Above My Pay Grade

What do you think of when I say the word ‘evangelism’ or the word ‘witnessing?’ Do they mean the same thing or are they different from one another? And, just who’s supposed to be doing them anyway?1

Many of us like to believe that, they’re someone else’s job, right? Evangelism is something preacher’s do in rented auditoriums. That’s not something I can do. And witnessing, well, that’s really more about how we behave in front of non-Christians, so as long as I look and act like a Christian in public, I’m good, don’t you think?

Check this out.

“Atheist Penn Jillette is one half of Penn and Teller, a duo that has been headlining Vegas shows for years with comedy and the art of illusion. Penn has never been shy about his disbelief in God, often writing about his conviction in articles and best-selling books. Yet in an on-line video blog that can be found on YouTube, Penn shares a story about the time a gracious Christian businessman gave him a Bible as a gift. Penn goes on to use the story as an opportunity to point out that Christians who don’t evangelize must really hate people. Here’s the direct quote from his video blog:

‘I’ve always said, you know, that I don’t respect people who do not proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that, uh, well, it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward—and atheists who think that people shouldn’t proselytize, [saying] “Just leave me alone and keep your religion to yourself”—uh, how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize them? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? I mean, if I believed beyond the shadow of a doubt that a truck was coming to hit you, and you didn’t believe it, and that truck was bearing down on you, there’s a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.’”2

Wow! That’s pretty strong language, isn’t it? Keeping life-saving information to myself isn’t very ‘Christian’ behavior. So I’ve blown it on both counts, haven’t I? I didn’t evangelize or witness.

In her book, Evangelism, Ellen White defines evangelism as“opening the Scriptures to others, warning men and women of what is coming upon the world,”3

Is there anything in that definition that you and I couldn’t do? She doesn’t say that evangelism takes any kind of specialized degree; it’s just “opening the Scriptures” to people. As Penn would say, yanking people out from in front of that truck that we know is coming and they don’t.

Witnessing, on the other hand, is sharing our individual experience with Jesus with whom the individuals we come in contact.

“All who are on the Lord’s side are to confess Christ. ‘Ye are My witnesses, saith the Lord.’ The faith of the genuine believer will be made manifest in purity and holiness of character. Faith works by love and purifies the soul, and with faith there will be corresponding obedience, a faithful doing of the words of Christ. Christianity is always intensely practical, adapting itself to all the circumstances of actual life. ‘Ye are My witnesses.’ To whom?—To the world; for you are to bear about with you a holy influence. Christ is to abide in your soul, and you are to talk of Him and make manifest the charms of His character.”4

We, as Christians, have a real problem though. A few folks who have called themselves Christians, have failed to “make manifest the charms of His character.” And that’s really sad because without positive witnessing, no evangelism can happen.

I ran into that brick wall just recently. A good friend of mine and I were talking about some trivia of the day when a third friend walked up and started kidding about some areas in which his and my Christian community have some internal disagreement. The first friend then went on to remember a negative experience she had had many years ago that led to her rejecting my belief because “those people are crazy; they don’t follow the Bible.”

I have to admit that I was crushed. I have been praying for almost a year that my witness would help the Holy Spirit to soften her heart once more.

What a set back! Just because my friend’s earlier relationship with my Christian family was unpleasant, my ability to witness to her is more difficult.

“In an interview with World magazine, author and speaker Mike Bechtle questioned the church’s use of what he would call spam evangelism. He believes that when the gospel is shared outside of relationship, unbelievers often put up thicker emotional walls. He shared a personal story from his past to emphasize his point:
‘A college classmate decided to walk down Central Avenue in Phoenix at lunchtime and ask women to kiss him. He wanted to see how many people he would have to ask before someone took him up on it. After being repeatedly cursed, ignored, and slapped a couple of times, the 98th woman gave him a kiss. Using the logic of spam evangelism, he might say, ‘It was worth it, because I actually got one person to kiss me.’ I wondered about the other 97 women who might be more hardened than ever, more suspicious, and more wary of men approaching them on the street. In the same way, I think a lot of unbelievers have been hardened by aggressive witnessing techniques.”5

Are you and I making it harder for the believers who come after us to witness or evangelize the folks around us because we are not portraying our Savior in a positive and endearing way? Are we leaving all of the sharing to the preachers?

“And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ Amen.” Matthew 28:18-19

Jesus didn’t say that some of His disciples needed more school; He didn’t say that some had to stand on the sidelines because they didn’t have the right credentials. Jesus just said, “Go.” And they went.

  1. Image © Darrel Tank from GoodSalt.com
  2. Bill White, Paramount, California
  3. E.G. White, Evangelism, p.17
  4. E.G. White, Messages to Young People, p.200
  5. Marvin Olasky, “Evangelism for Introverts,” World magazine (10-07-06)


Above My Pay Grade — 10 Comments

  1. Thank you for an inspiring article! Following on the path of Jesus we should always aim to create a personal connection with someone before engaging in 'direct witnessing'.

    If someone had some sort of physical necessity, Jesus would solve that first and then bring the Gospel to that person. Likewise we should aim to create bridges around our relationships and after the connection is created our witnessing will more effective.

    May God help us to be better witnesses of His grace.

  2. I must tell the truth, my familly, friends and workmates are dying in darkness. Why? We are candles under the table. Pray for me and all advenists to take Jesus' command Mat 28:18-19.

