“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (New International Version, Romans 12:1). How can we Christians follow God’s instruction to do that? People today are more selfish, more self-absorbed, more isolated, more busy, more prideful, more broken, more depressed, more lonely, and more hurting than ever before!Read More
When you share your testimony about what you’ve seen, heard, and experienced, both in your life before and after knowing Christ, you are a first-person witness. That’s why Christians call the act of telling their story “witnessing.” You can’t give your testimony if you haven’t witnessed Christ.Read More
In Part I, we discussed some of the challenges to witnessing to our non-Christian family, friends, and those within our circle of influence. Sometimes we may have only one opportunity—perhaps a casual meeting during our commute to work or a seemingly random question from the clerk at the store—but the Lord also brings people into our lives for longer than a few minutes. In this section, we will look at some practical advice and Biblical examples to give all of us, even the inexperienced layperson, the foundation we will need to witness to all people. Recently during the Third International Bible Conference in Jerusalem, Francisco Gayoba, president of the Adventist University of the Philippines, mentioned the difficulties of witnessing to and evangelizing those of other faiths. Gayoba stressed that “[w]e need to adapt our missionary methods.” (1) As the discussion at the conference demonstrates, there is not a specific one-size-fits-all witnessing strategy. A method that may be effective in reaching one person may not be successful in reaching another. As ambassadors for Christ, we must learn to be flexible in our approach.
In Gospel Workers, Ellen White wrote: “Thus the apostle [Paul] varied his manner of labor, shaping his message to the circumstances under which he was placed.”(2) And she goes on to warn that “[s]ome there are today who will not be convinced by any method of presenting the truth; and the laborer for God is to study carefully the best methods.”(3) Yet sometimes we fail to adapt our methods to meet the individual’s needs, and this results in failure. “By following their natural inclinations, they have closed doors through which they might, by a different method of labor, have found access to hearts, and through them to other hearts.”(4)
Importance of Studying God’s Word and Prayer
The first and most important part of any type of witnessing is strengthening our own relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We have been given a mission—to share the gospel—and this is not something we can accomplish with our own strength, power, or intellect. Just as soldiers would not enter into battle untrained and unarmed, we must not enter into spiritual warfare without adequate training from the Word of God and rightly armed with His truth. Just as the Bereans were commended for studying the Scriptures daily, we also must open the Bible and study (Acts 17:11). When we are in God’s Word regularly, we guard ourselves from pride and arrogance (1 Samuel 2:3); ensure that what we share with others is Biblically sound (2 Timothy 2:15); and ready ourselves so that the Holy Spirit can bring back to our remembrance what we have studied (John 14:26). When we are immersed in the Word of God, we will “…be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you…” (1 Peter 3:15).
As equally vital to our relationship with the Lord is prayer. Some view prayer as a chore to be avoided as much as possible rather than a privilege to eagerly look forward to. If we desire to be an effective witness for our Lord, prayer needs to become an irreplaceable part of our daily routine. During His earthly ministry, Jesus would make time to pray, because through prayer, He communed with His Father in Heaven and was given the strength to face the ordeals before Him (Matthew 26:36; Mark 6:46; Luke 5:16; John 17). After Christ’s ascension into heaven, His followers continued in the example He had given them. Stephen prayed for the men who were stoning him (Acts 7:55-60); Paul prayed for the believers (Romans 1:9; Ephesians 1:16); and we are admonished to “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
As witnesses for Christ, we enter into a battle, not against flesh and bone, but against Satan and his fallen angels (Ephesians 6:12). We need to consecrate our own hearts and minds before entering into this battle, and this is done through earnest, humbling prayer in which we confess our shortcomings and give control to the Lord. We should never omit praying for the ones we are called to witness to, that they may be protected from the enemy. 1 Peter 5:6-8 illustrates this well: “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon Him; for He careth for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.”
