As followers of Jesus, we’re all called to play a role in spreading the gospel. But every person has unique circumstances, personalities and relationships that shape what that looks like. We all have our own challenges to overcome.
Sometimes those challenges are things we can’t control. We may have limited opportunities to share the gospel with particular people, or structural barriers we can’t remove. But other times, our own attitudes or perspectives get in the way of our evangelism. We can’t witness effectively because of something we need to work on personally. We have more growing to do before we can produce fruit.
Here are three attitudes that make it hard to witness productively, plus how to work on them.
It’s easy to forget that other people are often just as convinced of their world views as you are of yours. And they may have had very different experiences with the church—or none at all—which may mean they don’t react the way you expect after hearing about Jesus, the Bible, or your testimony. If you don’t approach evangelism opportunities with humility and compassion, and instead lean on your confidence that you’re right and they’re wrong, it becomes very difficult to have productive conversations.
When it becomes clear to people that you have a low view of their beliefs and a high view of your own, they’re likely going to do one of two things:
- Look for an offramp to end the conversation
- Go on the attack
Neither of those situations are ideal. And if your arrogant attitude leads someone to this decision point, you’re probably closing the door to future opportunities to evangelize to them as well. They’ll either avoid topics that could lead into spiritual territory (maybe even avoid interacting with you altogether), or they’ll treat those topics as flashpoints to initiate new confrontations.
Keep in mind that you’re often not just representing Jesus to the person you’re directly talking to. If there are other people around, they’re paying attention to how you’re acting, too. And if you create an especially frustrating environment or make people feel belittled for holding different beliefs, they’re going to steer clear of future conversations like that as well.
Sometimes you might feel that fight or flight response to criticism or having someone challenge your perspective. This is defensiveness and it can be a real obstacle to deep communication.
Sometimes we get overly sensitive because we fear being misunderstood or because we aren’t overly confident in our position. Other times it might simply be a desire to be right about everything. Once this attitude creeps in, people feel like they have to walk on eggshells around us, and our overall witness becomes weaker.
It certainly helps to have a strong grasp of the gospel and to be familiar with common arguments for and against its validity. But if you want to share your faith productively, you need to be able to concede when you don’t know something or when someone else may have a good point.
A defensive attitude can also make you so focused on being right or defending your beliefs that you forget the other person is speaking from what they’ve personally seen, heard, felt, believed, and learned. Rather than getting defensive, try to let your guard down enough that you can ask thoughtful questions about where someone’s beliefs are coming from. What led them to their conclusions? What have they read, watched, or listened to? Why do they feel the way they do?
Sometimes you may need to simply choose to affirm that you understand where someone is at rather than treat their experience as something you need to counteract. Ideally, being a productive witness means playing the long game. But even if you won’t have an opportunity to pick up the conversation again and continue to witness to the same person, you want to set them up for success in their future conversations with Christ followers. Resisting your defensive attitudes can help them feel comfortable wading into spiritual topics with other Christians.
When we asked over 1,600 Christians why they don’t share their faith in our multi-generational survey, fear was the #1 reason they avoided evangelism. It’s hard to share your experience with Jesus when you’re afraid that people will reject you, argue, or think you’re crazy. Sharing your testimony introduces something new to your relationship, and it can be scary when you don’t know how they’ll react.
But you can’t be a productive witness if you’re too afraid to take that step.
If you feel overcome with fear at the thought of sharing your story, try sharing your testimony with other believers until you get more comfortable with it. It can also help to practice different entry points for sharing your testimony based on which pieces of it are most important to you or the events, beliefs, and experiences that led you to Jesus.
It’s OK to be nervous and uncomfortable. But the more you share, the easier it becomes, and the less that fearfulness will be a barrier to you. And ultimately, as you live life with people, you’re going to find opportunities where it feels natural to talk about your faith. It’s going to come up. And once you start sharing that part of your life with people, it becomes a lens through which they see your actions, choices, and heart, empowering other parts of your life to lead people toward Jesus.