Witness Through Servant Behavior

Are you an evangelist? Probably not. We hear stories of someone on an airplane talking with a seatmate and leading them to Christ. Most of us feel guilty when we are challenged to do such ministry. It is one of those “shoulds” that are often laid on us but really don’t change our behavior. By one estimate, much less than 10% of churchgoers are natural evangelists.

But look at giving witness of your faith to others as a basic step in growing closer to God.  It can push you out of your comfort zone and increase your dependence on God. It stretches you, like doing regular exercise to keep your body healthy. Give witness to others in order to stay fit in your spiritual health and even to grow in your faith.

Peter and John were ordinary men—illiterate, we are told. True, they had been with Jesus for three years, absorbing his fresh teaching, just like many ordinary Christians have been in church for years, absorbing biblical teachings. Witnessing in the temple, they were put on the spot. By what power are you teaching in the temple? the authorities demanded. Peter gave his testimony. Luke starts this story with the phrase that Peter was “filled with the Holy Spirit.” Luke uses that phrase in at least eight different settings in his Gospel and the book of Acts. Someone was filled with the Spirit and did something with special conviction or wisdom.

You Will Be Filled With the Holy Spirit

What “filled with the Holy Spirit” means is very controversial in our times. Pentecostals use it to describe a special outpouring of the Spirit that enables a believer to speak in strange tongues. In fact, in many Pentecostal congregations, you can’t become a member without demonstrating what is called this second baptism of the Spirit. Most of the growth of Christianity in our times is in Pentecostal forms. If you are going to become a follower of Jesus, why not seek such peak special emotional experiences? The opportunity to “feel” the Spirit is attractive.

Most traditional Protestants can’t go there. We value the priority of reason over emotions and rightly resist “irrational” expressions of God’s presence in a person’s life. But we can appreciate that the Holy Spirit will empower us when the time comes to give a witness to our faith. We can be filled with the Spirit in a special way when an occasion puts us on the spot to explain who we are and what we believe. We can trust God to send his Spirit to give us special bravery or wisdom when the occasion presents an opportunity. After all, this is his promise.

Two Versions of Motivation for Witnessing

In their Gospels, Matthew and Luke give us two different versions of why and how to give witness.  Matthew’s version is the familiar “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Jesus started that commission with the declaration that he has all authority in heaven and on earth. This Great Commission comes across as a military command.  You have your orders. You must obey. Now go do it. The problem is that this version does not work well today. In my experience, it doesn’t motivate much new behavior.

The motivation is better addressed in Luke’s version. He simply predicts that you will be my witnesses.  God is going to give you power from on high to do that. The Holy Spirit is going to empower you in ways that will surprise you. My Spirit, Jesus promises, will enable you to be my witnesses to the ends of the earth.

Witness is the fourth practice of the GROWTH scheme for positioning yourself to grow closer to God.  Grow by responding to opportunities to explain who you are and what you believe.  Witness to the Gospel wherever possible, whether in word or deed.

Confronting An Avalanche of Words

But how do you make your witness when we are all buried under an avalanche of words every day?  We have all learned to fend off the advertisements we daily encounter by the dozens and hundreds.  Ads themselves are now getting simplified to a quick succession of graphic images because words mean so little.

We in mainline churches are at an even greater disadvantage because we have a specialized church vocabulary developed over the centuries.  For us, key biblical phrases can pack a powerful punch, like redemption, salvation, and Jesus the Christ.  But biblical literacy is fast receding in our current culture.  Basic Bible stories draw a blank stare from so many young adults.

How do we break through the maze of words that surround everyone?  It is hardly going to be by adding more words—at least not at the outset.  The best witness today is the quality of life we Christians live day by day.  Check out 2 Peter 2: 12.  Actions do speak louder than words.  That’s how the earliest Christians had their biggest impact.  Observers were struck by how they loved each other.

What we can do today is let our acts of service and kindness make an impact that draws attention to our church of believers who are intent on serving our community and demonstrating that our church is a “loving” place.  Call that Servant Evangelism.

Servant Evangelism

Servant Evangelism is a term that reached prominence through the ministry of Steve Sjogren when he was pastor of the Vineyard Community Church in Columbus, Ohio.  His classic example was showing up at a local business with a mop and bucket in hand and asking permission to clean their toilets—something that is clearly servant behavior.  It becomes a witness when leaving a calling card to identify the congregation on behalf of which this act was done.  Other examples are giving away free coffee to those standing in line somewhere, or to do free gift-wrapping at Christmas, or giving away popsicles on a hot day.

Our church twice a year does a Servant Saturday event.  It is surprisingly popular, with about three hundred showing up.  Many make it a family affair.  We work with the city to identify those in need, typically elderly residents who can’t keep up with cleaning and yard work.  I remember pulling weeds in a Catholic widow’s yard and asking myself why I was doing so when I had lots of weeds in my own yard.  The answer came, That’s what Christians do; we serve others.  These events are faith-affirming experiences for me personally.  They become a faith witness when we identify ourselves as member of our congregation.

Part of the challenge traditional churches face today is to be known for doing what churches are supposed to do—be centers for offering spiritual growth in Christ and for ministering to those in need.   Look for ways to do that through Servant Behavior.

Have you ever been “filled with the Holy Spirit”? Were you aware of Luke’s version of the Great Commission? Have you had experience with Servant Evangelism?

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