Samaritan Woman: Role Model? Transformed, On Mission, and Effective

Could the Samaritan woman from the Gospel of John in the Bible be a good role model for those of us who follow Jesus?  And is she a better role model than many of the alternatives out there?

Samaritan woman

By: The U.S. National Archives — Rosie the Riveter served as a role model for millions of women during WWII.

Role Models Are Everywhere

I wonder if there was a time in the past where role models were harder to come by than they are today?  Think about it — with the constant bombardment of media today, we are quite literally surrounded by role models.

Fortunately, many of those role models are great!  Right in the palms of our hands or on the screens of our televisions we get to see stories about and created by the likes of Malala Yousafzai, Steph Curry, Lindsey Stirling, and Destin Sandlin, each of which would serve as great role models for adults and children alike!

Unfortunately, however, there are at least as many horrible role models we could be influenced by too.  And, equally unfortunately, these role models have just as easy access to our collective attention too (if not more due to our love of bad news).

So what are we to do?

Here’s an idea — why don’t we try to curate our role models a bit?  I know, I know.  This is a method that parents have been trying for years and years.  There’s nothing new under the sun!

But in today’s attention economy, the one thing that we can control perhaps the most is what we pay attention to.  So, for the next few minutes at least, let’s attend to a really good role model: the Samaritan woman.

The Samaritan Woman as a Role Model

I’ve written about the Samaritan Woman before: about how she was an avoided person and about how Jesus didn’t pass up the opportunity to connect with her.  In this post I’d like to discover what about her is worth imitating.  In other words, I want to investigate why is the claim that the Samaritan woman is a good role model is true.  I want to focus on three things about the Samaritan woman that are role-model worthy: she was transformed, she was on mission, and she was effective.

The Samaritan Woman: Transformed

In John 4 Jesus and the Samaritan woman have a great philosophical and theological discussion about spirituality, human insatiability, divine provision, her private ethical choices, worship, God, and the Messiah.

Her last words in this discussion are words of faith, saying that she knows the messiah is coming and that he’ll explain everything when he comes.

Then Jesus says something mind-blowing.  He says that he’s the messiah.  In fact, he uses a particular phrase that would have rung loudly in her religious ears — egō eimi.  These two little Greek words spoke volumes.

Egō eimi are the two words that appear in the ancient Greek translation of Exodus 3.14 where God identifies himself as “I AM.”  And here Jesus uses egō eimi to describe himself.  Jesus is making a claim about his divinity here, albeit in a slightly roundabout way.

But the Samaritan woman gets it.  She understands the reference.  In fact, it appears that when she hears these two words her entire perception of Jesus changes.  She probably played their conversation over in her head in a new light.  And, much more importantly, she let the truth that Jesus just revealed about himself play out in her future.  She saw that if Jesus truly was the egō eimi as God revealed himself to be to Moses, then her life could not be the same.

In an instant she was transformed!

So much so that in John 4.28-29 she leaves her water jar behind (perhaps a sign of her leaving her old way of life behind) and runs into town to tell everyone what had just happened to her.

Her faith in this moment changed her from the inside.  The external parts of her transformation would surely be more gradual.  She was still wrapped up in a deep relationship web after all (see John 4.16-18).

But the very fact that she would run into town demonstrates the reality of her transformation.  She was a known commodity after all.  People were well aware of her choices and judged her for the(which is likely why she was drawing water at midday instead of the morning or evening, as I wrote about here).

However, the transformation brought about in this encounter with Jesus trumped all her fears and concerns about how she would be perceived.

What a role model!  How many of us would have cowered when Jesus brought up our past and current ethical choices?  How many of us would have let the perception of others thwart what God wanted to do in and through us?

Let’s look to the Samaritan woman as an example of the amazing transformative power of Jesus!

The Samaritan Woman: On Mission

It’s true that the Samaritan woman was transformed on the inside.  But as we have already seen, she was transformed on the outside too.

