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In the MarketPlace

Witnessing: Scary, But Worth the Risk

Jennifer Schwirzer


My friend Sally rang the doorbell while trembling. Door-to-door witnessing completely psyched her out, and she felt it in the depths of her pumping adrenal glands. Waiting pensively, she heard a stirring inside that propelled her into prayer mode. “Dear heavenly Father,” she pleaded. Just then, the door swung open to reveal the man of the house. Sally said the first thing that popped into her head:

“Dear heavenly Father . . .”

We’ve all had awkward witnessing moments. Many of them result from the fact that in witnessing we break accepted privacy boundaries. The phenomenon of ignoring people in a public setting has been labeled “civil inattention” and constitutes an important part of our social code. You ignore me; I ignore you— that way we can carry on the business of life without distracting one another. Social researcher Joanne Finkelstein says that social inattention is “a means of making privacy possible within a crowd through culturally accepted forms of self-distancing.”

When we witness, we close that distance. Sometimes people don’t like it. And we don’t like how they don’t like it. And this makes witnessing scary.

A little fear can actually improve performance, but too much can send us over the edge into realms of panic that make swimming with crocodiles look safe by comparison. Fortunately, a few simple adjustments in our thinking can alleviate most of the fear, leaving us with just enough adrenaline to sharpen our delivery. These adjustments involve routing out some common myths.

MYTH #1 – I HAVE TO BE THE SMARTEST GUY IN THE ROOM. Not true. Mary Magdalene’s theology was all confused when she anointed Jesus after hearing He’d be crowned king. God used her anyway, as He used the Little Flock in 1844 who had the sanctuary doctrine all wrong. There is no shame in simply saying, “I don’t know the answer to that, but I’ll be glad to research it and get back to you.”

MYTH #2 – NOBODY WANTS WHAT I HAVE. Wrong again! “All over the world men and women are looking wistfully to heaven. Prayers and tears and inquiries go up from souls longing for light, for grace, for the Holy Spirit. Many are on the verge of the kingdom, waiting only to be gathered in” (The Acts of the Apostles, 109).

MYTH #3 – I HAVE TO BE PUSHY AND I DON’T LIKE BEING PUSHY. No, no, no! Having something to share doesn’t automatically turn people into blustering blowhards. “Satan is constantly seeking to produce effects by rude and violent thrusts; but Jesus found access to minds by the pathway of their most familiar associations. He disturbed their accustomed train of thought as little as possible by abrupt actions or prescribed rules. He honored man with His confidence and thus placed him on his honor” (Evangelism, 140).

MYTH #4 – EVERYONE WILL HATE ME. Nope. Some people will truly appreciate you. “Civil inattention” can lead to feelings of loneliness and invisibility. A moment of friendly, meaningful talk can set the initiator apart as a beacon of warmth and light in an otherwise cold, dark world. “Let him that hears say, ‘Come,’ and whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17). Never forget that, in witnessing, you’re offering thirsty people a drink.

MYTH #5 – I HAVE TO BE MARK FINLEY. Not so! While eloquence and carefully crafted arguments have their place, nothing beats a simple testimony of what Jesus has done for you personally. And no one can argue with a testimony! The man born blind certainly couldn’t argue religion well when he said of his Healer, Jesus, “Whether He is a sinner or not I do not know.” But he followed with his personal story: “One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25). Let the redeemed of the Lord say so!

The first people to tell me about Jesus did so at a wild party involving all kinds of hedonistic madness. They’d come to visit old friends bearing the news of their newly-found Savior and Friend. Fastened to their shirts were pins proudly displaying such expressions as “Jesus Saves” and “Praise the Lord.” They seemed to repel the reveling crowd with a kind of spiritual force field, finally finding themselves sitting alone. No one wanted to fraternize with “Jesus freaks.” But then a lone soul sauntered up to speak to them, and for the first time heard of a loving, forgiving, saving Jesus. That soul was me. I’m so glad they realized that witnessing was worth the risk.