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Oct 01, 2009

What's a Witness?

I was talking with an old friend of mine the other day and the subject of witnessing came up. She bashfully admitted that though she loves the Lord with all her heart, she has very little desire to run around telling people the story of how salvation was brought to us through Jesus Christ. I understood the guilty feeling she was going through. It messes with your head because you’ve been taught that if you love Jesus and people, you’ll be happy to witness to others.  

The whole world of witnessing was such a turn off to me that I could barely stand to have it brought up. After sitting through hundreds of sermons where the pastor would shame the hell out of me for not telling the world about Christ, the guilt and condemnation finally took its toll. I pretty much decided to throw the whole witnessing thing out the window altogether. So when my friend opened up to me about how she felt about witnessing, I understood her heart completely.  

So what’s with that anyway? Why would we feel insecure about telling someone we meet on the street about Jesus? Why does it feel so weird to give the whole Gospel script to people? Are we holding back? Is it really because we don’t care for people as much as we should? What is it about us that is so hesitant to witness? Are we embarrassed of Him, or are we just not believing enough in Him? Why is it that this subject seems to condemn most Christians?  

In the last forty years I’ve heard no less then a hundred different pastors stand up and reprimand their congregations for not witnessing enough about Jesus. I’ve been to conferences, work shops, Sunday school classes, and weekend retreats designed to encourage and equip Christians to get out and be a witness for Christ. It’s the age-old problem that pastors have bitched and nagged about for as long as I can remember. It seems that no matter how many sermons are preached on the subject, people don’t get any better at it. The best anyone’s ever been able to do is to encourage their congregation to invite others to church so the pastor can do the witnessing. In fact, this is what witnessing has become in today’s church.   

I recently had a pastor friend of mine ask me my opinion as to why Christians never witness. My answer is simple. 

For the most part I think Christians don’t witness because they haven’t witnessed anything. 

I believe that we have lost sight of exactly what a “witness” is. Church people use that word wrongly. It amazes me how often we mistranslate that word in today’s Christian world. I honestly believe that most honest Christians think the word “witness” means something totally different for us than it does for the rest of the world.  

We are taught that witnessing is a commandment. That’s impossible. Witnessing is not up to you. I can’t command you to be a witness for the OJ Simpson case. No matter how much of a law I make it, being a witness is not up to YOU. You were either there and saw something or you weren’t there and you didn’t see anything.  

When the OJ Simpson case was finished, did you feel guilty for not being a witness for that case? Probably not, because you didn’t witness anything. You would have absolutely no reason to be there. Being a witness is not something you can decide to do. You can’t walk into a random court case going on in your city and ask the judge if you can take the stand because you were commanded to be a good witness. Amazingly, that is EXACTLY what most Christians do every time they “witness” because they’ve been taught that a witness is telling people everything you’ve learned about something. 

If you read the papers and watch CNN religiously in an attempt to gather as much information as you can about an upcoming high profile murder trial, you still are not qualified to be a witness. No amount of knowledge or memorized information about a case is the equivalent of witnessing what actually took place. Ironically, Christians today think that because they read about something in the Bible and listened to a sermon on it, they’ve witnessed it. That doesn’t even make sense.  

Pile on top of that, the fact that we are constantly pressured to take the witness stand and do a good job. It’s no wonder Christians come across to the world as being insincere and hypocritical. We are insincere because we are calling ourselves a witness to something we’ve never personally witnessed. The best we can do to improve our witness is to study theater. I honestly believe it is not by accident that drama teams have popped up in churches all across America. The more realistic we can make out time on the witness stand, the more convinced the jury will be. 

We are taught to, be a “good witness”  and no one ever stops to think what in the world that means. It doesn’t  even make sense. In fact, the very wording of that statement is evidence that the whole thing is a concocted lie put together to deceive the court. There is no such thing as a “good” or “bad” witness. It’s impossible to improve what you’ve witnessed without exaggerating or outright lying while on the stand.  