Here it is in the text of John 4.28-29 itself:

Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?”

These are the actions and the words of a woman on mission!

She had just had an amazing encounter with Jesus, the messiah, the egō eimi, and she simply had to share it with others!  She can’t contain what has happened in her life!  She has met the divine and she must tell people what she knows!

But notice how she tells them — she says what Jesus did (told her everything she had done) and then invited them to come and see for themselves with a question (“Could this be the messiah?”).

Unfortunately this isn’t exactly the way that we usually think about sharing the good news of Jesus and his kingdom with people, is it?  Instead of the way of the Samaritan woman, many followers of Jesus try to reason, argue, or scare people into following Jesus.  And we’ve seen how poorly these methods have worked at growing the church.

Instead of doing things like we always have, let’s look to the Samaritan woman as a role model!  Let’s see in her not an attractive church model, but an attractive life model.  She didn’t beat anyone over the head with anything.  Instead she simply said what happened to her and then invited others to come see for themselves by drawing on their native curiosity.

What might this look like today?  Passion City Church in the Atlanta area uses the phrase “irresistible lives” when talking about this idea.  I think they are on to something.

If we live the good news with our own lives, incarnating Jesus and his kingdom where we work, live, and play, then our very lives are the curiosity-inducing questions.  Sure, there will be times where we should use our mouths too.  But what if we lived our lives so radically centered on the love of Jesus that people couldn’t help but be curious?

That’s a question I want to see answered in my own life!

The Samaritan Woman: Effective

Lastly, the Samaritan woman is a good role model not only because she’s transformed and on mission, but also because she’s effective.

When she invites people to come and see this guy who might be the messiah, they did so!  But it gets even better.

Check out John 4.39-42:

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

They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”

People first believed because of the testimony of the Samaritan woman, so much so that they pleaded with Jesus to stay with them longer.  After spending more time with Jesus, the egō eimi, many others believed as well.

So the effectiveness of the Samaritan woman came in two phases — Phase One: people believed her when she said what Jesus had done for her; and Phase Two: people were able to confirm what she said when they met Jesus for themselves.

So if the Samaritan woman is to serve as our role model, then what would this look like?  How can we be effective like her?

As mentioned above, invite people to meet Jesus.  Live irresistible lives.

But it’s the next step — we have to let them confirm what we say by actually meeting Jesus.

Do we get in the way of this today?  Absolutely!

In my humble opinion we are more likely to introduce people to institutionalized religion, the baptized American Dream, a religious self-help group, or even the church.

How, instead, can we introduce them to Jesus?  How can we peel back all the caked on crud with which we’ve covered him?

Here’s a radical idea — we can let them see Jesus in us and through us.  We don’t have the blessed opportunity to literally take people to the incarnated Jesus.  Instead Jesus makes himself known in us through his Spirit and then calls us to incarnate him and his message wherever he sends us.

So instead of inviting people to church (which is still a fine thing to do, it’s just not the most effective thing to do), let’s invite people into our lives so that they can meet Jesus there.

And we don’t have to do this alone.  We can invite them into our communal experience of Jesus too.  The Samaritan woman didn’t have community (yet!), so we’ll have to pave our own road here!

One more thing — if we want to invite people to meet Jesus after having shared with them what he has done for us, not only should we invite them to meet him in our lives, but we should also invite them to meet him in the Gospels.

In my experience people love reading about Jesus’ life in the Gospels.  So as we live curious lives, let’s point people to Jesus in us and our communities and to Jesus in the Scriptures as well!

 

What do you think?  Is the Samaritan woman a good role model?  Did I miss something about her that you find imitation worthy?  Let me know in the comments below!

Lessons from My Weight-Loss (Hard Work)

hard work

tpsdave / Pixabay
There really is no substitute for hard work, whether when losing weight or fulfilling the Great Commission.

