I became a Christian when I was sixteen years old and almost immediately felt the desire to share my faith with people who did not know Christ. That was right in the middle of the Jesus movement of the 1960s.
In order to be able to share my faith, I learned how to present the gospel message. There are actually a number of methods that people use to do this, and I learned a couple of different ones. To further expand my knowledge, over the years I have had the opportunity to participate in numerous witness training opportunities. All of these use the same gospel message (after all there is only one message), but each one is packaged a little differently.
Basically, each method consists of several parts. They usually start out with some kind of introduction – a way to engage a person in a conversation about the gospel. Following that there is an explanation of the gospel message. Then, finally, a call to make a decision.
In America, the traditional starting point for sharing the gospel assumes that the person being approached already has a basic understanding of the Christian worldview. It assumes that the person already believes in a creator God who is the one described in the Bible. In days past that was probably not an unfounded assumption. Almost everyone did believe in God that way. But that is just not the case any more. Now you are just as likely to interact with someone who is a Naturalist, an Animist, an adherent of one of the Far Eastern Thought religions, or a member of some other Theistic religion or cult.
It used to be that we could start out telling a person: God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. But in our current day, the person may believe in a different god, may not believe in God at all, may believe in many gods, or may even believe in the “impersonal cosmos.” So, what do you do if you try to present the gospel and the person doesn’t believe in God or doesn’t understand what you are talking about? Do you just write them off? Of course not! We can’t do that. We need to know how to explain to them the message of salvation in terms that make sense to them.
The key to dealing with this problem is not so daunting that we can’t do it. We must simply realize that the gospel message never changes, but the way we tell it has to be customized to the person we are sharing with. To do this, we don’t change the content of the message, but we do have to begin at the right starting point. If they don’t understand who God is, we can’t start simply by saying, “God loves you.” We have to go one step further back and explain who God is.
So, where do we need to start in order to share an effective witness? We need to start in the place that will allow the one we are sharing with to understand. What good does it do to tell a person that God loves them if their understanding of God is different than what is taught in the Bible. We must first find out what they believe. Then we will be in a position to explain the message in terms that will make sense to them.
Doing this is possible under virtually any circumstances, but is much more difficult in cold call situations where you don’t have the ability to spend time getting to know the person. Using a cold call methodology is not impossible, but it puts a great burden on the one who is trying to share a witness to have a tremendous grasp of worldview principles. But if you have the opportunity to share your witness in the context of a longer term relationship, your chance of sharing effectively, and seeing fruit, are much higher.
In a short article like this, it is impossible to give an in depth training. However, we can lay down an outline that will help us understand the process we need to use. Here, we will put this in a five step formula for sharing a witness.
1. Listen, first, to discern what the other person believes. You can’t know where to start a witness until you find out the person’s understanding of God. The easiest way to do this is to discern their foundational worldview. You can do this by finding their answers to the seven worldview questions. All you need to do is ask them questions about what they believe and just listen to them talk. (Since this article is not about the worldview questions, we will not take the time to deal with that here. However, you may check out the worldview primer, as well as other related articles, at www.marketfaith.org to get a grasp of this concept.)
2. Analyze the differences between their belief in God and what is revealed in Scripture. It is not enough for you to hear what they have to say, you must also discern where they are wrong. The purpose of figuring this out is not to jump on their case. If you do that, you will certainly lose your opportunity to share what you believe. The reason this is necessary is that this will tell you specifically what you need to share. You must have this understanding firmly in mind before you ever say anything. If you are versed in an understanding of worldview, you will have a powerful tool for gathering this information. Not only will you know what the differences are between their belief and yours, you will also know why you are right and why they are wrong.
3. Step three is to let the other person know that you believe something different than they do. There are a couple of ways to do this, and you need to pick the one which gives you the best chance of sharing your witness.
If the person is very firm in their own beliefs, the best way to approach them is to ask questions which help them to see the deficiencies in their faith. This approach lets them see that you are genuinely interested in them and lets them share their strongly held beliefs. It also earns you your turn later on. If you were so kind as to listen to them, they will feel obligated later to listen to you. (Note: The MarketFaith Ministries website also has articles on the topics which will expose the deficiencies in the various worldviews.)
If the person is not that well versed in their own beliefs, you may be able to be a bit more direct – not aggressive and haughty, just more direct. That is because this person is not as deeply invested in his faith. The more direct approach simply means that you identify for them the areas where you see problems in their faith, and begin to give reasons why what they believe is a problem. If you do this kindly, it will open up the opportunity for you to share your solution – the gospel.
4. Get permission to share what you believe. Getting this permission may require an overt request or may simply mean discerning that the person you are talking to is ready to hear what you have to say.
Sometimes, the person you are witnessing to is so focused on themselves that they do not really think of hearing what you have to say. In that case you may have to say something like, “I have a different understanding of God. May I share with you what I believe?” If you must take this approach, be sure that you have listened fully to them, first. After you have listened to them, they would have to be rude to turn down your request.
At other times, though, the conversation may create a natural opening for you to simply share what you believe. If that opportunity opens up, don’t hesitate to jump right in.
5. Share your faith and provide for a decision. Finally, you are in a position to share the gospel message. When you do, start at the place which helps them understand the message. If they don’t believe in God, you must start by giving evidence that there is a God. If they believe in many gods, you must give reasons why there are not. If they believe in an impersonal “cosmos,” you must be able to share why there is a personal God. If they believe in the God of some other religion, you must be prepared to share why the God of the Bible is the true God. If they believe in a hybrid system (a mixture of several worldviews) you need to be prepared to share why that is impossible. If they believe in God, but not the God of the Bible, you must bring them to the point of at least understanding what the Bible teaches before your gospel presentation will make any sense to them. (If all of this seems a bit daunting, let me refer you once again to the worldview primer. Once you know the basics, it is not daunting at all.)
When you get to the point of asking for a decision, you must again be very careful to discern what your friend understands. If you get a person to “pray the prayer” of repentance, but they really don’t understand what they are doing, they have not really accepted Christ. Entering into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ does not happen by reciting a formula (even if it is in the form of a prayer), any more than you enter into a human relationship using a formula. We are dealing with the formation of a personal relationship, and that only happens when a person truly understands that God is a real person who can be known in a personal relationship, and they actually step into the relationship. Sometimes it is more prudent to let your witness percolate in the person’s heart for a while until they truly understand. You will have to be very discerning at this point.
So, What Is the Best Starting Point for Witness?
What is the best starting point for sharing a witness? It is the place where the other person is. Wherever they are, that is the starting point. In order to be truly effective, you have to learn how to find out where that point is for each individual, and share your witness based on that understanding. If you learn how to do this, your effectiveness in bringing people to Christ will explode.
© 2008 Freddy Davis