(Lisa Robinson)

Every Sunday morning I have the privilege of serving a small group of very enthusiastic believers who are relatively new to the faith.  We’ve been plodding through the book of John and this morning, our discussion was John 4:1-45.  The number of sermons or other messages on Jesus’ confrontation with the woman at the well is too many too count.  But one thing I’ve come to discover, and especially in preparation for the lesson, is her proclamation of the Messiah was not so much prompted by the uncovering of her lifestyle but because of transformed thinking of who the Messiah was.

I think the common emphasis on her lifestyle is misplaced because when Jesus confronts her about it, she immediately begins to address the differences between Jews and Samaritans.   Her statement of him being a prophet was born out of how the Samaritans viewed OT prophecy in that it did not carry weight.  For her, Jesus was pulling out the Jewish card and she immediately resorts to defending her Samaritan-ness.  Jesus goes there with her and confronts her wrong thinking.  Her proclamation of him as the Messiah to the same people was based on him revealing himself according to the truth of God’s revelation.  I think this is telling in her statement in that the Christ is the same one that told her her business.  The significance is that the Samaritans believed the Messiah would be a teacher, yet she recognized the truth of who he was because of the prophetic function, which the Samaritans had rejected.

My point in all of this is that Jesus did not tell her to go tell the town’s people.  When she learned the truth, she was motivated to make the proclamation.  This planted the seed for the Samaritans to seek and find Jesus, which turned into their belief.  I say this because I think sometimes we can put too much pressure on people to share their faith without the necessary transformation that motivates them to do so.   Again with the counting, I really can’t count how many times I have heard the urgency to witness to the point of brow beating or laying guilt trips on Christians.  But witnessing should be an outflow of our own transformation of the gospel.

What I fear is that we have turned the urgency of the great commission into campaign that gets reduced to the promulgation of a message detached from the concern of the individual that is being witnessed to.  This is evident in some of the language we use such as “making a personal decision” or “soul winning”.   We can dehumanize the gospel by making it strictly about the message.  This is especially true when Christians are responding to the call to act without the internal encouragement of their own transformation.  In some cases the insistence is so strong that can result in strong arming.  I am grieved whenever I hear stories of Christians forcing a personal decision, as if conversion is based on us closing the deal.  Rather, a person responds to the gospel message because the Holy Spirit has opened their eyes to do so. Sometimes we might just be planting the seed.

I actually have become increasingly disillusioned with the term “soul winning”.  Souls come with bodies, hurts, experiences and needs.   Since Jesus reveals God to us, his actions towards people should encourage consideration of how we engage with people.  God does care for the whole person and not merely that a message has been accepted.  Sharing faith should involve sharing life.  This is what Christ modeled for us.  He tended to their needs.  He saw fit to heal and clothe people and put them in their right minds.  That is not to say that acceptance of Christ is based on engagement of caring for human needs.  We must believe who He is and put saving faith in Him.  But neither should it be divorced from it.  “Winning souls” is dehumanizing at least, Gnostic at worst.

I believe one reason the gospel message gets reduced to a dehumanized sound byte is because we’ve viewed in terms of heaven and hell and not based on God’s redemptive heart for His creation.  Souls then become widgets to escape the horrors of hell instead of people that God wishes to redeem.  Viewing humanity in these terms will most certainly disengage the Christian from human realities.  We are never told to convert people but to make disciples.  That does entail getting involved with people and not just seeing converts.

In terms of the great commission, I find it interesting that while the charge was made to the apostles (Matthew 28:19-20) the bulk of instruction to the church was their reflection of Christ as his body.  This is particularly evident in 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, Colossians and the pastoral epistles.  There was minimal instruction about them “going out” but a whole lot was said in terms of how they should be towards one another.  I don’t negate the charge of the great commission but it seems reasonable to conclude that the church must act in concert according to who they are, which does entail an inward focused effort.  When they do that not only do they model Christ, but also then can take Christ out to the world.  Yes, we must me mindful of the needs for evangelism throughout the world. Churches should be engaged with the task of world evangelism as reflected in their commitments to unreached places.  But mirroring the concern for evangelism done by individuals, so too the local church can engage in outward focused activities that do not match inward realities.  This would be counter-productive to the purpose of the church of being what she should be.

