.
Sometimes the new believer seems to outdo the long-standing Christian in bringing people to the Lord. The freshness of his enthusiasm is indeed a factor. But another factor is that he still has a circle of friends and relatives who are unconverted, while the Christian’s friends, relatives, and associates over the years are mostly other believers.
The longtime believer, therefore, should not only maintain freshness in his enthusiasm for the Lord, but he should also cultivate friendships among the unconverted to bring them to the Lord.
One way is to invite unsaved people to your home for a meal or refreshments. Such invitations often open the way to friendships that can result in winning them for Christ. Another way is to seek out someone in need and do something helpful. We will study more about this later in the lesson.
USE GOOD COMMON SENSE
Objective 2. List at least three common-sense guidelines for an effective approach to soul winning.
Approaching a prospective convert requires good common sense. The following suggestions will help you to be more effective in soul-winning work. Paul’s guiding principle is to “bring credit to the teaching about God our Savior” in all that you do (Titus 2:10).
Consider Your Appearance
What you are on the inside is far more important than how you look on the outside. But your outward appearance is the first thing that people see. It can make the difference as to whether people will want to listen to you or not. We aren’t talking about the physical features you were born with, nor whether you have expensive clothes. These are of minor importance. There are, however, some basic rules worth your attention.
Clothing should be modest and proper, as you want attention to be drawn to Christ rather than to yourself. You can adorn the gospel by looking your best, wearing something fresh and clean. Personal cleanliness is also a factor. Body odor not noticeable to yourself can be offensive to others. Bad breath is the biggest culprit, so keep a supply of breath fresheners with you.
Consider Your Manner
“Be wise in the way you act toward those who are not believers, making good use of every opportunity you have” (Colossians 4:5). Here are some guidelines as to how to act wisely:
Be natural. You can learn to talk naturally about spiritual matters and build them into your everyday conversation. Evangelizing should become as natural to you as breathing. When your heart is full of joy and love for Christ you will say like Peter and John, “We cannot stop speaking of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). Use everyday language. Don’t try to impress people. Let them know you are just a “sinner saved by grace.”
Be natural in your tone of voice. If you care about people, they will sense your concern. If you are joyful in your Christian experience, they will be aware of that too. Jesus said, “A good person brings good out of the treasure of good things in his heart . . . For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Luke 6:45).
Be courteous. It’s a basic virtue all over the world! Your conversation with the unbeliever, including your approach, should be courteous and considerate, even if he is discourteous to you. Never argue or raise your voice—this accomplishes nothing. Instead, “Your speech should always be pleasant and interesting” (Colossians 4:6). Another version gives it, “Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt” (KJV). Salt flavors and purifies. “A gentle answer quiets anger” (Proverbs 15:1). Our Lord spoke with gracious words and this attracted the common people who heard him gladly (Mark 12:37, KJV).
Be tactful! Learn and observe local customs of propriety, avoiding situations that may appear questionable. Wherever possible, women should deal with women and men with men. Otherwise have a third party present. “Do not let what you regard as good get a bad name” (Romans 14:16). Don’t force yourself on people. Where they do receive you, be careful about overstaying your welcome or imposing on their time. Be considerate of their schedule.
SHOW A WARM ATTITUDE
Objective 3. Recognize ways to show or reflect a warm attitude.
One’s attitude toward people also reflects what is in the heart. Let Christ’s love in your heart radiate a warm attitude toward your unsaved relatives, friends, and associates.
Listen to the Prospective Convert
Sometimes we are in too much of a hurry when we start to evangelize; we neglect to stop and listen to a person. By taking time to listen to a person who opens up his heart and talks with you, you show him that you care, and this helps you gain his confidence. It allows you to learn many things about him which will guide you in how to talk to him.
Be Sympathetic to His Problems
By listening attentively to a person you will soon learn about his particular problems and difficulties. Sympathize with him. Show genuine concern and love. By allowing him to share his problems and difficulties with you, you will then be better able to share Jesus with him as the Savior and Helper. Paul wrote that we should “help those who have all kinds of troubles” (2 Corinthians 1:4).
Let the Fruit of the Spirit Attract!
A fruit stand of beautifully ripe peaches, pears, oranges, apples, and other fruits tastefully arranged makes a person long to have some! So it is with the fruit of the Spirit in a person’s life. Look up Galatians 5:22-23. Let the precious Holy Spirit produce fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control in your life and this will draw people, making it easier to win them for Christ.
USE THE RIGHT APPROACH
Objective 4. Recognize various ways to approach people with the gospel.
From the various accounts of soul-winning recorded in the New Testament, we can glean helpful points on approaching the unconverted. A feature we soon notice is the variety of approaches. Types of approaches vary because people vary. Each person is unique and different from others. We will now consider some of the common ways of approaching the unsaved.
