Content is a major component of effective witness. But it is not the only component.
Some evangelistic methods are presented as if they are the perfect witnessing method. Some think memorizing a method and mechanically delivering the content means you have effectively witnessed.
Witness throughout the New Testament demonstrates this is not accurate. There are certainly unifying principles to be identified. But there is not a cookie-cutter approach that is applied the same way every time.
Content is extremely important. Without the right content our witness cannot be effective. Messing with the content of the gospel voids its power.
For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void. (1 Corinthians 1:17)
Focusing only on content fails to recognize that our witness is not made in a vacuum. We are not preaching to the air. We are preaching to persons.
To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it. (1 Corinthians 9:22-23)
Reflecting on Peter's proclamation in Acts 2 is helpful. Other observations could be made from other passages. Regardless, I know of no biblical example of more people responding to the gospel at one time than what we see recorded in Acts 2.
What made Peter's proclamation so effective? Here are five reflections of my own. Feel free to leave your reflections in the comments.
Effective witness includes:
- Walking in God's timing. Peter waited for God to open the door. Jesus commanded the disciples to wait for the power they would receive when the Holy Spirit came. They waited patiently until God delivered on His promise. They did not rush ahead and miss the opportunity God was preparing.
- Going along with God's activity in the world. God's preparation of the audience is clear. "Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven" (Acts 2:5). God had gathered this audience from every nation. The reason they were gathered was to celebrate the Jewish feast of Pentecost. Their presence in Jerusalem demonstrates the truth of what the text tells us: these were devout people. They were already primed for hearing God's Word. When God poured out the Holy Spirit on this day so that Peter could speak to this audience we should take note of God's activity in this effective witness. God is still active in the world today. We should strive to go along with His activity. It is not enough to simply be active on our own.
- Boldness. God opened the door. Peter took full advantage. He was not shy. He was bold and direct.
- Picking relevant passages. Peter's content was perfectly suited to his immediate context. Peter did not simply use his favorite text. He picked passages that explained the situation they were currently experiencing. He picked passages that directly explained the significance of the moment. We must be aware of our surroundings and our hearers. This is what it means to be in the world but not of it.
- Dedication to the Word of God and to prayer. Peter's message came on the heels of three years of personal discipleship with Jesus and an intense ten day prayer meeting. Peter remained committed to this focus. When a situation arose in the early church that threatened this Peter resisted it. "'But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.' The statement found approval with the whole congregation" (Acts 6:4-5a). The whole congregation approved of this statement because they understood the importance of prayer and God's Word to effective witness.
It is easy to wander off the path of effective witness. We can fall into the trap of thinking that memorizing a few verses and speaking them mechanically to everyone regardless of the situation is the ministry that God has called us to.
It's not. It can be a good place to start but it's not a good place to remain forever.
The appeal of such approaches is that they lack a need for continued dedication beyond the initial investment of time in memorizing the method.
Memorizing methods is easy. Dedication to serving in the ministry of reconciliation requires sacrifice.
Dedication to prayer and the Word will keep us tethered to God's will. If we ask for wisdom and opportunity God will direct our steps. He is pleased to use humble and well prepared people to accomplish His purposes.
Dedication to being person focused will ensure that we lovingly speak the truth in understandable ways. We want them to hear us because we want them to be reconciled to God. We want this because there is rejoicing in heaven over every sinner who comes to repentance. We want this because when people are saved they magnify the glorious grace of our God and Savior.
Dedication to boldness will keep us alert. We cannot wait for dead sinners to ask us how to be saved. The crowd asked Peter what they must do only after he boldly proclaimed Christ to them. They responded to Peter's boldness. Peter did not wait for them to open the door because God had already shown him that the door was open.
Dedication to faithfulness to biblical content ensures that we are bringing the word of life; not an eloquent speech which lacks the power of God for salvation.
Are you willing to do what is necessary to prepare yourself to be an effective witness for Christ?