Jesus commanded us to help spread the faith, each according to our state in life and our abilities.
But how do we witness effectively? Do we speak the truth bluntly and make our listeners aware of the eternal consequences of their actions? Or do we focus on what we have in common as a starting point?
While each situation calls for a different approach, there are certain general guidelines to follow to make your witness more effective.
1. Start with God and happiness
It can be tempting to start a conversation with non-Catholics or cafeteria Catholics by pointing your finger at them and unleashing a tirade of “Thou shalt nots,” attempting to induce fear in their hearts of God’s judgment.
Only in such cases is your listener likely to look at you as a holier-than-thou control freak.
While a stern approach is sometimes needed, it’s often ineffective. You need to start with something positive: God and His plan for our eternal happiness.
Every command He gives us is ordered to the fullness of love and joy we will experience in heaven. You need to show how the Catholic position on abortion, marriage, or whatever you’re discussing fits into this big picture.
Otherwise, it just sounds like you’re throwing out soundbites or random rules to follow. Setting Church teaching within the larger context of our happiness makes that teaching more appealing and sensible.
2. Be blunt
Don’t be harsh, but be blunt. We hear so much today about dialoguing. This is necessary, but not at the expense of truth.
Be honest about your intentions. Atheists are, in general, good at this. They don’t fool around with weak statements like “I want to encourage you to x, y, z.” They say it like it is: “Your religion is full of [insert swear word].”
To which you can reply, “Maybe it is. Let’s fight it out.” This is so much more productive than someone saying, “I just want to have a conversation.” Which often translates to “I want to have a sneaky conversation to sneakily work my beliefs into your heart.”
3. Make sure you and your listener are speaking the same language
Words are tricky. You may use them in one way, and your listener in another. What happens is that you both end up talking past each other.
This often happens in conversations around abortion. You may speak about the right to life and understand the word “right” within the context of the virtue of justice and the theology of creation. Some abortion defenders use it as more of a violent affirmation of the way in which they can give expression to their liberty.
So start the conversation by asking your listeners what they mean by the terms they use.
4. Do the research if you can
Have you ever had someone refuse to debate you and simply point you to resources? It’s annoying, right? You want to shout, “If you want to convert me, you do the work and try to convince me. I don’t have the time to read a dozen books.”
You should make the same effort when witnessing to the faith. Do the research, rather than make your listener do it.
Obviously, there are moments when you just don’t have the time. Then, it’s fine to point them to resources. But at least make an effort to know what you’re talking about.
Give these four tips a try next time you’re talking to a non-Catholic or cafeteria Catholic. Again, these are not hard-and-fast rules. You may have to adapt from time to time. But they’re generally the most effective ways to share the faith with those around us.