The Woman at the Well: 7 Principles on Ministering

The Samaritan woman at Jacob's well is a popular story found in the New Testament in John Chapter 4.   You can view a video of this story from the LDS Bible Video series below.  (It's 4 minutes long.)

As I have studied this story, I have found that Christ teaches us several principles on how to effectively minister to others.

Principle #1 Find Common Ground 

The relationship between the Samaritans and Jews is a long and complicated.  Samaritans came from the Northern Kingdom of Israel, Jews, the Southern.  When the Samaritans were enslaved and taken away, some of them stayed behind and intermarried (mostly farmers).  The Jews were taken away to Babylon and remained separate from their captors.  After the Jews were allowed back to Jerusalem, they rebuilt the temple so they could practice their religion.  Some believe the Samaritans wanted to help rebuild the temple but were refused, others claim the Samaritans refused to help.  In either case, the Jews and Samaritans did not get along and had no dealings with each other.

Note:  This is an extremely brief summary. To read a more detailed description click here.  

In fact, many Jews would avoid traveling through Samaria altogether to get to Galilee from Jerusalem.  As you can see from this map, the detour meant a much longer trip.


But Christ traveled into "enemy territory" to get to the sea of Galilee.  He stops to rest in Sychar where Jacob had given a plot of land to his son Joseph.  There was a well there known as Jacob's Well.

I find it interesting that this story takes place where the Jews and Samaritans have a shared history.  They are both descendants of Jacob.  This well serves as a reminder that both Samaritans and Jews are Israelites.

Today we can easily divide ourselves into different groups: politically (Republicans and Democrats), economically (rich and poor), religiously (Christian and Muslims), geographically (native and immigrants), etc.  These divisions can cause us to not want to have dealings with each other.

By sitting at Jacob's well, Christ is symbolically showing us that we can instead focus on what unites us: whether Republican or Democrat we love our country and want to see it succeed, whether rich or poor we can help others with our time and talents, whether Christian or Muslim we worship God and want to live with Him, whether native or immigrant we are trying to make a better life for our children, etc.

Principle #2 Go to Them, Don't Wait for Them to Come to Us

In John 4:6 we learn that it was about noon (the sixth hour) when Christ was sitting by the well and a woman comes up to draw water.  This would be the hottest time of the day.  And being a high mountain desert climate, it would be really hot.  Traditionally, this is not when women gathered water at the well.  Instead they went in the cool morning hours.  Then they could meet together and visit. 

Why did this woman draw water from the well when no one else was there? 


Maybe she was a victim of gossip and wanted to avoid the other women.  Maybe she had been hurt by them in the past.  Or maybe this was just simply the only time she could come.  It doesn't really matter WHY she was there at noon, what matters is that she was and Christ was there too. 

As I read this story, I think about the other women.  Did they know her?  Did they notice she wasn't with them in the morning?  Did they care?  I wonder if they said anything like this:

"We are really friendly, if she came to get water in the morning, we would be nice to her."

"She just needs to be willing to make the effort to come in the morning, if she did, we'd be more than happy to include her."

"It's easier for me to get my water in the morning, I'm not going to go at noon just because that's when she goes to get her water."

Today we have many men and women around us who are gathering their water at the sixth hour.  They may be avoiding going to church, going to social events, or out to lunch with the other co-workers.  Are we waiting for them to join us, or do we reach out to where they are?

My youngest child at an early age had the ability to find the sixth hour people.  As a kindergartner when it was time for the class to gather in a circle for story time, he would see that someone was in the corner not joining the group.  Without saying a word he would sit down next to that child and put his arm around him.  My son couldn't talk very well at the time, but with his actions he was able to say "I see you.  I will sit with you."

Are we looking for those who aren't joining the circle?  Do we notice the sixth hour women in our lives?

Principle #3 Don't Treat Others Like a Project 

When the woman arrives at the well, she sees a man who is a Jew.  I wonder what her initial reaction was when she saw Christ.  Did she feel threatened?  Was she annoyed?  Was she curious?

I love this picture from the video, because I imagine if I was in her shoes my face would look pretty similar.

 I feel like she's saying, "What are you doing here?"

It's interesting to me what Christ first says to her.  He doesn't start with "I know you aren't married to the man you are living with."  or "I am the Messiah and will save you."  or even "That water will make you thirsty again, I am the living water so that you will thirst no more."

No, that's not what he said to her first.  He simply said, "Give me to drink."

To me, this is an interesting way to begin this interchange.  I recently saw a TedTalk (sadly I can't remember which one) and the speaker said that if we want others to be open to us, we start by asking them to serve us.  This will help them develop warm feelings for us because they are able to help us.

This is exactly what Christ did.  He asked her to serve him.

He asked her to give him something that she had the means to give, water from the well.  She had the ability, the tools, and the resources to give what he asked for.  In essence, it was a fairly simple request.  But as we discover later, it opened the door for a meaningful relationship.

