Written by Michael Green and Jane Holloway.
You can download the PDF of this resource here.
One of the most important things we have to offer to a friend who is not yet a Christian is our own ‘story’. Here are some tips to keep in mind.
What is testimony?
It is not about yourself. Those testimonies which give the impression ‘once I was very bad, and now I am very good’ are sickly.
It is not about the past. Many people, when asked to give a testimony, tend to speak only about their past experience, when they first met Christ. That could seem stale. People will be much more helped by what Christ means to you today.
Witness in the New Testament means testimony to Jesus and the fact that he is alive! This is so important, because most people have no idea that Jesus (as opposed to creeds, churchgoing, or ethical conduct) is the centre of Christianity, and less still that he is risen and can make a difference to the lives of ordinary people. So your testimony is quite simply telling in your own words the life-changing reality of Jesus. The spotlight of what you have to say should focus on him, and only incidentally on yourself.
What is the value of testimony?
There are many values in it!
First, it is intriguing. Just imagine the impact that the testimony of the woman of Samaria made among her colleagues when she ran back and told them about Jesus (John 4:28-30). It was the major feature in starting a Samaritan movement towards Jesus (John 4:39-42).
Second, it is a very natural thing to do. When we have found treasure it is only natural to want to share it! It is not like a pre-planned address. It is spontaneous, shaped towards the circumstances of the person we are talking to.
Third, it is simple. This is something everyone can do. We all have a story about the impact on our lives which Christ has made. Testimony is simply sharing that with one person or with a crowd. It is always first person singular: ‘I have found…’
Fourth, it opens up conversation. You have only to say, in the course of a supper party, ‘May I share with you the greatest discovery of my life?’ and they will inevitably say ‘Please do’. You respond: ‘It is that Jesus Christ is alive, and he has come to make a massive difference to my life’. I can promise you an interesting supper party!
Fifth, it brings Christianity out of the expected area, the church building, the church book, the church professional. It comes right into the real world. And here you are, a perfectly ordinary person, telling them of the difference that Jesus can make. It will be likely to take their breath away!
Finally, it is unanswerable. There is a lovely story in John 9 about the blind man whom Jesus healed on the Sabbath day. The Pharisees were furious, and grilled first his parents and then the man himself. They posed him difficult theological issues like ‘This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath’ (John 9:16, NIV). But the man was very wise. He did not attempt to answer their theological point. He simply stuck to what he knew: ‘Whether he is a sinner or not, I don't know. One thing I do know. I was blind, but now I see!’ (John 9:25, NIV). This kind of thing is unanswerable. People cannot controvert our experience. Let's make the most of it.
General principles for giving your testimony
- Pray and ask the Lord for guidance as you prepare and as you speak.
- Centre it on the person of Jesus, not on yourself. What was life like before you met Christ? How did you meet him? What are the main benefits you have discovered?
- Be selective. Try to assess the position of your hearers, and leave out details that will not mean much to them. Prune the irrelevant.
- Be disciplined. Stop when you have finished, and stick within the time allotted.
- Be warm and natural. The way you speak and your body language is just as important as what you say. Smile! Testimony is not meant to be something to get apprehensive about. It is simply overflow. That is what Paul recognised in his Thessalonian converts: he speaks of their ‘assurance’ (1 Thessalonians 1:5), which literally means their being so filled with the Lord that they spill over.
- Total honesty is vital. Never claim that faith in Christ has done more for you than it has… we all have a long way to go.
- Be courteous, but bold. Many people have simply not heard that Jesus Christ is alive and can be met today.
- Be intriguing! When Jesus met the woman in John 4 he fascinated her with the idea of water that could well up within her very empty heart (v10, ‘If you knew…’):
Things to avoid!
- The use of Christian jargon.
- Preaching to your listeners. `I have found' is what you are there to say, not `You should'.
- Too many references to Scripture.
- Speaking critically of another church, denomination, or individual.
- Giving the impression that the Christian life is easy.
- The use of notes while speaking (though it may be wise to make some notes beforehand).
Testimony in a larger meeting or church service
The aim here is to show that the aspect of Christian reality which the speaker is concentrating on is something which really does make a difference in the lives of ordinary people. Accordingly, you will need to work closely with the speaker and see that your testimony chimes in with the thrust of the message.
Spend time together beforehand. Decide which are the areas you should concentrate on, how much time you have, where you will stand, whether you will use a microphone (and if so, know how to use it), and where in the meeting you are expected to come and take part. Sorting these things out saves possible confusion in the meeting itself.
It is often best and most natural to get yourself interviewed with two or three questions which you know beforehand, and round which you can build what you want to say.
Remember not to over-run the time allotted to you.
In a smaller meeting (eg a house meeting)
Here the situation is different. You are not the icing on the cake of someone else's talk; you are the presentation! It is very easy to move into testimony in a house meeting. After all, you are visitors and have been invited to give some input into the meeting.
Your testimony will often form the beginning of such an event. Start off in an informal way, introducing yourself and your team member if there is one, explaining that you are not professionals but are just here because you want to share something of the joy of knowing Jesus Christ. Then go on to explain what you have found about this joy. Keep it short. Select those parts of your story with which your hearers are most likely to be able to identify.
Depending on how you have planned the meeting, you may want to open it up for questions or for other people to share their ‘spiritual stories’. Your coworker can keep gentle control on the ensuing discussion, and ensure that you finish at the advertised time. Emphasise that no two individuals come to Christ through identical routes.
Be watchful for opportunities to change the subject and move into spiritual things. We are called to ‘redeem the time’ (Ephesians 5:16), to snap up the opportunities like bargains in the market. That requires imagination and enterprise. And it can all stem from your testimony!
Michael Green and Jane Holloway.
© Michael Green and Jane Holloway.