Seven Surefire Ways to be an Ineffective Witness


Notice verse 2: Christ sent them out even before they learned these lessons. Christ doesn't wait till you are perfect before he sends you. Maturity comes through doing.

A week from this coming Tuesday Brian Fox is going to be training some of the people in our church in Ray Comfort's method of evangelism. And we as a session strongly, strongly encourage you to avail yourselves of that training. In fact, the session asked me if I would prepare the way for that training by preaching a series of sermons dealing with various facets of personal evangelism by non-experts — emphasis on the words, "by non-experts." I think too many Christians think that evangelism is what experts do, or what pastors do, or what people with the gift of evangelism do. And its true that those with the gift of evangelism are marvelously blessed by God with converts. They don't need my sermons to encourage them. They are driven to it. But God calls every Christian to be a witness. And this series is going to deal with very simple basics that any of us non-experts can lay hold of.

And I want to be upfront in this series that I am no expert on evangelism. Not at all. I have been trained in several evangelism-training programs, and I could show you how to do those programs with my eyes closed. I can give the Gospel presentation, and have done so over a thousand times. But I make no pretense at being an expert. Nor has God particularly blessed my evangelistic efforts with results. If you count the 24 people that I led to Christ in personal evangelism in India, my guess is that I have led less than 50 people to Christ in my lifetime. But each one of those 40+ people has been an incredible joy, and it is my prayer that every family in this church would have the joy of leading at least one person to Jesus in the next five years. We could make that our prayer.

Verse 2 is perhaps the most encouraging verse in this chapter. It shows that Jesus sent the disciples out to evangelize and pray for the sick long before they had even learned the lessons you will be learning today. They fumbled their way along. The point is that it's never too early to be a witness, and however garbled our message might be, better a garbled message than no message.

Peter Hammond told me how his oldest daughter, Andrea, was just five years old they were riding on an airplane flying to Europe. It was just after takeoff, when Andrea shouted loudly enough for the entire aircraft to hear: "We're Christians!" Peter put down his book, turned to Andrea and said, "Yes, we are, but why do you bring it up right now?" Andrea answered, "The lady was asking if there are any Christians, we should let her know." Peter puzzled for a moment and then said, "I think that must have been, if there's any questions, we should let her know!" But here was a little girl who was willing to be a witness. And he tells stories of how even fumbling witness has been used by God to advance His kingdom.

Today's sermon is primarily looking at how to adjust our attitudes so that we begin to anticipate opportunities to witness. These disciples were not there yet, and Jesus was helping these disciples to put off seven surefire ways to be an ineffective witness. If you can get rid of these seven things, you will be a long ways on your path to joyful witnessing for Jesus.

Focus On Convenience (v. 12 - "send the multitude away")

The first surefire way to be an ineffective witness is to focus on convenience. I know that this has lost me witnessing opportunities on more than one occasion.

Look at verse 12. "When the day began to wear away, the twelve came and said to Him, 'Send the multitude away, that they may go into the surrounding towns and country, and lodge and get provisions; for we are in a deserted place here.'" Mark 6 adds some commentary to these words. Christ said, "'Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest awhile.' For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat." It was suppertime, they were hungry, and the disciples were ready to get on with their well-deserved vacation. But Christ tries to get the disciples to catch the vision of availability by saying in verse 13, "You give them something to eat." He's saying, "Let's be flexible; let's be creative; let's be open to what God is doing in this situation."

We have our own sets of inconveniences that hinder us from witnessing. It may be a busy schedule. It may be that we are on vacation. It may be that we have just started reading a book on an airplane, and the person beside you begins to be talkative, and you're thinking, "Ahhh, I don't want to talk right now. I want to read a book." You can fill in the blank of what your particular inconvenience is. Just a week ago I missed a great opportunity for witnessing. I was packing the Suburban and a man approached me asking for some bus money. And I was thinking, I don't have time to deal with giving him a job, etc. so I just gave him $5 (which I have trained our deacons that ordinarily you aren't supposed to do.) But afterwards thought, "Oh! I should have talked to him about Jesus." When people are bold enough to ask you for a handout, they are socially unacceptable enough to likely put up with some socially unacceptable behavior of your own. You could say, "I've got five bucks that I can give you, but before I do that I would like to tell you even better news. Do you have a minute for me to tell you about Jesus?" But I was so focused on my schedule that I didn't think about witnessing till later.

