If I had to give myself a superhero nickname, it’d be “Captain Foot-in-my-Mouth.” I have an amazing way of doing the dumbest stuff when I’m witnessing. Really, I’ve lost track of how many times without thinking I’ve been thoughtless, jerky, or just plain dumb when speaking with sinners about their salvation. Sometimes my brain just falls asleep (while I’m awake). I hate it! So, I decided to write this chapter to myself to help me be more loving and understanding to those I want to see saved. If you want, you can read it too.
Don’t Beat Up Grandma
When you’re speaking to people of another religion, don’t focus on pointing out the errors of their beliefs. Jesus said, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself” (John 12:32). The cross is what draws people to God. Use the Law to bring conviction and prepare the way, and then unveil the gospel, which is God’s power for salvation (Romans 1:16). Focus on preaching the truth, rather than dissecting all the lies. Most people are not very committed to their religion; it’s more of a heritage thing than something they truly believe. They may say, “I’m born a Jew; I’ll die a Jew,” but they rarely ever go to temple—it’s just how they were raised.
When you criticize someone’s religion, their heritage, in their mind you’re attacking Nana. Their ears are closed, because they’re in defensive mode. I’ve seen people from all sorts of religious backgrounds come to follow Jesus without my having to disprove their religion’s false teachings. They simply come to faith in Christ, and thus naturally turn their back on their former error-filled beliefs.
Don’t Win the Debate and Lose the Soul
As a teen, I remember witnessing to a passionate atheist in front of a group of our friends…who were all on drugs. He kept raising his voice, wanting to argue; I reasoned with him about his issues, but by God’s grace I didn’t lose my cool. I calmly and gently talked with him.
An agnostic, high fifteen-year-old girl was there, quietly listening on the side. When we were done talking she came over to me and said, “I would listen to you because you have something. Your attitude is different than his. You have love.” I got to witness to her more and even brought her to church a few times. We lost touch through the years, but she hunted me down not long ago and called me with some great news (not the first lady to hunt down my number, by the way…but this one wasn’t related to me). She got saved a while back and is now a passionate follower of Jesus! In fact, today she is helping to lead the worship in one of the largest churches in the nation, and she is a foster mom of six teenage girls!
Carefully read this passage over a few times:
But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:23–26)
Your aim is not to defeat people; it’s to see them saved. It’s all in the attitude. How you say something can be more important than what you say.
Paint Word Pictures
Scripture tells us that Jesus “taught them many things by parables” (Mark 4:2). Of course, Jesus knew how to speak to people; He set the standard. Most of Jesus’ public teachings were spoken via stories, using common things His listeners could relate to. For those who wanted to hear, it drew them into the message and made the meaning much rich. No one enjoys bland explanations. Keep things fresh and exciting; give their mind something to visualize to make these eternal truths be more memorable.
You can find some wonderful stories to use when witnessing in The Evidence Bible, compiled by Ray Comfort (look for “Springboards”).
Share Your Story
After freeing a demon-possessed man, Jesus told him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you” (Mark 5:19). It was the Samaritan woman’s testimony that brought many in her city to Jesus (John 4:28–30,39–42). What is a testimony? Your testimony is simply sharing how God saved you. It’s not so much about your past—that just sets the stage; instead it’s about the message that God used to convert you. Don’t focus on what the devil did in your life, but on what Jesus did.
- What was your life like before Christ? (You were lost in sin, etc.)
- What happened and when did God save you? (You heard the gospel at a certain place, the thoughts that ran through your mind, etc.)
- What’s different now? (You repented and believed and now you’re forgiven, adopted as God’s child, given a new heart, freed from past sin, etc.)
How God saved you will touch people’s hearts. It has a way of bringing heavenly truths into earthly terms that people can relate to. Your personal testimony may be the key to their heart. Many think that because they don’t have a dramatic account of a sin-filled life, their testimony doesn’t matter, but they’re wrong. Some of the most relevant stories are when a person who has been raised in church, listening for years, truly gets saved. Those who have loved Jesus since childhood also speak volumes—as “innocent” as they were, they realized at a young age that they were lost without Christ, which drives the point home to someone much older who perhaps has broken more of the Ten Commandments. While the story of a drunken, suicidal person getting saved may be interesting and gripping, not everyone can relate. But many can relate to someone living a happy, average life who had a life-transforming encounter with God.
It’s important to remember that your personal experience won’t save anyone, only the gospel will (Romans 1:16). Make sure you use your conversion story as a platform to bring up the Law and gospel. Share how you discovered that you were lost and guilty, how you heard of what Jesus did, how you believed, etc. There is so much value in using a salvation testimony that in Acts alone we see Paul’s shared three times.
