Christians are called to witness to Christ by their life and by their words. Some are called to be evangelists with a specific gift in proclaiming and sharing the Gospel. All have a responsibility to be ready to ‘give a reason for the hope that is in them’ and to do so with ‘gentleness and respect’.
So what makes for effective Christian witness?
Good witnesses always share Good News, not bad news.
Sometimes it seems as if in order to share the good news of Christ, we have to tell people bad news first. For example to tell people the good news of forgiveness in Christ, first we have to tell the bad news that they are sinners. Repentance is of course a significant aspect of what we want to share and there is a right time for this conversation, but it is fine to lead with whatever is good news for the person we are talking with, depending on the questions they are asking. Focussing on good news isn’t the same as giving an easy answer – often facing a challenge is ultimately life-giving, in fact this insight is integral to the Christian understanding of ‘dying to live’. But it is not for us to force challenges on others before they are ready for them.
Aspects of good news that may helpful in conversation are:
- Being loved by God.
- Being accepted by God
- Life in all fullness
- Personal growth
- Prayer and connection with God
- Hope for nature/creation
- Hope for society
- Life beyond death
Good witness is good news for society, not just for individuals
Sometimes our language about our faith can fall into ways of speaking that support the worst habits of our culture, in particular individualism and consumerism. It is good to check ourselves from time to time and ensure that our overall language is balanced. For example, if we are talking about an individual being invited into a relationship with Jesus, or about personal growth, we need to check that we are saying this in a way that is more than about me and my God and feeling better about myself.
It can help to be clear in our minds that the kingdom of God and the transformation of society is the end goal of evangelism. Jesus called us to make disciples, who will be alongside us, living differently, by the values of the kingdom of God, as ‘salt and light’. Brueggemann talks about evangelism as an invitation to people to live by a different story. Our society tells us all kinds of stories that are less than adequate and ultimately unfulfilling. We are invited by society to measure success by how much we own; how big our house is; how much money we possess; what we look like; whether we in positions of power. Ultimately though these stories fail us, so the invitation is to live by a different story that will not let us down and which is genuinely life-giving, for ourselves, our society and our planet.
How can we share our faith?
Praying for our community, friends and families is one of the main ways we hold them before God. Our prayer for them can be for all aspects of their life, in fact our love for friends is deeper if our prayers are concerned with their ordinary and everyday issues as well as for their faith development. As we pray, it can be good to ask God to show us which aspects of the good news speak life into their current situation, and to ask for God’s wisdom and support in opening up conversations.
Through our lifestyle:
Our way of life and priorities should communicate our faith. The first letter of Peter encourages us to ‘live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us’.
We won’t be perfect and while not wanting to be complacent about discipleship, it is important to note that how we handle things when we get it wrong speaks loudly of God, as well as what we do when we get it right. The way we live out our understanding of repentance, forgiveness and the new starts we are given in God shouts loudly about the good news that we know in Christ.
Identify and develop invitation events in the life of the church suited to people you want to reach. Aim to create a culture of witness and invitation in your church. This could be done through a special church event or service such as Experience Easter or Back to Church Sunday, or a church visit to the theatre, or a home communion, or a ramble through the countryside, or a pub quiz, or… the possibilities are endless.
Encourage all church members to invite 1-3 people to come, providing good invitations to hand out personally. Use words like: ‘I’m going. It’s going to be good. Will you come with me?’ Such invitation helps bring local Christians out into the open – a low key way of saying ‘this is important to me, come and see’.
Behind such work stands John Finney’s insight that central to evangelism today is ‘helping people belong so that they can believe’. Part of the belonging may involve exploring aspects of discipleship before explicit commitment, so don’t be surprised if someone who doesn’t identify as a Christian wants to explore how to pray or how to live as a Christian before they want to explore what Christians believe.
Through how we listen
Faith sharing is about listening as well as speaking. We will communicate our faith well by listening to others with respect and sensitivity and engaging in a mutually enjoyable conversation. Listening first also ensures that we are talking about things that are ‘live issues’ for the people we are talking with, rather than giving a gospel presentation that doesn’t connect with the reality of their lives.
