Leading churches

I Want to Live a Winsome Life

But if my focus is misplaced, I’ll live for optics and not for Jesus.

I want to live a winsome life.  

Since we are people of the Book, let’s start with it.  

The word winsome does not clearly appear in the Bible, unless you translate the word “gracious” in Colossians 4:6 as “winsome” – “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (ESV) or in Luke 4:22 where the words of Jesus are also described as such: “And all spoke well of him (Jesus) and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth” (ESV).  

In recent years, the adjective “winsome” has been drafted into conversations, social media posts, articles, books, podcasts and debates about its pros and cons. Some of you reading may be suffering from winsome fatigue. You are weary of hearing about winsomeness. However, there was a time that if you were described as winsome, it would have been a compliment.  

Winsome. The OxfordDictionary says a winsome person is “attractive and pleasing with simple qualities.” The American Heritage Dictionary defines winsome as “charming, often in a childlike or naïve way.” According to the CambridgeDictionary, to be winsome is to be “charming and attractive in a simple way.” Synonyms include pleasant, engaging, disarming and appealing.  

Winsome. It happens when we offer grace, warmth, love and joy to others in an open and childlike way. When we are winsome, people are drawn to us because winsomeness is like a magnet.  

Winsome. It happens when we offer grace, warmth, love and joy to others in an open and childlike way. When we are winsome, people are drawn to us because winsomeness is like a magnet.

As I have collected my thoughts on this idea of living a winsome life, several faces have come to mind. What is it about Mark, Sam, Brett, Claire, Laurie, Roxanne, Shannon and Stefanie that cause me to describe them as winsome?   

I see two common threads between them all: First, they are loving people. Second, they are joyful people. Love and joy are fruit of the Spirit. Though winsomeness is not a fruit of the Spirit, it is a result of the fruit of the Spirit.    

Winsome people are loving people  

Words have great power to shape us. Over 35 years ago, I read these words written by Larry Crabb in his book Understanding People and they continue to shape me and my understanding of love: 

“(Christian) maturity is often defined in terms of knowledge, habits and skills. People who know the Scriptures, who do what they should and don’t do what they shouldn’t, and who can effectively serve in Christian activities may be regarded as mature. But often those who have the trappings of maturity don’t seem to draw us to the Lord. We may be impressed, challenged and stimulated—but not drawn. Truly mature people are seductive: they entice us to pursue a God whom they know better than we. Maturity will be most clearly visible in the way people relate to one another. Bible study habits, church activities, frequency of witnessing, discipline in lifestyle, time spent in prayer, willingness to sacrifice personal comforts, spending patterns—each of these is important, but all can be evident without maturity as their basis. . . In a word, the visible evidence of maturity is love. . . Something is different about people who love.”   

I want to be a loving man. Why? Shortly before His crucifixion to pay the penalty for my sins, Jesus spoke these words to His disciples: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). As he closes his first letter to Greek Christians living in ancient Corinth, the Apostle Paul offers them this final word of instruction: “Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14). Finally, the Apostle Paul reminds the followers of Christ living in what is now modern Turkey of the importance of love when he writes to them, “Through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:14). 

They feel us, connect to us and are eager to serve us. They are always silently asking, “How can I serve you today?”

Loving people seek to enter, as much as possible, into the world of another person. Loving people feel the pain of another person as they empathetically “feel into” and share the other person’s heartache. They attune to your heart. They proactively respond to what they perceive the needs of others to be. They feel us, connect to us and are eager to serve us. They are always silently asking, “How can I serve you today?” By their actions, loving people say, “You matter; I enjoy you; You are worth spending time with.” This kind of loving response cultivates connection. Loving people are winsome people. 

Winsome people are joyful people  

Joy is an attitude about the future that is hopeful. In joy, we experience an intense appetizer of what God has in store for us in the future. Like love, joy is a fundamental characteristic of winsome people. They share lots of smiles. We feel encouraged and affirmed by being with them or even thinking about being with them. They have a twinkle in their eyes. When their faces see us, they act as if they are glad to be with us. They are attentive to us. They are present to us. Their tone of voice, their facial expression, their body language and their words all express delight in being in our presence. By their actions, winsome people say, “You matter; I enjoy you; you are worth spending time with.” They smile from deep inside. Joy is the life-giving feeling of mutual care that comes from a winsome person, and as a result we are drawn to them.  

This kind of joy is modeled by our seven grandchildren (ages 1-6). When they see me, they run toward me. They jump in my arms and hug me. They smile and laugh with sheer delight from being in my presence. I am drawn by them.  

Winsome people ignite joy in us.    

Jesus is winsome  

Jesus is the embodiment of winsome. He is engaging, inviting and attractive. Jesus is a friend of tax collectors and sinners when religious leaders of the day stand at a distance. Consider Nicodemus, a Pharisee and ruler of the Jews, who is drawn to Jesus and clandestinely makes his way to Jesus because he does not want to be seen talking to Him (John 3:1–2). 

By their actions, winsome people say, “You matter; I enjoy you; you are worth spending time with.”

Or reflect on Jesus and His questions. He asks a lot of open-ended, curious “how” and “why” questions. Open-ended questions draw people in and activate curiosity. Such questions demonstrate that we’re really interested. Consider a few examples from Matthew’s gospel:   

  • But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? 
  • Who do you say I am? 
  • What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? 
  • Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 
  • Who do people say the Son of Man is? 
  • But what about you? 
  • Who do you say I am? 
  • Why are you bothering this woman? 
  • Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour? 
  • Are you still sleeping and resting? 

I want to live a winsome life because Jesus is winsome. Like Him, I want to be the embodiment of grace and truth (John 1:14). So, join me in focusing on Jesus, not on being winsome. If we focus on winsomeness, we will be tempted to be performers, constantly wondering how we look to others. Instead, focus on living like Jesus lived and loving like Jesus loved and spread joy like Jesus did. 

A winsome life is engaging, attractive and inviting because it is exactly the sort of life every Christian aims to lead after the example of Jesus who is the epitome of love and joy. 

Carlton P. Harris

Executive Vice President of National Ministries

Carlton started ministry in 1981 as a pastoral intern at First Evangelical Free Church in Wichita, Kansas, and has spent 40 years in church leadership. He began his role at the EFCA national office leading the ReachNational division in September 2021. He and his wife, Carol, are members at New Hope Church in New Hope, Minnesota.

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