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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

5 Important Tips for Witnessing

I am by no means an expert on sharing my faith with others; my experience has been rather limited, beginning in college and continuing primarily through this blog.  However, I do have some experience as to what works and what doesn't.  Ultimately, "witnessing," as Christians call it, comes down to a simple, heartfelt conversation--the most important one you will ever have.  My tips are below (for those of you in a great hurry), but first I thought I'd briefly share with you my first major experience with witnessing. 

I spent my sophomore year of college as the appointed leader of a campus ministry called Chi Alpha, which is affiliated with the Assemblies of God.  I must say it was the most stressful and sometimes frightening job I've ever taken on, and I wasn't even paid to do it!  I took on the job after a cold-call from the district head of Chi Alpha, who told me the previous leader (who had transferred to a different campus) had recommended me to the post.  The year began badly, with a horrible first meeting, hate mail, personal threats and verbal abuse, and a whole lot of discouragement.  I had stuck with it for a month, but I was still thinking about quitting.

This time, one of the students in Chi Alpha decided to walk me back to my dorm room after a Chi Alpha meeting.  I wasn't expecting to get into any deep spiritual discussion with her, but we ended up talking about death, and heaven.  Then she tearfully asked me how she could be sure she would someday go to heaven.  I quickly invited her into my dorm room, deciding that the test prep for the following day would just have to wait, and I shared my faith with her, trying my best to answer her questions and showing her where in the Bible they were answered.  The talk ended with me praying with her in the middle of my dorm room floor to receive Jesus.

I learned a lot that day, including a lot of things I wish I'd done differently.  Here are the best tips I can give to those who want to share their faith but aren't really sure of how to go about it.
  1. Understand your audience's background.  People aren't all the same, and sharing your faith with them is not going to be the same every time.  Whether you know this person already, or whether you've only just met this person, you need to ask yourself a few questions.  Is this person already familiar with the Bible or Christian doctrines?  How knowledgeable is this person, in general (for instance, a child knows less than an adult, and someone from high school knows less than someone with a PhD)?  What in this person's background might have brought about this interest in knowing Jesus?  What part of this person's background would make Christianity seem personally applicable or desirable?  You may not know the answer to these questions, but if you pray and ask God to help you, God will guide you into finding the answers (see also Jeremiah 17: 9, 10; John 16: 13).
  2. Tailor the message.  The Bible is full of examples of sharing the faith, and if you pay attention, you'll see how the message is the same throughout, but the presentation is tailored to the listener.  When Jesus spoke to the woman at the well, He commented on her past, as well as the Jewish-Samaritan relationship at that time (John 4: 1-42).  Next, when Peter and John were on trial before the Sanhedrin, they mentioned Jesus, a familiar figure to their audience, and cited passages from Psalms, which their audience had learned as part of their religious education (Acts 4: 1-22).  Finally, when Paul spoke to the Greeks at the Areopagus, he cited their philosophers and their idols at the beginning of his speech (Acts 17: 22-34), but when he addressed a less-scholarly crowd of Greeks, he showed an understanding of the beliefs and practices involved in their worship of Hermes and Zeus (Acts 14: 8-18).  I could go on, but I think you get the idea.  A one-size-fits-all approach seems less effective than a personal approach.  Learning standard witnessing approaches, such as the "Roman Road" or "The Way of the Master" are good for teaching you the basic ingredients of witnessing, but they are not always the best approach for your particular audience.  Don't cling too tightly to a script.
  3. Pay attention to what your audience is telling you.  If you are sharing your faith in a one-on-one situation, 95% of what you will be doing is listening, not talking.  Once, on my lunch hour at college, a Christian girl approached me and asked if I would sit with her while she shared her faith with a group of foreign exchange students.  Once we'd all gathered at a lunch table, she immediately launched into one of those scripted approaches I just mentioned, and one of the listeners, a female native of Venezuela, raised her hand to interrupt.  "For centuries, my ancestors have gone to mass regularly, and they have held all the festivals and practices of the Christians.  But you aren't answering my question, so I will ask again.  Why should the Christian faith be important to me, in the modern world?  I don't understand."  I opened my mouth to answer, and was horrified to hear the Christian girl beside me blurt out, "That question is off-topic.  Now, getting back to what I was saying..." and she returned to the next step in the script she was following.  Suffice it to say, the audience stopped listening, and were clearly offended.   Sometimes your audience will ask a good question, not a "heckler's question," which is meant to derail the discussion.  This was definitely a good question.   When such a thing happens, you must answer in as much detail as the situation requires, even if the conversation doesn't end in a prayer to receive Christ.  If you have answered truthfully and kindly, the person will be more inclined to hear more.  If you don't, you may be destroying this and all future opportunities for this person to hear the message.
  4.  Know your Bible, and if that isn't fully possible, know how to listen to God.  Because of that incident, I also learned that you need to know what the Bible says on a lot of subjects before you should try to share your faith.  Nobody is perfect, but I have to say that your audience sees you, as a self-proclaimed Christian, to be an expert on Christianity.  Because of this, Paul wrote, "Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season," (2 Timothy 4: 2 NIV).  However,  there may come a day when you will not know how to answer a person; in that situation, you will need God's divine guidance through the Holy Spirit to remind you of what the Bible says.  Jesus promised this help to His disciples, saying "Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit" (Mark 13: 11 NIV; see also Luke 12: 11, 12).  When it comes down to it, though, there is no excuse for ignorance of the most basic teachings of Christianity.  How can you ask someone to believe in something neither of you know anything about?
  5. Tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  Sharing your faith can get into some uncomfortable territory, and often brings out misconceptions of what Christianity is, and what makes a person a Christian.  You can make the situation worse if you try to rewrite history, gloss over important teachings because they are offensive to some, or simply pretend your audience isn't mature enough to understand.  Honesty, tempered with kindness and humility, is always the best policy.  Our God is the God of truth.  If we really believe that, we can trust God to defend the truth, even in front of a hostile audience.   He would never want us to lie or deceive.  If we are listening to God, He will embolden us and give us words when the truth seems like the worst answer we could give, and He will prepare the hearts of our listeners to be more receptive to our message.  "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander" (1 Peter 2: 14-16 NIV).
 Well, that's five tips.  Do you have anything to add to the list?  Feel free to share in the comments section.


Kamal Singarapu said...

Rachel, Thank you for writing a wonderful article about Witnessing.

Yesterday evening at my work place I had an opportunity to share the Gospel of Christ and answer few questions which my colleague asked me.

One important thing about the whole thing yesterday was the "Prayer." I prayed for a minute yesterday saying "God today give me boldness to tell my colleague about you, please open the conversation any way so that we can talk about you." Our faithful God certainly did.

My colleague asked me a question which was related to the sin or evil in this world and I shared some of the thought I had about the the topic and brought the salvation message. He patiently listened to me and asked me few questions. It did not end with a salvation prayer but the person is now open to know more about the faith.

so an important point i would like to submit here is that importance of "Prayer." What God Holy Spirit can do, we can never do our self.

As Apostle mentioned in Romans 1:9, Let us preach the Gospel of God with all our heart/might and not be ashamed of the Gospel and be ready always because there is power in the Gospel of God that can save people.

Rachel said...

Prayer is a very important ingredient! If we aren't listening to God, and aren't in agreement with His will, we are setting ourselves up for failure, like the seven sons of Sceva (Acts 19: 13-18).