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Scaring or Sharing
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Submitted: Jan 13, 2012
By Mark Gutman


In 2 Kings 7, four lepers who are desperate to find food decide to go to the camp of an invading army and see if they can get help. They figure that they have nothing to lose, but they are surprised to find that the army has disappeared and left all its food and supplies. After they get enough to eat and hide a lot of loot, they begin to feel guilty. 2 Kings 7:9, NLT: “Finally, they said to each other, ‘This is not right. This is a day of good news, and we aren’t sharing it with anyone! If we wait until morning, some calamity will certainly fall upon us. Come on; let’s go back and tell the people at the palace.’” Motivated by fear of punishment for not telling good news, they headed off to tell what they found.

I had an experience somewhat like theirs. My favorite time of the week used to be Sabbath at about 5 pm, but not because it was time to eat or because it was almost sundown.  And my most dreaded time of the week was Sabbath at about 1:30 pm. A certain witnessing program was in progress at my school on Sabbath afternoons, and I felt obligated to take part in it. It involved knocking on doors and asking people questions to find out if they understood the correct way to be saved and if they had implemented that correct way. If people answered incorrectly to either of the critical questions, I was to find a way to instruct them about the true way to be saved and/or get them to accept Jesus. For a variety of reasons I was uncomfortable with the process, but like the lepers I thought I’d better witness to avoid some kind of punishment. The witnessing would begin at about 1:30 each Sabbath afternoon and end at about 5:00, which was why I was so relieved when it was 5:00.

My motivation was quite different from the one Peter and John exhibited in Acts 4:20. When told not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus, they said, “We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard.” “No sooner does one come to Christ than there is born in his heart a desire to make known to others what a precious friend he has found in Jesus; the saving and sanctifying truth cannot be shut up in his heart. If we are clothed with the righteousness of Christ and are filled with the joy of His indwelling Spirit, we shall not be able to hold our peace. If we have tasted and seen that the Lord is good we shall have something to tell.” (Ellen White, Steps to Christ, p.78)

In Mark 5, Jesus is described as casting an unclean spirit out of a man. The grateful man wanted to stick with Jesus, who had been so accepting and helpful, but Jesus told the man, “No, go home to your family, and tell them everything the Lord has done for you and how merciful he has been” (Mark 5:20, NLT). It’s one thing to tell others about a theory; it’s an entirely different matter to tell others what God has done for you. And Jesus sent the man to his family, to people he knew, to tell about benefits he’d enjoyed. The man’s words would have more influence on people who knew him and could see the difference that had been made in his life.
 

Christ -

1) Mingled with people
2) Showed His sympathy
3) Ministered to their needs
4) Won their confidence
THEN
5) He bade them, “Follow Me.”

 

Some of our witnessing efforts try to take a shortcut. Ellen White recommends a longer-term method of witnessing. “Christ's method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Saviour mingled with men [and women] as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, ‘Follow Me’" (Ministry of Healing, p.143). Knocking on doors of people I didn’t know, I was asking people to follow what I said when I hadn’t mingled with them, shown my sympathy, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. I might have done all those things for a few minutes, but con men work the same way.

In the book 100 Things I’m Not Going to Do Now That I’m Over 50, author Wendy Crisp says (item #9) that she will not join AARP, explaining that “a copy of Modern Maturity on the coffee table is as cheering an image as a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses on the doorstep.” Most people are not thrilled at having Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Seventh-day Adventists, or other strangers on their doorstep trying to get them to join a religious group. They’re less bothered when a long-time friend shares something that has benefited him or her.

Folks might not mind picking up helpful suggestions from friends, but people don’t usually welcome being told they’re wrong. They’re not thrilled when others, especially total strangers, announce that “if you don’t agree with me, you are bad,” or something to that effect. As Edgar Guest put it for many of us,
     “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day;
      I’d rather one should walk with me than merely tell the way….”

Later in the same poem -
     “And all travelers can witness that the best of guides today
      Is not the one who tells them but the one who shows the way.”
People who aren’t gullible want to see that what we’re talking about makes a difference to us, that our theory isn’t just theory.

In The Gospel Blimp, Joseph Bayly writes about a church that attempted to convert people in their town by flying a blimp that could show messages in lights and broadcast over a loudspeaker and drop bundles of tracts. The blimp’s tracts clogged gutters, the electronics interfered with TV reception, and the townspeople got very angry at the blimp project. At the end of Bayle’s amusing story someone got converted, in spite of the blimp, through the friendliness of one of the church members. Many witnessing programs I’ve seen, though, remind me of Bayly’s blimp. Distance witnessing.