A witness is asked to do one thing and one thing ONLY; tell the court what you witnessed. Don’t tell the court what you think or what your theory is as to what happened. Don’t even give your opinion as to whether or not the guy on trial is innocent or guilty. What did you actually see?  

If you saw the defendant drive by your house in a red convertible at around 2:15 am, THAT IS ALL YOU CAN SAY. The court is not interested in where you think he went or where you think he was coming from. All they want to know is what you saw! If you were up at 2:00 am reading the Bible, or if you were up looking at pornography matters NOT. If you had showered or if you stank to high heavens when you saw this, matters NOT. Tell the court what you saw. THAT and only that is what makes a “good” witness. A good witness is also someone who doesn’t exaggerate or embellish what they saw in an effort to make the story more exciting.  Truthfulness about what was actually witnessed is what makes a “good witness.”  

I think Christians feel nervous about witnessing because they’ve been taught that they have to include a bunch of information that they read about or learned, but didn’t actually see. We feel like we’re reading someone else's script. It feels unnatural because it is unnatural. It’s unnatural because it’s not our true testimony.  

You’re not commanded to be a witness for Christ. You’re commanded to tell what you’ve witnessed, AND NOTHING MORE! For most Christians, I am finding that if they told “the truth and nothing but the truth,” their time on the witness stand would last little more than a few minutes. I honestly don’t say that to shame anyone. In fact, I don’t think it’s their fault. Unfortunately, because so many of us have been taught to sell the story to the courts as though it came from us, we find ourselves getting so twisted and spun around that we can’t distinguish the difference between what we memorized and what we actually witnessed. Our actual experience gets buried beneath a mountain of scripts and screenplays we’ve spent a lifetime studying and rehearsing.  

I’ll never forget watching the OJ case on television many years ago. I quit my job a few weeks before the court case began, so I was glued to my television every day from the beginning to the end. I think I learned more about being a witness and giving a testimony by watching that court case then I did after more than twenty years of being a Christian.   

What amazed me most, was how the D.A. was able to string together a bunch of seemingly insignificant testimonies and form an accurate timeline and picture of what happened. Each witness who testified, told only what they witnessed. One guy looked out his window late at night and saw a white Ford Bronco speed past his house and disappear into the night. That was all he witnessed. That was all he told. He didn’t explain the whole story of the murders and try to convince the jury that OJ was guilty or innocent. He just told what he witnessed. Another guy saw a dark figure run across OJ Simpson’s lawn and enter through the back of OJ’s house. The second witness told only what he saw and nothing more.  

There was a couple who found Nicole Simpson’s dog wandering aimlessly through the neighborhood. They said he was nervous and agitated. Their testimony was only about the dog and what they witnessed. They offered no opinion on what might have happened that night. They weren’t qualified to. They were good witnesses because they told the court exactly what they witnessed. They told the truth, and nothing but the truth. 

One by one, the different witnesses approached the stand and testified. Slowly, but surely, the entire picture of what happened came together. Amazingly, there were some people who’s testimony didn’t seem to have anything to do with the murders whatsoever. Some people testified about the handling of blood after it was collected. Others testified about police procedures in collecting and protecting evidence. Another person testified about whether or not actors in movies get to keep the clothes they wore in the film. There were multiple witnesses that came from hundreds of unique perspectives. No two stories looked or sounded alike, yet together - they all pointed to the truth.  

It is not a witness's job to convince the jury of anything at all. It’s a witness's job to tell only what they witnessed. If Christians could get this concept, I believe an explosion of freedom that they’ve never known would rock their spiritual worlds. Contrary to popular belief, I have found that Christians don’t have a problem witnessing at all. When something happens in their life between them and God, they immediately run around like giddy school-girls telling everyone who will listen. People don’t have a problem testifying about what they’ve actually experienced. It’s human nature to tell everyone around you when something exciting happens in your life. Even Jesus couldn’t get people to keep their mouths shut after they encountered Him. He told them over and over not to tell anyone what had happened to them, and every single time they ran around and blabbed it to the world. When people actually experience something, they can’t help themselves. They have to tell everyone they know!  