Christ's point in asking them to invite the crowds to be with them for supper was that God doesn't arrange those providential witnessing opportunities around our schedule. He doesn't wait till we have the house clean before he gives the perfect opportunity to invite someone over. We miss so many opportunities to witness simply because it is not convenient.

Don't Live Out The Power You Preach (v. 40 - "but they could not")

Another good way to be ineffective in witness is to have an inconsistency between your talk and your walk. In verse 1 it says, "Then He called His twelve disciples together and gave them power and authority over [all]{.underline} demons, and to cure diseases." Notice that phrase, "power over [all]{.underline} demons." But look at verse 40. A man comes along and says, "'So I implored Your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.' Then Jesus answered and said, 'O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.'" And Christ proceeded to cast out the demon.

That phrase "but they could not" might be haunting your life right now. You witness to how wonderful God has been for your marriage, but 20 minutes after you say that, the unbeliever sees you barking at your wife or losing it with your kids. And it makes you feel terrible because it is a bad witness, but at this point in your life you have not gotten victory. You multiply that several times over and there is real potential for unbelievers to say that you are a hypocrite and there is nothing to what you say about God's grace. "You're no different than me," they might say. There is a very real sense in which your talk can be more powerful than your walk.

Now here's the problem: none of us will be 100% free of inconsistencies in our walk, right? What should we do? We can't pretend to be perfect or we will for sure get caught as hypocrites. Nor can we ignore our failure and hope no one will notice. That's what the disciples did. Look at verses 37-38. "Now it happened on the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, that a great multitude met Him. Suddenly a man from the multitude cried out, saying, 'Teacher, I implore You, look on my son, for he is my only child. And behold, a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly cries out; it convulses him so that he foams at the mouth, and bruising him, it departs from him with great difficulty. So I implored Your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.'" The disciples thought they would keep quiet about their failure, and this man exposes them right in the middle of the multitude. Talk about embarrassing!

But, our inconsistencies need not be stumbling blocks. If we hide our weaknesses and try to appear better than we are, it will be a problem. But rather than hiding them, we need to point people to the fact that we are sinners growing by God's grace and constantly in need of God's grace. We can point out that the Gospel is not about sinlessness, but about God's Good News to sinners. Constantly show where your source of strength is from. You point them to Christ and tell them that even though you fall down from time to time, Christ has been empowering you to progressively overcome your besetting sins, and He can help them too.

But if we never experience God's power, there is a disconnect between talk and walk. If we never experience God's presence (as they did in verses 27-36, there is a disconnect between our talk and our walk. Have you prayed and seen God answer? Have you resisted Satan and found victory? Have you asked for wisdom and seen God come through? Have you overcome sins that used to enslave you? Is your marriage better than it was ten years ago by God's grace? If your answer is yes to those questions, then you can give hope to other sinners.

A man was extremely troubled by the fact that sometimes he had God's power and other times he felt totally powerless. He asked a minister about it, and the minister said, "John, have you ever tried to breathe out three times while only breathing in once?" "No." "Try it," he said. John tried it and found it impossible. "It can't be done." And his friend smiled and said, "There's your answer." There's your answer? But his point was that if we are only taking in 1 unit from God we can't give out 3 units. If you want to breath out the power and reality of God's grace, you need to breath it in, as it were. And if you are breathing out three times more than you are breathing in, you won't have the breath. Another way of saying this is we can only credibly share with others what we have experienced ourselves. But if we have experienced it, automatically our testimony becomes credible. Every one of you can share the reality of what God has done for you. He's at work in your life. And if He's not, then you need the Gospel.

