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Our Witnessing Tools
Abstract: The vast majority of the people who have not accepted Christ either don’t know about the Bible, are prejudiced against the Bible, or resist having the Bible quoted to them. Witnessing to them necessitates seeking common ground and using something other than the Bible at the outset, and it is no denial of our faith to turn to other resources.
When seeking out the people of His day, Jesus skillfully and sensitively reached out to his hearers on the basis of their world view and their current relationship to God. His witnessing conversations often included asking for practical help, sharing life-changing truth in non-threatening ways, affirming them as we have mentioned before, and communicating in terms of the common every day things of life until they were prepared to hear more substantial spiritual truths.
To the women at the well, an implied social acceptance conveyed in a “give me a drink,” eventually became an invitation to seek God’s acceptance in the water that would well up to eternal life (John 4:14). The details of her life were messy and most people had written her off, but Jesus acceptance in spite of what He knew about her changed her life.
To the fisherman disciples, a further call to become fishers of men began, at least for Peter, with an implied “I need you” in the practical request to use his boat to preach from, to the conveyed, “I know what I’m doing” in commanding further fishing in the middle of the day when one didn’t customarily find fish, was followed by practical “seeing is believing” outcomes when the nets were filled with fish, and thus opening the way for a marveling Peter to worship at Jesus’ feet and the latter’s: “Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.” (Luke 5:10) By seeing God's power in the common every day things of life, Peter was inspired to trust God to do spiritual miracles.
To Zacchaeus, who was little of stature in every way except in his ability to oppress the people and therefore did not seem to be a likely candidate for the kingdom, Jesus’ “make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house,” brought a joyful response and complete change of life (Luke 19:4-6). Zacchaeus was one of those “white for harvest” people waiting to be plucked by a skillful harvester.
These kind of people are all around us. Sadly, in spite of our good intentions, in too many cases our good but zealous actions, AND the tools we use to reach them, get in the way of their hearing our message.
You and I might we have seized the opportunity to offer at least a bit of a sermon or spiritual admonition at the outset in these situations—they had serious issues to overcome, or to package what we communicated in a pleasing presentation, but in all cases, the first appeal was a sensitive plea in the common every day things of the particular individual’s situation that conveyed disarming acceptance in non-threatening ways.
Recently books and discussions have been suggested which, at least in the minds of those posting, might be witnessing opportunities or resources. I appreciate the postings though group members come from various spiritual persuasions and we need to be sensitive to them, and I request that suggestions of books be conveyed in terms of personal testimonials and not slick marketing promotions. But I do want to remind that witnessing efforts need to be custom fit to the people being addressed with much sensitivity to their world view and past experiences. What works for one person won’t work for another, etc..
Which brings me to today’s point, and I am quoting Charles Trumbull again, “The Bible is the soul-winner’s indispensable equipment. But it is not necessarily his tool. Ninety-nine persons in a hundred, of those who have not yet come to Christ, are not deeply interested in the Bible…. If we would use bait that would attract them at the outset, and seek interests that are common to them and ourselves, we must, as a rule, begin with something else than a Bible quotation.” (Taking Men Alive)
He is specifically speaking here of situations where there is neither interest in, nor acceptance of, the Bible. It is NOT a denial of our faith to avoid antagonizing our hearers unnecessarily at the outset with a presentation of truth from the Book he or she may know nothing about, or is deeply prejudiced against. The point is getting into conversation and relationship with them, and we will have to do it on their terms instead of ours, of course without compromising our values.
In seeking common ground we mustn’t forget that our purpose in witnessing is bringing people to Jesus, which will eventually be accomplished, through their personal reading of His word. The challenge of course is getting them to that point. Will they accept the verse we share because we share it, particularly if they have no prior relationship with us? Doubtfully? Hence the need to work on their ground, with resources they respect, and in Jesus’ affirming way.
Lest I be misunderstood, I am not suggesting there won’t be conversations when the Bible is primary because of the person’s interest in and prior experiences with the Bible. In those cases by all means use the Bible from the outset.
And when it comes to suggesting books, some books work better than others and we need to pray for wisdom and discernment to suggest what will work for them.
You can find the rest of these essays on witnessing and join in the discussion at Christian Witnessing Works on facebook.