Evangelism. It’s a big word with some scary implications. One of those connotations for me is the word “witnessing,” an even more daunting concept. I don’t do it well, I don’t like it and I do all I can to avoid it—or being lumped in with those who do.
My fear of evangelism—witnessing—started early. I heard about it all the time in Sunday school and was encouraged to share my faith. At the time, I loved Jesus—privately. I wanted others to know him but hated that I was different. Mostly, I wanted to do some of what I perceived to be fun things, like movies, dances and even hanging out with my nonchurched school friends.
I worked as a waitress in an ice cream shop during my senior year of high school. One of my first experiences of witnessing in the workplace, a non-Christian environment, was by well-meaning Christians who left booklets of the Four Spiritual Laws under their plates in lieu of a monetary tip. If I happened to notice that a Jesus-doubting server received that, I would always add my own tip as I was able, instead of the booklet. Not that I didn’t want my friends and co-workers to have a relationship with Jesus. I just knew their stories and didn’t want to give them additional fodder for rejecting God.
Now years later, as a leader in our church, those connotations still linger. I feel fortunate, however, to be married to someone without the language baggage of these theological words. Someone who has taught me, by his example and his words these past 26 years in the ministry, to strip away some of the old words and live how they were intended. Someone who has pointed me to Jesus and caused me to rethink some of these thoughts I’ve been resistant to.
Representing God where you live, work
At Copper Hills Church, we don’t use the words evangelism or witnessing very much. We do talk about loving our neighbors and “taking notice and taking interest” in their lives. We talk about increasingly thinking like Jesus so that we are increasingly mistaken for him.
We talk about the fact that we don’t live where we live because the house was a great deal in the most ideal neighborhood, though it may be that. We don’t work where we work because the job best fits our needs and pays the bills, though it probably fits that. We don’t exercise where we exercise because it’s the best gym with the best trainers or go to school where we do because the degree best fits our goals or the schools are rated the highest, though they may be.
We live where we live because God wants for us to be a reasonable representation of him on that street or in that neighborhood, at that workplace, gym or school. We notice our neighbors, co-workers and skeptic friends and take interest in their lives. We take time to find out about them and love them.
When we first moved to Phoenix, it took seven years before our neighbor across the street finally responded to our overtures of friendship. We had tried to get to know Jim and his wife on numerous occasions by inviting them over. We brought them gifts at Christmas or baking throughout the year. One day he came over while we were cleaning out our garage. He came for help because his family was in distress. He knew my husband, Brad, is a pastor. And he thought our family was perfect, because he hadn’t seen us yell at our kids or use bad language as he watched us move church equipment in and out of our garage in those early days of church planting.
Take notice, take interest
I work as a health coach in a family practice and med-spa. I’ve worked with the doctors and some of my colleagues for almost nine years. I think it’s the perfect part-time job, but really it’s an opportunity to take notice and take interest in the lives of my coworkers and clients. I’ve been able to point discouraged believers back to Jesus during our conversations. I’ve invited lonely and disheartened Jesus-doubters to my church or pointed them to Bible-believing churches near them that I know would be a good match for them. Co-workers ask me about issues they are struggling with, and I always point them to Jesus—the one that can heal their deepest disappointments and hurts. I love my friends at work, so I intentionally “take notice and take interest” in their lives.
A couple from our church has taken the concept of “take notice and take interest” to a whole new level. Ed noticed that Dan, his neighbor across the street, had an old army Humvee. Ed has always been interested in four-wheeling and wondered whether an old Humvee would be just as good as any other for desert off-road activities. Ed talked to Dan about his choice of vehicles and what sort of things he did with it. Eventually, Ed bought a Humvee just like Dan’s so they would have something more in common.
With this common interest, Ed has invited Dan to go four-wheeling with other men from church. In fact, one Monday late in November, with two Humvees and a jeep, the Copper Hills staff got to go on an adventure in the desert. Dan was rubbing shoulders with normal men and women who happened to be on staff at a church. Ed and Dan have also attended car shows on the Copper Hills parking lot, together with their Humvees.
The story doesn’t end here. Ed and Misty continue to look for ways to engage both Dan and his wife, Lori. Misty has a woodworking shop in their garage and because the relationship has grown over the last year, both Dan and Lori come across the street out of curiosity, as Misty works on all sorts of projects for their home.
An open garage, a welcoming heart and little by little, without being conscious of it, Dan and Lori are being enveloped with Jesus followers who love them unconditionally. Believers who are ready “in season and out to give a reason for their hope, with respect and gentleness.”
We all have a story
Not everyone is able to adequately explain the gospel message with Bible verses to satisfy all the questions. But all believers have a story of hope—their story of what life was like before they knew Jesus loved them. Their story of what it was that caused them to explore who Jesus is and produced a willingness in them to get to know him. And finally, their story of how life is different for them now that they don’t have to be in charge of their destiny.
We all have a story. All we need to do is think through it and prepare it ahead of time. Maybe even practice the main points with another Jesus-follower so that when the time is right, we’ll be ready. As Peter writes in 1 Peter 3:15–16, “If someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way.”
It’s not our job to convert people to Jesus. It is our joy to be ready to explain our hope in Jesus. It’s our responsibility to authentically and consistently live a good life because we belong to Christ.