Building Genuine Friendships
As we strengthen and deepen our own relationship with Christ, He will provide opportunities to witness for Him. One of the most effective forms of witnessing, especially to those who are not of a Christian faith, is to build a genuine, personal relationship with the person as an individual. Be a friend! How simple a concept, yet we sometimes gloss over this very important step. Many non-Christians will not take what we say seriously if they feel we are preaching at them or merely adding another notch in our evangelism belts.
To be honest, if there is no real relationship between the witness and the one he or she is witnessing to, many times the recipient of the message feels insulted or even attacked. We need to take the time to create a real, authentic friendship with the person—whether a loved one or an acquaintance—and, even if their worldview and belief system is very different from a Biblical one, show them respect. Remember the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you (Luke 6:31).
Building an authentic friendship requires a large investment of our time. As a 1993 Ministry article on friendship evangelism points out, “It is highly individualized and defies the typical organizational processes of church programs and statistical reporting.”(5) Friendship evangelism is all about becoming a compassionate and caring friend without expecting anything in return. As the friendship grows, the Lord will guide us in discovering openings to share our faith, but these openings are often brief and need to be handled delicately.
Listening to Understand The Needs of Others
That leads us right in to a crucial point that can be missing from some witnessing strategies: listening to the other person. We often think that witnessing is all about talking … preaching the word of God, talking about Jesus, and sharing our testimony. While these are integral to witnessing, sometimes we jump straight to the talking without having first listened to the other person. Yet it is through listening that we discern where that person is spiritually, what their specific needs are, and how the Holy Spirit will guide us in providing for what that person needs at that specific moment in time. Perhaps the Lord brought this person into our lives because we share a similar experience—health, finances, family, sorrow, whatever the experience may be—and the Lord is allowing us the opportunity to help the person (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
Paul expresses the importance of listening to understand in 1 Corinthians 9:19-24. He says, “Unto the Jews I became as a Jew,” “ to them that are without the law, as without law,” “to the weak I became weak,” and so on. He is not talking about compromise but flexibility in his method of sharing his faith. He witnessed for Christ among Jews and gentiles, believers and non-believers, but he approached people differently depending upon their spiritual needs. We, too, need to listen and be able to adjust our approach to meet the needs of the individual directly before us. An individual who already has some understanding of the Scriptures may be ready to have Bible studies, another person may only be ready to hear that Jesus loves them, and others may need comfort for specific problems or challenges, such as the death of a loved one or the loss of employment.
When we do not take the time to listen first and jump directly into preaching as led by our natural inclinations, we are actually running ahead of the Holy Spirit and may even end up sabotaging the work. We need to have patience and follow His leading. The Holy Spirit guided Philip to the Ethiopian just when the man was reading the Scriptures (the prophet Isaiah) and seeking a deeper understanding. I encourage you to read the entire account in Acts 8:26-40 to see how Philip allowed the Holy Spirit to lead, how he listened to the Ethiopian to understand where he was spiritually and what his needs were, and then how he met those needs while sharing about Jesus. It is a beautiful example of witnessing!
Dealing With Discouragement
In the account of the Ethiopian, he was so moved by the revelation of Christ that Philip baptized him right there in the river. Yet not all witnessing will result in immediate conversions nor baptisms. Sometimes it will take months and even years of friendship, conversations, and one-on-one Bible studies before the other person’s heart opens completely to the Lord. Sometimes we will find no amount of effort on our part seems to make a difference. We might even lose a few friends along the way. We must not be discouraged!
In 1 Corinthians 3:6-7, Paul writes about an important principle of witnessing: “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.” We may plant the seed or water a seed planted by someone else, but we must remember that it is always the Lord who is in control of spiritual growth. And we may never know, this side of Christ’s second advent, whether something we said or did within a friendship led someone to ultimately choose Christ.
My younger sister recently experienced such a surprise when, after reuniting with a friend she had not seen nor spoken with for five years, she discovered that the seed she planted in her friend’s mind during their time together in high school was the catalyst that brought her friend into a relationship with Christ and, eventually, to accept the teachings of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. My sister planted the seed, and though she saw no result at the time and thought her witnessing efforts had failed, the Lord used others—including professional evangelists via online video archives—during those five years to water and nurture that seed. Then the Lord brought my sister and her friend together and graciously allowed my sister to give her friend in-depth Bible studies preparing her for baptism.
