The word that can send shivers up the spine of many a Christian ‘witnessing’. Having to approach friends, family or even strangers and try and start up a spiritual conversation. Just the thought of it can be nerve wracking. But, witnessing encounters don’t have to be complicated. The apostle Paul through his life and ministry gives a model of evangelism with easy steps to make our witnessing encounters effective and impactful.
1. HAVE A GOOD REPUTATION
“A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.” Proverbs 22:1
We often imagine evangelism beginning with an awkward stammer and a sheepish wave. But for Paul, evangelism was more often than not handed to him on a silver platter. In Acts 13:42, after Paul had finished preaching in the Jewish synagogue, a crowd of Gentiles begged Paul to preach to them next Sabbath. That following Sabbath ‘almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God’ (Acts 13:44).
It was the reputation Paul had of being well learned in the Scriptures that drew crowds to him. Paul himself says that his preaching skills left something to be desired (2 Cor. 2:4) yet his reputation as one who could effectively explain the Scripture drew crowds to him. We may not have the same notoriety that Paul had, but if people in our schools, workplaces, sports groups, clubs, and other social activities knew of our faith and our deep knowledge of it, we would find opportunities where people come to us on matters of spirituality.
2. SELECT YOUR AUDIENCE WISELY
One of Aesop’s fables features a young boy and his father taking a donkey loaded with sacks of grain to the market. Along the way, different groups criticize them for how they are making their journey. The son should sit on the donkey since he is the youngest. Or perhaps the father should ride since he is older and his legs will get tired more quickly. Alternatively, they shouldn’t burden the donkey at all and carry the sacks of grain themselves. After trying multiple configurations to satisfy their critics, the sacks of grain end up falling into a river and they are left with nothing. The moral of the story? It is impossible to please everyone.
Understanding this principle in witnessing will do wonders to keep up your spirits as well as be more strategic in your evangelism. When Paul would visit cities, he would focus on those who were open and receptive to his message, those with genuine spiritual hunger and thirst. When encountered with hecklers and critics Paul would simply move on elsewhere.
“But when some were hardened and did not believe, but spoke evil of the Way before the multitude, he departed from them, withdrew the disciples . . .” Acts 19:9
Paul understood that he had limited time and was selective in choosing an audience of those genuinely desiring to hear God’s word, rather than be preoccupied with those of hard hearts. We must pray earnestly that the Holy Spirit would intervene for these people, but we like Paul should know when to move on and not spend time arguing and trying to please critics, when we can offer genuine help to those in need.
3. PREACH IN CONTEXT
Paul was a master of adapting his message to the audience he had selected. For example, when preaching in the Jewish synagogue, he would take his listeners through a history of the Jewish people and show how significant persons, institutions, and events prefigured Jesus Christ the Messiah (Acts 13:16-22). However, when he preached to the Greeks in Athens, it would have been useless to talk about Joshua, David or Ruth. These names and their historical significance meant nothing to his audience. Rather, Paul encouraged his listeners to look at the beauty of nature and admire that the creator of all nature including humanity, had provided a way for salvation for the whole world (Acts 17:22-31). To preach in context is to preach to people’s hearts. If we fail to convey a message that has meaning to people, we miss their hearts where the decision for Christ is ultimately made.
4. CHRIST-CENTRED WITNESSING
I would struggle to number the amount of times I’ve allowed a witnessing encounter to devolve into a debate over creation and evolution, or the problem of evil, or anything that wasn’t the cross, because it has happened far too many times. All of those questions are important and should be answered at some stage, but even then, the emphasis should be the cross.
Consider King Hezekiah who when visited by envoys from Babylon, rather than take the opportunity to tell them of the mercy God has shown him by extending his life, instead prioritised showing them his treasuries full of gold and jewels. Needless to say, showing a foreign nation your vast wealth might give them some ideas, and it wasn’t long after that Jerusalem was invaded by the Babylonian empire. Witnessing without God and the cross at the centre ends in disaster.
Witnessing doesn’t have to be complicated or daunting. If we have chosen an appropriate audience who is willing to listen and engaged, we can deliver a Christ-centred message of the beauty of the gospel in language and terms which they will understand. Ideally, we may even find people coming to us to ask for the Gospel. God has commissioned all believers to testify to the grace God has given them in their lives, and the art of witnessing need not be a lost art. It can be a vibrant reality in your spiritual journey today.
By Christopher Petersen