Testimonies can be a wonderful enhancement to a worship service if done well, provided with excellent guidance, represent a diversity of Christian experiences and remain scripturally strong.
This blog entry on presenting Testimonies in Worship will be in two parts. The first will cover some general pointers regarding general content and delivery. The second entry will provide suggestions on the guided testimony or the interview testimony.
Before we speak about the “How To’s” let’s speak about the “Why To’s” of testimonies:
· They are usually from lay people who live in the trenches
· The fact that they are not being compensated for their testimony adds to their credibility
· They provide a change in voice and perspective from the platform
· They strengthen the faith of the hearers as they face their own challenges
· They strengthen the faith of the person giving the testimony
· Apologetics based on historical or scientific evidence are important but a personal story of transformation is also a powerful apologetic
· It’s scriptural:
o “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” – 1 Peter 3:15
o “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us.” – 1 John 1:3
o Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” – John 4:39
o “A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.” He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?” Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out.” – John 9: 24 – 34
o Other examples of testimonies can be found in : Galatians 1:11-13, 2:1- 21 / Acts 21:40, 22:1- 21 / Acts 24:10-16, 24:24 / Acts 26
So, if sharing testimonies in church can be such a blessing, why do some churches avoid it? All it takes is a few bad experiences to have the leadership of the church completely shy away from allowing testimonies in the worship service. I understand; I’ve heard many and I’ve certainly given my share of poorly executed testimonies as well.
Here are some tips to more effective testimonies in church:
· Pray as you are preparing your testimony. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you share with conviction and clarity.
· Remember that the goal is to give glory to Christ and not yourself. Think of the person presenting a testimony in court as a character witness. While your reliability as the person presenting the testimony must stand the integrity test, you are still not the central figure. Your role is to give a positive character reference for the person on trial. In the same way, while your integrity needs to be above reasonable reproach (we are all sinners), you are testifying for Christ and He is to be the central figure in all you say.
· Write out your testimony to ensure accuracy, clarity, presentation, theological exactness and content.
· Prepare your testimony as though you are presenting it to one person. This will add a greater sense of informality and transparency.
· Watch the time – ask the Pastor in advance how long they would like you to share. Then, cut a couple minutes from that when you practice it prior to presentation.
· Remember that this is a personal story of God’s work in your life. You are not preaching.
· Bring your testimony down to one point. You should be able to summarize the entire testimony into a single sentence. This will aid you in achieving clarity and direction. Such as, “Although I wandered in sin and ran far from God, through His love He reached me and He has given me a greater sense of hope than I ever experienced before.” OR “When my son passed away from cancer I felt as though there was no reason to live until I recognized that the God who had also taken my son was the God who had experienced the loss of His own son for me and for my own son.”
· Determine what the focus of the testimony is. Most testimonies can be categorized into one of three stories:
1. Those who have grown up in the faith and always remember being held in the grip of God’s grace. To me, this is the most powerful testimony because it speaks to God’s ideal. It is never God’s ideal for us to fall out of fellowship with Him. These are stories that glorify God for His faithfulness. At the same time, they also affirm those in our lives who have walked through the temptations and doubts with us and have mentored and nurtured faith. This affirms parents, Sunday School teachers and others who are doing this day in and day out. There are many Biblical examples of this but Timothy is probably the best known. 2 Timothy 3:10-17 (“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” – verses 14 &15). Those who don’t know a time where they ever departed from the faith also need a Savior as much as those with the most dramatic testimony. (“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” – Romans 3:23) God’s grace and sustaining strength can be shared with all humility by the person who has never left the faith.
2. Those who have experienced a dramatic conversion. Perhaps the most notable is the story of Saul who was converted on the road to Damascus and became the Apostle Paul. While this is the most common type that comes to mind when we think of the word “testimony”, it is filled with both dangers (focusing too much on the fallen life) and blessings (witnessing to the dramatic power of God). It’s important not to depict a life that is free of struggle now that Christ is in your life. Frankly, that’s not truthful. (“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” - Matthew 5:10-12)
3. Those who have gone through the “valley of the shadow of death” and have been brought through by the grace of God. This can be the loss of a loved one, disillusionment, personal failings, loneliness, fear, lack of purpose, brokenness of relationship, health issues, financial crises and the list is as endless as the results of our human condition is long. When we go through these struggles we are tempted to look into relief other than in Christ (alcohol, drugs, extramarital sex, bitterness, etc.). Sometimes we give in and sometimes we are blessed with the correction of the Spirit of God to throw ourselves into the graceful hand of God. These testimonies are tremendously encouraging to all of us as we all experience times of struggle in our lives. Hearing from someone who has been brought through these struggles often gives us the encouragement we need to trust God that He will bring us through the darkness of despair to the light of hope.