It can be helpful to think about it as a conversation about life, with each partner bringing their own insight and resources into the conversation. The resource we bring is our Christian faith. This is significant and it is important that we don’t underplay how life-giving this is for us, and how life-giving it can be for others. It is respectful however to enter the conversation realising that others have something important for the conversation too. It doesn’t undermine our evangelism to go into a conversation expecting to learn as well as to give; in fact it can often strengthen evangelism as our willingness to learn sets the tone for the conversation and helps others to be open to learn from what we have to say about our Christian faith.
Through what we say :
We all have our own story to tell of how we became/grew as a Christian and how Christ is at work in our lives. Our story, shared appropriately, can encourage others. In order to be prepared for such opportunities it can be helpful to find time to reflect on our own faith journey and how it relates to our life story. It is important to think about how we say these things in every day language, avoiding the jargon that we often slip into when we are in church.
It can also be helpful to think about how your faith story reflects God’s story – keep in mind people, passages, psalms, and places where our faith resonates with the story of others and how that is expressed in Scripture. You might also want to ponder if there are particular seasons of the Christian year, symbols, music, images, or objects that could help you talk about your faith.
A few things that might be helpful to consider are these:
- What is life-giving to me about being a Christian?
- I am still a Christian because…
- When holding onto faith gets tough what keeps me going is…
- When life gets tough, this is how my faith helps me keep going . . .
- The aspect of my faith that I am currently reflecting on is . . . .
- The reason that my Christian faith inspires me to do (voluntary work in the community) is . . .
- How did my faith become important to me? (If your story seems mundane that is fine, most people’s are so this connects well with people!)
Remember to find ways of talking about faith without using jargon.
Through pointing people to others:
We might not feel we have the answers to the questions people may ask but we can point them to others, or to a book or something else we have found helpful. The first two in this list are about what Christians believe, the other two are more about the spiritual practices of Christians – each will be useful to different people depending on the questions they are asking:
What is Christianity? Rowan Williams (SPCK 2015)
Simply Christian, Tom Wright (SPCK 2006)
Do nothing to change your life Stephen Cottrell (CHP 2008)
Running over rocks Ian Adams (Canterbury Press 2013)
Through the guidance of the Holy Spirit:
Leading someone to faith is primarily God’s work, not ours. This means we can relax and stop worrying about what people think about what we said, and instead, just have a relaxed conversation and trust the rest to God. It is good to pray for people, and good to be open to gentle nudges from the Holy Spirit as we chat with people. The pressure is off us however, and on God, as it is ultimately God who is at work in people. We are just a small (though important) part of the process.
Coming to faith is a process – our task will usually be to help people on the way, not be responsible for the whole process from start to finish. This may involve sowing the seeds of faith, leading someone to commitment, or encouraging someone whose faith is challenged.
Continuing to explore faith ourselves equips us to share it with others – faith sharing is a journey made together where our own faith and reliance on Jesus will often be strengthened as we seek to share Jesus with others and learn from what they have to share in return.
There are a growing range of resources and courses some of which are designed to help equip Christians to feel more confident in sharing their faith, and others to be used with a wider group of people as a tool in evangelism. Examples include:
Mark Teasdale, Evangelism for non-evangelists: sharing the gospel authentically (IVP academic, 2016)
Faith Pictures (Church Army)
Fruitfulness on the frontline (LICC) https://www.licc.org.uk/resources/discover-fruitfulness-on-the-frontline/
Table Talk, Happiness Lab and other resources from Paul Griffiths and the Ugly Duckling company.
Rejesus offers an enormous variety of information, spirituality, interaction and entertainment to help people explore who Jesus was and is.
Major research project into what people in the UK know and think about Jesus.
Hosting an Alpha course is a great way to get started with evangelism in your church.
Resources and collaboration for churches.
Local Facebook group: EDGE
Encouraging Diocese of Gloucester Evangelicals.