For years whenever anyone mentioned the E Word I would feel guilty.
I would make excuses: I didn’t have the time; personality; words or knowledge. I tried rationalising the situation away: it was a specific calling that I didn’t have. Others were better at it than me. That’s what we paid the professionals to do. I even tried dismissing it usually based upon the worst examples of the art. It put people off. It was crass.
And I always had this nagging feeling that when Jesus laid down the Great Commission he didn’t intend for it to become the Great Omission. Well certainly that was the case in my life and sad to say it also seemed to be the case in many, if not most of the churches I visited.
Then came a moment of great revelation and illumination, it was a eureka moment for me.
It was the day I realised that the E Word – Evangelism and the W Word – Witness were not the same thing. In fact the word evangelism isn’t even biblical. Nowhere in the Bible is the word used. The word evangelist exists. It means ‘one who bears a message’. The word ‘euangelion’ exists. It means ‘the message’ we translate it as ‘good news’, but evangelism does not exist.
In fact, I discovered that it was an artificial construct developed in the Victorian era. For all the best possible reasons the great Victorian revivalists tried to formularise the gospel message so that anyone could share it and be reasonably certain that they had covered all the bases.
The only problem with this, as far as I was concerned was that it never really sat comfortably with me. Why, because it didn’t seem real. It didn’t seem to speak of relationship. It wasn’t the way that Jesus or those first disciples seemed to do it. (Luke9:1-6 & 10:1-9)
It was a huge relief to me to see that there are those who were called to be Evangelists who had the gift. (Ephesians 4:11) And that certainly wasn’t me, whereas all who call themselves Christian are to Be Witnesses. (Acts 1:8)
In recent years these two words have become hugely significant in my attempts to do personal mission – Be Witnesses.
The first word ‘Be’ means that my attempts at witnessing are supposed to come out of who I am. They are an extension of my being. I am not supposed to ‘be’ anyone other than who God intends me to be. I don’t have to become like anyone else. I can be comfortable in my own skin, utilise my own personality, my own words, my own experiences and still be effective and included in God’s Great Commission.
The second word ‘Witness’ is a translation of the word ‘martureo’ from which we get the word martyr. It is about laying down our lives in sacrifice. (Romans 12:1,2) As such it places a far higher requirement upon us as Christians than simply to be evangelist – those who go with a message.
We are called to offer our bodies – our physical lives as living sacrifices, to live as worshippers and servants. We are to be our real selves. The people God made us to be and share the full life with others that we have and he offers. (John 10:10)
I also realised that it was not my job to make people Christian (1 Corinthians 3:6) that role belongs to God. It is by grace. (Ephesians 2: 8) He is more committed to seeing people come to faith than we are. (Matthew 18:14)
I cannot tell you how freeing all of this was. I could be me and be a witness.
As a consequence I have discovered my own style of witnessing. I have integrated it into my life. I don’t do witnessing anymore I simply am a witness. It colours my words and my actions.
Let me give you a few current examples from these past few weeks. These are not for you to copy because hopefully by now you will have gathered I am encouraging you to be you and find your own style. I simply share these to show how it works for me.
A fortnight ago I went to have my hair cut. Now as a rule I don’t generally strike up spiritual conversations in the hairdressers. I have this fear of leaving with some weird motif cut into the back of my head as payback!
However I was feeling relaxed so when the hairdresser asked me whether I was having a good week I said yes. She then asked what I had been doing. I told her that I had been involved in a holiday club at a local church. She said, “That’s interesting, I used to go to church.”
For the next 45 minutes she told me her ‘testimony’ of what had put her off church and I spent my time persuading her to give it another go and showing her that Jesus shouldn’t be tarred with the church brush.
I left feeling uplifted. The conversation had been so natural and I had played my part in her continuing journey.
Last week I was at the physio. As I lay on my back, being pummelled to within an inch of my life I got chatting with the Physio. I asked him how he had got into his line of work. He said he found the human body fascinating. I said I agreed and added it almost made you believe in a grand designer and away we went.
Just by being me I find increasingly I am having these types of conversations in coffee shops; on trains; in queues; in fact wherever and whenever I meet people.
For me witness has become a pleasure. Put simply I am just sharing my life. I started telling others about what I was doing and how I was doing it and was invited to take Church Weekends. This resulted in us putting together an event called Running Your Race that aims to help others integrate witness into their real lives.
Over the past couple of years we’ve seen individuals and even whole congregations move from Omission to Commission. Maybe we can help you too!