Three Misconceptions About Witnessing

Some Christians who want to do what is right—who want to witness effectively—have wrong assumptions. Eventually, this can be devastating. And when you put fear and wrong facts together, you find Christians who really wind up in a pickle. They fluctuate between fear and error, and often give up in hopeless despair.

Faced with a witnessing opportunity, we can respond either in fear or in a desire to communicate truth. If the Lord has impressed us with the need to share Christ with an unbeliever, we will either fearfully stop short, or launch out in truth. Yet even when we desire to follow truth wherever it takes us, there can still be a problem of ignorance. People sometimes try to center their actions around truth, but because they do not fully understand that truth, their goal is never reached. We may not know the truths of witnessing, and, in trying to do it, botch things up badly.

I would like to clear up three common misconceptions about witnessing, and then emphasize two precious truths. (I am indebted to Lewis Sperry Chafer for many of these thoughts.) I trust that you will gain a better understanding of the facts and become a bolder, more effective witness.

NOT ME!

The first misconception is that God chooses only certain people to witness.

People who believe this are quick to point to Ephesians 4:11—”It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers.” They believe evangelism is a gift given only to “some.”

They are absolutely correct. God does give “some to be evangelists.” But being an evangelist and being a witness are not necessarily the same thing. I praise the Lord for those “some” whom God calls as evangelists. But God has called all of us to witness!

This attitude of “only some” is part of a broader way of thinking that Howard Hendricks calls the Pillar-Caterpillar Philosophy: Some are seen as the pillars of the church, who hold it up with their faithfulness and service. Those who aren’t pillars are “caterpillars,” whose job is to crawl in and out under the pillars each Sunday.

How well I remember the day the Lord destroyed this attitude on my part. I had enjoyed witnessing as a young Christian, and tried to learn as much as I could about it. I read books, attended seminars and was soon teaching a class of my own.

One seminar culminated in a two-day canvass of the surrounding area. We hit the streets to share our faith using the door-to-door method, which others dreaded but which was no big deal for me. I did it all the time.

The rules were simple. Everybody had to do it. The teacher told us exactly what to do. We memorized the routine so we didn’t have to think about it.

Step One: Knock in a friendly and dignified manner.

Step Two: Take three steps back from the door.

Step Three: Flash your friendliest smile.

Step Four: Say, “Hello, my name is Joe Basile. This is my friend Mark. We’re from First Church and would like to …” and so on.

Simple, right? Well, on the way to our first door my partner Mark, a young teenager, developed a touch of pure panic. He informed me of his absolute inability to “do it.”

So did I say a few encouraging words and tell him he would do fine? No, I remembered that I was a pillar and he was a caterpillar. I spread my wings and said, “Don’t worry kid, I’ll take care of it.”

I can still see his look of admiration as he sighed and said, “Thanks, Joe.” Little did I know as we walked up to the first door that the Lord was soon going to teach both of us a lesson.

Knock, Knock! Step back three paces. Flash friendly smile.

The door opened. I began with all the confidence of a five-star general. “Hello,” I said to the woman who answered, “My name is … uh … uh…”

She looked at me in amazement. For the life of me I could not remember my name.

Mark jumped right in and said, “Er, hello, my name is Mark and this is my friend Joe….” Mark took over and handled it beautifully. I was mortified, but he was encouraged.

The lesson: God wanted to let us both know that all are called and able to witness.

KNOWING ENOUGH

The second misconception is that you’ve got to know the right method before you can witness. This upsets a lot of people. They say, “I’m afraid I’ll say the wrong thing,” or “I don’t know enough.”

In John 9 is the story of a blind man healed by the Lord Jesus on the Sabbath. The Pharisees were much annoyed by this and began asking him questions about Jesus. The man answered, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

From all that we can tell in this passage, this man was a great witness. He was willing even to incur the wrath of the “higher-ups” in order to tell what he knew. Therein lies the secret to the method of witnessing. Tell what you know.

