Discover more from Whatsoever Thoughts
A Major Breakthrough in My Witnessing Journey
Plus Super-Practical Gospel Sharing Tips
I once shared the gospel with a group of burly Arab camel tour guides whose camel bit me on the leg. (It’s okay. You can laugh.)
I also shared with my next-door neighbor over bitter mint tea and semolina cake.
But I’ve been finding it increasingly challenging to share with certain people over the years… and that bothers me. All month, as we’ve been talking about authentic witness, I’ve asked the Lord to reveal my heart to me. Why is this so hard?
Of course, it’s partially hard because, in the countries where I’ve served as a missionary, people could face serious consequences for following Jesus. But I have sensed there is something else going on.
Finally, I think I know what it is:
I have believed that in order to share my faith with someone, I have to be either a stranger or a best friend. And, while most of the world is a stranger to me, there are many people in that awkward area between acquaintance and best friend. That gray area is where my trouble lies.
But it is also the place of the most potential.
My family has a VHS tape of me receiving gifts on my seventh birthday. Everyone is chuckling in the background as I screech with equal enthusiasm over the Barbie dolls and the new socks. But I remember being very concerned that each individual person felt that their gift was loved.
I still kinda feel that way, except it’s not about Barbies and socks anymore. Now it’s about friendship. How can I make sure everyone feels equally loved and cherished and special?
The truth is, I can’t, because I’m not infinite.
I have a best friend I only get to talk to every few months. Maybe you have one, too. Life gets busy, but you always know you can pick up where you left off. And each time, it feels like just yesterday since you got together.
But for many of the women I’ve been privileged to know in other countries, people who talk every few months are hardly friends. This is a cultural expectation that has been difficult for me to manage.
I have friends on the field who wonder why, when we talk like best friends about the deepest issues of our hearts, I am not in their kitchen every other afternoon, not sending WhatsApp messages every morning with identical inquiries about family and health.
Not only do I feel sad to disappoint people, I also really, really don’t want someone to feel like I’ve pulled a bait-and-switch on them. Like I only come over every few weeks, peddle some religion, and leave, without really seeing and appreciating them.
So I visit as much as I can, waiting for the time when I’ve built up this relationship enough to have the right to share Jesus. Waiting to become BFFs, while simultaneously feeling exhausted because I know I’m unable to meet the requirements.
This has always been an issue, but it’s only affected my gospel sharing in the last two years. Why is that?
A little over two years ago, a close friend of mine met a nice lady at a park. The lady told my friend, “I’d really love to mentor you. We could get together for coffee once a week, and I could help you work through what’s most important to you.” Although this is unusual for an American conversation, my friend is gifted in building community and investing in other humans, so she assumed she had met a kindred spirit. She jumped at this opportunity. After two meetings, she got a pitch for an investment scheme. When she declined…
…the “mentorship” ended.
I think my friend’s experience may have traumatized me more than her. It rattles around my mind some nights. I would never want someone I’m sharing the gospel with to feel like they’ve just been with a used car salesman, or a multi-level marketer, or anything else that doesn’t feel real.
Maybe that’s a good thing. But in my quest to be genuine, I have slipped into black-and-white thinking: I must either be a stranger or a best friend to have the right to share my faith.
But what if I’m overly focused on relationship building? What if, sometimes, it’s enough to build rapport?
Rapport or Relationship?
“Rapport is defined as a friendly, harmonious relationship. There's mutual agreement, understanding, and empathy that makes the communication flow well. Once you have built good rapport, there is an implicit assumption of positive intent between both people that makes your interactions easier.” So says Betterup. (Link below.)
In my observation, rapport is built through the following learnable skills:
Listening - This involves asking great questions and listening with attention – which means we focus on the speaker more than our own internal monologue or whatever we want to say next. We postpone judgment and listen to understand the other person.
Showing Genuine Empathy - Empathy is really trying to understand where a person is coming from. Pity says, “Poor you,” but empathy says, “I can imagine how hard that must be.” Pity objectifies people. Empathy acknowledges them.
A Positive Attitude - I’ve noticed that people with naturally good rapport tend to be cheerful. They don’t have to be sanguine, extroverted, or smiley, but they notice the good in others and in life. They value people, and it comes through in their body language. Their communication radiates security, because they’re not easily offended by what others say.