Show No Indication of Love, Mercy & Patience (v. 54 - "command fire" "consume them")

A third area that will turn unbelievers off quickly is when we preach the Good News but show no indication of love, mercy, or patience with the ones we are preaching to. Look at verses 51-56: "Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, and sent messengers before His face. And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him. But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem. And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, 'Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?' But He turned and rebuked them, and said, 'You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives but to save them.' And they went to another village."

Now I suspect that these disciples were confused with that rebuke. After all, they were taking offense for Jesus sake! Right? Wasn't that righteous anger? Isn't the difference between righteous anger and unrighteous anger that the former is consumed with a zeal for God's glory and the latter is consumed with a zeal for our own? Doesn't this passage show that they were angry because Jesus was rejected? Surely that's God-centered! But Jesus says it wasn't. And this passage is a warning that our motives can be complex and self-serving. Jesus said, "You do not know what manner of spirit you are of." They had no idea of the motives that were bubbling to the surface. And like those disciples, we can have blind spots that make us ineffective.

What was it that made these disciples hope that God would consume the village with fire? We aren't told, but knowing the culture of that time, it wouldn't be too hard to guess. First, it is easier to express so-called "righteous anger" against those that we don't like. The Samaritans were despised by the Jews, and vice versa. But if that were the case, the Samaritans would be able to sense that the Jews didn't like them and would be turned off by their message.

Second, knowing the history of that time, it is very possible that these disciples had picked up at least some of the prevailing racism of the time. There is no question about the fact that many Jews in the first century were racist. They might not have thought about it that way. For them it was just a truism that the people on the other side of the railroad tracks were people that you just don't hang out with. And let me tell you something — the people on the other side of the railroad tracks know the prejudice, and aren't interested in hearing "Good News" from such people. It kills our ability to witness.

A third possible reason is that these apostles may have been personally hurt by Samaritans, or may have taken on an offense of some other friend or relative. It's very easy to take up offenses of other people, even if the other people aren't offended themselves. Jesus wasn't offended, but they are taking up His offense. And this happens all the time. And when we internalize the offense, we can develop a second-hand animosity and bitterness. But if our anger flows from bitterness, frustration, hatred, racial prejudice, or even generalized animosity, our anger is by definition ungodly.

There is one subtle distinction that is important. There is a vast difference between preaching [God's]{.underline} judgment and being judgmental yourself. It is [not]{.underline} judgmental to call people sinners and to say they are worthy of judgment. That's not your opinion. You're just God's messenger. Salvation [presupposes]{.underline} the doctrine of judgment. Mercy is not mercy if there is no concept of judgment. So don't avoid treating sin as it really is.

The thing that needs to be avoided is an attitude that doesn't care if they get judged. I mean think about this. Which is worse in the eyes of an unbeliever: hearing you say that he is headed to hell when he doesn't want to hear it, or him knowing that you believe he is going to hell, but he knows you don't care enough to tell him about it. He may reject the message in either case, but think of what he would feel if he knows you don't care enough about his going to hell to tell him about it.

Ask yourself if there are groups of people like these Samaritans that you are less likely to be patient and caring for? Are there certain regions of this city or are there certain categories of sinners that you wouldn't even bother to witness to? A holier than thou attitude can be smelled a mile off by unbelievers. Even the way we look at people because they dress funny can be a turn off.