So evangelism is about making Jesus known.  It is not merely captured in a message but lived out when we share our life.  We can only make him known to the extent that we have embraced Him for ourselves, both individually and corporately.  When that happens, there should be little need to encourage evangelism and make Jesus known.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Find him everywhere: Find him everywhere

    17 replies to "Making Jesus Known: Some Random Thoughts on Evangelism"

    • Miguel Labrador


      You make some valid points which I will elaborate on soon. For now, you said the motivation comes from, or should come from transformation. But, what if that transformation and motivation came from action? Priming the pump, so to speak. What if even after a thought is transformed it still lacks motivation for action? Just thoughts…

      Secondly, I have yet to see a good argument to equate “soul winning” & “evangelism.”

    • Steven Carr

      ‘When she learned the truth, she was motivated to make the proclamation. This planted the seed for the Samaritans to seek and find Jesus, which turned into their belief. ‘

      John 4
      Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers.

      Did some people become believers because of the women’s testimony?

      And did others jlater join those believers in belief because of meeting Jesus?

    • Steve Martin

      Romans 1:16

      The gospel is the power of God unto salvation.

      Speak of Him (in whatever fashion you can muster) and the Holy Spirit will do the rest, in spite of our poor efforts and performance.

    • Dean Roberts

      I love this conclusion:
      So evangelism is about making Jesus known. It is not merely captured in a message but lived out when we share our life. We can only make him known to the extent that we have embraced Him for ourselves, both individually and corporately. When that happens, there should be little need to encourage evangelism and make Jesus known.

      And I completely agree! It seems that everyone on the blogosphere is talking about evangelism at the moment. I did a post on it yesterday, coming from a different direction.

      Some of you guys may find it useful: http://deanroberts.net/church/mission-2/the-great-commission-and-a-ministry-thats-pioneering/

    • Craig Bennett

      Thanks for this Lisa. Its very timely. I have tried in the past to to be an evangelist and failed….however I have a love for ministering to the broken and hurting and encouraging people…

      It’s through this gifting of pastoring people that I see them coming to the Lord and being built up in their faith….yet the context has to be within the framework of the whole body in which this can happen….where others are likewise exercising their own gifts and ways of being.

    • Aaron Walton

      Beautiful. I also enjoyed the sweet way you put the conclusion.
      Apart from that, What a lovely Jesus we have!

      I thought I would make a quick comment regarding “Soul Winning”. The phrase comes from Proverbs 11:30, however, I am willing to argue (1) it is a bad translation and (2) this is a place where the existing Masoretic Text is erroneous.

      First, the phrase “win souls”, in Hebrew uses the verb root לקח which usually means “take” and “soul” “nephesh”. Which the phrase elsewhere always “to take a life”… that is, murder.
      However, if you translate it like that, you end up with “He who takes a life is wise.” Of which I hope everyone would be uncomfortable with.

      However, the LXX reads violent. Which the difference between wise and violent are little in Hebrew: wise חכם v.s. ‘violent’ חמס
      I think it is perfectly reasonable that the M.T. text is wrong.

      One might say “Of course a murderer is violent. That doesn’t mean anything.” However, a lot of people do not really believe that… how many people marry someone who beat their last wife and then expect their husband not to beat them? I think we have all heard such stories.

      Finally, what did Old Testament “Soul winning” look like? And why would this be the only verse that ever said anything like this to the Israelites?

    • Susan

      Of course it matters that we reflect the love of Christ to others in deed as well as word, but I think that we need not have our lives in perfect order before we speak of Jesus to those who are lost and bound for Hell. It is far more common for Christians to excuse themselves from evangelism, for a host of reasons, that to speak up about Jesus…..so I would say that Christians do need to be encouraged to speak the gospel. I find that many Christians see evangelism as a task primarily relegated to those with the “gift of evangelism”, yet in Acts 1:8 Jesus spoke collectively to the disciples telling them that they would receive the power of the Holy Spirit and that they would then be His witnesses.

      I appreciate Steve Martin’s comment. I think the current vein of thinking in Evangelicalism FAR underestimates the power of the gospel, and supposes that we dare not speak up about Jesus until we have done much to precede the spoken word with much deed (and then we never actually get around to speaking the true gospel!).

      It is true that having the boldness to speak of Jesus is often motivated by love for Jesus and love for those we speak to, such that it overrides our fears and excuses not to. When Paul proclaimed he did not first go into cities a do good works. We usually default toward deed without true proclamation. This has especially been true due to the current emphasis in the church.

    • Ed Kratz


      I think you have misunderstood what I’ve communicated. I am not saying that our lives should be perfect. But it seems to me there has to be an internal motivation resulting from our own transformation to whatever extent that has been, as opposed to going through a ritual to dispense a message. Now I contend that God will use any means to draw people to himself, including rote evangelistic methods. But what I am suggesting is that if his interest is redemption of people then we should strive to engage with people and not just drop a message. I am not saying that we should not make proclamations. Of course we should but it is more a matter of HOW do we do this.