At the beginning of this witnessing effort, seven years ago, a positive outcome seemed highly improbable: a brief friendship during the tumultuous years of high school resulting in, years later, someone choosing to give their life completely to Christ. Yet this type of story, an example of the long-term effects of friendship evangelism, is playing out all around us. Sometimes the Lord allows us to see the fruit of our labors—such as the reunion of my sister and her friend—and other times we will not know the far-reaching influence of our endeavors until Christ’s second coming. So do not let a perceived failure discourage you and prevent you from continuing to witness for Christ.
In Testimonies for the Church, Ellen White wrote: “If we would humble ourselves before God, and be kind and courteous and tenderhearted and pitiful, there would be one hundred conversions to the truth where now there is only one.”(6) Each one of us has been given a unique mission field by the Lord and, more often than not, it is right here at home among our families, friends, classmates, co-workers, neighbors, and others within our immediate circle of influence. Some of us may not feel that we are suited to being witnesses for Christ—perhaps we have never had the opportunity to attend a formal training program for personal evangelism—but the Lord has given us the spiritual gifts we need to share Him with those around us. The Lord may be calling us to plant the seed in someone’s mind or to water and nurture a seed planted by another.
Witnessing is not a one-time encounter but living every day of our lives to the glory to the Lord. Below is a quick reference for the basic foundation needed for reaching all people, whether Christian or not, within our individual circles. Remember, there is no "one-size-fits-all" witnessing strategy, but if you put into practice the tips below, you will find that witnessing becomes a part of who you are. If you are struggling, whether witnessing to a specific individual or witnessing as a whole, go to the Lord and ask Him to help you become a more effective witness.
- Strengthen your own relationship with the Lord through daily Bible study and prayer (2 Timothy 2:15; Philippians 4:6).
- Build genuine relationships based on authentic and unconditional friendship, respect, and compassion (Luke 6:31; 1 Peter 3:8-12).
- Wait on the Lord and be ready to answer questions or share your testimony, and He will provide the opportunities when the one you are witnessing to is ready (1 Peter 3:15-16).
- Listen to the other person, and the Holy Spirit will help you discern what that person’s spiritual needs are. Be flexible and allow the Lord to help you adapt your methods to best meet the needs of the specific individual before you (1 Corinthians 9:19-24).
- Remember that sometimes the Lord will allow you to go through difficult situations so you will be better equipped to help others experiencing similar challenges (2 Corinthians 1:4).
- Do not overwhelm or pressure the person you are witnessing to. It is your place to share; it is the Holy Spirit who convicts (Philippians 2:14; John 16:7-10).
- Not all efforts will see immediate results, but that does not mean the witnessing was in vain. You may be the planter or the one watering, but remember God is the One who causes spiritual growth (1 Corinthians 3:6-7; Hebrews 12:2).
- Mark A. Kellner, “Battle Against Spiritualism Far From Over, Adventist Theologian Says”, Adventist Review, June 19, 2012. Accessed June 20, 2012. [link]
- Ellen G. White, Gospel Workers, 118.
- Monte Sahlin, “Friendship Evangelism”, Ministry, 1993. Accessed June 20, 2012. [link]
- Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9, 189.
Recently as I read the comments on an informal article a friend of mine wrote on the topic of repentance, I came across the following statement: “I don't believe I need to justify or beg forgiveness for my sins because I don't believe I do sin.” And farther down, another commenter asked: “…what are your thoughts on moral atheists? People who do not commit ‘sin,’ and when they do they ‘repent’ with inner reflection rather than going to... um... Outside Help.” These comments reveal a completely different worldview than the Christian/biblical worldview, and it gave me pause. Let’s face it, though we may not always receive the response we desire, it is easier to share the gospel and three angels’ messages with fellow Christians, because underneath the differences caused by denominational doctrines and extra-biblical traditions, we often share the same foundation: the belief in an Almighty Creator; the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ, who died for the sins of the world; and the importance of the Bible. Growing up and/or living in a pre-dominantly Christian society have sheltered many Adventists in North America. We have lost touch with how to share with non-Christians, but times are changing and so are the demographics of our society.