Not long ago I was obese, at least according to my BMI number.  I spent a year full of hard work in which I lost 65 pounds.  I’ve kept almost all of that weight off, which has also been due to hard work.

In fact, when people have asked me what the secret to my weight loss was, I almost always answer one of two ways: “math” or “hard work.”  “Math” because it’s all about tracking calories relative to the total needed to maintain your weight; and “hard work” because losing weight and keeping it off is no walk in the park (minus that actual walks in the park!).

In fact, hard work might be the best advice for losing weight ever.  Keeping track of your food and exercise is hard work.  Eating more reasonably when you’ve spent your entire life doing otherwise is hard work.  Exercising is hard work.  Dealing with the emotional issues along the way is hard work.  Etc., etc.

As I’ve been thinking about being more a more missional follower of Jesus, I’ve started to realize that hard work is needed here too!  Here are a few examples:

  1. It’s hard work reaching out to people who do not know Jesus yet.  Whether you’re an extrovert or an introvert, connecting well with people who don’t know Jesus is difficult.  Why?  Mainly because many of us churchy people have almost exclusively surrounded ourselves with other churchy people.  So we’re left with the problem of finding “natural” ways to encounter those who don’t know Jesus.  Another issue is that in many cases those who don’t know Jesus yet have lives marked by different values and goals than that of a sold-out follower of Jesus.  It can be hard work to connect over this barrier.
  2. It’s hard work bucking the attractional church model.  Most churches in the United States use the attractional church model, which means that most Americans associate this model with church in general.  A key idea of the attractional church model is that if we build it, they will come.  This leads us to talk about “going to church,” as if church is a building that we enter.  When we start trying to move away from this idea to a more biblical understanding of church as God’s people wherever he sends them, things get hard.  It’s hard work not to talk about church as a location!  Beyond that, it’s hard work trying to be the church among the people!
  3. It’s hard work not getting immediate, measurable results.  I think most of us want Burger King Christianity, my way, right away.  So if we take this same attitude with us as we start to shift toward being missional, we’ll be disappointed really fast.  Being missional means building relationships that create safe and natural spaces for people to discover Jesus.  That process can be slow and it can take time.  In other words, it takes hard work and patience!

I’m sure there are a million other ways that being missional requires hard work.  Can you think of any more?  Share them below!

The Two Meanings of “Church”

Here’s an excellent video that illustrates the two meanings of the word “church.”  I found this video at Church Anarchist blog, which is a website run by Richard Jacobson (whom you can follow on Twitter: @churchanarchist).

The Ghost of Church Past: Part Three

My wife, parents, and I recently watched a stage production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  As I watched it I couldn’t help but imagine what the ghosts of church past, present, and future might say to those of us who follow Jesus.  I started with the the ghost of church past by looking at the earliest church (click here for that post) and then to the era begun by Constantine (click here for that post).  Now we turn to the more recent past.

The Attractional Church Model

Basics — The wheel that was set in motion during Constantine’s time has continued to roll. And a fairly recent example of this has been the attractional church model. This model came into full bloom during the “Church-Growth Movement” which was spearheaded by Donald McGavaran, Peter Wagner, among many others. The basic idea here is that what I call the Field of Dreams tactic: “If we build it, they will come.” So the focus of churches became programs, worship, and preaching. The thought was that if we could make these things excellent, then people would come to our churches in droves. To some extent this worked. Some churches grew like crazy during this period, with Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church being a prime example. And many good things came out of this time. Millions came to know the Lord through this model, Christians learned a whole bunch, and a ton of money was raised for churches and missionaries.

How Leadership Worked –– Many of the churches that did and continue to fall into this category are led by a few pastors with one being the chief pastor.  This chief pastor tended to be charismatic and focused on preaching and teaching.  As some of these churches grew, more and more staff were hired to help shepherd the growing flock.  This led to a silo effect in which various wings of the church were led by their own pastors who were in charge of their own budgets, programs, buildings, etc.