Back in 1999, Johnnie Lavender heard a politician being criticized for a major faux pas that he had made during a visit at a defense contract company. And what happened was that he stopped to talk to one of the machinists. Pointing to a young person standing at the next machine with cropped hair and baggy trousers, the politician said, "That's the trouble with young people today, you can't tell whether it's a boy or a girl." To which the machinist answered, "Well it's a girl, and she's my daughter." "Oh," the politician said apologetically, "I didn't realize you were her father." To which the worker replied, "I am not her father, I am her mother!" He couldn't win for losing. But the huge cultural gap between them caused him to communicate lack of care without even realizing it. Now I am not saying that we should condone the unisex movement. Far from it. It is an ungodly manifestation of our rebellious culture. But we want to care about their souls enough that we can get past the tongue-rings, tattoos, weird clothing, and other issues, and talk to these people's hearts. So these are all attitude updates that can help us to be more sensitive witnesses.

Speak Without Thinking (v. 33 - "not knowing what he said"; v. 55 - "you do not know")

A fourth area can be seen in that same passage when Christ said, "You do not know what manner of spirit you are of," and then earlier in verse 33 where it says, "not knowing what he said." In both situations they were speaking without thinking. How many unguarded words have soured relationships? I guess the illustration I just gave of that politician was speaking without thinking. Now I'm not saying that God doesn't use careless words to win people to Christ. He can, and many times He has. But thoughtlessness is more often harmful. It's helpful for us to evaluate the kinds of conversations we have when unbelievers are around. Especially when you are in a culturally different climate, think about what you are communicating visually and verbally.

When Jesus talked with the woman at the well, she was trying to pick a fight with controversial topics. Why? She was probably used to people judging her, and she wanted to see how He would handle these things. And Jesus deftly put those to the side and dealt with the heart issues she was facing, or in the case of her fornication, used her situation to take her to Gospel. With that woman it would have been so easy for us to miss the Gospel by getting into arguments over side issues. Maybe we would have argued over politics and illegal aliens. And I'm not saying that those are always verboten topics. Any topic can lead you to the Gospel if it is handled right. But we need to think before we talk. So much of our Christian lingo and Christian culture does not communicate in the language of the people. All I'm saying is, "Try to do a little thinking before you open your mouth in witnessing."

Speak Evil Of Other Believing Denominations (v. 49 - "he does not follow with us")

Another great way of killing our witness is to speak evil of other Bible believing denominations. Now certainly there is need for in-house discussion of the prevailing problems in the church. But when we despise other believers, it kills our witness. So this chapter deals with all kinds of instruction that needs to take place before He sends them out again. Look at verse 49. "Then John answered and said, 'Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow with us.' But Jesus said to him, 'Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is for us.'" In contrast, someone likened churches to a bunch of franchises that compete with each other and treat each other as the enemy. There is a big difference between loving other Christians enough to challenge them to reformation and (on the other hand) wanting to have nothing to do with other believers.

If judgmentalism toward the world is destructive to missions, can you imagine the vibes unbelievers pick up when we have that same attitude toward believers? It won't be attractive. Christ said, "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another." He is saying that one of the greatest testimonies we can make is a willingness to embrace all those whom Christ embraces.

There are two extremes that we must avoid. The first is to have unity at the expense of the truth like the World Council of Churches does. That kind of unity eventually ends up fighting the cause of Christ. The other extreme is to write off every church that does not believe exactly like we do.

And I think that Priscilla and Aquila had a beautiful balance on this. They had disagreements with Apollos, but they didn't air those disagreements publically. They knew he loved the Lord, and the Scripture says, "When Aquilla and Priscilla heard him, they took him [aside]{.underline} and explained to him the way of God more accurately." They took him aside. They didn't air their differences before the world. But neither were they satisfied with differences. If we love those in other churches, we should be able to lovingly, graciously and patiently challenge them to rethink their doctrines. Proverbs says, "Faithful are the wounds of a friend." But if we aren't friendly, they aren't the wounds of a friend, are they? It says, "as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." The Biblical balance is to embrace all those whom Christ embraces and love them enough to speak the truth. But there is a time and there is a place for that.