Don’t Get Sidetracked
Don’t get distracted from the gospel message with questions like, “Where did Cain get his wife?” A group came to Jesus asking about some men who were brutally killed. What did Jesus do? He flipped things around to help them see their need: He pointed them to Judgment Day, saying, “But unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). He took them from the area of the intellect to the conscience. You can get lost in hours of stimulating conversation that are all intellectual, question after question, and people end up no closer to the kingdom. While taking the time to answer genuine questions is so important, remember to always bring it back to their conscience. So, the next time a skeptic launches into rapid-fire questions, give him a quick answer, but then do what Jesus did and redirect it back to where he stands before the Lord.
By the time in the conversation that he’s bringing up objections, you’ve probably already taken him through the Law (WDJD), so revisit it again and put things back into perspective. Tag his conscience back into the ring by using the Law. You could ask questions like, “How many lies do you think you’ve told in your life?” “If God asked, ‘Why should I let you into My Heaven as a liar, a thief, an adulterer?’ what would you say?” “Those are great questions, but at the end of the day, whether you believe in Him or not, you’re going to stand before Him, and you’ve told me you’ll be guilty. Is there any sin in your life worth going to Hell for?”
It’s been said a skeptic can’t find God for the same reason a criminal can’t find a cop—he won’t look. A lot of questions are purely smokescreen used to try to ignore a guilty conscience and dismiss the clear evidence God has given of Himself everywhere (Romans 1:19,20). When I get the impression that a person is asking questions he really doesn’t want the answers to, I often ask, “If I was able to answer all of your most important questions about God in a way that made total sense to you, would you drop on your knees and become a follower of Jesus Christ today?” I can’t recall the last time someone said yes. I try to nudge them to examine their motive in their answer; do they really want the truth, or do they love their sin so much that they’ll ignore it all even if it means Hell for all of eternity?
The fact is that God doesn’t owe us an answer to every question, and our lack of understanding on some things doesn’t cancel out the things God has clearly revealed. Answering questions has an important role in witnessing (we dedicated a whole chapter to questions in chapter 11), but always remember that it is the gospel that is God’s power for saving souls, not whether Adam had a belly button. Like Jesus did, make sure all roads of the conversation lead people back to where they stand with God.
Wanna Feel Led? Squeeze a Pencil
Don’t wait to “feel led” by the Holy Spirit before you witness. When I started leading a street team years ago, I took a group to a local mall and “waited on the Lord.” I waited for the Holy Spirit to lead me to the exact person He wanted me to speak with. I waited probably over an hour for this “divine appointment” and didn’t witness to anyone. The problem was I was blind to the fact that God wanted me to witness to everyone.
Do you think God didn’t “lead me” because He didn’t want anyone to hear the only message that could save them? Of course not, that would be crazy. I just didn’t know any better. I’d always heard we should “be led.” The passage often used to support the idea of “waiting to be led” is found in Romans 8:14, which says, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” Most look only at this one verse without looking at the context, but be sure to read the whole chapter. Paul wasn’t even talking about witnessing. He was telling us not to follow the urges of the sinful nature, but rather the pure desires of the Holy Spirit. Nowhere in Scripture is it ever taught to wait to feel anything to witness. We are simply commanded to “go” into the entire world and preach the gospel to “every creature” (Mark 16:15)! (So maybe witnessing to your pet wasn’t such a crazy idea.)
If a child fell down an elevator shaft and was within your grasp, would you wait to “feel led” to save him? Would you let him be crushed to death by the elevator if you didn’t feel God’s specific prompting? Would you tell yourself, “There are many people about to perish around the world; I need to make sure this is the one the Lord has prepared”? You don’t have to pray or wait for God to prompt you to rescue the dying; that’s ridiculous!
Don’t Drown the Seed
Be careful not to stalk your friends with Jesus. Don’t turn every conversation into a sermon. Be normal. Talk about typical fun stuff that people talk about (without falling into the sinful or worldly side of things). You can turn off your classmates, family, and friends if they don’t feel normal around you. Look for those special moments to have heart-to-heart chats with them about the Lord, but don’t re-witness to them every day. Take a step back and trust that the Lord is at work.
Stop Being So Weird
If you were visiting Japan, you probably wouldn’t walk up to someone and say, “Shalom, mi amigo.” Why? You know they’d think you’re crazy. But for some reason we can forget that same principle when we’re witnessing. Speak in common English and not some foreign churchy lingo. Most teens have no clue what words like “saved,” “redeemed,” “born again,” or “repent” mean. Explain the concept along with the word or give a definition with the word, but don’t just say things that confuse them. Be clear and understandable. Instead of saying only “repent,” you might add, “That means to have a change of heart, to turn to God and thus away from sin. Pull a 180, choose to love and live for Jesus.”
One sincere, but misguided, young adult told me that when someone he was witnessing to lit up a cigarette, he told the person to put it out or he would leave. Talk about trying to clean a fish before you catch it! That’s a great way to run people away from God. Come on, lost people are lost. What do you expect? If they curse, don’t freak out. Spiritually blind people are, well, blind. Love them. Be patient.
Paul said, “I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22). Be relatable. The longer we’re in church, the stranger we tend to become. Why? We’re so busy with services, activities, and Bible studies, that we lose touch with how “normal” people think. Stop and see things through their eyes.
