1. You haven’t really witnessed to someone until you’ve taken that person through the plan of salvation.
I was taught that witnessing wasn’t really legitimate unless you presented the entire plan of salvation, using appropriate verses to support a point-by-point description of God’s plan for that person’s life. But I never found that in Scripture. Even Jesus himself answered people’s questions and made statements that got them thinking. But there’s not a lot of evidence that he made a start-to-finish presentation of the gospel. He came close with Nicodemus (John 3), but that conversation was primarily Jesus responding to the already-interested ruler’s questions. (Christ’s approach is covered in more detail in chapter 8.)
The biblical model of evangelism is primarily a process, not an event. The pattern involves meeting people at their level, developing a relationship, and moving them along a notch or two in their spiritual journey. When people did make a commitment to Christ, we usually don’t see a detailed presentation of the gospel. They had already gone through the steps of moving closer to Christ and now were ready to make a commitment. It wasn’t a sudden event; it reflected a great deal of thought and contemplation. Even when Paul gave detailed, step-by-step explanations of God’s work, he was writing to believers, not unbelievers. Paul’s content was the “next level” for those believers.
2. Even when you share the gospel with someone, you’re not successful until that person prays to receive Christ.
Several of the books I studied presented a sales model of evangelism. Traditional books on selling show how to develop a sense of need in potential clients, explain how your solution fits their need, and then move in for the close. Some evangelism books have picked up this pattern, emphasizing the need to press for a decision for witnessing to be considered valid.
The biblical pattern makes God responsible for the close. If someone has reached the point of making a decision, guiding him or her through the process is a natural result. But forcing a decision prematurely could produce a spiritually premature believer, which could lessen the odds of his or her long-term survival and growth.
When my daughter, Sara, was a toddler, she planted carrots in our yard. I helped her water them and care for them, but we didn’t have much success. The carrots would sprout and grow, and one by one they would die. One day I found out why. Looking out the window, I saw her alone in the garden, pulling up a carrot to see if it was ready yet, then sticking it back in the ground.
The time of harvest is up to God. When he tells us it’s time, then it’s our privilege to lead a person to the Savior. But closing the deal isn’t a requisite part of every spiritual conversation.
3. If you don’t share the gospel with someone, and an hour later he or she is killed in a car accident, it’s your fault that he or she will spend eternity in hell.
Ezekiel 3:18 is frequently used to motivate people to witness. The passage says, “When I [the Lord] say to an evil person, ‘You will surely die,’ you must warn him. If you don’t speak out to warn the evil person to leave his evil way, he will die in his sin. But I will hold you responsible for his death” (NCV). I’ve seen that passage used in several recent popular writings about sharing your faith, but it has two inherent problems.
First, it’s out of context. In the passage, Ezekiel has been directly instructed by God to speak his truth to a specific group of people. If he didn’t do it, God would hold him responsible for disobedience in that specific situation. Expecting all believers to take that instruction as their own would be inappropriate. Suppose you prayed for guidance in a career decision, and God made it clear that you should move to another state and take a certain job. It wouldn’t make sense for your whole church to move with you.
Peggy, a woman gifted in evangelism (and an extrovert), told me that failing to share her faith with someone would be disobedience, but it’s not because of guilt-induced obligation from a verse taken out of context. It’s because God has specifically called her to share her faith with the people he puts in her path. She doesn’t expect that of others, because she realizes that God gave her that unique mission.
Second, this interpretation of the passage puts the responsibility for salvation on us instead of on God. If evangelism is a process, God uses many people to bring someone to faith. If one person in that chain breaks the process, God doesn’t say, “Oh well—I guess we can give up on Sharon. Kathy didn’t witness to her, so it’s hopeless.” God is drawing Sharon to himself, and he’ll use other people in the process. Kathy will miss out on the privilege of sharing, and there may be an obedience issue between her and God, but her failure doesn’t mean Sharon is eternally doomed.
When I was in college, we talked a lot about finding out who God wanted us to marry. We were taught that God had custom designed one person for us, and it was our job to find that person (with God’s help, of course). The implication was that if we married the wrong spouse, we would spend the rest of our lives living with God’s second best. We often heard, “God’s second best is Satan’s best.”
I always struggled with the logic of that. What if the person God had designed for me blew it? What if she married her second best? I’d get cheated for life, and it wasn’t even my fault! It didn’t make sense that God’s best for me could be restricted by other people’s behavior.
It’s God who draws us to himself and gives us eternal life. He uses other people in the process, but he’s not restricted by their behavior.
4. It’s important to witness to as many people as possible.
The exciting thing about our unique God-given design is that we’re all so different. Not everyone can be reached by everyone. That’s why he puts people in our lives we can influence. Extroverts tend to have more relationships in their lives. Introverts tend to have fewer, but deeper, relationships. Introverts will take the time to build trust in a relationship and deal patiently with someone’s questions.
If we were evaluated based on the sheer number of people we shared with, we’d have trouble knowing when we were pleasing God. Do we all have to hold large crusades? What about a pastor of a five-thousand-member big-city church? Is he more spiritual than the pastor of a five-hundred-member suburban church? This kind of illogical measurement just leads to frustration. No matter how many conversations we have, there could always be one more. But it’s not the quantity of the conversations we have; it’s the quality of the relationships we build. Christ occasionally shared with the multitudes, but he spent more time with his twelve disciples—and was heart bonded to three of them. The result? Those three men changed the world to a greater extent than the rest of the Twelve. We don’t hear much about the impact of the multitude.