What difference should this make? Should we just ignore gross things that have happened in the church when we are around unbelievers? Not necessarily. I've had unbelievers tell me that they have rejected Christianity because of all the hypocrites in the church. I have pointed out that God will judge every sin including hypocrisy, but that this individual will stand before God to be judged for his own sins, and God will not let him off the hook just because there are hypocrites out there. It would have been easy to write off hypocrites in the church forgetting that we can sometimes be unwitting hypocrites too. But when we point out that even hypocrisy is a sin that Christ died for, it can lead to the Gospel rather than to hypocrite beating.

One man told me that he couldn't be a Christian when he saw the way Jimmy Swaggert hired a prostitute. I could have waxed eloquent on the theological differences that I have with him, or even questioned his Christianity. But I just said, "Swaggert and I will both have to answer to God for our own sins, and God knows how to discipline His children. But do you know that you are a child of God? Do you want to know how your sins can be dealt with?" There are plenty of denominational issues that unbelievers could use to divert you from the Gospel — but always focus on Christ, His Word, and His Grace. We don't need to bad-mouth others. We've got enough issues of our own.

Be Sure To Throw In Some Prideful Arrogance (v. 46 - "which of them would be greatest")

A sixth area that is sure to make our witness ineffective is prideful arrogance. Look at verses 46-48: "Then a dispute arose among them as to which of them would be greatest. And Jesus, perceiving the thought of their heart, took a little child and set him by Him, and said to them, "Whoever receives this little child in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me. For he who is least among you all will be great."

We may not think of ourselves as greater than others, but our actions can communicate that. It may be pride over doctrinal sophistication. It may be pride over social status. It may be racial pride or economic pride, or puffed up knowledge. We may be proud that we don't wear such and such, or aren't pierced with such and such. But when pride is detected in the church, it hurts the ability of the church to witness. It's not just God who is turned off by pride. Others are too. Again, these are all attitude adjustments that we will need to regularly make as God's Spirit opens our eyes. But they are attitude adjustments that will help us to become more effective.

Remove The Offence Of The Cross (vs. 57-62)

The last thing that Christ modeled to these new trainees before He sent them out again was that it is wrong to try to remove the offense of the cross. Look at verses 23-26

[Luke 9:23]{.underline} ¶ Then He said to them all, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.

[Luke 9:24]{.underline} For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.

[Luke 9:25]{.underline} For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost?

[Luke 9:26]{.underline} For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father's, and of the holy angels.

Now listen to verses 57-62:

Now it happened as they journeyed on the road, that someone said to Him, "Lord, I will follow You wherever You go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head." Then He said to another, "Follow Me." But he said, Lord, let me first go and bury my father." Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God." And another also said, "Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house." But Jesus said to him, "No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God."

Why did Christ make it look so hard to be a Christian? Shouldn't He have used the soft-sell that many modern evangelists do? In one sense, these were hot prospects who could have easily slipped through His fingers. Well, of course we know that's not true in terms of predestination. But Christ was making them take a reality check that would weed out some false believers, but would not weed out a true believer. Christ wanted there to be no illusions about the cost of discipleship. He was not guilty of saying, "Try it, you'll like it." He was not guilty of false advertizing. That's what I like about Ray Comfort's method of evangelism. He doesn't want false professions. He makes people count the cost of discipleship.

In our day we have many who seek to make the gospel as appealing as possible. They are not following Christ in doing so. I have been on enough evangelism teams to know this is a constant temptation. I've "led people to Christ" who weren't really led to Christ. It was high-pressure evangelism and they were just trying to do anything to get me out the door. And I even suspected it at the time, but you had to go through the program. And that is a scandalous counterfeit to the way Christ preached.

But there are other ways in which we can fail to do what Christ did here. When we were in India we knew that many down-country Indians were quite willing to add another god to the dozens they already worshipped. They think, "Wow! Jesus can heal people. It might be handy to have Him on my side. I think I'll add him to the other gods I have in my house." And this is why preachers have thousands coming to Christ at their rallies there. These are polytheists. They don't mind adding another god. And we would have had thousands of converts if we had allowed them to have an easy gospel. Instead we called them to renounce their gods, and told them that our God was a jealous God who would not allow any other gods before Him. We told them that they could not be saved unless they repented of their trust in other gods and trusted Jesus alone. And that meant burning their idols. Well that scares most of these people to death because they don't want to offend any gods, just in case. This meant that rather than thousands of converts, some of our team members had a handful of converts. I had about 24. But they were genuine converts.