Christians have a problem with reading a script that someone else wrote and trying to make it look like it’s their testimony.   

If people could just get this concept I truly believe they wouldn’t be so hard on themselves for not performing up to standards. Some people’s testimony is nothing more than, “He showed me that He loves me today,” or “He’s showing me how my mother felt when I said what I said to her,” or “Today, God finally explained something to me that I’ve been asking about for months.” Our testimonies will be random snippets of intimate encounters that we’ve experienced with God. There may never be two incidents that look alike, or that compare with other people’s snippets. Remember, it’s not our job to form anything out of what we witness. It’s not our job to convince anyone of anything based on what we’ve witnessed. It’s only our job to be truthful about it and trust in the D.A. (God) to put the pieces together and reveal the true picture.  

Many Christians feel that being a “good witness” means that they have to embellish their personal moments with the Father when relating the story with others. We exaggerate about what happened in an attempt to make it sound more spiritual and exciting. Rather than tell it like it is, I find that many people are afraid to admit how unspiritual some of their moments with God really are. They give their testimonies a full body make-over, and after awhile, even they can’t remember which version of the story is true.   

If we understood this concept, we wouldn’t even be tempted to compare what we’ve witnessed with what someone else has witnessed. The two have nothing to do with one another. How much sense would it make if OJ Simpson’s limo driver started competing with the couple who found the dog wandering the neighborhood, because he liked their testimony better than his? Ridiculous isn’t even the word for it. It would be outright stupid.


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  1. Gravatar

    Thank you!!! I get so tired of this pressure every Sunday morning. Lets all just get real.

  2. Gravatar

    Thanks, Darin,
    You took a load off my shoulders...which I have had on there for eons! Even went on overseas short-term mission trips in High School and did door-to-door "witnessing". Never felt comfortable with it even though we were "trained" to, with all the right words. HOW FAKE. How embarrassing to look back on.
    So, thanks for making this very clear!

  3. Gravatar

    Well, you got one thing right Darrin, God will put the pieces together. Actually, God doesn't need any of us. His work "will" be done with or without us. But it is a privilege to be a part in His work:)

  4. Gravatar

    Darin - having just finished reading Marcia Clark's book on the OJ trial, this especially caught my attention. Finally, someone who recognizes that witnessing is BEING - not DOING!!

  5. Gravatar

    That's like I was taught and told to go and tell others the 4 spiritual laws.. just someone's formula, not real witnessing. To me, witnessing is being myself, who I am, with those around me. They will see the unconditional love and believe it or not, according to whether I'm consistent with it. Thanks for this, Darin, your perspective is freeing and full of grace and wisdom.

  6. Gravatar

    I have discovered, like BJ, that the best witness is to set an example of how you live your life, not run around with a Bible bashing people's brains in. You also need to wait for your opportunity. Both my son and I have been healed by prayer of our asthma, and I tell the story when the time is right, in the right context, so people will be willing to listen.

  7. Gravatar

    You have to be yourself and tell of your experience but you do share your knowledge. Our source for witnessing is he who lives in us and what God reveals to us in the Bible. Witnessing door to door still has value and no ti si not phony. No one who goes door to door is great at it at first. As we grow in our faith we mature and we will know what to say and help our witness be personalized to the person you are witnessing for. God is not interested in excuses though. You either try or you don't.

  8. Gravatar
    Chris Pack

    Love the comment about OCD folks and religion!

  9. Gravatar
    Chris Pack

    Oops, meant that comment for the latest podcast, not this blog.

  10. Gravatar

    I suspect most pastors shame their congregations for not witnessing because more butts in pews = more money and prestige and power for the pastor and the establishment.

  11. Gravatar

    Witnessing OJ trying on the gloves made a believer outta me!

  12. Gravatar

    Thank you for talking about one of the most painful parts of trying to live a 'Christian' life. Next to witnessing, trying to get someone to pray the 'sinner's prayer' is one of the most awkward situations I can remember. I was left with more questions than answers, "Did they get born again or were they faking it to get rid of me?" It seemed to only lead to more judging instead of life.

