There is a lot of pressure put on believers to witness and bring people to the faith. There are many canned programs to memorize and play back to people who come within range. There are seminars and web based resources. There are books both to read and to give away. There are techniques and tricks that are recommended as sure-fire ways to win people to faith. Every one of these things work–or, rather, they did work, for someone in some situation.
Finding something that works in terms of effective witnessing is a triumph that the discoverer can use to write books, lead seminars and become well known, at least until the next great thing comes along. And there will be a next great thing, simply because no matter how great the idea and no matter how great it worked in its initial context, it will eventually stop working.
It stops working for both practical and theological reasons. The practical reasons are easy to figure out, if we would take the time to think things through. What works for one person in one context is going to become less and less effective as the people and context change. Taking a process that works well for the charismatic pastor of an urban mega-church and expecting it to work equally well for the shy kid who is the teen Sunday school class in a rural community is like expecting David to be able to use Saul’s armour to defeat Goliath. (I Samuel 17.38-39)
As logical as the practical reasons are, it is the theological reason that is the more significant when it comes to the effectiveness of witnessing programs. In our desire to develop programs, we have made a major theological mistake. We see witnessing as our job and responsibility, meaning that we become responsible for getting it right and bringing people into the faith.
The mistake is that bringing people to faith isn’t our job. We certainly have a part in the process because of God’s gracious choice to work through us but as we see in Acts 2.47b, God brings people to himself: “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Working through the Holy Spirit, God seeks to bring people to himself. He can and does graciously give his people a part in the process–but it is his process, not ours.
Our human desire to take over means that we try to replace God in the process. If God works in a certain way in a certain situation, we immediately begin to see that as something we can structure and organize and import into every situation. The program we develop can become more important than God’s leading in the process of witnessing. The formulas and structures and actual wording become sacred and almost magical–get it right and people have to come to faith.
I have read and heard people who suggest that unless someone actually repeats what is known as “The Sinner’s Prayer”, they have not yet become a believer. When I actually came to faith, I thought the only way a person could become a believer was to “walk the aisle” during the annual evangelistic campaign.
While witnessing is something all believers do, we need to remember that the whole process is God’s work, not ours. He knows what is needed in every situation and doesn’t need our canned approaches–in fact, he doesn’t even need us. He chooses to allow us to be a part of the process but he can and does at times accomplish his goals without us–and more often than we want to admit, he accomplishes his goals in spite of our involvement rather than because of it.
For me, witnessing becomes easier when I remember that while I have a role to play in helping people discover God’s love, it is God who brings people to himself. A person’s eternal destiny doesn’t depend on me and my fumbling attempts at witnessing. God may chose to use me and my efforts to help someone come closer to him–or he may have to work around my fumbling attempts. He wants me to be involved in the process but bringing people to faith is his process and his responsibility, not mine. That insight gives me a great deal of relief because I trust God’s abilities much more than I trust my own.
May the peace of God be with you.