It is good to take courses and read books on sharing your faith. Get all the education you can. But don’t let the lack of any systematic training keep you from witnessing.

You have probably been bored to tears at some time listening to someone go on and on about the things of God when you had a feeling he was saying three times more than he actually knew. Away with such falseness! Tell others what Christ really means to you.

While I was a student at Rutgers University, my friend Steve and I drove back and forth to school together almost every day. One day we were in an accident. The other driver was at fault, but wouldn’t admit it.

Steve called me several days after the accident. “Joe, I’ve got to go to court,” he said. “Will you go with me as a witness?” As the answer “Yes” passed my lips, a picture crossed my mind: Perry Mason Basile—my chance to shine! After all, I had taken six credits in Living Theatre. I’d win that case for Steve hands down.

From that day until the day of the court case, I came home after classes and practiced my part. Standing in front of a full-length mirror, I would start: “Your Honor!” No, no, sounds too pushy. “Yoouurr Honooor.” That’s it!

I went on. “Yoouurr Honooor, there I was, minding my own business, sitting in the passenger seat of my friend’s car, when, all of a sudden, this drunk, who must have gotten his driver’s license from Sears and Roebuck, plowed mercilessly into the side of our automobile.” As I think of that now, I can hardly believe it. About the only part of that statement that was totally true was, “There I was.”

The day we walked into the courtroom everything looked official—especially me. Funny thing though; it seemed as though the judge immediately spotted me. It wasn’t a bad look, just a knowing one.

The case proceeded slowly and unexcitedly. Finally the judge called Steve to the bench. After a few preliminaries he said to Steve, “Would you please state in your own words what happened on April 12?”

I don’t remember all of what Steve said but it was brief and to the point. It was something like, “I was stopped at the light, and Mr. K. hit me on the left side.” Short and sweet. I thought to myself, He should have practiced.

Steve returned to his seat, and it was my turn. The judge said, “Is Mr. Joseph Rocco Basile Jr. here?” With a booming voice I chanted, “YES, YOUR HONOR!” Perry Mason was on.

The judge seemed annoyed. He had an I’ll-fix-him look.

“Mr. Basile, approach the bench.” I began: “Yoouurr Honooor, there I was—”

He interrupted. “Mr. Basile, do you agree with Mr. L.’s testimony?”

“Why… yes.”

“Then sit down.”

“But—”

“Sit down!”

“Yes, your honor.” All those months wasted.

That judge didn’t want verbiage. He wanted facts. He wanted me to tell what I knew. If we as Christians could only apply that to our witnessing, what pressure it would relieve!

When I was saved, I could not wait to share my faith. I made some terrible mistakes. For a while I tried to prove the Bible’s inerrancy. It would have been better to just tell what Christ meant to me and could mean to them.

My parents got the brunt of many of my mistakes. I can remember arguing with my mother about Noah’s ark, Cain’s wife, and evolution. I did not make a dent.

One day while she was visiting me she asked out of the clear blue sky, “What does it mean to be born again?” I could have fallen over. I had been trying to tell her for years.

When I inquired as to why she was asking, she said one of the women at work had become a Christian. No sooner had this woman begun talking about the Lord than she was bombarded by the other women with cynical questions about Noah’s ark, Cain’s wife, evolution, and so on. The girl, a bit scared, said simply, “Girls, I can’t answer your questions. I’ll try to find out for you. But one thing I know. Last week I asked the Lord Jesus to save me, and my life has not been the same since.”

That sincere word from a woman who told what she knew had lodged itself in my mother’s heart and would not leave. I then had the privilege of leading my mother to Christ.

Don’t get upset or sidetracked. The Lord has not put a giant burden on your back. He simply wants you to tell what you know.

IN THE DARK

The third misconception is that it’s enough just to mention God in your conversation. I’m convinced this is one of the biggest problems for many Christians who attempt to share their faith. They fail to make plain how to become a Christian.