In 2007, the Pew Forum's U.S. Religious Landscape Survey determined that 78% of adults in the United States profess some form of Christianity as their religious affiliation, whether or not they attended church regularly. Yet interestingly the mainline Protestant churches are experiencing a decline in membership. At the same time, a growing number of young adults are claiming no religious affiliation. In fact, one-in-four U.S. adults ages 18 to 29 are not affiliated with a specific religion. What about our church? The Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America, which not too long ago was highlighted in an USA Today article, has grown by 2.5%, but in spite of this growth, our church membership is aging. In 2008, the average age of church members in North America was 51 years even though the average age of the general population was 36. These statistics demonstrate the difficulty we are having in reaching the young adult population, particularly as more young adults distance themselves from, have little knowledge regarding, or have no interest in Christianity.
It is inevitable; we will meet people whose worldview--their philosophy of life--is completely different from ours. How do we share the Gospel with those who think the Bible is an archaic book of outdated fairytales, that Jesus may have been a historic figure but was just a wise man who taught moral lessons, or do not believe in God at all? How do we explain the importance of Jesus’ sacrificial death with someone who revers Buddha; the joy of the Sabbath rest with someone who observes ancient pagan festivals like Samhain; or the importance of worshiping the God of the Bible alone when they believe in other gods and goddesses? How do we communicate the three angel’s message with someone who does not believe in Creation, has never kept Sunday (let alone Sabbath), and is not convinced with a “thus saith the Lord”?
The common foundation we may have grown accustomed to when initiating a conversation with fellow Christians will not be there when we find ourselves in an opportunity to share with a non-Christian. I am not belittling the importance of witnessing to our Christian brothers and sisters. It is an important part of fulfilling the second angel’s message (Revelation 14:8). I, myself, was a Protestant Christian for eighteen years before joining the Adventist Church, and afterward I was blessed with teaching as part of evangelistic seminars and one-on-one Bible studies. I understand first-hand the challenges that are faced when we decide to leave what was comfortable and familiar, and to follow the Lord into deeper truth. It is life changing, but even as life-changing as is a Christian becoming an Adventist, the basic foundation of our worldview remains the same.
When we witness to non-Christians with the hope of helping them choose Christ, we are literally asking them to replace their entire way of thinking and viewing the world with a radically different way to think and view the world. We are asking them throw everything they believed out the window. This is a significant challenge for both the witness and the one we are witnessing to. We cannot approach an atheist the same way we would an Anglican; a Buddhist in the same manner we would a Baptist; or a Pagan with the same style as a Pentecostal.
We may not be famous evangelists or trained Bible workers, we have not have a degree in theology or experience in apologetics, but the Lord still expects us to witness to those He brings into our circle of influence, whether Christian or non-Christian. After all, the first angel’s message is to preach the everlasting gospel “unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people” (Revelation 14:6). Even if from our point-of-view the task before us appears insurmountable, we have confidence in the words of Christ: “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
So how do we share the gospel with the non-Christians within our circle of influence? In Part II, we will take a look at practical advice and examples provided by the Word of God.
U.S. Religious Landscape Survey. (2007) The Pew Forum. Available at http://religions.pewforum.org/reports
Reflections on the future of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America: Trends and challenges by David Beckworth & S. Jospeh Kidder. (2010) Ministry Magazine. Available at http://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/2010/december/reflections-on-the-future-of-north-american-seventh-day-adventism.html
Adventists’ back-to-basics faith is fastest growing U.S. church by G. Jeffrey MacDonald. (2011) USA Today. Available at http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2011-03-18-Adventists_17_ST_N.htm