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Witness Begins With Listening

Rethinking Our Witness

I’m beginning to think that the church has been missing something.  Furthermore, I don’t believe this is a new phenomenon.  Our focus in faith sharing has been on proclamation, sharing our story.  We have Good News to share and we feel a deep passion to give to others what we have received.  When we read Scripture, we see a compelling call to do this work.  What we miss when this is our sole focus is that faith sharing isn’t only about us.  We tend to think only about the ‘what’ that we share and the ‘why’ in our witness.  Rarely do we think about the ‘how’ of our witness.  While addressing the ‘how’ has always been important, we must be even more cognizant of it today.  We can’t make the same assumptions about how our witness will be received.

The Crucial First Step

Even in the very earliest teaching of the church we learn the importance of relating to people where they are.  The Apostle Paul, in one of his letters to the church in Corinth, teaches us that the key to sharing the grace of the Gospel begins with relationships.  The emphasis on relationships is especially relevant today.  Demographic research emphasizes the increasing disconnect that many in our community have with the church and faith.  We are living in a time when can no longer assume our neighbors will have any experience with faith and the church.  Without this common frame of reference paying attention to how we witness to faith is critical.  Knowing how to talk to people about faith and God can only begin when we first take the time to first know the person across from us.

Learn First

While it is true that the Gospel we proclaim is a means of grace to others, we can’t assume that it applies the same way in every situation.  We do live in a world that yearns for the transformation, healing and new life that Christ bears.  However, the gift we offer in our witness isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ grace.  The healing that God offers is uniquely sufficient to all of our needs.  Sharing this Good News begins when we first understand how and where a person hurts.  I have a final, cautionary thought.  We must not build these relationships as a means to an end.  If we seek these relationships only for the purpose of sharing our story, the ulterior motive will be sniffed out.  This will damage the integrity of our witness.  When our relationship is genuine and unconditional, our sharing will be transformational.