Flying blimps and knocking on doors of strangers may be well-intended but they are quite different from the friendly sharing that Jesus assigned the grateful man in Mark 5. They result in far more collateral damage – needless offensiveness while garnering meager long-term results.

Much of the witnessing I “did” involved scare. While it may not have scared everyone who was on the same witnessing project, it scared me (I’m not eager to ring doorbells of people I don’t know), and it was designed to scare the people I met (“accept what I tell you or you will burn in hell” – although I was supposed to phrase that more carefully). Again, very different from the sharing that Mark 5 and Acts 4 talk about.

Keeping quiet about good news can be difficult. If something means the world to you, you’ll usually be eager to share it. Something you’re not eager to tell others may not mean very much to you, which will make it harder for your listeners to get excited about it either. Of course, you may have something to share but lack opportunity or an interest in learning by someone else.

If we have good news to share, let’s share rather than scare. Let’s share with people something that has made a difference to us. And let’s at least start our sharing with people we know who can see what our good news does for us.

 

William Noel
2012-01-14 3:23 PM

Mark,

Only some of our witnessing efforts try to take that shortcut?  Try virtually everything the church teaches members on the topic!  More than that, if it doesn't produce baptisms in six weeks or less, we've excluded it from our definitions of "evangelism" and "how to win souls." 

The lepers had discovered such joyful news that they had to share it.  Their joy, their excitement, helped people to look past their leprosy just long enough to hear their message.  With that contrast in mind, my view is that the primary problem with our soul winning efforts as a church is our lack of excitement about the Gospel, which is a direct measure of how little we've allowed God to work in us.  Winning souls becomes easy when we let the joy of the Lord fill us first.

Elaine Nelson
2012-01-14 3:47 PM

When "witnessing" is informing others of the doctrines of your church, where does God's love shine through?  The conventional method is to indoctrinate converts with the specific beliefs unique to Adventism:  importance of the seventh day; belief in the SOP; understanding fully the implications of the sanctuary doctrine, and the kosher dietary rules.

Now:  such a person is ready to be accepted into the SDA church.  No mention of God's love is required, only adherence to the stated doctrines will meet the qualifications for membership.  Who is to dispute this? 

Edwin A. Schwisow
2012-01-15 1:41 AM

The idea of knocking on doors on Sabbath afternoons and sharing the gospel works very well indeed in agrarian environments, where everybody already knows everyone else, and the offer of free Bible studies, books, and/or evening evangelistic entertainment are usually seen as neighborly overtures. I know, I've done it and at one time had 175 Bible studies going simultaneously, with the help of three youthful friends. This approach works far less effectively, however, in urban environments where the very compactness of our environment leads us to carefully "seal off" and usually "suspect" those who seem to have characteristics we don't particularly understand or want to share. Those who live in the cities by and large do not come for association, they come for jobs. People who live in the countryside much more frequently do so for social, religious, or family reasons, and it is in this envrionment that traditional "witnessing" often works very well.

I believe the "hurry-up" methods of evangelism the church recommends simply do not cover the bases in the cities. I have found that it takes a tremendous amount of time to establish credibility with neighbors on one's block in a city situation; where I know live in the country, I know everyone within a 1/2 mile of my home on a first-name basis. Talking religion with these individuals is about as scary as talking about the rising or falling water table for our wells. It's routine and collegial, even with the JWs down the road.

Joe Erwin
2012-01-15 8:10 AM

As a young person, friends and I often went out door-to-door, passing out tracts or invitations to
bible study. That led me to become a colporteur ("literature evangelist"). In the latter capacity,
I met many people of diverse religious traditions. I spent much time talking with and listening to
people who had perspectives that differed from mine. It was a little scary, at times, but it was
not too much to handle.

Maybe the scariest thing was to find that many people seemed to have faith as strong as mine, but directed differently. Some were bigoted. Some were merely devoted to what they absolutely believed was the one and only true dogma. Others were very tolerant of other perspectives. It was eye opening to me to find such an array of apparently sincere beliefs.

I also met many desperate and hopeless people. I came to see that many people are seeking
some certainty to grasp onto, and that if their present lives seemed hopeless, they were ripe
for news that this life is not all their is. A message that appealed to many of the poorest and
most deperate was the assurance of a heavenly home beyond the present life--something the
wealthy could not buy. Perfect for the "occupy" movement.

