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:
- 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?
- 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.
- 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?”
- 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?”
When we correct these misunderstandings, “witnessing” begins to look much more like a conversation with a friend than it does a street preacher on a corner. It looks more like sharing stories, experiences and insights with a buddy than it does a sales pitch from a Jesus-salesperson. I hope you join me at the Texas District Pastors Conference to find out more about “Joining Jesus on His Mission.”
By: Rev. Greg Finke
Founder and Executive Director of Dwelling 1:14