· Think of your testimony as a well-written story – which it is – because God has written it. As you prepare your testimony consider the elements of a good story. Most good stories have three primary acts:
1. The Beginning: You introduce people to the setting, the characters, and the condition. The condition involves conflict. The conflict forces the “fork in the road” where choices are made. A strong beginning draws people into the story as they identify with the three ‘Ps’: People, Place and the Pressure.
2. The Middle: This is where the tension is fully developed. The story progresses and the tension grows. At this point, the audience is yearning for a sense of resolution. When well developed, they are on the edge of their seat (this is when you eat the most popcorn in the movie theatre). There is a pivotal crises at this time. Fortunately, there is always a sense of resolution in the Christian faith (even though complete resolution only takes place in eternity).
3. The End: The tension is released as there is a sense of resolution. This is usually the shortest act in a play or movie. Once resolution is reached the audience has only limited interest in the remainder of the story. This is a good signal to wrap up the story (testimony) and turn the platform back to the Pastor.
· Clearly articulate the changes that Christ has brought about in your life
· Share how the changes have affected those around you
· When you are wrapping up your testimony, consider a one or two sentence referral to the struggles you faced and how Christ has met your need
· Share that you are a work in process
· Once you have written out the testimony in full and have rehearsed it, reduce the content to a few short bullet points on a 3 X 5 card as a reference during your sharing time. Even if you don’t need it, you will have it as a security blanket in the event of a brain bubble
· Consider recording yourself and then listening back to it until it becomes deeply ingrained in your subconscious. (Smartphones such as Blackberries and iPhones are great for this)
· Speak clearly
· If you have a hand held mic, and are uncomfortable with using it, rest it on your chin below your bottom lip. Even though this isn’t perfect mic technique, at least the sound person will be able to get an adequate level from you. When people are nervous or uncomfortable with a microphone, they tend to begin dropping the hand held mic so far as to only pick up a churning stomach. (that’s not a pleasant testimony to hear). Holding it to your chin guards against this. It can also make your voice sound warmer (something called proximity effect in case you’re interested).
· Keep your hands out of your pockets, especially if you have coins or keys
· Only tell one testimony at a time. Perhaps you have experienced a dramatic conversion and since then have experienced many struggles in your life but you don’t need to share them all. There will probably be other times to share the other stories of faith.
· Tell the most significant stories and illustrations. This will help you to hold your congregation’s attention longer and will keep you off the rabbit trails.
· Use enticing sentences that lead people on further into the story. These are the “movie trailers” that encourage you to pay attention. A sample of this would be, “I felt I could control the world until I lost my job and wondered if my family would be on the street.” Wouldn’t that make you want to hear the rest of the story? I’d listen with anticipation to hear the story unfold.
· Be honest. Never, ever exaggerate or mislead. God’s miracles are wonderful enough without our special “enhancements” of the truth.
· Don’t glorify the sin or the enemy. We are all enticed by the dark side (just ask Eve) but the point is to glorify God. While it’s important to mention the tension of temptation, this is not your primary focus.
· Understand that each time you share there are people in the congregation who may not relate to your exact circumstances but they can relate to your emotion. By describing your emotion through “I felt like” statements, you help to pull more people into the core of the experience you are sharing even if they haven’t gone through what you have. For instance, people may not relate to the death of a young child but they do feel the abandonment, despair, loss, grief, anger and all the other emotions that are a part of that experience.
· Don’t assume that everyone in church is a Christian. Although a full Gospel presentation may not be appropriate for your particular testimony, don’t avoid it by assuming that there is no one who needs to hear about God’s plan of salvation.
· Avoid Christian clichés such as sanctification, incarnation, crusade, fear of the Lord, led by the Spirit, profession of faith, unsaved, or altar call. These words are not necessarily wrong in and of themselves when they are understood and are in the proper context but they are often unclear and bring about cultural baggage among those who don’t understand what you’re trying to say.
· Don’t slander the church, denominations or Christians, even if you had a negative experience in the past. We need to be very cautious about badmouthing the Bride of Christ.
· Share positive affirmations and positively motivating words with your audience rather than negativity and threats.
· Finally, you will make mistakes in sharing your testimony. Just pray, plan, practice and if asked, run your testimony past your Pastor or a church leader to provide input. At the end of the day, God uses imperfect human beings to share the stories of miracles of transformation so vast that no mortal could ever represent this with complete accuracy. As the title of Susan Jeffer’s book states, “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway!”
Whew – that was a long blog entry. I promise you that the next entry will be short and breezy. Coming up next – the guided testimony or the interviewed testimony.
Take our worship service planning sessions at Break Forth Canada 2011. Click below to watch a video about the largest Worship-Oriented Conference in North America: