“I don’t mind talking about my faith, but I want it to be organic. I don’t want something forced or formulaic. I just want it to be natural.”
Have you heard phrases like this before? Perhaps you’ve said them yourselves. Perhaps you’d like to engage in evangelism but most of the efforts you’ve seen appear to be canned or generic. You don’t want to give a sales pitch. You want something authentic — something organic.
The irony, of course, is that what is organic doesn’t always come naturally. When you consider organic produce, you see that what is natural comes about through intentional cultivation over a long stretch of time. In other words, what’s natural doesn’t always come naturally.
There is a distinct practice within The Wesleyan Church (TWC) that lends itself well to organic evangelism: testimony. And by “testimony” I simply mean a story you tell where God shows up. (Note: The Greek word for testimony is the same one we translate as “witness.”) We are story-telling people. We recount events, explain scenarios and continually engage in story-sharing. It’s difficult to get through a day without organically telling lots of stories along the way.
Our call to testify is explicit in Jesus’ Great Commission. Jesus didn’t write letters. He didn’t leave a catechism. He left people. Us. You will be Christ’s witnesses, making disciples of every nation and baptizing in his name (cf. Acts 1:8, Matthew 28:19). The gospel message was and always was intended to be passed along from one person to another through testimony.
Jesus might not have written epistles, but Paul certainly did. Letters to Galatia, Corinth and Rome. Yet even then, Paul does not rely on the written word alone: “You yourselves are our letter,” he writes, “written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:2-3).
As Wesleyans, we affirm that we are invited, indeed, commissioned to share the gospel with our own lips. So how might we do this organically? Is it possible to testify in such a way that seems natural? At the risk of stretching the metaphor too far, there are elements of organic gardening that can inform this question of organic evangelism.
- Tend to the soil — Here the charge is two-fold: in with the good, out with the bad. What are the things you do to care for your soul? What are practices you engage in that tend to make you aware of the presence of Jesus?
There are stock phrases in organic gardening: “Feed the soil, not the plant.” “Water the roots, not the greenery.” Do not focus on the result of your testimony — the greenery it will or will not produce — that’s not our job anyway! We cannot cause the plant to grow, but we can tend to the soil, making it hospitable and free of contamination. This does not come naturally. There are weeds that threaten from below the surface and pesticides and pestilence that threaten from above. Tending the soil is an invitation into holiness. It is out of this fertile ground that our stories will spring.
Before you start telling your neighbor about the places where you’re noticing the presence of God, notice it within your own heart. Look for God. Savor those moments of recognition. Offer a word of thanksgiving for what God has done for you. Allow this kind of “noticing” and “thanking” to become second nature in your soil (gratitude is often a byproduct of testimony). This kind of recognition of God is exponential. The more you notice the presence of God, the more you will notice the presence of God in the future.
- Notice the climate around you — Pay attention to your surroundings. Where are you already engaged in conversation? Is there a particular time of day when you tend to find yourself sharing with others? These don’t need to be spiritual conversations — just notice the story-telling habits you already have in place.
Where do you engage others the most: in a carpool line, at a coffee bar, at the gym? Consider these places where you are already engaged in conversation and see whether you can “lean into” this practice of testimony. It could be that small tweaks in your conversations hold the potential to change their trajectory. Perhaps you find yourself attributing a gift in your life to God. Perhaps you allow your friend to hear the overflow of your heart as you contemplate the presence of God in particular stories: “I wonder if that was God’s way of …”
- Compost — Simply put, allow for the painful moments of your life to inform the stories you tell. Your testimonies do not need to have happy endings — they don’t need an ending at all! Some of the most powerful testimonies I’ve heard have come from people’s stories of pain. Sometimes we need to hear the testimonies of others who are in the middle of the storm yet still choose to stay in the boat.
One final note: start with marigolds, not Venus flytraps. Don’t be afraid to start small. Try testifying to another follower of Christ who you know will eagerly receive your words. Depending on the person you might even consider explicitly naming what it is you’re hoping to do: “This feels a bit awkward but I’m trying to talk about God more in my everyday conversations. Would you mind if I practiced on you and shared with you where it seemed like God showed up yesterday?”
Tend to the soil. Note the climate. Compost. These elements of organic gardening are what prepare us “to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15).
Rev. Dr. Amanda Drury is an ordained minister in The Wesleyan Church serving as professor of practical theology at Indiana Wesleyan University.
*All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.