Wherever I go, I find people of God who want to be better equipped to witness. They long to be able to tell people the good news of Jesus. But they lack confidence. They feel unprepared. They are afraid.
What is wrong?
I have found that the core to our fear of witnessing rests in a handful of misunderstandings.
1) Our expectations are off. I have found that most people have a vague expectation that somehow their witnessing is supposed to result in conversion... on the spot… immediately… preferably accompanied by tongues of fire on the head. With such expectations who wouldn’t be terrified?
2) Our models are off. As we look around for what it looks like to “be a witness” in our neighborhood or workplace, we see preachers and teachers “witnessing” at church. But we can’t carry a pulpit or podium into our neighborhood or workplace and “witness” like they do. Outside of church our models are even less helpful. We see street preachers in public spaces or aggressive people in our workplaces or neighborhoods and know those are not our models either. But we are still left wondering what a natural, enjoyable spiritual conversation with a pre-Christian person looks like.
3) Our understanding of “good news” is off. As Lutherans, we can be so concerned with being doctrinally correct, we lose track of what is actually “good” about the “good news of God”. We hear the “good news of God” preached and taught at church. During confirmation years, we have perhaps memorized the “good news of God” for a test. We have the head-knowledge down but what about the heart-knowledge of the “good news of God”?
4) Our understanding of “witness” is off. When it comes to “witnessing” our faith, we tend to overestimate correct words and underestimate lifestyle and friendship. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves thinking that if we can just say “it” correctly, a pre-Christian will come to faith. While the Holy Spirit uses words to create faith, we forget that He also uses two other ingredients: the way we live and friendship. Jesus points to this in Matthew 5:16 when He lifts up doing good as an important form of witnessing (as does Peter in 1 Peter 2:12 and 3:1). Friendship with pre-Christians is important because it allows us to share our lives and our stories over time. Perhaps one way to understand how words, lifestyle and friendship go together is to ask, “Am I known by my pre-Christian friends for what I say I believe? Or am I known for what I actually do?”
5) We lack experience. Leroy Biesenthal in his witness training workbook from 30 years ago wrote, “Experience has shown that although all are witnesses, not many witness. I give thanks for those who have been moved by God’s Spirit to give a ready testimony to their faith. But the number is few. Even among church people, I find precious little important Gospel sharing. Oh, there’s a lot of ‘church talk’ and ‘institution sharing’ but not much [talk about what Jesus is doing in our lives]. Indeed, I have repeatedly suggested that one of the reasons we in the LCMS find it so difficult to talk to others about Jesus is that we rarely talk to each other about Him in a natural, casual, spontaneous way.” Every Sunday we have trained professionals or gifted volunteers telling us about Jesus. But when do we have an opportunity to put our thoughts, stories and beliefs into words?
When people have these kinds of misunderstandings combined with this kind of inexperience, no wonder witnessing seems so hard!
The solution? Simple. Start with relaxing.
1) Expectations: Rather than putting pressure on ourselves to “hit it out of the park” or feeling like it’s “baptism or bust,” remember that Jesus puts the focus for results on Himself. Our role is so simple even a child can do it: Each day watch for opportunities to cast seeds of love, service and good news into the lives of people around us. Then watch what HE does.
2) Models: Rather than trying to model ourselves after professional preachers or aggressive promoters of religion, look for models who know how to listen and exhibit the fruit of the Spirit as a lifestyle. (More on this in a moment.)
3) News that’s Good: What is “good” about the good news of God? What is it about the good news that makes a person smile and say, “Wow! Am I glad you told me that!” We already know the answer to this intuitively, we just need some help clarifying it and putting it into words. (More on this in a moment, too.)
4) Witness: How we live and how we love is just as important as what we say. In fact, if we live and love well, pre-Christians will seek out what we have to say. However, if all we have are words, people will lose respect for us.
5) Experience: How do we gain experience in giving witness to our faith? The easiest way is to regularly gather with other everyday missionaries to tell our stories of seeking the Kingdom and joining Jesus in daily life. In chapter 19 of my book, “Joining Jesus on His Mission” I talk about the importance of the missional community. By coming together in order to tell our stories (using the 5 Questions), we become models for each other for witnessing. At the same time, we start to gain experience in reflecting, recognizing and putting into words the stories of what Jesus is up to around us. We gain experience reflecting on what is “good” about the good news of God. Over time, this kind of reflecting and telling of stories becomes increasingly familiar and normal for us. Now when the opportunity arises to tell a little of our story (a.k.a. witness) to our pre-Christian friend, we are no longer new and unfamiliar with how this goes. We do this every week in our missional community. Witnessing is now simple and even fun because we have EXPERIENCE.
Leroy Biesenthal was right, “I have repeatedly suggested that one of the reasons we in the LCMS find it so difficult to talk to others about Jesus is that we rarely talk to each other about Him in a natural, casual, spontaneous way.”
Here’s the solution. And it’s not so hard after all.