Christ said, “The harvest is plentiful. . . . Ask the Lord of the harvest . . . to send out workers” (Matt. 9:37–38). Sermons often suggest that our proper response is to be the laborers—to answer the call. But the passage is clear. In that specific instance, Christ didn’t ask them to be the laborers; he asked them to pray that God would raise up laborers.
It’s God’s work, not ours. He chooses us to participate at specific times in specific ways. Sometimes we’re the laborers. Other times we’re called to pray. We’re always called to be responsive.
5. I have to be bold in my witness.
Biblical boldness isn’t something we do; it’s something God gives us. We’re often told to pray for boldness, but then we try to act bolder in our own strength. That defeats the whole purpose of praying for boldness!
I pray for lots of things. Some answers come right away, but many things are just the beginning of a process. When I pray for patience, I don’t receive it overnight. I can pray for a good attitude toward a grumpy associate, but I may still get upset when he’s grumpy the next day. So when I pray for boldness in sharing my faith, I expect that it’s the beginning of a process. I won’t suddenly be bold the next day, but I’ll probably encounter situations that will require a little more strength than I have on my own.
That’s boldness. It’s not mustering up more courage, but waiting for God to empower me. The children of Israel weren’t asked to be bold enough to cross the Red Sea. They just had to get their toes in the water (which God specifically directed them to do). Then God took over and did the miracle. In witnessing, we need to be sensitive to what he’s calling us to do in each situation and then watch him work.
I’ve discovered that boldness has more than one definition. Usually we think of it as being brash and outspoken, confronting people with the gospel. But boldness really means doing what God has asked us to do in each situation, relying on his strength. For me that means I can communicate things in writing that I would be hard-pressed to verbalize in a conversation.
6. “You shall be my witnesses” is a command.
Acts 1:8 says, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses.” We’re told that it’s not optional and that God is commanding us to go. But it’s not a command; it’s a description of fact. We’re not told to go out and witness. We’re told that we are witnesses—whether we like it or not and whether we feel qualified or not.
A witness is someone who has had firsthand experience with something. If you see a car accident, you’re a witness whether you give a police report or not. Providing the report will be beneficial to the investigators and could provide a solution to a confusing dilemma. You could give a report at the accident scene, call the officers later, or write out a description of what you saw. The fact remains: you are a witness.
As Christians, we’ve had firsthand experience with Christ. That makes us witnesses whether we tell anyone or not. We’ve been called to provide the details of what we’ve experienced to help people through a confusing life dilemma. That could take place in a number of different forms, but the fact remains: we are witnesses. It’s not a command; it’s a description.
Matthew 28:19 states that the task is to “make disciples.” Discipleship involves guiding people closer to God from whatever place they are. For unbelievers, it’s moving them one step closer to salvation. For believers, it’s moving them one step closer to a mature walk with God.
7. God is happy with us if we witness and upset with us if we don’t.
There’s something inside many of us that says God’s feeling toward us is dependent on whether or not we share our faith. But to keep our theology straight, we need to separate (1) God’s unconditional love for us and (2) doing his work.
When my son was little, we used to play a game about unconditional love. I’d say, “Tim, do you know how much I love you?”
He’d reply, “A whole bunch.”
“Could you do anything to make me not love you?” I’d ask. “Nope,” he’d reply.
Then he’d test me. “What if I hurt Mommy? Would you still love me then?”
“Yep,” I’d say. “I’d be really upset, but I would love you just as much as ever.”
In his mid-twenties now, he’s confident of our love, even if he doesn’t always make the choices we want him to make.
God wants us to intentionally, in the way he designed us, move people closer to him. But that’s not the basis for his love for us. He knows we’re frail, and he works with us the way a parent works with his child. Too often we get our view of God from our relationships with our earthly fathers, which might not have been that secure.
In our church, many people have taken short-term mission trips to other countries. I did it a few years ago, and I have to admit it feels good to be involved in kingdom work. It feels even better because it involves sacrifice—time off work, vacation time, the expense of the trip, and time away from family.
Without devaluing that involvement, I’ve often wondered why people usually go away from home to do it. We don’t usually hear someone stand up in church and say, “I feel God has called me to take a mission trip to my neighborhood. I have a neighbor who’s adding a room on his house for his growing family, and he needs help. I feel that God wants me to take two weeks off work and help him with that project. I want to build a relationship with him and his family and neighbors and use that to build a bridge of love that might move him closer to faith. I’m raising support for the time I’m taking off work and would like to raise money to help provide building materials. Wanna help?”
Considering an approach like that would certainly clarify our motives.
Mike Bechtle, Evangelism for the Rest of Us: Sharing Christ within Your Personality Style (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2006).
We have just released a new Bible Study on the topic Sharing Christ.
These lessons are available on Amazon, as well as a part of Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription Service. Like Netflix for Bible Lessons, one low subscription gives you access to all our lessons–thousands of them. For a medium-sized church, lessons are as little as $10 per teacher per year.
Each lesson consists of 20 or so ready-to-use questions that get groups talking. Answers are provided in the form of quotes from respected authors such as John Piper, Max Lucado and Beth Moore.
These lessons will save you time as well as provide deep insights from some of the great writers and thinkers from today and generations past. I also include quotes from the same commentaries that your pastor uses in sermon preparation.
Ultimately, the goal is to create conversations that change lives.