Today I see many people wanting to go out into the world and serve.  Whether it's serving a mission or doing humanitarian work, I see people make incredible sacrifices of their time, talent, and treasure to give donate goods and services to those in need.  We also try to find those not of our fold and bring back---back into our families, churches, and communities.

But how are our efforts received?  Do we give in a way that communicates, "You are needy." or "You have less than I do."  or "You are my project."?

Are we willing to acknowledge what resources and abilities they can give to us first?  Do we take the time to build a true relationship by letting them serve us?

Principle #4 Teach in a Way They Can Understand 

After the woman asks why a Jew is asking her to serve him when Samaritans and Jews have no dealings with each other, he teaches a powerful principle.  But he does it using a symbol that she can understand.

Living water


The concept of living water is not familiar to us today, but would have been familiar anciently.  Living water meant water that came from a natural source and was not stagnant.  Like a stream, rain water, or a spring.  This kind of water was considered to be clean and able to purify.

Even though she was Samaritan, she most likely would have known that living water was used in what was known as a Mikvah.  Mikvahs were used to cleanse an unclean person.

My friend Daniel Smith, explains it here in this video below: (It's 4 1/2 minutes long)

In essence, this was Christ's way of explaining symbolically that he was the Messiah.  He did it using something that would be familiar to her.

Principle #5 Don't Rush to Judgment 

In John 4:16, Christ asks her to call her husband.

I find this really interesting because Christ knew she didn't have a husband.  So why did he ask her to do something that he knew she couldn't do?

For the past couple of years I have been fascinated with the number of times in the scriptures Jesus Christ ask questions he already knows the answer to.  I have asked myself, "Why is he asking something he already knows? Why doesn't he just provide the answer?"

I have a few ideas as to why he does this, but in this instance I think he's giving her the opportunity to tell him her situation herself.

What if she had concocted a lie like, "My husband is sick, I can't bring him here." or "I would but he's away visiting family."?

Would Christ have kept teaching her?  Would he have called her out on her lie?  I have no idea.  But I can't help but wonder if he would have then realized she wasn't ready to receive the doctrine he was willing to give her and let her go.

Today when we see that someone is hurting, or lacking in truth, it's easy to tell them where they are wrong in order to "fix" them. 

You don't go to church?  Let me tell you why you should be going to church!

You are drinking too much?  Let me tell you why you need treatment!

You are on a path of self-destruction?  Let me tell you why you need therapy!

Christ shows us how we can give others the opportunity to tell us what they want us to know.   We may be surprised to learn that their situation isn't exactly what we thought it was.

Principle #6 Focus on the Future 

As Christ teaches the woman at the well, he doesn't condemn her.  He doesn't make her feel like she's the lowest of the low, a Samaritan fornicator who had five husbands.  He teaches her how she can worship God.  He shows her what she can become in the future, not making her feel bad for where she is now.  

It's easy to look at a person's troubles and say, "Well, if only you hadn't...." or "You never should have done _____ in the first place."  But that doesn't change where they are now.  They are where they are, it is what it is.  But we can offer hope and a brighter future.  

Principle #7 Validate Then Expound 

I love the verse where the woman share's her own testimony.  In John 4:25 She says that she knows there is a Messiah and that he will be called Christ.  

Christ then offers a rare and precious gift.  He testifies to her that he is that Christ that she is talking about.  He rarely did this so explicitly to those he taught.  This woman was one of the few to receive this witness.


 When we minister to others we can validate their testimony and expound upon it.  It basically loops back to Principle #1 Find Common Ground.  We look for what beliefs we have in common and acknowledge we share those beliefs.  Then share with them more truth.

The Rest of the Story... 

So often when we tell the story of the woman at the well, we end with their conversation.  But the powerful message in this story is what happens next.

She runs back to her city leaving her waterpot behind to tell others that she has met the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  I think we are told she left her waterpot to show her eagerness to share the testimony she had just received and that she no longer cared for the matters of the world.

Others are willing to meet this Messiah, and Christ ends up staying for two days.  His disciples, who are charged with making sure his needs are met, are concerned for his welfare and want him to eat.  He tells them that his sustenance comes from doing the will of the Father.

These individuals who initially came because they believed the woman, eventually gained their own testimony of Jesus Christ as the Savior of the World.

I wonder what happened next?  Did she start gathering her water in the cool morning hours with the other women?  I'd like to think so.


For more on the Samaritan Woman at Jacob's Well:

Daniel Smith's blog Redeemer of Israel "Christlike Attributes: Respect for Women" 

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin's talk "Living Water to Quench Spiritual Thirst" 

Wayne Jackson's article from the Christian Courier "Jesus and the Samaritan Woman" 
Note: I like this article because he goes through the Greek translations of the different words in the Bible.  He states that the sixth hour was at 6:00 p.m. but the sixth hour of the day would be counting from sunrise to sunset, and so the sixth hour would be more in the middle of the day, or closer to noon.

If you liked this article, you might also like:

Ministering and Serving: What is the Difference?

Loving Your Neighbor As Yourself: What does it really mean?


This is not an official publication of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.