One the first steps in your Christian walk is to begin to tell people you meet about what God has done for you. If you'd like some help, the following will guide you though
How To Prepare My Testimony
PREPARING FOR MEN’S DAY
Rev. William H. Bond
Elvins Baptist Church
First, let me commend you for your interest in sharing with your church family. If you aren’t familiar with the terminology, Men’s Day is a day we set aside each year for men like you to either give a Christian testimony or to teach a Bible lesson the Lord has laid on your heart. Your testimony is just the story of how God has worked in your life. I pray that the following guide, geared toward testimonies, will be of help to you.
"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." —1 Peter 3:15
1. Your Story. As I said, your testimony is your personal story. It isn’t, and shouldn’t be, preaching or teaching (though there is obviously a place for those on Men’s Day). We each have a unique story to tell. Some of us were brought up in church and accepted Christ so early we can’t remember a time before we believed. Some may have made a decision early in life, but doubted and chose to make it sure at a later date. Some made a decision and fell away for a time, possibly coming back after God allowed you to experience some crisis. Some, like me, grew up in an unbelieving household, but came to faith through a person, event or period of study. And coming to Christ is only part of your story. Perhaps you grew after your conversion, only to level out on some spiritual plateau. You may only have moved off that plateau after a time of testing or you may have ridden a roller-coaster of spiritual growth. Some of you grew steadily, sailing along through your Christian life when you were blindsided by tragedy or unforeseen difficulties. Your story may be a tale of leaning upon God through a time of pain, difficulty or confusion. God may have revealed His wisdom through a time of soul searching, a friend, a program … He may have shown His power through a miracle or by showing you the love you thought was beyond reach. One thing is sure, you DO have a testimony.
2. Is a Powerful Tool. You may not have thought about it, but your story is a powerful tool that God can use to reach into the hearts of believers and non-believers alike. There are other tools, to be sure - God’s Word, His Holy Spirit, acts of love and holiness, etc. But, when all these come together packaged in a carefully-crafted, personal story, we have a delivery system that has been used from the earliest Christians to communicate God’s truth to people in a way that relates to them. When God inspired Luke to write Acts, He included the Apostle Paul’s personal salvation testimony three times (Chap. 9, 22 & 26). Was this because Luke, Paul and the Holy Spirit had nothing else to say? Of course not. It was His go-to method to reach beyond the theological and cultural objections of Paul’s hearers, and Luke’s readers, long enough to introduce them to Jesus.
3. If We Prepare It To Be. I hope I didn’t throw you off with that carefully-crafted story business. It isn’t complicated. Any good story has a beginning, middle, crisis/climax, and a quick ending. We are used to this format. If you turn to Acts 26 (or other passage), you’ll see that there are two key features that Paul employs.
a. Quick. Testimonies are typically quite short. There is a limited window of opportunity to deliver your story. Paul led a fascinating life. There were many fine details he might have included if he had had a week to discuss his life, but we can read his story in a few minutes. People in the midst of dealing with their own difficulties or who are complete unbelievers won’t give us more than that. We need to get to the point before their minds wander or their defenses shut us out. If the God of the universe had one of His finest theologians, personally instructed by the risen Lord, and His chief New Testament historian (Luke-Acts) keep those testimony passages under five minutes, we should probably do the same in a typical encounter. Of course, a church presentation may be 10 to 15 minutes or even longer if we have the entire program, but it still needs to be relatively quick.
b. And to the point. Getting to the point is easier when we see that Paul’s testimony follows a simple outline: 1) a quick word about life before salvation, 2) his conversion, itself, and 3) life since salvation. You can use the same outline. We’ll talk about it later, but no unbeliever cares to hear about your Christianity without first understanding that you weren’t always a Christian. Neither do they need to hear every detail of your previous life of sin. Likewise, nobody will care about your conversion if it hasn’t resulted in lasting changes in your life. When you read a book or watch a movie, the beginning quickly gets us into the story and the end wraps up quickly. The secret is to decide the particular window of our life that you want to highlight. If you’re telling the story of your salvation, you don’t need to start in the cradle and go on until you’re buried and resurrected.
4. And Share Our Hearts. All believers have a salvation testimony, and should be prepared to deliver it in a relatively short, orderly fashion. But salvation testimonies aren’t the only kind of testimony. If you are giving your testimony at a Christian gathering, such as a ladies luncheon, men’s breakfast, or testimony service, other kinds of testimony are completely appropriate. If God has brought you through a difficult time, answered prayers, taught you something, changed your heart and life, brought help through special people (teachers, preachers, family, friends, strangers), practices (reading His Word, daily devotions ...), or experiences (mission trip, prison time, sickness, revival meetings …), you have an important, powerful story to tell. In years of Lay Renewal work in many different churches, I’ve seen one experience repeated in every time of serious, honest testimonies. People came away saying things like, “I never realized …”, “I thought I was the only one …”, “They all look so perfect and holy at church on Sunday.” Paul told the Corinthians (2 Cor 1:3-5) that God allowed them to go through tribulations to equip them to comfort those going through similar times. If God has brought you through such a time, someone (still there or soon to be there) needs to hear how God got you through it.