Problems — This model is affinity-based, meaning that church leaders promoted people being grouped together based on similarities. So many churches became increasingly homogenous, meaning that there was very little diversity. This model also depends on the culture outside of the church being similar enough to the culture inside the church that folks on the outside would turn to the church when they were seeking God. This was the case in the past but it’s not so much so now. And, most importantly, this model taught us to think of the church as the place where we invite people to come instead of being the church among those who do not yet know Jesus.

Place in Society — During the height of the attractional church model many church leaders were seen by politicians and other civic leaders as powerbrokers.  Thus, a few of these church leaders and their churches began to wield incredible power in their communities, cities, states, and beyond.  However, as the values of the wider culture and the attractional churches have departed from one another, these leaders and churches have seen their power wane to some degree.

Great Commission — For the most part this model followed suit with what had begun with Constantine’s legitimization of Christianity.  As mentioned above, most of these leaders and churches wanted people to flood into their church buildings.  The hope was that people would come to know Jesus through preaching and be discipled through education.  Most of the talk around the “Great Commission” meant contributing to international mission work financially.

Thus, we see a few positives here and quite a few negatives.  Hopefully this trip down memory lane will teach us a thing or two!

So, when you think of the attractional church model what comes to mind for you?  Is my brief analysis fair?

(FYI — some of the content of this blog was inspired by Alan Hirsch’s book Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church.  I highly recommend it!)

The Ghost of Christmas Past: Part One

The Ghost of Christmas Past: Part Two

 

Failing at the Elevator Pitch

Nemo / Pixabay

Nemo / Pixabay

So yesterday was a big day!  My wife and I were hosting a team of six folks at our place to chat about the mid-sized community that we all help lead.  My goal at this meeting was to cast the missional/incarnational vision very clearly so that the six of us could dream together about how to shift our group from away from being attractional.

So I had been praying and preparing for several days.  I had a solid feel for what I would say and how I would say it.  Then I checked my email and I noticed a message from the Michael Hyatt newsletter.  If you don’t know, Michael Hyatt is a publisher, author, blogger, and leadership coach and consultant.  There’s a bunch of stuff on his blog about leadership, personal development, developing your brand, etc.  He’s really great!

Well the email from his newsletter linked to a really interesting article called “Why You Need an Elevator Pitch (and How to Create One)”  An elevator pitch is a short but effective way to tell someone about your idea in a limited amount of time, say the amount of time you have in an elevator with someone.  Michael Hyatt gave four pieces of advice:

  1. Describe your idea.
  2. Talk about the problem.
  3. How can your idea help solve the problem.
  4. What’s the key benefit of your idea.

I wrote these four phrases on a piece of paper and stuck it in my pocket.  My plan was that all throughout the day I would use the elevator pitch idea to think more carefully about how to cast vision with the team that evening.  I practiced while driving, in my mind while hanging out with friends, while in the shower, before leading a devotional, while at an immigration-reform rally, and then while cleaning the house.

I had honed the pitch down to two sentences: “My hope is for us to view ourselves as missionaries where we work, play, and live because the “if you build it, they will come” version of church just isn’t working anymore.  We can accomplish this by being more intentional about our up (connection with God), our in (community), and our out (service) and in so doing we can begin to express tangibly God’s love in our world.”

Saying those two sentences takes no more than thirty seconds.  That’s it.  Thirty seconds.

Why, then, in the moment with the team in our living room, did I spend twenty minutes explaining the vision!  Ugh.  I really blew it.  Luckily the team knows me pretty well and each of them has extended grace to me before.  And, despite my inadequacies, they all seemed to understand what I was talking about to some degree.

It wasn’t a total loss.  But as an elevator pitch it was an epic failure!

Has something like this ever happened to you?  Tell me about it in the comments.

Here’s book I recommend by Michael Hyatt about developing your brand: Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World.

New Wine?