  13. Gravatar
    Joe G.

    TLC - Well said! We can be a witness without opening our mouths about matters of faith through smiles, courtesies, and the light in our eyes. With discernment, we can sense when we are to speak what God puts in our heart at the time. Thank God that He gives such discernment if we but ask.

  14. Gravatar

    hey that was really cool to read! it makes so much sense ... but actually i forgot where it says we should be witnesses at all? i know it says go and make disciples somewhere ... please elaborate on this thank you ! bless ya

  15. Gravatar

    "He told them over and over not to tell anyone what had happened to them, and every single time they ran around and blabbed it to the world." I love this! Every time I read it in the bible it amazes me. What are these people? Don't they know how to obey Jesus' commands?! Mercy on them, eh? :)

  16. Gravatar

    Excellent! Amazing what clarity is available when you stop looking something through the lens of a lifetime of indoctrination.

  17. Gravatar

    This was very thought provoking. I think that we have confused much. The word witness especially as you have explained it here isn't what we have really been bullied to do. There is probably room for some of the skepticism expressed here, but I think for the most part it has been driven by misperception not ego. I do believe that part of God's plan is to share His life with the world through the lives of believers. Paul called this the "treasure in jars of clay." I thin what we are called to is being good worshipers. in the context of Romans 12. That has been twisted and misplaced as "witnessing."

    All of us but the most ardent gift produced evenelgists have spent time under the guilt cloak that you describe. I don' think that God ever intended that.

  18. Gravatar
    Joe G.

    Vince, good question! To be precise, we "bear the witness", the gospel of the kingdom, by sharing it. (Matthew 24:14) John the Baptist bore witness of the Light (Christ). I do not know that he is ever called a witness; rather, John bore the witness, the gospel. Here we see the gospel as the witness. However, I do not think we err in calling fellow Christians witnesses as they are now part of that kingdom and and carry that treasure within. Elsewhere, scripture does speak of being surrounded by clouds of witnesses which I take to be those who have followed Christ. I have no problem with Christians being called witnesses, particularly with respect to our modern English, as we have seen the evidence by faith and have become part of the witness by having His life within.

  19. Gravatar
    Joe Perrott

    . . . also; Acts 1:8 is probably the classic
    But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." and also a little more specific:
    Mark 13:9
    On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them.
    Main point I get is this: you won't ever be standing before Governors or going to Samaria if you've not witnessed anything

  20. Gravatar
    Joe Perrott

    So here's a great example, for anybody who hasn't seen or heard:
    Stephanie has reported - and move hundreds!

    Oh Yeah, and Darin, I did read your previous blog on verse quoting, whoops! ;-)

  21. Gravatar
    Joe G.

    You make the case, Joe Perrott, with Acts 1:8. We have the witness (the Christ and His gospel within), we bear the witness as we share with others, and we are witnesses, having seen the Christ through the eyes of faith and having experienced the transformation He brings.

  22. Gravatar

    Spurgeon said that we are either missionaries or imposters. Jesus was more radical than Spurgeon.

  23. Gravatar
    David Joseph Brncik

    hi free believers, Gods Love be upon you!

  24. Gravatar
    Paul Spencer

    Right on the mark! This confirms what I've been convinced about for a while now. I've never felt comfortable about witnessing as something I "should do". Our witness should not be about us, but about Jesus. To a great extent, I believe that our "witness" should be the natural expression of our lives.
    I like what Joyce Meyer once said, "The greatest gift that you can give to the world is a healthy you. Physically healthy, mentally healthy and emotionally healthy."

