Testimonies can be so powerful, but there is an inherent risk that is not often mentioned: testimonies are often given by people who are not used to public speaking. I believe anyone giving a testimony should be given instruction, but especially someone unused to the situation and what is expected. Most testimonies that I have heard where things didn’t quite go according to the hopes of the organizers were testimonies where the person giving it was not instructed properly. So here are my top tips:
1. Don’t teach. Simple. Don’t see this as your chance to teach. It is not the desire of the organizers that you teach. Giving teaching in place of testimony is unhelpful, and giving teaching based on testimony is often ineffective. Keep it clean and just give testimony. You may be asked to teach another time.
2. Don’t turn experience into lessons for others, let God do that. It is so easy to finish what happened to you with a lesson for them. It rarely works. Better leave that to God’s Spirit in this case.
3. Only refer to Bible verses if significant to your testimony. Again, this isn’t the time for teaching or biblical exposition. If it made a difference to you in your life story, great, otherwise save it for when you’re asked to preach.
4. Keep to time. If you are given ten minutes, work hard to get it to ten minutes, don’t just free-wheel and drift to 15 minutes. I remember hearing a trio of testimonies back to back and the first chap spoke for longer than was allotted for all three. Everything fell flat after that.
5. Keep it simple. Don’t start elaborating with extensive back story. What was the situation before, what changed, what now? Christ changed your life, tell that story. Don’t tell random other life stories too. And typically don’t pray, just do the testimony and leave prayer, exhortation, application, etc., to the meeting host.
6. Get stuck in, don’t waffle in the introduction. Plan your testimony and really plan your launch. Get stuck in, otherwise minutes will pass before you’ve even begun and then you are already in a losing battle. Many testimonies could be told in the time taken for their own introductions!
7. Be humble. Point to Christ, not to yourself. In fact, point to Christ, not to books, preachers, ministries, etc. If they were significant, make reference in passing, but keep the spotlight on Jesus.
8. Don’t get theologically out of your depth. Plan it so you don’t wade into issues you don’t understand yet. Nothing worse that the awkwardness created by somebody still uninformed making declarations about something currently beyond their reach.
9. Don’t declare things are unexplainable just because you don’t understand them yet. This could be the “you can’t explain it, just believe it . . . leap in the dark” kind of confusion often offered by new believers freezing in front of informed folk. Or it could be the “nobody can explain the end-times/predestination/creation/Trinity” type of theological assertions.
10. Don’t worry about your nerves, everyone expects you to be nervous. They want to hear you and will probably listen better to you than the more assured preacher.
And last of all, remember this – when a testimony doesn’t work as planned, it is probably because the organizers failed to make expectations crystal clear. Testimonies are so powerful, let’s use them well!