As a young adult I was part of Campus Crusade for Christ (now Cru), and learned to write a three-minute testimony as a way of sharing my faith with other people. What was my life like before coming to Christ? How and why did I come to make a Christian commitment? What changed afterward?
Although I didn’t have a dramatic story to tell, working with that three-part outline was a helpful way to reflect on my own journey of faith and to think about how I might share it with others. Since that time, my understanding and practice of testimony has grown and become much broader.
As I understand it now, a testimony may be verbal or written, shared in a casual one-on-one conversation with a friend or a small group, or more formally before an entire congregation. It may stand alone or be part of a longer sermon. It may be offered by a new Christian or a long-time member of the church. It may be shared with someone who is seeking faith, or with those who are already mature in faith. It may cover a lifelong journey of faith, or focus on a much smaller slice of time, or reach back over generations to a longer heritage of faith.
A testimony may be three minutes or twenty. In fact, testimony is really a lifelong work of faith, offered in many different settings both within the local church and beyond it, in both words and actions. As the Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1:12:
Indeed, this is our boast, the testimony of our conscience: we have behaved in the world with frankness and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God—and all the more toward you.
And from 1 John 5:11:
And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.
In my congregation, we normally ask baptism candidates and other prospective new members to share their faith story in an informal meeting with the pastors and deacons, and then with the whole congregation. In the Sunday bulletin, we often list this time as “sharing,” but one year when I listed them as “Testimonies,” I received a number of positive responses to the change. “I was glad to see the word testimony,” said one member. “Instead of simply hearing sharing, or a life story, we heard more about people’s faith journey. I appreciate that emphasis.”
Was the sharing really so different that time? I wondered. We always encourage our baptism candidates and other new members to share about their faith as they tell their personal story. Whether we call it sharing, or faith story, or testimony, the intent is to bear witness to God’s presence and life-giving power in Jesus Christ. It’s not simply a report of where a person was born, whom they married, or how many children they have, but a much deeper reflection of their faith and relationship with God and with the church. A Christian testimony is above all a testimony to faith in Jesus Christ.
Writing/Reflection Prompt: Do you find it helpful to distinguish between faith story, sharing, and testimony? What difference does it make to you, if any?
This blog post is an excerpt from a longer article that first appeared in Vision: A Journal for Church and Theology, which is published jointly by Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary and Canadian Mennonite University. The journal and its website have recently been re-designed, and the current issue and all back issues are now available free on-line. See the entire issue on Testimony.
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