5. So, Let’s Get Started. Take a sheet of paper or use the space provided (or dictate it to a friend). Using the following to help guide you, jot down your own before, transformation and after thoughts. Pray about whether God wants you to work on a salvation testimony or some other kind of testimony.
a. Before? Think about what you felt. What were your emotions, state of mind, struggle, circumstances? Was there a sense of need, fear, stress, anxiety, or difficulty that describes the before period in your life (before Jesus or your time of trial)? Some have pointed to:
_ lack of peace _ lack of security _ loss of …
_ desire for control _ fear of death _ no motivation
_ something missing _ lack of purpose _ no real friends
_ no meaning to life _ lack of significance _ loneliness
_ hopelessness _ destructive behavior _ regret, guilt
_ pressure to please _ confusion, anger _ temptation, trial
b. Early Steps? We rarely get it right the first time. Few things in life are as simple as taking one right step. Was there something you tried that turned out to be a dead end or were there several steps that took you closer to the ultimate solution? People need to know that this is not unusual. Some have tried:
_ marriage/family _ sports/fitness _ Bible study
_ work _ drugs/alcohol _ special event
_ education _ hobbies _ “quiet time”
_ “religion/baptism” _ money, sex _ accountability
_ entertainment _ withdrawal _ church
_ humor _ wrong friends _ prayer
c. How you found the answer? What finally led you to call upon the Lord or to discover His solution? Was there an event, conversation, friend, group, study, time of prayer, ultimate despair, season of doubt, or Bible passage that brought about the resolution/transformation that you experienced? Did it happen at once, or was it a gradual experience? Was there a sudden release, emotions … or just a growing peace?
1. Before Notes:
2. Transformation Notes:
3. After Notes:
d. What you did? What steps did you take to reach the resolution you experienced? These may have been to seek a friend, get alone with God’s Word, read a tract, pray, do away with something related to a besetting sin, walk into a church, … For instance, in your conversion, did you realized that you were part of the “all” who have sinned and that you were in danger of eternal punishment, but someone told you that Jesus died to purchase your freedom and that you could have His gift of eternal life if you would only turn to Him for forgiveness; so you went home, got on your face (or got up in the church service, ...) and asked God to save you? Did you make a decision to get help for an addiction? Did you realize that you were doing something wrong or that God was really with you?
e. Where you are today? Don’t end your story at the moment of conversion. Think back to your key before issue(s). What has changed in your life as a result of accepting Christ or how have you grown through walking through this trial? How have your emotions changed? For example, “I am no longer afraid”, “I know that God is with me …”, “When temptations come, I go back to … time, when …”, “I no longer try to endure … on my own; I turn to … (prayer, study group, church, Philippians 4:4-9, …)”. How does your experience help you to know that there is always a way back each time you stumble or struggle?
6. Second Draft. Now that you have some raw material to work with, let’s look at some nitty-gritty DOs and DON’Ts to consider as you narrow down what you want to say.
a. Religious Jargon – Your job is to communicate. Don’t use a lot of churchy jargon like “atonement”, “saved”, “lost”, or even“sin” unless you explain it (not likely in three minutes).
b. Offensive Issues – Look for common ground to reach people. Don’t alienate them with off-color humor, offensive words, stereotypes, church-, denomination-, or people-bashing, unnecessary, graphic details, negative comments or Christian controversies, … Allow Christ, the cross, and the gospel to be the only offense.
c. Glory in Evil – There is a difference between admitting that we were wrong and needed Jesus’ forgiveness and describing every gory detail of the old you. Don’t boast about your evil.
d. No more Problems – People need to know that Christians still live on a cursed earth. Jesus doesn’t promise to cure every problem and make us perfect us in this life. Don’t be guilty of false advertising, promising people more than God does.
e. Irrelevant Details – You don’t have to mention or describe every sin, time, place, individual, employer, etc. along your path (see c., above); they will only distract people. But DO give enough specifics to show people that you aren’t just speaking in generalities.
f. Authentic. Be honest and genuine. Crafted doesn’t mean fake or embellished. Your story doesn’t need to be earth-shaking or exciting, just real. Other people are dealing with real issues, too. They will relate to the real you.
g. Focused. One way to keep people’s attention and stick to the time limits is to focus on one subject for a testimony. This also helps keep you from confusing your listeners. The after section of your testimony should relate to the before section. For example, “I only loved myself, then I accepted God’s love. Now I’m loving the kids in my Sunday School class.” Not “… Now God is using me to sing in the choir or to counsel young married couples.” You can’t cover everything in a few minutes. If someone wants more, they can ask you for it.
h. Preachy. There’s a place for preaching – even on Men’s Day, but don't, for example, condemn lost people for living like non-Christians. Instead, talk about how God has given you a new life, attitude, or peace in Christ. It’s fine to say, “I used to go out and get drunk” or “I had an abortion”, or to explain that what you did or tried resulted in guilt and pain for you or your family, but don’t preach morality. Until people have God's Holy Spirit for themselves, they won’t be able to understand your objections to their way of life. They will see your joy.
i. Scripture. Related to the subject of preaching. It is fine, even recommended, to include at least one Scripture reference in your testimony, but you probably won't want more than two (remember, it isn't a Bible lesson or sermon), and you don’t need to read or quote a passage, especially a lengthy one. It will be more natural and personal for you to paraphrase it in a way that demonstrates its meaning in the context of your story.
7. Additional Drafts. Congratulations! You have already done more than many Christians have ever done, but there is still another step if you want to have a useful testimony that you can call upon in a tight spot.
a. Practice. Try telling your story out loud (to a friend or just to the mirror, at first). Is there a good balance between the "before", "how" and "after" sections? Can you deliver your story in under five minutes?
b. Perfect. When you are ready to ask a Christian friend to help, ask her to listen and think about whether you need to explain something, add some details, leave out that wonderful illustration that doesn't have anything to do with your story, take out some specifics that don’t really matter, or change some parts that shift the focus away from your main point. Does your introduction grab your audience's attention? Does your conclusion finish with the thought that you want to leave on their minds? Are the details you included relevant to the theme of your testimony? You may develop several versions of your testimony to fit different audiences and situations. A ladies luncheon testimony will not sound like a mixed-teens testimony or Sunday morning worship service testimony. An all-or-almost-all-Christian meeting testimony will be very different from the one you'd give to a room full of unbelievers, but both can be powerful and personal.