You Plant, But God Saves
As we covered earlier, “Salvation is of the LORD” (Jonah 2:9), not of us. Salvation is not by works, and it’s also not by our pressing people to “say a prayer.” We are responsible to preach the gospel, but God is responsible for the results. We need to be prepared to witness, convince, and answer questions, but in the end, any person’s salvation—and the timing—is entirely between them and God.
As I was witnessing in a parking lot across from a high school, I walked up to a wild group that was smoking weed. It didn’t take long before they got loud and chaotic. Thank God I was able to identify the leader and speak directly to him, because everyone in the group quieted down and listened in. He cursed out God with extreme disgust and told me he had been molested as a child and hated God for allowing it. I gently tried to reason with him for a while, and when it was obvious he wasn’t open, I politely left.
A few weeks later I was witnessing at that same high school when he approached me with a group of friends. He called out, “Hey, you’re the God man.” He stopped to talk as his friends went on. He told me there was a guy he was meeting in an alley after school, and this guy was planning to kill him. Wondering where this was going, I said, “Okay.” In a deep, serious tone, he said, “You don’t understand—he’s going to kill me.” This is where discernment comes in handy (normally I would never be so cold). I asked him, “So, what do you want me to do about it—pray for you? You cursed out God last time we talked.” He apologized and said he felt bad about that and did want me to pray for him. I told him he needed to get right with God, and I briefly went through the gospel again.
I had planted the seed earlier and God had grown it within him. He now wanted to follow Christ and change his ways. So moments before the school bell rang, with a stampede of teens heading toward us, we got down on our knees on the Coral Springs High School campus, right on the sidewalk where the students get off their buses, and he gave his life to Christ. Students heading to class had to walk on the grass to get around us kneeling in prayer on their sidewalk. It was amazing!
Paul said, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:6,7).
Don’t Be a Spiritual Snob
Avoid coming off like you’re holy and the people you’re sharing with are dirt. Don’t talk down to them. Be open about the fact that you’ve sinned without digging up juicy details. I often say, “I’ve broken eleven of the Ten Commandments; I deserve Hell,” because it makes people laugh and they don’t feel like I’m “holier than thou.” Again, it helps to say after going through the Law, “I’m not judging you, but by your own admission you’ve just told me that you’re a liar, thief, and adulterer at heart.” Be sensitive to your tone so you come off like a pardoned criminal, not like an arrogant judge. Someone once said, “Witness as a beggar who found bread leading another beggar to bread.”
Don’t pretend to have all the answers. People will respect you for admitting you don’t know and offering to get back to them. Trying to bluff an answer is definitely not cool, and people do pick up on it.
Keep Hope Alive
Witnessing can be really discouraging if you don’t have the right focus. Between finding people not interested, not seeing fruit, and getting rude remarks, there are plenty of reasons to want to throw in the towel. Don’t! Throughout this book I’ve shared a few stories of witnessing touchdowns. I’ve done this to hopefully give you a little inspiration, but admittedly those stories aren’t the norm. For every amazing “success” story there are dozens of discouraging ones that may seem like “failure.” But we never know what God will do with those seeds we plant—and it isn’t our concern anyway. We just need to be faithful to do the part He’s called us to. You’ve got to hang in there and remember what it’s all about: sharing the gospel with every person possible. Keep the flame of compassion burning strong during the good and the bad, and know that God continues reaching out long after the conversation ends.
Words of Comfort [From Ray]
Again, it’s really important that you don’t get sidetracked trying to answer crazy questions like, “Can God make a rock so big He can’t lift it?” One subtle way to answer that one could be to say, “I don’t know. But one thing I do know is that Jesus said there’s a rock that’s going to fall on you that is so big, you’re going to be ground to powder. What do you think He meant by that?” Here’s the verse so that you will know I’m not making this up: “And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder” (Matthew 21:44).
In other words, when someone comes to Jesus Christ (the stone in this analogy), they come broken and contrite about their sinful condition. Guilt should always come with sorrow, not only because we have sinned against God, but because of what it cost Him for our redemption.
However, if we continue in our sin, asking dumb questions, refusing to repent and trust the Savior, that same stone will fall on us and grind us to powder. When you grind something to powder, a very thorough job is done. God’s justice on the Day of Judgment will be so thorough it will judge deeds done in darkness and in the light, every thought that has entered every sinful human heart, and every idle word that has come out of our sinful mouth.
Have you ever heard the phrase “cut to the chase”? It comes from film editing, and it means to get to the point real quick. The chase scene is the exciting part, and when you’re editing you don’t want to bore your audience. You want to hold their interest. So you cut to the chase. That’s what we need to do when witnessing. Don’t ramble; cut to the exciting part. Go through the Ten Commandments to bring the knowledge of sin, then get to the point—the cross. That is the focal point of the message. That’s what you want to put up on the big screen in full living color. Get the picture?