When we try to sell the gospel and make it attractive we dishonor God and we do a disservice to the people we are talking to. Our job is to be faithful witnesses to God, not to give a new and improved look to the Gospel. Peter Hammond told of another witnessing opportunity that his son Calvin had engaged in at the playground. He said,

When my youngest son, Calvin, was 5 years old, he created quite a furor at the play school by asking some of the Muslim children: "Why do your parents bow down to a rock in a box in Mecca? The Second Commandment says we shouldn't bow down to anything — that's idolatry!"

Some of the Muslim parents complained to the teacher, who complained to my wife, who complained to me, and I congratulated Calvin and took him out to buy him a reward.

What Peter was saying is that the Gospel is in its essence offensive. So while the previous points were designed to remove all unnecessary offense, this point is saying that we must not remove the offense of God's law or the offense of the cross. We must not.


I think you can see that chapter 9 has a lot to say about improving our witness. I've not even covered all of the things that this chapter says. I want to close by reiterating that Christ wants us to be witnesses even before we have learned these lessons. He sent the disciples out in verse 2 even before they had mastered these principles. None of you are too immature to witness. The moment the demoniac had the demons cast out of him and was saved he was told to tell his family about Christ. He was sent out to be a witness. Out in Ethiopia, every believer was a witness. They shared the Gospel all the time.

Secondly, Christ sends them out again in Chapter 10, and again in subsequent chapters. You might have blown it in your witnessing in the past, and maybe you quit because of your mistakes. Don't do that. If you never make mistakes, it means you aren't doing anything. These disciples learned from these mistakes, and there were 70 other disciples who learned as well. Going and learning is an ongoing process. But Christ's command to all is "Go."

One evangelist, Johnnie Lavender, told about how timid he used to be when he was younger. He said that one of the jobs that he had to pay his way through College was as a delivery boy for a florist. One time he was asked to take a bouquet of flowers and a boutonniere to the local mortuary. He stopped at the reception desk and asked them where he should put the flowers. The lady told him to go into the room, third door on the right, and put the bouquet beside the casket and to pin the boutonniere on the suit lapel of the dead man.

Well, he hadn't quite bargained to do that. He had never been around dead people before, so was very nervous. But he timidly made his way down the hallway and opened the third door. There was a man lying on top of a casket. And he thought, "Oh, man! This is gross! Do I really have to do this?" But he went in and placed the bouquet beside the casket. He then took a deep breath, leaned over the casket, and as he was struggling to pin the boutonniere on the man's lapel, the dead person opened his eyes and said, "Thanks bud." He almost died of fright. He found out later that the florist had put the mortuary up to the practical joke. But when Johnnie got over the initial shock he was thinking about why he was so scared. And it suddenly hit him, "Dead men don't talk!"

And that's what I want to leave you with. Dead men don't talk. And spiritually dead men don't witness to the reality of a new life because they don't have any. And here's my point: you are not dead. You have been raised from the dead by the power of Almighty God. And that is all the reason you need to talk about it. Be witnesses. And you might say, "I don't know how!" Well, that's why you need to come to Brian Fox's weekly training. It starts a week from this Tuesday. This is not training for experts. This is training for the rest of us who don't have the gift of evangelism, but who want to be faithful to witness for our Lord. These sermons will be a mixture of motivation, attitude adjustments, training, and encouragement. But be willing to start even now before you learn another lesson. You can at least hand out tracts. But let's start the process at verse 2. Amen.

Seven Surefire Ways to be an Ineffective Witness is part of the Evangelism series published on May 30, 2010

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