What Does a ‘Witness’ Look Like?

You are the salt of the earth . . . you are the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16).

In the churches that nurtured my young faith ‘witnessing’ was a big deal. The act of sharing your faith, telling someone about Jesus, was highly extoled even if rarely practiced by the average pew-sitter. Whether you ever did it or not, you heard often of its importance. We were all called to be ‘witnesses.’ That’s just what Christians do.

My Dad served our Baptist denomination for years in the ministry of evangelism. He’s a life-long pastor with the heart of an evangelist and the preaching fervor of a tent-revivalist. Given the church soil in which my young faith was rooted and the evangelistic DNA that ought to be coursing through my veins, it’s something of a puzzle to me that I’ve never been very good at ‘witnessing.’

As a seminary student I decided to try and do something about that.

A Would-Be Witness

In my first year of seminary I was required to take a course in personal evangelism. This class forced me to get honest about the fact that I never really shared my faith with people. Preaching or teaching? No problem. Bring it on. But witnessing? Not so much.

It seemed wrong that I was pursuing theological education with an aim toward pastoral ministry and I never ‘witnessed.’ One of the course requirements was having an evangelistic conversation with someone and writing it down. This was supposed to be the real deal, not a role play. So when I learned that the church I attended in Fort Worth had a Sunday afternoon evangelism ministry, I mustered the courage to sign up.

After gathering for a brief time of prayer we would scatter along Hemphill Avenue and look for folks on the street with whom we could talk about Jesus. What I recall now is that just down the street from the church was a large park where crowds of people gathered every Sunday afternoon to play soccer. While we were encouraged to hit the streets and share our faith, no one ever suggested that we just go to the park and join others in playing soccer.

No one seemed to think (or ever said) that our presence there might be a witness that could lead to conversations about Jesus that could bring a person to faith. Odd.

Those Sunday afternoon evangelistic excursions were never satisfying or fruitful for me. I was a failed would-be witness. Let me quickly add that my story is not meant to belittle or dismiss the act of ‘witnessing.’ The importance of sharing the faith isn’t really up for debate. But I look back now on those Sunday afternoons on Hemphill Avenue and I wonder about what it means to be a ‘witness.’ What does an effective witness look like?

Distinctive Life, Direct Word

One of the best known ‘witnesses’ of the New Testament was John the Baptist. ‘Witness’ was a moniker he willingly took to himself. His method was bold and direct. John would literally point to Jesus and tell people, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

But there’s also the salt and light way of being a witness. This means letting people see something distinctive about your life. Being salt and light means being present in the world in such a way that people are drawn to us and the God whom we serve. Jesus said that others should be able to look at the way we live – see the things we do and the way we do them – and soon come to love God. Both kinds of ‘witness’ are needed: the direct word that points to Jesus as God’s way of saving us from sin. And the distinctive life that offers the world something attractive and different.

A direct word that lacks a distinctive, attractive life will sound false. An attractive life that never leads to a direct word will be fruitless.

Making God’s presence known in the places where you live and work and play doesn’t mean you have to talk about religious things. You may not often engage in overtly spiritual conversations. But here are a couple of questions to consider as you enter this day.

First, if by some chance you had the opportunity to tell someone you’re around every day about your faith, what would you say? How would you tell your own faith story, or how would you explain what it means to be a Christian?

Second, are you living the kind of life that might lead to such a conversation?


Grant us the gift of your Spirit, Lord Jesus, that we might be ready to talk about you, and that our lives may look like you. Make us your witnesses in both word and deed. And make us bold as we seek to bring your presence to the places where we live each day. Amen.

His Presence in Your Plans

Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:16).

Well, as of this week it’s official. Our first Christmas season in Bethlehem, PA is a wrap.

Sure, most Christmas celebrations ended more than two weeks ago and we’re well over a week into the New Year. The holiday vibe that once pulsated through malls and restaurants is now still and silent. But around our house, this week seems to mark the true return to normal.

Yesterday I placed our naked, brittle Christmas tree by the curb to be recycled. The nativity sets and garland and window candles had already been boxed up and hauled to the attic, but something about getting the tree out of the house and dragging it away to become mulch gave a sense of finality to the season.

The most conclusive end to our Christmas, however, happened over the weekend. On Saturday we took our son to the airport to return to school. We watched him pack the night before, his mom making sure that he went back with clean clothes. We pulled up in front of the airport, traded tight hugs and farewells, and now here we are. This may be the post-holiday reality that we feel the most.

Parting company with those we love after the holidays can sometimes be a relief. But just as often we feel a sadness, a stab of longing. We know in some deep place that the greatest gift of the season is being together, even when our togetherness is not perfect. I guess you could say we treasure presence above presents.

Your Calendar and Your Calling

Sending our son back to school in North Carolina didn’t change our relationship with him. We are still his parents. We still provide for his needs. We still have some expectations of him and we hold him accountable. We still talk (and text) with him to find out how his day is going or what his classes are like or what he has planned for a weekend.

All of that is well and good, but none of those things can substitute for being with him. For a few weeks we were able to actively participate in his life and he in ours. We didn’t simply hear about what he was doing, we actually did things together. Had our son caught a plane to a South American jungle or a North African desert, he would not stop being our son. That’s a reality that geography can’t touch. But there’s a difference between being a member of the family and being present in the home.

And there is a difference between believing that God exists, and living every day in God’s presence. Plenty of people are willing to say there is a God. Plenty of those will affirm a personal faith in the God of the Bible. Fewer people, it seems, live every day as if God is present with them. Perhaps fewer still see God actively present and at work in the world they inhabit. They don’t see their weekly calendar as a way of entering into what God is already doing.

Two Core Convictions

In his book, Faithful Presence, David Fitch writes, “God becomes visibly present through a people who make his presence known” (p. 28). In the weeks ahead we’ll be thinking about God’s presence in the world and what that means for us and how we live our ordinary days.

Our reflections are grounded in a couple of core convictions. First, God is present and actively at work in the places where you spend your waking and working hours. That means your school, your office, your home, your neighborhood. God desires to be known in all of those places. Second, God makes his presence known through a people who know him and belong to him.

Our aim in these reflections is likewise twofold. In the days ahead we want to enter more fully into God’s presence in our world, and we want to be a part of making that presence known in the places where we live our days.

Where will you be today? Who will you see? What do you have planned? And how would the day change if you knew God was with you in all of it – not just ‘around’ but truly ‘present’? God has something to do in the places where you live your life, and his way of doing it is through you.


Ever present God, we want to live this day with you. We want to be the kind of people who live moment by moment in your presence, making your presence known to the world around us. Use us in the familiar places of our life, and bring us into the work that you are already doing, we ask in Jesus’s name. Amen.