The Direct Approach
Jesus used the direct approach when Nicodemus came to see Him. As Nicodemus was a religious leader, Jesus soon came to the point of conversion by rebirth, saying that everyone must be born again (John 3:3, 5). Review what you studied in lesson 4.
Do you remember how Jesus used what we called the “shock approach”? Jesus startled the older man by emphasizing that he needed to start all over again, to be born from above, of the Holy Spirit. Though Nicodemus was a man with prestige, learning, and perhaps wealth as well, life at its best was not good enough. He needed to be saved. This direct approach led to his conversion.
A well-known soul winner, John Vassar, often used the direct approach. Courteously, he would ask a stranger a question such as: Is your soul right with God? Are you saved? Are you ready to meet the Lord? Do you know that your sins are forgiven? Where will you be in eternity? Because of the kind of man that John Vassar himself was, and because of his manner of asking, no one was known to rebuff him.
The Indirect Approach
Sometimes the direct approach is not the best and you can reach someone more effectively with an indirect approach. You wait for an opening in your conversation to turn it smoothly to spiritual topics. Jesus used the indirect method in His dealings with Zacchaeus. Review what you studied in lesson 6 about this account.
The Question Approach
With this approach, a prospective convert is asked a question. Led by the Holy Spirit to the Ethiopian official just at the right time, Philip’s opening words were: “Do you understand what you are reading?” (Acts 8:30). Philip had heard the official reading from his scroll and he used the question approach. Review what you learned about Philip and his methods of soul winning in lesson 5.
There are two kinds of questions. Direct questions bring you and your prospect straight to the subject of salvation. Indirect questions lead a person gradually, or in a roundabout way, to the subject. Some examples of indirect questions are: Have you given much thought to spiritual things? Are you interested in spiritual matters? Have you thought about becoming a Christian? What do you believe about Jesus Christ?
Sometimes you will find that a person will respond in a way that seems to shut off further discussion or lead it astray. Responses such as I’m an atheist, I don’t believe the Bible is the Word of God, I think all religions are just as good, How do you know there’s a God? can lead a soul-winner far from the simple explanation of the gospel. But remember that you don’t have to defend the Word, but only use it and allow the Holy Spirit to do the convincing. You don’t have to answer these kinds of questions to give a witness. Often you can steer the conversation back to the basics through another question such as Yes, but would you be interested in hearing what Christians believe? or Has anyone ever explained to you just what Christians believe about that? or Well, perhaps I could tell you what happened to me when I became a believer?
The important thing is for you to try to get a hearing for the basic message of the gospel. The steps in explaining the way of salvation will be given in the next lesson.
The “Ask a Favor” Approach
As He journeyed with His disciples northward to Galilee, Jesus deliberately chose to route through Samaria.
In John 4:5-30 we read about His interview with a Samaritan woman in the town of Sychar. Tired from the long walk over mountainous country, He stopped to rest at Jacob’s well while the disciples went into a nearby town to buy food.
Because of the heat at midday, few came at that time to draw water. But in God’s timing, one Samaritan woman came. Jesus surprised her by asking her a favor. After the long walk, He was thirsty. He said to her, “Give me a drink of water.”
His request for water from the woman was very unusual. At that time the Jews and the Samaritans were not on friendly terms. The Jews would not even use the same cups and bowls that the Samaritans used; they looked down on the Samaritans because they were mixed people. Long ago their ancestors were Jews who had married Assyrians, an enemy people (2 Kings 17:24-41). Therefore the woman answered the Lord, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan—so how can you ask me for a drink?”
But the Master overcame racial and religious barriers by answering, “If you only knew what God gives and who it is that is asking you for a drink, you would ask him, and he would give you life-giving water.”
By arousing her curiosity, Jesus led her from a common topic, water, into the spiritual subject of life-giving water. At first, the woman didn’t understand what He meant. “Sir,” she said respectfully, “you don’t have a bucket, and the well is deep. Where would you get that life-giving water?”
The woman asked the Lord a question, but without waiting for His answer, she went on to talk about their common ancestor, Jacob. “You don’t claim to be greater than Jacob, do you?”
Jesus answered her earlier question and kept to his subject of life-giving water. What marvelous words came from his lips!
Whoever drinks this water will get thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring which will provide him with life-giving water and give him eternal life (John 4:13-14).
The Samaritan woman could only give natural well water to the Savior to temporarily quench His thirst. Jesus, instead, would give the life-giving water that would fully satisfy her forever. In addition, the Lord’s gift to her would be a spring, the source of life-giving water within her.
