Monday, August 31, 2009

Giving your Testimony

Today, I was asked about how we can teach others to share their testimony or witness with others. Here is something I wrote up a while back. I hope you find it helpful.

Your story is like no other person’s on earth and to tell it is the easiest way of sharing your faith. This is simply witnessing to another about your own life and experiences, because you know your own story better than anyone else. There are several reasons we should witness to other people. The first reason is it is natural to do so. We are made for relationship and communion with one another. These relationships are formed by knowing the life and stories behind other people. To share your story is to let another person share in communion with you in a natural conversation.

The second reason is that telling your story is neither threatening nor demanding in the eyes of the listener. Many people are loath to have a discussion about doctrine regarding the Catholic Church’s teachings in many areas. But when you are merely telling another person about why you are at peace or why you have found forgiveness through God’s grace, this is something the other person is less likely to be defensive or threatened by. This lack of a threat then opens the door for further discussion and questions about their lives as well.

The third reason we tell our stories is because it is an easy way to show the power of the gospel message in a concrete way. While your brother may disagree with the Church’s teaching on contraception, he can’t say your experience of Christ is a counterfeit one. When we can show Christ’s power and love working in our lives and changing us it can be an effective tool in leading another person to the Lord. They will want what you have if you present it in a manner that is attractive to them.

-Working on your story
There are many different ways of telling another person about your life and experience with God. I will propose a basic outline used by many different evangelical and Catholic groups who train Christians in sharing their faith. When working through this technique of witnessing keep in mind we are all unique and beautiful in the eyes of God. The story needs to end on a high note even if it gets sad in parts. The point of witnessing is to let someone have a concrete example of grace changing you. You may think you don’t have anything to say, but if you work through these steps you will find there is an immense amount of good news in your life.

Step #1 – Explain the past
Start by telling what your life was like before you came to faith in Jesus Christ. For some this may mean you were a good kid in a good family who went to a good college and did good things. My wife has a story similar to this and it doesn’t have any real negatives. The point isn’t to make our lives seem like living hell before Jesus, but we are trying to get across this fact – my life was incomplete without God as the center of it.

You may not have one moment of time where you feel God was not in your life. If this is the case, then tell how your relationship with God has grown over time and what it was like before the deeper times with God. You don’t want to exaggerate your story. There may not be anything climatic or crazy to tell and that is fine. Be as honest as possible as well as brief. It need not be a lie or a snoozer.

Many people in the church today have either stopped practicing the faith they were raised in or they come from another faith tradition. If this is the case you want to be careful to not be disrespectful of the Catholic Church of any non-catholic faiths either. For example, if you were raised a Catholic and held a pro-abortion view you don’t want to talk negatively about others who may hold that view presently, because it takes away from the point of the witness if you do.

Also, be careful not to come across as preaching at another person or too high and mighty. You can quickly turn another person off of Jesus if they believe you think yourself too good for them. We don’t want to use negative language when speaking of people in our life either, even if they were a negative influence on us. There is no reason we need to put another person down in order for our testimony to be effective.

Another point to remember is to define your terms. In other words you must be careful with the language you use when giving your testimony to another person. When you say grace, what do you mean? Another Christian might even define it differently and you both need to be on the same page. If at all possible avoid theological language and speak to the person on a more personal level.

Once you start to explain the past be sure you are tell what the center of your life was. It could be another person, money, work, school, sex, alcohol, or just ‘getting by.’ Life sometimes has no purpose for many people. Share this feeling if it relates to your life. If you find it helpful you might even write down your testimony in order to get your thoughts straight.

Step #2 - Conversion
Now you need to talk about how your life changed. This may be a singular moment in time, such as Paul on the way to Damascus or it could be a long story over many months or years. Conversion to Christ comes in many different forms, so take your time when thinking and praying about this part of your story.

You need to talk about your experiences with Christ as a child and how you first heard the good news. What happened when you heard the saving message of Christ? Where did this happen? Why did the conversion take place at this moment and not another? Was it at a moment in your life when you were facing challenges? If so, how did Christ help you with those challenges?

What were you thinking and feeling when you realized your life had changed? What motivated you to make the decision to accept God into your life? Once these questions are answered you will have a guide to help you better prepare your story. There is one more step left in the process.

Step #3 – Life with Christ
This is the most important part of your story. You need to be able to speak to the person’s heart as well as their mind in a compelling way. Tell them how your life is different and why it has changed. Speak from the heart and let them see your vulnerability and how Christ has acted upon your entire life. Let them know there are challenges, but also let them know how life is better. Tell them how your life is different now that grace is actively guiding you.

This last step should be accompanied by a statement or question to stir up the desire for Christ in the listener. This statement should be simple and straightforward, such as – I hope this story of my own experience of how Jesus changed my life was understandable. If I could answer any questions you may have about Christ or about the Catholic Church I would love to discuss them with you or discuss how to learn more about Christ and the Church.

This is a way to directly proclaim Christ to any person or group. You can write out your testimony if you feel you need to, but be careful to not present your story in a “canned” manner, it must be natural. The point isn’t to “close the deal” or to “sell” Jesus, but rather to allow the words of truth soak in and the power of the gospel message to work on a person.

You should be able to give a 1-2 minute presentation of your story as well as a fifteen minute presentation. This way you can tailor your story to different audiences. If you are asked to give your testimony before a small group and you have time you should give the longer version. But, if you are in a line to buy tickets to a concert you may not have as much time.

Be mindful of who you are talking to as well. You may need to emphasize different parts of your story for different people. For college students I emphasize how I was a college student struggling with sins many college student struggle with, so they can identify with me. If it is a mixed group of adults, both young and old, I talk more about how confession and grace played a part.