  25. Gravatar
    lyn myers

    Well Paul.... that would leave me out! I have physical, health problems, and suffer from depression and have had my emotionally bad years! I believe Christ is ALL IN ALL and when I have prayed for healing and it has not come, He has used it as I surrender and wait and trust, but anyway, that aside, I loved reading all the comments about 'witnessing'- been there, done that! I am so thrilled to be free of 'having' to do anything - but now leave it to the Holy Spirit to prompt me and just allow Jesus to be my Life and live His life through me, through who I am (and the suffering made me into who I am too), through my personality, through the way I speak and feel and think. Christ IN you, the hope of glory. Amazing to think He lives in us isn't it? Warts and all!Can't fall too far from Grace..

  26. Gravatar
    Corey J. Couturier

    Thanks Darin for your thoughtful insights once again. Having gone door to door for a number of years, I can't really say that I regret any of it.
    I think, though, perhaps a better term would be to say "door to door ministry" rather than door to door witnessing. On one occasion, a friend of mmine and I knocked on a door. When the girl answered the door, she was crying, and told us that she was about to commit suicide. We were able to minister to her at that time, and I'm thankful we went out that day. I have so many stories about my experiences. Is this for everyone? Absolutely not. And no one should ever try to force you to do something you don't feel led to do. I think evangelism is a gifting that some people have. True witnessing about what God has done in your life is as easy

  27. Gravatar
    Corey J. Couturier

    as talking about your new car that you just bought. You'll probably talk about it so much that others will get sick of hearing it.

  28. Gravatar
    Jim Diakur

    Hi everyone,gotta go with my heart on this one and say this post is crap.
    What's all that wrong with witnessing? On Saturday morning, you ring the "clients" doorbell, say around 7:30 am, and the person comes to the door all groggy because they were out partying the night before until 3 am. Then you hit them with the "If you were to die tonight ..." and then they get really pissed of# at you. Man, what a rush!

  29. Gravatar

    Well written, to me the word witness is just wrong. Live your life with the same love for others that Jesus has for you it will be noticed and people will ask why you are so at peace and happy in times of trouble. Then we get all wordy, what a waste. KISS is the principal here. My answer when asked (not enough) so what does that say about my example, is simply Jesus of Nazareth is my leader. Live your life loving Jesus and he will direct your path. I Love this web site

  30. Gravatar
    James Kraemer

    I too have never been comfortable with witnessing as it is commonly advocated in many churches. The verse that has always spoken to my heart regarding this topic is 1 Peter 3:15 which speaks of giving an account for the hope that is within you. What I like is the context is that of answering someone in response to something they see in you, rather than trying to make someone see something they may not yet be ready to see. The verse begins with the admonition to sanctify Christ in our hearts. To me that is another way of saying, love God and let your heart be intimately intertwined with His. The hope that flows from such union will resonate with some out there who have no such hope. When it does be prepared to share.

  31. Gravatar

    You just answered a question I've been asking myself ever since I left my job as bus driver, "Was I a good witness?" My fear, because of what I have been taught "witnessing" is supposed to be, was that I was not a very good witness at all. Thanks to your post, I now know that I was a good witness. Thank you. You have no idea (or maybe you do) how this nagged at me and made me feel that I was a failure as a Believer.

  32. Gravatar

    I'm roaming the website this morning and just read this blog and some of the posts. I've been "getting" it as Darin says, although sometimes I feel I'm not there yet. I like the thought that witnessing is something else I don't have to put on my "to do" list that never happens satisfactorily according to how it is explained in some message I heard. The more we look at our performance the sicker we can feel. I don't think that God means that for us at all. Witnessing comes from just being and if we are going to be free it is just going to happen. It also means that if we are believers we have already witnessed mostly in ways we were not even aware of.

    It helps to see what I am thinking--thanks for a place to write.

  33. Gravatar

    I just wanted to add that it feels great to be released from all that "how to" agenda.

  34. Gravatar

    Joshua 22:34 And the Reubenites and the Gadites gave the altar this name: A Witness Between Us that the LORD is God.(conclusion to a great story - sorry to ruin the ending for some)

    Was that alter actually a "witness" (did it see something), nope it was just a reminder for believers that were separated by distance from The Alter in Jerusalem. In the same vein I think we are called to be a reminder of Christ or Christ-like to others. I just can't see Jesus as a hard selling,cold calling salesman. The image of Jesus for some seems replaced by Blake in "Glengarry Glen Ross" with the mantra "A-B-C. A-always, B-be, C-closing. Always be closing! Always be closing!!"

