Why do we share?
The marvelous words “Once upon a time…” or “A long time ago in a galaxy far away…” connect with people of every age whether the story about to be told is of dragons and princesses or of a boy growing up in a small town. We always love a good story.
I remember thinking my testimony was pretty boring and so ‘cookie-cutter’ that it wasn’t really worth sharing. I thought that only the testimonies that showed shocking change and miraculous redemption -the ones that are bestselling autobiographies- were impacting. They were the real testimonies.
But actually, every believer’s journey to faith is an incredibly miraculous story. It involves the regeneration of an individual’s soul from dead in sin to alive in Christ (Romans 6:11)! There’s a complete turn-around of values and views -it’s the story of how the Lord of the Universe personally impacted you. As Frederick Buechner said, the gospel is tragedy, comedy, and fairytale. It is a story of the most epic proportions that the majority of fairytales, adventures, and novels have been trying to mimic ever since.
But unlike a fairytale, your testimony actually happened. It is undeniable, because although people can denounce other facts, they can’t say that what you personally experienced didn’t happen.
le also reveals the power of personal testimony. Mark 5:20 says “So the healed demoniac started off to visit the Ten Towns of that region and began to proclaim the great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed at what he told them.” The man had been greatly impacted by Christ, and ‘everyone was amazed’! What an inspiration for us.
This year in Student Life, we got serious about telling stories on our social media platforms of the difference that knowing God makes in our lives. This has been a really exciting venture that has opened doors to a whole new audience and type of ministry! Though we share verses, quotes, and other evangelistic posts, it is the student testimonies that have had the widest reach and most interaction from viewers. People connect with a well-told story!
How do we share?
So now that we know that our testimony is crucial, the next step is the ‘how’? Our journey with Christ often doesn’t seem clear; it involves many ups and downs in our faith and commitment and many people who influenced our faith before and after the decision to follow Jesus was made. There are so many verses that have impacted us and many themes and key moments we could include. Where on earth should we begin? What makes my story unique from the thousands of other testimonies of Christ’s love.
1. Sit and start writing
For the students we ask to share their testimonies for our social media pages, articulating their story can be a daunting task. Yet once they sit down with some questions to guide them and start writing out their experiences, most report it to be an enlightening, therapeutic experience of reflection. Ask yourself: “Since coming to know Jesus and giving him control, what changes have you seen in how you relate to people and handle difficult situations? How does Jesus make a practical difference in your life today?” If you sit down and start jotting down your response to these kinds of questions, you’ll start to see themes emerge in how your spiritual journey has unfolded over time.
2. Beware of Jargon
When writing your testimony or an aspect of your story, you need to ask “How can I communicate this in a way that makes sense if I was sharing with a friend who’s never been to church?” “Christianese”, or using language that only makes sense to Christians, is such a pervasive problem in testimony-telling. A lot of Christians can’t even tell when they’re saying vague or unrelatable things that don’t translate well outside of a Christian bubble. Many Christians have a tendency to speak in these big concepts like saying you ‘had peace’ but when sharing your testimony, it’s better to focus on the practical specifics rather than abstract concepts (e.g. how that peace meant you could sleep better or face having a hard conversation with a friend). In the same way, you can’t just begin with “Well, I grew up in a Christian family…”, because you will immediately become unrelatable to most.
3. Think Short and Snappy!
Another key thing to remember is to keep it short. One student who was asked to write their testimony in two hundred words, actually ended up with a thousand! Doug Pollock says in his excerpt on Gospel Snacks that we shouldn’t give a whole buffet of information to someone who shows a tiny amount of interest. In these cases, spiritual appetisers are a better fit. He explains that “Spiritual appetisers are personal stories no more than two minutes long, intended to stimulate spiritual thirst, keep the dialogue going, and demonstrate the relevance of Christ in our daily lives.”
4. Become a Story-teller
People writing their testimony need to embrace the art of storytelling. Because although this is a true story, for it to be engaging, it needs the same general outline as any good novel or fairytale. There needs to be:
an introduction of your character and what drives you.
a body of the story where you’re attempting to have a fulfilling life without Jesus.
Then the bridge of the story, when you realize you need Jesus.
Then the climax, choosing to follow him.
And the denouement of the story is what your new life looks like now.
This may be bringing back memories of your English classes, but that’s just because stories have structure whether true or fictional. (Evangelism in a Skeptical world, Sam Chan)
Remember that though your testimony needs a story-telling structure, it doesn’t need to be a before and after of when you became a Christian, because for some people that just doesn’t work. There are examples in the Bible of both testimonies with a before and after, “One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!" (John 9:25), and others that simply emphasize a way that Jesus impacted their life.
Grace who works with Student Life has been facilitating these social media testimonies and helping students articulate their stories, she says “Your testimony is meant to show the practical, ongoing difference that Jesus makes in your life.” You are testifying to God’s work in your life! So get writing, remove the jargon, keep it short, and find your story. Don’t keep editing and perfecting it though, start sharing! God can use what we say even if we don’t think it’s eloquent. There is power in your story.
“This is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is found in his Son.” (1 John 5:11)
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