Why have I decided to call this blog “New Wine”?

I’m glad you asked!

new wine

In the last six weeks or so I’ve been thinking quite a bit about what it means to follow Jesus more intentionally. In pursuit of this I’ve been ingesting lots of stuff about how to follow Jesus purposefully. One group of people who have quite a bit to say on this topic are church planters.

A church planter is someone who sees a need for the gospel in an area and starts a church there. While there are several different ways that folks go about this, one of the more recent trends is to start out with a missional posture while living incarnationally.

What does that mean? Well, basically some church planters view themselves as missionaries instead of professional, paid staff members. Thus, this sort of church planter spends quite a bit of time with people who haven’t met Jesus — living with them, eating with them, caring for them, serving with them, and advocating for them.

The goal, of course, of the church planter is to fulfill Matthew 28.19-20, which is better known as the Great Commission. There Jesus challenges his disciples to “go and make disciples of all the nations…” Thus, the sort of church planter I’m talking about is interested in leading someone into being a disciple, which is just a fancy way of saying they want to help someone learn how to follow Jesus well.

Not only that, but church planters of this ilk are not as interested in attracting people to come to church. They say this model, which is called the attractional model, isn’t working all that well. Another way of thinking about the attractional model is with the phrase “if you build it, they will come” (apologies to Field of Dreams!). So a church that is attractional will spend lots of time, money, and energy on their weekend services and programs, in hopes of making an excellent product that will attract people to come to church.

The reality seems to be that this way of doing church is not attracting as many people as it once did. You can find the statistics by Googling on your own, so I won’t bore you with them. But fewer and fewer people are coming to church and more and more churches aren’t seeing any new disciples being made who don’t have family in the church already. And, according to research done over the last decade or so, it seems that the churches that are growing (meaning that the number of people that they count during their weekend services has gone up) are doing so based on transfer growth, that is, they’re growing because they are attracting people from other churches. In other words, the attractional model isn’t working like we had hoped.

So the brand of church planters that I was talking about before insist that the best way to reach the un-churched, de-churched, etc. is to plant new churches. But not new attractional churches! Instead many of these church planters say that the way to go is to foster missional and incarnational communities in which those who don’t follow Jesus can see the good news of the kingdom of God being lived out in their midst. To put it differently, instead of asking people to come to church, these church planters are trying to be the church among those who don’t follow Jesus.

What do these church planters think about traditional, attractional churches? You may have guessed that most of them point to the evidence that I’ve noted above. Some of them are aggressively negative, while others see some benefit in the old ways. But almost to a person, these church planters are convinced that it’s incredibly difficult to retrain an attractional church to become missional and incarnational. Thus, a lot of them suggest that people should start form scratch (that is, plant a new church), rather than try to change a traditional church. Even the ones who try to give some tools to help transition attractional churches admit that the process is super-duper slow and often very painful.

And in these same contexts folks often quote the words from Jesus’ mouth in Matthew 9.17: “Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”

Their implication is that the new wine of thinking missionally and living incarnationally is simply incompatible with the old wineskin of the attractional church model. While most of them wouldn’t actually say this, it certainly seems that many of them believe that changing an attractional church is simply impossible.

Well, it is in the context of a traditional, attractional church where I find myself. I’m a part-time staff member (for six more weeks!) and a adult community leader. Our church is old (115 or so years old), pretty big, and clearly geared toward getting people to come to our campus to do church. Lots of our folks, however, understand that this isn’t as effective as we would like and we’ve been thinking and strategizing about how to change.

So, what do I hope to do? Well, I want to attempt to pour some new wine into this old wineskin! I’m curious to see if Jesus’ words in Matthew 9.17 apply to this setting or not. What I’m hoping will happen is that the community I’m a part of, which is called Crossroads, can be shifted from being attractional to missional/incarnational. And I want to document parts of that journey here!

So, if you’re interested, check back and see what we’re up to!