The Accidental Witness
According to my back-of-the-envelope math, the average Christian spends about 1% of waking hours each year in church services (assuming weekly attendance). Throw in a few weekday church events here and there and maybe a mission trip during the summer, and the average Christian still spends less than 5% of each year engaged in formal Christian activities and gatherings. (I suspect for many of us, the actual number is even smaller.)
Meanwhile, the vast majority of our time is spent in the necessary and predictable activities of everyday life. The Bureau of Labor Statistics collects data on an American's average work day, and their findings are unsurprising:
What I find striking about this chart (apart from the fact that most people seem to get FAR more sleep than I do), is how much time we spend with other people during an average day. According to this estimate, we spend 37% of our time in work-related activities, another 11% in leisure activities and nearly 10% of our day eat, drinking and caring for others. Assuming we aren't doing these activities alone, the average person spends nearly 60% of every day in the company of other people – and many of these people do not know Christ.
This fact raises an important question: are we putting that time to good use by serving as an ambassador for Christ? Do we practice our Christian lifestyle 24/7 or only in the presence of other Christians at church or in a home group? Are we "off-duty" during the 60% of each day we're rubbing elbows with the world? If so, then we're missing our best opportuity to be a witness for the Gospel.
I'm fond of saying that ministry is what we do between mission trips. That's my way of pointing out that while Christians will get pumped up at the chance to spread the gospel in some far away, exotic location during one week of the summer, most never witness about Christ to the people they see every day. Obviously, mission trips are important, but they aren't the only (or even best) way for us to step out as witnesses for Christ.
An effective Christian witness begins at home, and it only requires three things: knowledge, relationship, and persistence.
First, we must be knowledgeable of the Gospel, which means knowing WHO and WHAT we are called to represent. Peter says it plainly:
1Pet. 3:15 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;
Have you ever spent time preparing for a one-week mission trip (e.g., learning the culture, practicing an evangelism speech, roleplaying with fellow Christians, praying for a harvest, etc.)? Then you understand how important knowledge and preparation are to the success of your mission. Why prepare any less before talking to your nextdoor neighbor or a coworker about Christ?
We must spend time becoming knowledgeable of Christ and the Gospel before we can be an everyday witness to that truth. A teacher can't teach others until he/she knows the material first, so a witness for Christ must sanctify Christ in his/her heart and understand the depths of God's word before tackling the difficult questions unbelievers ask.
Prepare everyday for a mission experience at home. Study your Bible until you can explain and defend the Gospel with ease. Be purposeful in your studies, knowing that the days are short and opportunities are fleeting, so we must make the most of every encounter.
Secondly, we need to establish relationships before we pounce with a call to repent. People know the difference between a sincere appeal and cynical sales pitch, so effective ministry depends on personal relationships. Paul often spent many months living around the people he hoped to influence, because it made his ministry more effective. Concerning his own ministry, Paul said:
2Cor. 5:11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences.
Paul understood the arrival of saving faith relies entirely upon the work of the Holy Spirit, nevertheless he says he worked to pursuade men to the truth of the Gospel, while hoping the Lord would make his sincerity and honesty manifest to them. Simply put, Paul's appeal to the citizens of Corinth was personal. He spent time with them. He loved them, and he spoke from the heart, delivering the truth in a persuasive manner – yet depending on God to make his message hit home.
Make it personal. Get to know the people you want to persuade, and relate to them in a sincere way. We have to care about the people we hope to reach. If we see witnessing as a special effort we undertake on rare occasions, then we're likely to never see much success. Make friends, and you'll find countless opportunites to represent Christ during the 60% of your day spent in the world.
Lastly, we must be persistent in our effort, but persistence doesn't mean being pushy or overbearing. Persistence in this context means remaining "on-duty" at all times. Jesus taught:
Matt. 5:14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden;
Matt. 5:15 nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.
Matt. 5:16 “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
Not every encounter in our day will lead somewhere, but we should live as if every encounter has that potential. Do you desire salvation for the neighbor or coworker you see daily every bit as much as for the orphan in Africa or the shopkeeper in Mexico you meet only once? If so, then remain persistently "on-duty" as you spend time with these people.
The pattern is simple but powerful. Know your Bible. Make friends. Take every opportunity to testify to the grace of Christ. Live with purpose everyday, and appeal to the Lord to manifest your sincerity to unbelievers. When you live this way, you're likely to see hearts changed when you least expect it. This is the essence of what Jesus meant in Matthew 5:14-16...being an accidental witness.