I was not very successful at selling the books by EGW or "Uncle Arthur," but I followed the advice of my trainers in trying to close sales--even by accepting books of "Green Stamps" as down payments from the poorest folks (committing them to make monthly payments they could not afford). I feel I learned much
from those summers. Among other things, I learned to examine my own faith and commitment
to SDA dogma. I began to question why SDA positions were right and everyone else was
wrong. I was troubled by the fractionization of Christianity into sects and denominations that
act hatefully toward each other. The questions raised were never adequately resolved by
anything else I experienced in the church. While my Christian faith endured for awhile, I found
that it could not be sustained within the SDA tradition.

 

William Noel
2012-01-15 11:11 AM

Joe,

I have a lot of sympathy with your experience.  No, I never was a literature evangelist, but in my own circumstances I had my challenges with SDA doctrines.  My result was different than your's, though there are points of doctrine where I have different points of view that differ in varying degrees from tradtitional viewpoints.  Keep close to God and keep growing in His love!

Trevor Hammond
2012-01-15 12:14 PM

Most would perhaps agree that the intended motives of the very admirable and much needed ‘door knocking’ foot soldiers – is to share – and not to scare.  ‘Door knocking’ - where possible - is a valuable avenue for initiating face to face contact with people which I might quickly add is easier said than done.   Door knocking may be the only channel of reaching many people out there who don’t respond to any other means and is always worth a shot.  It aptly fits in with a well equipped Personal Ministries program which allows for various kinds of proactive outreach activities and caters for those who may prefer this type of evangelism.  It  touches base with a ‘different strokes for different folks’ model and is one definite way to avoid warming the pews.  It also fulfils the “Go into all the world/street corners” mandate [Matt 22:9, Mark 16:15, Matt 28:19].

At this kids party I was at, I was given a clown face mask with matching outfit to wear.  Those of us who were dressed up as clowns went out quite enthusiastically and made every effort to be friendly, funny and as animated as possible and although there were many kids who enjoyed and appreciated the fun and games, there were unfortunately a whole battalion of scared bawlers.   That’s just the way it is.

From my experience with door knocking, I would be brutally honest and say that among the many reasons why this is not some peoples cup of tea is that it is usually the ‘snooty’ hoity-toity folk who are allergic to knocking doors.

Joe Erwin
2012-01-15 1:12 PM

I should not complain too much about knocking on doors. The thing is, I was supposed (by the church) to be spreading the word--by telling people TRUTH, not by listening to them and trying to understand their points of view. I feel that I benefitted tremendously by meeting people and listening to them.

During the same era, I did a lot of hitchhiking. To and from PUC, and elsewise. For some of that time, I paid for my rides by giving the driver a card they could redeem for free bible studies. But, just like going door to door, I met a really interesting cross-section of people. I continued to hitchhike while I was stationed in Germany while in the army--also meeting an interesting array of ordinary and extraordinary people.

I came to enjoy meeting people from all walks of life and many cultures, and this has certainly been helpful as I have traveled around in various parts of the world. In truth, I have actually encountered very few really scary situations. 

Ella M
2012-02-03 11:47 PM

      I agree with the original editorial--knocking on doors in today's society is not a good idea.  Although I did canvassing for two years, I would not do it again.  Right out of high school I was painfully shy and the summer days those years were agonizing.  The Lord understood, because at the end of the summer I was riding in a car that was totalled.  We had minor injuries, but I got enough insurance money to get me to college that year; whereas my poor showing in selling books would not have. 
  Today I think such work could be dangerous for women.  However, I recognize that some people are cut out for this type of work and I say, God bless them.  They can take the heat and enjoy it!
      Not all of us have the same talents and assertiveness.  We are different parts of the body.  I don't think any young person should be forced to do work that they are not qualified to do.   I would respect Mormons or others more if their youth were asked to do community work for a year or two rather than knocking on doors.  Since the Mormon church has grown, I am curious as to how many new members came from door-knocking.

William Noel
2012-02-04 8:17 AM

Ella,
You are correct: we are parts of the body.  Which part are you?  Do you know how the Holy Spirit has gifted you to minister God's love to others?  You obviously know one way you are not effective.  That is a common experience in discovering what God wants you to do.  So, how are you empowered? 

Ella M
2012-02-04 5:23 PM

Reply to WN - see my post on Ed Dickerson's column.

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