by Rick Richardson
(Editor’s note: This is the 3rd in an 7-part series on Discipling towards an Evangelism Lifestyle.)
Too often, we think we have to have it all together when we seek to be a witness to people we want to draw toward God. We think we need to tell the story of how Jesus has met our needs and satisfied our doubts. Nothing could be further from the truth, and especially in a time and culture that values authenticity and hates hypocrisy.
Jesus showed us the way with a Samaritan woman–when he asked for a drink of water, he showed her his need, even in a culture that told him to power up and ignore her or speak judgmentally and from a distance.
An experience a couple of years ago really affected my understanding of witness, and helped bring me more in line with Jesus’ way. We were headed off on a family vacation, and a neighboring family had agreed to take care of our pets—a dog, two cats, and a gerbil—while we were gone. The day before we were to leave, however, we found out that our cat was diabetic and would be needing shots twice a day. We went to the neighbors and said, “Hey, we’ll put the cat with a vet so you don’t have to shoot up our cat twice a day.”
They responded, “No problem. We’re glad to do it.”
So off we went for two weeks. We came back, and indeed they had shot up our diabetic cat for two weeks. That was above and beyond. So we took them out to a nice Spanish tapas restaurant to thank them.
At the restaurant, I had a significant and profound spiritual conversation. The man was a police commander and saw his spiritual vocation as providing pastoral and crisis care for police officers who had been involved in violence against others. He hadn’t gone to church in years, but he was living out his calling. He and I opened up on a deep level, challenged each other, and had a profound spiritual engagement. We continue to check in with each other and challenge each other to this day.
I thought about it later. What had so opened him up? Why were there no trust issues to overcome, even though he had some negative experiences with the church and Christians? Why had he trusted me so much and so quickly? I realized what had built the trust: he helped me when I needed it. He had been in the power position, because the helper always is. I was beholden to him. Nothing builds trust like being in a vulnerable receiving position with others.
I had been taught to practice “care evangelism,” where I earn the right to be heard by caring for others. This experience taught me to pursue mutual-care evangelism, where I am seeking both to give and to receive as part of the relational and trust-building process.
As you reach out, look for opportunities both to serve and to ask for help. Your needs and your humanity are your greatest assets.
Rick Richardson (@reimaginer) is evangelism fellow at the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, professor of intercultural studies at Wheaton College, and director of the MA in Evangelism and Leadership and the MA in Missional Church Movements degrees. Rick consults widely with churches on evangelism and healing and reconciliation for the emerging generation and on contemporary missional churches and missional movements.