One of the real difficulties I see with much of what we call witnessing is the confusion over what we are really talking about. In general terms, believers are called to give witness to the Gospel, a word that roughly translates as “Good News”. I think the Church over the years has been guilty of not taking the meaning of the Gospel seriously enough.
When I was teaching, I would sometimes play a game with students. I would tell them I was going to name some things and they were to tell me if what I said was good news or bad news. I would say things like “Chapati and goat stew for lunch”–which always qualified as good news (this was in Kenya) or “More homework for my courses–obviously bad news. We would play the game for a while to get them used to it and then I would make a change.
I would say, “You are going to hell”, which caused some serious problems for students because it really doesn’t sound good but is a traditional part of the “Good News”. Some would always say it was good news–and I would ask them why that comment was good news. I always found it interesting to listen to the students try and get good news out of that statement. Often, the ultimate answer for the student was that the statement had to be good news because they thought it should be good news.
That points to a real issue. We are called to proclaim the good news but who defines what the content of that good news is? Traditionally, we believers have taken it upon ourselves to define the content and for a variety of reasons, have tended to develop a very dark, scary content that focuses on sin, hell, suffering, pain and so on.
But what if we had to develop a definition of the good news that was good for those hearing it? What if, instead of our forcing our definition of good news on people, we sought to discover what would really be good news to the people we are trying to witness to? Such a shift in thinking would make a major difference in our witnessing process.
We would have to know more about at least two areas before we could be effective witnesses if we followed this path. First, we would have to know a lot more about the Bible, which is our primary resource when it comes to the good news. We would have to know what it really says about God and his promises to humanity; about what he can and will d for and with people; about God’s view of human potential and so on. The traditional “heaven or hell” definition of the Gospel leaves out so much that rightly qualifies as good news. The more we know about the fullness of the good news, the more we have to offer people in our witnessing.
And the second thing that we need to know more about is the people we are witnessing to. Much of the information I see on witnessing tends to focus on witnessing to strangers–but the majority of us see more non-believers whom we know than we do strangers. We all know we should be witnessing to these people that we know and see regularly but don’t because we instinctively know that the traditional approach will drive them away.
But if we are in relationship with these people, we are going to know more and more about them–and with the knowledge we have gained from reading the Bible coupled with our willingness to listen to the Holy Spirit, we can find something that will be good news to offer to these people. We can find some aspect of the Gospel that will have significant meaning for their life situation, something from God that will touch their lives.
Now, what we offer in witness probably won’t cause a complete and drastic turn around in their lives–remember that even Jesus didn’t see a lot of that. But each piece of real good news that people see and hear provides the Holy Spirit with more to work with as he seeks to bring people to him.
In the end, it is the hearer who determines whether what they heard is good news or not. And since the fullness of the Gospel contains a vast store of Good News, we can certainly find something good there to offer to anyone.
May the peace of God be with you.