Hearing how God has worked in a life can be very powerful. Having someone “give their testimony” can also backfire. Before I explain how we do testimonies in our church, here are a few of the problems that can create the tension:
1. Nerves. Public speaking is a frightening prospect for most people. Talking about self so overtly should be a challenge for believers. Therefore nerves are normal. While everyone in the audience will understand that the person feels nervous, this doesn’t change the fact that nerves can lead to losing track of the story, or saying something that is not intended, or to shifting into teaching rather than giving testimony, or to losing all awareness of time. To stand and give a crafted testimony in a set time without reading a script takes the skill of a preacher.
2. Timekeeping. Some will rattle through their story and be done in a fraction of the time available. Others will barely be out of their childhood before the time is done and threaten to drift into the work week unless someone steps in. Keeping to time is a real challenge (even preachers can struggle with this!)
3. Instructing. So many good testimonies become awkward because the person feels some compulsion to instruct the listeners. Where the story of God at work is so powerful, the pointed finger and some generalized imperatives are awkwardly blunt. Once someone drifts into unplanned teaching they can make theological errors, assume something they don’t understand yet is unexplainable, make promises that their experience is how God always works, or whatever. It can be a minefield.
And yet, despite all that can go wrong, testimonies can be so powerful. Why?
1. They can stir worship. Isn’t God amazing? What a wonderful story of His faithfulness and persistent love!
2. They can generate hope. I am not the only one who struggles like that, and they have seen God bring change, maybe there is hope for me?
3. They can foster understanding. I had no idea they had gone through all that. I am so glad they are now part of the family and God is still at work.
4. They can unite the church family. I used to struggle with that person, but now I know their story I can actually celebrate God’s goodness instead of feeling so bothered by their quirks.
5. They can convict unbelievers. Where you were, that is where I am … I need to respond to God’s convicting work in my life.
And so much more. Testimonies can have such impact, either positively, or negatively! Next time I will explain how we incorporate testimonies in our church – it might be helpful.