The Tension of a Witness

I am biased.

As objective as my Libra brain wants to be, and attempts to be on many occasions (often to the point of playing Devil’s Advocate just for the sake of it), I have strong opinions on certain things.

When those opinions are challenged, it can feel very… well, uncomfortable.

This recently happened when I had a visceral reaction to the use of the word “witness.” Not the “witness” from Harrison Ford filmography, or Law and Order procedurals, but
“witness” from a Christian.

I’ll be brutally honest. The idea of sharing the Gospel (which to me is defined as the redeeming love story of Jesus Christ) with the entire world terrifies me.

I’ve always felt very uncomfortable with this idea of being a “witness” or “evangelizing” and sharing my faith in Jesus with people. Growing up, before I became a Christian, I had this stereotype of the conservative fundamentalist Christian trying to convert people without a care for them as an individual. All Christians cared about were putting another notch on their belt, “Another heathen saved from the fired filled pits of hell!”

But as I’ve grown in my faith and struggled with what it means to witness and evangelize, God has really started speaking to me in some very clear ways and I know this stereotype is just that, not representative of an entire group, and not how I’m called to share my faith with others.

A few years back, while shopping for bridesmaid dresses with my now sister-in-law and her mother, a question came up about what I believe. I was taken off guard and asked, “do you really want to know.” They said yes, so I proceeded to explain myself. It was a polite and respectful conversation but I felt completely unprepared on how to confidently explain my faith.  The words came stumbling out but afterwards I kept replaying the conversation in my mind, analyzing every little part, scared I didn’t explain myself properly or said something that might be considered offensive. (Even with non-spiritual matters that I try to be honest about, I have a tendency to be concerned about the impression people get).

The day following the conversation, I felt the need to go to church, but because I was on Long Island staying with my brother and his fiancé I didn’t know of any near by. So I did what any good Christian would do, I began Googling churches in the area and scoping out websites, looking for red flags (running counters on how many people die each day and therefore might be damned to hell) versus signs it may be a good church to attend (“come as you are” slogan).

I picked a random non-denominational church a few miles away that looked safe for a one-time deal.  I walked in and the lighting was dark with a mix of colors and the worship music was contemporary, heavy on guitar. So what about the message? That may be a deal breaker. But when I heard the title of the series, I couldn’t believe it! It was about the “Coffee Shop Gospel.” The whole gist of the sermon had to do with how to witness through telling your own personal story, as if you were just having a casual yet intimate conversation with someone at a coffee shop.

crosses coffee shop.jpg

At that moment I knew God was speaking to me directly and providing a direct response to what I had been concerned about the day before – how do I share my faith with others? I didn’t have to be a Bible thumper, quoting scripture all the time and telling people what they should believe. I didn’t have to “save” a certain number of people. The pastor was talking about how all I have to do is build relationships with people out of love, ask them questions about their story, and then tell them about my own story, including how Jesus has worked faithfully in my life. That is my witness.

I felt so relieved that there were other Christians out there that felt there was a different way to evangelize (spread the Good News) than the typical handing out tracts-altar call-sinner’s prayer model. However, despite this reassurance, I still have found it hard to walk people who are interested through the redemptive story of Jesus in a way that fully lays out what I believe, how it has affected my life and how it is related to their life.

Fast-forward to this year and during a staff worship service (yes, I get to worship God at work), we quickly looked at the passage in Romans where Paul says:

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.”

It stung. It really stung. I wondered, due to my fears of sharing my faith, have I been ashamed of the Gospel? It has been easy for me to explain to other Christians what I believe, but to people who have been hurt by the church or who have pre-conceived notions about Christians, that was a whole different story. I had been scared to tell people about the Jesus I believe to be Lord. The Jesus I believe reigns over all the earth. The Jesus I believe continues to love and forgive me despite my continual brokenness. As much as I love Jesus and want people to know Him, I have been more worried about not offending people. I remember what it was like to hate Christians when I was younger. Maybe I didn’t want anyone hating me… Wow, God, sorry to throw you under the bus!

But in the end that is something I cannot control. I either have to live for Jesus or live in fear of what others think. I can’t have it both ways.

“You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” Matthew 10:22

I still struggle with finding this balance between being true to my faith and building relationships with people without any sense that they need to change what they believe to be in my life. However, even when people tell me they are interested in learning about God and Jesus, I still hold back for fear I may say the wrong thing, appear pushy or preachy, and in turn may possibly push them farther away from God. I don’t want to be “that Christian.”

But I love Jesus. Seriously. A lot. Jesus has done some amazing things in my life and in the lives of others around me. I am a WITNESS to hope and miracles. I am a WITNESS to the comfort and peace of Jesus. I am a WITNESS to His saving grace. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. In fact, it’s an amazing, beautiful thing. So I need to work through my bias of what it means to witness and recognize God uses Christians in all sorts of ways to live out the great commission, which many interpret as God calling all Christians to share the Good News of the Gospel with the entire world.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20

I’m also realizing, through conversations with other Christians, including some of my closest friends, people at church, and especially my brother, that God uses Christians in a variety of different ways to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ to the whole world. And how God has gifted me in terms of communicating that may be different than the gift he has provided my brother. And that’s ok.

I do have my biases about evangelizing but I have determined how God wants me to share the Gospel (at least for the time being – God is allowed to change course at any time). I may feel a certain approach is more effective or personal or even “right.” But I’m reminded that followers of Jesus are a diverse bunch and the people God is trying to reach are just as diverse, so a one-size fits all approach is unrealistic.

I think the word “witness” will continue to be a trigger for me, I won’t deny that. But I’m not ashamed of the Gospel… I’m just ashamed of what people have done in the past in the name of the Gospel. There is a marked difference. I need to remember that when in conversation with other loving, compassionate Christians just doing their part to share the love of God with others, even if it’s in a way that I personally am not comfortable doing. In the end, we should leave it up to God to lead us as God sees fit.

But I will no longer be scared to say I have personally witnessed the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ in my life and when people sincerely turn their hearts over to following Jesus, that is something to rejoice in!

If you're a Christian, what way are you most comfortable being a "witness"? If you're not a Christian, have you had positive/negative reactions to people "witnessing" to you?