“Sir,” the woman cried out with earnest desire, “give me that water! Then I will never be thirsty again, nor will I have to come so far to draw water.” She was still confused in her thinking about natural water and this life-giving water that Jesus was offering to her. Whatever it was, she wanted it!
Then the Lord aroused within her hunger for righteousness by saying, “Go and call your husband, and come back.”
“I don’t have a husband,” the woman confessed.
“You are right when you say you don’t have a husband,” Jesus replied. “You have been married to five men, and the man you live with now is not your husband. You have told the truth.”
Jesus knew her wretched life. She probably never had a happy marriage—husbands came and went. She had lost her virtue. Yet, in her heart, there was a longing for something better. But she still sought to avoid the painful topic of her misery and sin by discussing a religious subject.
“I see that you are a prophet, sir,” she said. “My Samaritan ancestors worshipped God on this mountain, but you Jews say that Jerusalem is the place where we should worship God” (John 4:20). It almost sounded as if she were provoking an argument. The Lord settled this by teaching her that true worship of God is a spiritual matter. The time and place don’t matter all that much. “God is Spirit, and only by the power of his Spirit can people worship him as he is” (John 4:24).
Again, the woman turned the conversation in another direction. “I know that the Messiah will come, and when he comes, he will tell us everything.”
Jesus surprised her by answering, “I am he, I who am talking with you” (John 4:25-26).
Startled by His answer and seeing the disciples returning, the woman left her water jar and hurried back to town. There she announced to the people openly, “Come and see the man who told me everything I have ever done. Could he be the Messiah?”
Knowing the woman and interested in what she said, the people of the town went out to see Jesus. As they heard His message for themselves, many believed in Him. They welcomed Him to their town and begged Him to stay several days. They recognized and acknowledged Him as “the Savior of the world” (John 4:39-42).
We have dealt at length with this case study of soul winning because it contains many helpful points on approaching the unconverted. Jesus recognized the woman of Samaria as a person. A rabbi of that day would sometimes not even speak to a woman, much less a Samaritan woman! Jesus didn’t let social and cultural barriers stand in the way. We, too, must see value in people and find ways to reach them.
Jesus led her from the known to the unknown; from an ancestor’s well to a spiritual spring of life-giving water; from limited worship of God to worship of God the Father in the power of the Spirit; from her knowledge of Him as a prophet to further knowledge of Him as the Messiah and as the Savior of the world.
Through asking a favor Jesus not only won a convert but also a welcome into a Samaritan town where many believed in Him. The right approach can result in many accepting Jesus as Lord.
The Helping Hand Approach
Some people have seized opportunities to give others a helping hand. This has created openings for spiritual contact. Acts of practical kindness do open doors for evangelizing.
A lay Christian leader in the great city of London visited a very distressed family. The father was sick; four children played with broken pieces of furniture; the mother had lost heart in keeping up the place and it was dirty and rundown.
The worker tried his best to cheer up the family, but he knew in his heart that mere words were not enough. Then he suggested to the mother: “If I bring you some wallpaper, will you put it on the walls to brighten the rooms?”
“Oh, yes!” she said, “I’ll gladly do that.”
After he had delivered the wallpaper, the worker visited the family again. What a happy surprise awaited him! Fresh wallpaper adorned the cleaned and tidied rooms. The sick father had even mended the furniture. How thankful they were to this Christian who had helped them. It was easy then for him to lead them to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
The Interest Approach
Jesus created interest in the mind of the Samaritan woman when He started to talk about life-giving water. Talking about subjects of mutual interest paves the way for discussing spiritual issues.
We read in Matthew 4:18-20 that one day as Jesus was walking along the shore of Lake Galilee He saw two brothers who were fishermen: Simon Peter and Andrew. Both were catching fish in the lake with a net. Jesus called out to them, “Come with me, and I will teach you to catch men.” He talked their language—the language of fishing which was of keen interest to them.
“At once they left their nets and went with him.” People today are still leaving their nets, figuratively speaking, because He talks to them in words they can understand and relate to.
Sometimes we can honestly commend a person for some trait of character or act. This can be an effective approach to people. We read that when Peter started to follow Christ, “Jesus looked at him and said, ‘Your name is Simon son of John, but you will be called Cephas.’ (This is the same as Peter and means ‘a rock’)” (John 1:42). Peter in turn responded. The Lord had won his heart!
At the end of Lesson 2, you wrote the names of people whom you want to win for Christ. You have been praying for the key to reaching them for Him. We trust that over the weeks you have also been looking for opportunities to present the gospel appropriately.
If opportunities have not yet arisen, perhaps you need to take more time to get better acquainted with those individuals or to gain their confidence. This, too, can be a definite matter of prayer and concern as you continue to be alert to their needs.