Monday, March 29, 2010

Emily's Rules for Witnessing, Well, more like guidlines, suggestions really.

A big part of our faith is witnessing, sharing the good news with those around us. For many Christians this is the most daunting task we have to face, and the reason is most of us don’t know how without ending up in an argument.

It is no secret that most of my working life has been spent in what most would consider rather worldly situations. I have spent a lot of time listening to the stories of those who have never heard about God’s love, heard distorted versions of it, or even been burned by the Church. During that season I learned a lot about talking to those who live outside our Christian bubbles, but more than that I learned the importance of listening to them. I learned many of the things that turn them off and keep them from hearing what we have to say. I also learned how engage them in conversations that help them move a little closer to God.

I wanted to write this post not as a way to brag on my abilities, but rather to share some of what I have learned. Hopefully, I can save you a few steps, and maybe you can avoid some of my mistakes.

Rule #1 - You have to keep the conversation going. You can’t share our message with someone who won’t listen to you.

Rule#2 – Conversations stop when you start being confrontational. We can’t force someone to believe what we believe, even if we know we are right. The shields go up, doors close, and all chances of having an important conversation are lost, sometimes for good.

Rule #3 – Correction is reserved for those who proclaim to share our faith. Anyone outside the Church or does not profess a relationship with Jesus is off limits. Jesus’ words of correction were reserved for those who proclaimed to know the law, not the Roman Centurion, not the woman who anointed His feet in oil.

Rule #4 – Listen. Listen. Listen. Chances are they already know the plan of salvation. You would be surprised at the number of people sitting around a bar who can quote chapter and verse better than most regular church goers. You are not there to fix them, you are there to show mercy and compassion to a world in need. You start by learning their story.

Rule #5 – Acknowledge their wounds, even those caused by sinful behavior. The pain is real, and dismissing it, or worse proclaim it as deserved, says we do not value them as a person. Remember Jesus never kicked a leper, nor did He beat the woman caught in adultery. We should follow His example.

Rule #6 – Answer questions about your faith as they arise. People will tell you what they are ready to hear, and if you don’t know an answer, don’t try to bluff them. Say you don’t know and offer to find out, and then do it. Most people appreciate knowing you cared enough to address their questions in a sincere and thoughtful manner.

Rule #7 – Never compromise your faith by engaging in behavior that negates your words, and if you do, acknowledge it. This is a great time to talk about God’s gift of forgiveness to you, and the experience of conviction over your sin. Remember this conversation is all about you, and not the unbeliever.

Rule #8- Don’t say things like, “Thank you, Jesus” when you have a flat tire. It comes across as insincere. Although you may mean it, no one will believe you, including me. Acknowledge that you are upset, and it really did nothing to brighten your day. Acting sanctimonious says either you aren’t human or you are hiding something.

Rule #9 – Make friends with nonbelievers, and don’t have an agenda. Trust me they can tell when you are plotting something. Get to know them because they have admirable traits, everyone has one, with some people you just have to look a little harder.

Rule #10 – If they are passionate about something and it violates no Biblical principle join them. You can learn some really amazing things this way, about their interests and about them as a person. You don’t need to teach them the Roman Road to salvation every time you see them, just hanging out is okay.

Rule #11- Know your limits. Going out into the world to share our faith is dangerous, know when to retreat, and have a plan in place for those times when things get outside your comfort zone. Usually a simple “time for me to go” is sufficient. Don’t try to explain why you need to leave, just firmly but gracefully make your exit.

Rule #12 – THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT FOR YOU! Establish a network of mature Christian friends to hold you accountable. Make sure they are the type of people who will ask you the hard questions and make you answer. If they say get out, get out.

The most difficult thing in this approach is learning how to have the conversations without compromising your position. It helps to use “I” statements, and avoid accusations. Pick your battles wisely, in this era of open mindedness and tolerance we can state what we believe as long as we aren’t forcing down someone’s throat. Most people love to talk about spiritual matters if they know they won’t be attacked. There may be times when you have to take a stand, but I have found all but the most belligerent of people don’t want to fight. More can be accomplished by giving them room to wrestle it out than trying to force a situation to a head.

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