The gospel message is wonderful. We are sinners and deserve eternal punishment but God loved us so much that he sent his Son to pay the price in our stead. If we only ask in faith, we shall receive forgiveness.

Yet we often give all the details of our past life and praise God for our present life—but leave people in the dark as to how to join us.

Faith in what God has done saves us. Prayer is often the means used to express that faith, but it is belief in Christ that saves us. We must make that clear! It is so important—but often so obscured.

I am reminded of one of the first times I traveled by commuter train. I tried to look like a seasoned traveler. I knew the name of the stop, but how to know when I got there was beyond me. My only hope was the conductor. I had seen enough movies to know that he yells out the stop before you get there. So I was safe—or so I thought.

Out he came from his post. He slammed open the door and yelled out the first stop: “Faaa Quaa!”

What did he say? I looked around to see if anyone else caught it. They were all ignoring him. They’ve ridden this thing so often, I thought, they must know where to get off purely by timing. All I could do was pray that Faaa Quaa was not my stop.

Here he came again. The door slammed open. “Feeshnaa, next stop, Feeshnaa.”

It’s no use, I thought. I’m sure to wind up at the end of the line. Embarrassed, I approached the conductor quietly, not wanting to display my ignorance. I whispered, “Sir, when do we stop at Valley Place?”

In crisp, clear, perfectly distinguishable words he bellowed out, “What’s the matter son, don’t you know your way around? Don’t worry, you just sit tight! I’ll help you!” Every eye on the train looked up and followed me back to my seat.

We believers are often like that conductor—coming through loud and clear when embarrassing a person, but veiling the gospel in shadow. By all means, if anything should be clear in our witnessing, it should be how to be saved.

One rule of thumb in sharing your faith is to do it in such a way that anyone overhearing the conversation would know how to become a Christian. If we do that for the eavesdropper, then the person we’re speaking to can’t help but get it.

By all means make the message plain.

WHOSE RESPONSIBILITY?

Now I want to deal with two important truths. Understand them and you will save yourself a lot of false guilt.

The first truth is that of man’s inability to trust Christ apart from the influence of the Holy Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 2:14, Paul said, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

This doctrine allows us to sharply distinguish between our responsibility and God’s responsibility. We don’t save anybody! God does.

In Proverbs 11:30 we read, “He who wins souls is wise.” Soul-winning is a wonderful work, but we must always remember that, although God uses us as the instruments to share the message, the Holy Spirit does the miraculous converting. We don’t convert anyone—God does.

A story is told of evangelist Dwight L. Moody going for a walk one afternoon, after having preached at an evangelistic meeting the night before. As he walked, a scoffer yelled in loud, attention-getting tones, “Well, Mr. Moody, one of your converts from last night is in the bar across the street—drunk!”

Moody replied, “He must be one of my converts—he couldn’t be one of God’s.”

Yes, we can be saddened that people do not come to Christ. We can and should plead with them. But we are not responsible for their decision. God told Samuel the prophet to not be dismayed by Israel’s rejection of Samuel’s message. Why? Because the people were rejecting God himself, not Samuel. Certainly Samuel had no delight in the people’s rejection of God, but God did relieve Samuel from the blame.

One of the best definitions of witnessing I’ve heard is taught by Campus Crusade for Christ: “A successful witness shares Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, leaving the results to God.” That definition has saved me many hours of needless anguish.

SPEAKING TO GOD

The second important truth is that our witnessing power comes from God, and therefore we must pray.

I have heard it said that we ought to do more speaking to God about a person than speaking to that person about God. We should and must witness, but since God does the converting, let’s remember to pray, pray, pray!

I offer these principles with the strong desire that we will all share in the work of proclaiming Christ until his return. May God keep us faithful in our task.


This article was written by Joseph R. Basile Jr. and originally published in issue 22 of the Discipleship Journal. Joseph R. Basile Jr. was an associate evangelist with Bible Evangelism, Inc., in Hatfield, Pennsylvania.

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