What if I’m doing this backwards? What if I’m trying to develop relationships with people and rapport with Jesus? Is it possible that I’m spending all this time trying to juggle relationships I don’t have time to nurture while I maintain a friendly acquaintance with Christ?
And what would happen if I switched that around? What if I focused on building my relationship with Jesus and my rapport with people?
Jesus, when He chose to be temporarily limited during His time on this earth, had a very close mentoring relationship with three people (Peter, James, and John) who went with him almost everywhere. Then He had 12 people he mentored on a daily basis. There were 70 others He worked with for a season. And then there were the crowds which He taught and healed.
But the one He stayed up all night to talk to was His Father. And the whole point of His ministry, among the three, the 12, the 70, and the crowds, was to make His Father known.
Now, back to my epiphany about sharing Jesus with people.
Last Friday evening, I was crying out to the Lord, trying to understand myself. After about an hour I crawled into bed, exhausted. That night, I had a dream about the woman in the big house I wrote about previously (link below). In the dream, I was sitting on my porch, listening to the sound of her being beaten and crying out from within her home. And as I listened, I wept.
When I woke up, I asked God, “How can I share with her if that might be the result?” And quick as a flash, the answer came:
“What if this is already her reality, and she’s trying to bear it without Me?”
I may not have what it takes to be everyone’s best friend, to rescue the world from loneliness. But I know Someone infinite, someone who does have what it takes. He is a far better friend than I. Like springs of living water, He is never exhausted.
And I know how to introduce friends who haven’t met each other yet.
Four Sharing Strategies for Introducing People to Jesus:
My husband Joshua, who has a gift for developing rapport, likes to share the following four witnessing strategies. Here they are:
Pray for people. Keep a list of people you know or have met. Pray for them. If appropriate, let them know you are doing that.
Pray with people. When a friend, acquaintance, or even a stranger shares a need, problem, or desire, acknowledge their need and then, when appropriate, ask to pray with them. You can say something like, “It sounds like this issue is really _____ (important to you, difficult, challenging, or whatever you actually observe). I’d love to pray with you about that. Would it be okay with you if I did that now?”
Share your story. As you spend time really listening to people, be watching for a natural, non-forced opening for you to share a personal experience with Jesus. You might say something like, “I can’t know exactly what you’re going through, but I had ____ similar experience. Something that really brought me a lot of ______ (comfort, help, peace, wisdom, etc.) was ________ (Bible verse, Bible truth, Christian song, a belief that you have, etc.). Would you mind if I shared that with you?” If you’ve truly listened and been patient, and you are sharing out of a genuine place of concern, people will sense your sincerity.
Share God’s story. Share the gospel in a simple way. Let it be what it is, offensive, strange, or moving. One simple way to do this is through the “three circles” presentation. (Link below!) When Joshua works with someone, he may share the basics of the gospel once or many times depending on the nature of the relationship. For instance, he once studied with a man who was reading through the whole New Testament. He had many opportunities to emphasize the gospel, the “big picture” behind the Bible story.
To recap, we don’t have to be best friends with a person before we share Jesus with them. But we do need to develop rapport by listening deeply, showing empathy, and keeping a positive attitude.
We can build on this rapport to share Christ by praying for people, praying with people, sharing our own story, and finally, sharing God’s story with them.
And we can rest, knowing that our job is to introduce people to an infinite Friend.
“Bare heights of loneliness...a wilderness whose burning winds sweep over glowing sands, what are they to HIM? Even there He can refresh us, even there He can renew us.” ― Amy Carmichael
Have these month’s articles been a blessing to you? Click the little heart below to let me know! <3
(Some are affiliate links.)
Dear Missionary, Are You Afraid of Success? - My original article on this topic over at A Life Overseas.
The Three Circles gospel presentation (If you are a missionary overseas, try doing a YouTube search for this presentation in the language of the people you work with!)
Ask Powerful Questions: Create Conversations that Matter, by Will Wise, recommended to me for learning to ask great questions.
Leadership and Self-Deception, a great audiobook I try to listen to every year that helps with the development of authentic communication, from the inside out.
Better Small Talk, by Russell Newton, a book I want to read about developing rapport through conversation.