Last week I got into a very opinionated conversation (Christian euphemism for an argument) with a friend over the issue of sharing our faith story with others. The substance of the argum....um conversation was whether our witness should be a life lived in the fullest sense of Christian faithfulness or should believers verbally witness to their faith with others.
The context of the conversation was evangelism and youth. I came down on the side that believers should develop the skill to verbally express their faith with anyone who asks for the reason of their faith. I believe that includes other believers who want to learn from you as well as non-believers.
As we discussed the positions, we were deadlocked in our position. Now that the moment has passed and I have had time to reflect I can see my friend's position. Our witness should be a life lived in faithful obedience to God through Christ. I can't deny that how we live is critical to our witness. If our outward life is not an example or model of our faith then our faith is worthless (I believe that is in the Bible, book of James as a matter of fact).
I am currently reading unChristian, a study of persons who do not hold to Christian beliefs. It is a harsh reality check for people who believe we live in a Christian nation. It shows us the picture that Christians (all Christians, not just conservative/fundamentalist/evangelical) are painted in colors of bigotry, anger, and judgmentalism. Much of that opinion has arisen from Christians who have not lived out what they claimed to believe. So faith and practical life are intertwined to produce an overall effective witness.
But there comes a point when actions are not enough. We are in a period of growing biblical illiteracy and emotion-laden spirituality. In general, most Christians cannot identify the significant beliefs they hold, nor share them. But that is not witness. Witness is sharing the impact that God's grace through Jesus Christ has had in a person's life. And very few believers have developed the ability to express this.
Witnessing, evangelizing, sharing faith story, whatever we call it is simply put - telling others about how your life has been influenced by God through Christ. As mainstream churches continue to see declining numbers and as we lose ground on the cultural front, we have to evaluate what we have been doing in order to change to respond to the problem.
I believe that believers in every church need to work on witness. There are a lot of faulty notions regarding Christianity. Most of them are borne out of experience with Christians who did not live up to what they claimed to believe. But there are many Christians in our churches who do live what they believe. They just aren't making an effort to share their life AND their faith with others. This will be necessary to change our course.