      I wonder what the gospels would have looked like if the incarnation involved Jesus going around dropping the 4 spiritual laws on people and asking them for a decision. In some cases, there was confrontation and that is needed too. But rather, the process he took not only demonstrates a care and concern for people as people but also that we can make proclamations of him in various ways throughout the process. I think Craig’s comment is on point in this regard. The people he works with come to the Lord through his care for them as he was able to share the Love of Christ in both word and deed. We should not fear the deeds as a detriment to the gospel. Sometimes they are needed. Sometimes we can just dialogue with the person out right. We should be sensitive to each situation.

      I would love to hear from Miguel and other missionaries of how it works when they go to other parts of the world. My understanding is that generally missionaries get acquainted with the culture and its people first and gradually build that rapport with them as they introduce the gospel. There is no harm in a process nor does it negate proclamation of the gospel. But I do think there can be harm when we make it only about the message without concern for the people involved – witness, lay down the spiritual laws and force them to make a decision. I’m just saying we need to be more thoughtful and consistent with God’s redemptive program. We should not fear that we are NOT evangelizing if we don’t lay out God’s plan for salvation as soon as we interact with them.

    • hmkjr

      the gospel message (the law and the gospel) must be proclaimed or else no one will repent and trust Christ. We should love our neighbors, but how many people can we really “engage” in our lifetime. Only the people that we can engage are hearing the gospel???

    • Susan

      Lisa, I agree with what you are saying. Most of the time the people we routinely encounter in our lives, neighbors, family, coworkers….or the people some dwell among as missionaries do need to see our lives and experience our genuine care…most or the time that precedes (hopefully) a ‘gospel encounter’. Sometimes though we might have opportunity to speak the gospel to a stranger, and I believe that God’s Spirit sometimes orchestrates such.
      circumstances. There is nothing wrong in such case with going ahead and lovingly speaking the truth. I have seen people respond very positively to the gospel in such situations at times. I don’t think that we are beyond the days of being used as Phillip was when he spoke to the Ethiopian…..or Paul when he addressed people with the gospel in various settings….without knowing them personally. God’s Spirit works in many different circumstances….each different according to His will and ways of working in people’s hearts. I doubt that there are many anymore who use the drop-a-tract method…so I don’t think we need to speak as if that’s what’s happening when we have a one-time encounter with a stranger, or whatever….but I will say that years ago I had some very positive responses to sharing the Four Spiritual Laws with some individuals. Why? Because it contains the gospel, which IS the power of God unto salvation!…..which cannot be underestimated! I like what Lee Strobel has to say about having those conversations with people. He says that he likes to ask questions to draw the person out so that they have a chance to share what they believe about God…start with listening rather than telling.
      I hear what you are saying about internal motivation, ideally it would sure seem to be that that’s the way it should work. My observation is that very few Christians share the true gospel with anyone, ever. Many Christians rest on their own set of excuses not to. As Dan Kimball (I’m pretty sure it was him) once said, it’s a lot easier to work on someone’s house than it is to share the gospel with them. Most of us default to deed without proclamation and console ourselves with thinking that we are doing our part.

    • hmkjr


      There are plenty of folks still using tracts, I am one of them 😉


    • hmkjr

      “As Dan Kimball (I’m pretty sure it was him) once said, it’s a lot easier to work on someone’s house than it is to share the gospel with them. Most of us default to deed without proclamation and console ourselves with thinking that we are doing our part.”

      Too often the case I’m afraid…I agree with you Susan, it is the gospel that does the work, not anything about us or what we do.

    • […] that note, Parchment and Pen has a great article on compassion for the lost that goes really well with the one linked […]

    • Jonathan Dutton

      this is a great, post really loved it. Perhaps it would of been great to see a bit more about being bold, but obviously didnt want the post to be too long. Brilliant though!

    • […] message at the end of the ‘tour’.   The message was in line with what I wrote in this evangelism post, that dealt with people as widgets with souls to be rescued from the horrors of Hell and not as […]

    • […] they are going to hell if they don’t repent.   The message was in line with what I wrote in this evangelism post, that dealt with people as widgets with souls to be rescued from the horrors of hell and not as […]

    • […] that note, Parchment and Pen has a great arti­cle on com­pas­sion for the lost that goes really well with the one linked […]

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