The Power of Testimony – Part 2

Hearing the story of God at work in a life can be so life changing for a church, but nerves, timekeeping, and a drift into instruction can undermine a good testimony and bring about a cold sweat for those planning a church service.  Let me explain how we do testimonies in our church and why we do it this way.  It may not be appropriate in your setting, but it may be helpful in some way.

The Testimony Panel – Roughly every six months we dedicate a Sunday to having a “testimony panel.”  The sermon is reduced to a very brief message of a few minutes, leaving 30-40 minutes for the testimonies.  We also keep the rest of the service as free as possible to guard the time.  For the panel, we will typically have two people giving their testimonies, along with an interviewer whose job is to ask questions and weave the two stories together.

What are the advantages of this approach?

1. It is an event.  By so drastically reducing sermon time it communicates to the church that testimonies are important, and these two people are important to us.  We want to hear their stories. Instead of a rushed testimony squeezed into the early part of the service, this is an event where we get to hear more fully from them both.  It says to the church that we value people and we expect God to be at work in people’s lives.  It underlines several values of the church indirectly, but powerfully.

2. A non-nervous person is in charge.  The interviewer is always someone who is comfortable in front of the church and will, therefore, be able to shield the two participants from their own nerves.  It is the interviewer’s problem to watch the clock, to ask the right questions, to bring the panel to an end, etc.  And the interviewer will always have a microphone (no leaving a nervous talker with a microphone alone in front of the church!)

3. It requires preparation without being awkward.  If someone is given ten minutes to give their own testimony it can be difficult to prep them.  They may not realise how a testimony can misfire and therefore resent being asked what they are going to say.  Also, they might be inclined to write a script so it can be checked ahead of time.  This just feels awkward, as does the church leader who is wondering how clear the conversion will sound, how appropriate the pre-conversion stories will be for the listeners, how much tendency there will be to drift into teaching, etc.  A testimony panel requires the interviewer to meet with both people and hear both stories – no script necessary, just an informed interviewer who knows how to direct the conversation on the day.

We have tried interviewing three people and it really needed more time.  Thirty to forty minutes works for us to have two people interviewed.  We did have three elders in one panel, but they interviewed each other, which was different again but worked well.  What have you found helpful when it comes to testimonies in your church?  Feel free to comment below.

One more resource on Testimonies, click here for 10 Top Testimony Tips 

The Power of Testimony

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.

Giving a Testimony

nugget from Richard Bewes’ book, Speaking in Public Effectively.  As a preacher, you may not be asked to give your testimony so much any more, but perhaps these guidelines might be worth giving to anyone you ask to share a testimony in church.

First, it is a testimony to a Person and what he has done for you.

You are not asked to be on your feet to pay tribute to a book, a Christian, a course or a church that may have helped you, though any of these may legitimately come into the story.  But it is Jesus Christ, and what he has so far done for you that you are wanting to focus upon primarily.

Second, it is a testimony and not a mini-sermon that you are giving.

Three and a half minutes is enough – unless you have been invited to speak for longer.  The whole style is that of telling a story.  It is unwise, then to attempt to do the preacher’s task.  Use a text, by all means, if there is something from the Scriptures that has meant a great deal in your spiritual beginnings.  But don’t end the testimony by a long exhortation to commitment; that is almost certainly someone else’s job in the proceedings.

Third, it is a testimony and not an essay.

Although it may well be wise to write out, word for word, what you intend to say (this can help you keep to time), have your notes on a small jotting pad or card, rather than on a large, distracting sheet of paper.  The whole presentation is essentially one of spontaneity and an impulsive desire to tell. Write it out as you would describe it to your best friend in the chair opposite you.

How many good testimonies end awkwardly with an unnecessary exhortation to commitment?  Helpful advice from Richard Bewes.

The Tension in Involving People

Some churches, especially larger ones, never allow anyone to participate from the front unless they are thoroughly vetted first.  At the other extreme there are churches that really have little choice who is up front – whoever is willing!  But for the rest, in between the extremes, there is a tension.

On the one hand, it is good to involve people and give them opportunity to grow, as well as giving the church opportunity to hear different voices.  On the other hand, it can be a challenge to maintain appropriate standards from the front.  Actually, perhaps the real challenge is to find the right balance.

Here are three ways people get “involved” and some comments on the tensions faced:

1. Bible Readings – Often this is seen as an ideal place for people to overcome “public speaking fear” because all they have to do is read the passage in front of them.

The balance needs to be found.  After all, the public reading of God’s Word is actually a critical event.  It is easy to read into a microphone . . . dispassionately, monotonously, haltingly, without clarity, etc  There are times when it might be worth hunting for the best public reader, rather than settling for participation alone.  On the other hand, listeners will sometimes concentrate more for someone obviously uncomfortable than they would for an overly polished “performer.”  The balance needs to be found.

2. Personal Testimony – Everybody expects the usual participants to have a certain testimony, but it can be very effective to hear from “normal” people during the service.  It can make a real impression to hear somebody’s personal experience of God’s grace in their lives.

The balance needs to be found.  Testimonies do make a real lasting impression, so it is worth trying to make sure that impression isn’t heretical or misleading.  How many times have well-meaning testimonies stated, “Of course I can’t prove any of this is true, but that’s what faith is, isn’t it, a leap in the dark!” Include testimony, but pre-screen or coach appropriately. The balance needs to be found.

3. Special Event Preaching – It seems the obvious place, as far as some churches are concerned.  For someone to “cut their teeth” as a preacher, it seems set up: a shorter message, freedom to choose the passage, longer time for preparation, no expectation of fitting in to a series running at that time.

The balance needs to be found.  All the positives are agreed, but what about the other side of the coin … it is hard to speak at Christmas since it feels like it’s all so familiar.  It is hard to speak on Mother’s Day, just because it is.  What’s more, special occasions are prime time for guests to visit … what experience do you want them to have of the preaching at your church?  The balance needs to be found.

Involving people is a great idea, but enter into it with eyes open and make sure it is the right occasion, the right role, the right timing.