  3. A timely thought provoking message. A strong reminder that we are not only meant to sit in church on Sabbath. I realize how selfish I have been by not sharing the love of the Lord, the truth of His word. I also realize how dangerous the rationalization of,'to each his own' is to our call. It also got me thinking about how much we really believe in our truth...I thank you for sharing. May God bless you and help us to be effective witnesses to finish the work of the gospel.

  4. “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit” thus says the Lord. (Zech 4:6). We are weak but He is strong. The Holy Spirit is ready, willing, and able to sustain us, that is, to collaborate with us when we embrace scripture. In addition, Jesus promised us that the Spirit will be with us and will teach us the things of God and help us to remember those things (John 14:26), which denotes that we are initially accountable to study His word. People are going down to Christ-less graves while we continue in our luke-warm state. Consequently, we are God’s hands, feet, and mouth as professed Christians. In conclusion, God is waiting for us to ask for His guidance and strength to finish His work here on earth. Could this be the reason that we are not already home??

  5. Wow, eish! That is a real challenge especially to me considering that all my friends know that I worship on Sabbath, but the reason being unkwown to them. Dear Lord help me to be your true witness in both words and deeds.

  6. I have taught myself to expect quality material from the author. Memories of one that talked about radical commitment are still fresh. I am praying that such a powerful article as this will do it's work in me. It's very easy to practice Spam evangelism, thanks for enlighting me how it works.

  7. I wonder about myself, as I don't say much to others about my faith, except I keep asking God to change me into the likeness of Christ because I have no power to do that. Maybe I am witnessing and do not realize it. I know I am not quoting scriptures because I haven't memorized any yet. I know I speak to God on a regular bases during each new day. I do feel selfish when I am recieving the Word and know I am not quoting the Bible to family or others, this scares me, and I would like to believe it is the healthy Fear of God I have. Thanks for the article and everyone who has responded ~Judy H~

    • Judy, I think a lot of people are asking the same question about themselves. To me our witness is both what we say and what we do. As an illustration I will tell you about a few experiences out of my own life.

      The first one is when I was in the freight business and medium haul trucking. My boss was the only one that I know of that I ever told about being a Seventh-day Adventist, primarily because of the Sabbath issue and Saturday work schedules. Over the years everyone in the parent office got to know that I went to church on Saturday in spite of the fact that I told no one. I think that happened because when I was hired my boss was beside himself since for the first time since he took over ownership of the company (a kind of subsidiary of the parent company his dad owned) he didn’t have to spend a lot of time fixing up problems his drivers caused.

      The second one was when I went up for an employment interview for a job working for UPS. I remember that because the interview took place in a room at the back of the unemployment office. After the routine things were out of the way I asked about working after sundown Friday and any Saturday work they might require. The conversation then got around to why I felt it necessary not to work those times and I explained what the Bible said and concluded with the statement that I thought that I would have to be crazy not to follow the teachings of the Bible. I didn’t get the job – but on the way out I noticed that all the employees in the office were having their lunch break in a room across the hall and just a little way down it. When I went past the room no one was saying anything – you could hear a pin drop if it ever did. I wonder what they heard?

      The third one is that while I worked for a lumber yard I had to make deliveries and as a personal policy of mine after delivering the material I would hand the customer one of our tracts. Well one of the deliveries was to a gentleman who accepted the tract and then said, “This is from the Seventh-day Adventists isn’t it? Why do you keep Saturday rather than Sunday?” Now when a person can tell what church it is by the name of the publisher I figure I am in big trouble.

      Well, I started to explain and began to get bogged down in detail. At that point the Holy Spirit entered and I calmed down and let the words flow out of my mouth. I said what I wanted to but the way it was said was astounding. The man simply stared down at the ground and said nothing so I walked back to the truck, turned around and saw that he was still looking at the ground. Strange.

      I decided that I should leave so I headed back to the yard, and out of curiosity I got the city directory we had and found that he was the Methodist minister in the town.


      But both the word and the lifestyle must work together and the Holy Spirit has to be in the middle of it all.

  8. A'm really touched by this week's lesson.
    Because testifying has been my greatest challenge in ministry.
    And I hope the lord takes away the fear in me.

  9. I am a preacher's kid, and my remembrance of growing up Adventist was more of fear of those outside, vs any desire to meet and reach them for Jesus. It was not an other-centered religion I lived, but more of how can I protect myself from being infected by others.

    I am challenged by the MYP comment. Some might say - can any good thing come out of an EGW compilation? I think that most Christians do not think of their religion as "always intensly practical". Jesus said His kingdom is like yeast that works its way through the entire batch of dough. A problem in Christianity though is that the wrong yeast is doing its work, the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Either Jesus is (or is becomming) Lord of all in my life, or He is becomming "not Lord at all".

    The quote from Steps to Christ about how we can know whose side we are on is always a challenge to me. She says in rough paraphrase, "who has our heart? Whom do we love to talk of? If we are Christ's our sweetest thoughts will be of Him." I know that when I was first in love, I was often daydreaming about my beloved. I even told her after a few weeks that I loved her (and she replied-"you can't, you haven't know me long enough").

    I am slowly realizing that to have a positive witness, and even the desire to witness for Jesus, the inside of the cup/life/mind patterns needs to be changed. Morris Venden (and others) was right. I must spend quality and quantity time with Jesus in His Word, and prayer. Then as our relationship deepens we will be doing things together. I will personally experience His witness in my life as I let Him spend time with me; as I sense His care and concern for me personally and my needs; as I experience Him meeting those needs and winning my confidence.

    Then I will have something to say about my God. I will be tasting and seeing His goodness, and it will be natural for the "outside of the cup" or the witness, to be inviting and attractive and lifting up Jesus.


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