    Good article Darin - I hope the fact that one of your senses, not just sight, has to be involved to witness something. I felt it.

  35. Gravatar

    They also make out that everybody is just dying for you to "witness" to them, as in start some deep discussion about the Bible or Jesus, when actually nothing is further from the truth. Few people could care less. But of course if you get a bad reaction it is all your fault. And telling people "God changed my life" or "had a wonderful plan for my life"? Yes, most of my family stopped talking to me!!! And what happens when "the wonderful plan" just entails getting up every morning (hard sometimes) and going about an ordinary day with LOTS of heartaches? Doesn't leave much to talk about. Now knowing GOD REALLY LOVES ME ... that's different...

  36. Gravatar

    As someone brought up in church I agree with your post in many ways. I do believe however that Christians need to be aware of opportunities to speak into people's lives wherever they are. God brings these opportunities on a regular basis, it's just that we so often either ignore them or are too afraid to share our hearts. My husband is an amazing evangelist. How does he do it? He sits in coffee houses studying the Word of God and God literally brings him people to talk to (he usually has his head down with ear phones on so he's definitely not looking for "a target"). Does he go by a script of verses that he's learned and studied (which he can do)? No, he simply listens to them pour out their hearts then speaks words of God's love to them. Live the life then share the life. Simple.

  37. Gravatar

    I heard someone say one time that Christians had ceased to be amazing because we had ceased to be amazed.

  38. Gravatar

    On being a witness for Christ. YES!!! Finally someone to bluntly say what goes unsaid. It's so terrible what they promote and encourage the flock to do. God they parade an unending stream of classic first hand accounts of “saved” people who tell their stories as if the earth shook and the Mississippi ran backwards for a time when they were “saved”! Well my story falls a bit short but if I cave into the pressure to “witness” then I'm obviously needing to embellish some. After that lets say I get good at leading the “lost” to the Lord, and I notice that small changes work or don't work so over time I'm just “lying” for the Lord.?!?! Uuggh! The simplicity of just being open about our relationship though, as the true intent. Wow, what a concept. Now that would work, that is, as long as our spiritual interactions are all scriptural, sound, and pastor approved renditions. I have personally felt the pressure to NOT talk about first hand revelations. It's a messed up system we have and I have given up on Christianity to Feed my spiritual hunger turning to alternative types but you give me hope for reconciliation. Thank you Darin.

  39. Gravatar

    Well put... as long as we remember that Jesus also told us to "Go into all the world and PREACH THE GOSPEL to all creation." Mk 16:15. When we receive the Holy Spirit, we will BE His witnesses(Acts 1:8), but we must SPEAK His good news, and be prepared to give an ANSWER for our hope. 1 Peter 3:15 We do still need to OPEN OUR MOUTHS -- unless you believe the rest of scripture is for someone else. Besides, if we love others as ourselves, how can we NOT want them to know what (Whom) we know, unless we don't know Jesus? I just don't think you can really know Him and not want to talk about Him! "Let him who boasts, boast in this, that he understands and knows Me..."Jer. 9:24. So let's press on to KNOW Him (Hos. 6:3, Phil.3:10) and be changed by His Presence. There's no profit in feeling guilty or condemning ourselves, but let's challenge ourselves to be bold, and to open our mouths for a world in desperate need of Him.

  40. Gravatar

    I agree with the article, the best way to witness is "being an honest, faithful Christian" but as a member of a church, we need to be part of whatever ministries they have, the best channel i believe in
    my humble opinion is thru a ministry in the church we attend or even a personal ministry, the important thing is that as a christian it is our duty to witness, we just have to find a way we can do that'\; maybe through our spiritual gift, whatever that might be, we need to find out what it is. The churches need to work with all its members and help out each one one regarding witnessing. God bless

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