Let’s say you are called upon to share with a small group or a large congregation the recent happenings at Vacation Bible School, a missions trip, or some other event at school, church, or elsewhere. How will you do it? What priorities will inform your 60 seconds or 6 minutes?
In college, Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru) taught me three (maybe four) “rules” for giving a testimony. I share them here for anyone who may be called to give a testimony, plus a couple others. For the sake of memory, they follow the first six letters of the alphabet.
Six “Rules” For Giving a Testimony
A – Be Audible
You can’t bear witness to God’s goodness, if you can’t be heard. Therefore, be sure to speak clearly. Of course, this may mean making sure the microphone is on, but more importantly, it means knowing what you will say before you say it.
Often times poor delivery comes from a lack of confidence in what we will say. Therefore, know what you are going to say. Pray for God to help you say it. Say it. And give thanks to God for helping you speak with boldness, clarity, and volume.
B – Be Brief
How long should you speak? Long enough to cover the subject, but short enough to keep attention. This means you must know your audience, and you must tailor your time to who is before you.
In a testimony, the goal is not giving every detail, but to paint a picture that lets people know how to pray or give praise for God’s work. Therefore, know what you are going to say—especially how you are going to start and finish. Say it. And sit down. Most long-windedness is a result of insufficient preparation or self-conceited pride.
If you are tempted to run long because of self-important pride consider two proverbs. First, if you are given to appetite for self-praise, put a knife to your throat (23:2). Second, “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth” (27:2).
All in all, seek to be brief and fill your words with Christ.
C – Be Christ-Centered
The worst mistake you can make in speaking is to talk about yourself. Amazingly, the temptation toward me-centeredness is most dangerous when giving your personal testimony (i.e., your salvation testimony). When talking about God’s work in your life, it is easy to talk about yourself. Yet, this hides his glory.
Listen to the way Paul catches himself: “By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Cor 15:10).
Paul’s model is helpful. He’s acknowledging God’s work in his life, but the dominant theme of his testimony is God’s grace, not his work. Ultimately, what comes out of our mouths will reveal what is in our hearts (Matt 12:34). Still, a testimony is not (should not be) an impromptu speech. Rather, it should be something where we design our words to glorify Christ. And therefore, in your testimony look for ways to extol Christ.
D – Don’t Disparage Others
There is a place to confront error and expose darkness, but rarely is a testimony the place to put others down. Rather, a testimony is meant to be a report of thanksgiving. As Proverbs 25:13 puts it, “Like the cold of snow in the time of harvest is a faithful messenger to those who send him; he refreshes the soul of his masters.”
In a testimony the goal is to refresh the hearers, so think carefully about your words. Will they encourage and edify? Or will they embarrass and excoriate? Even when telling a story about others with whom you disagree, don’t make them the enemy or yourself the hero. Instead remember that joy in another’s downfall only stokes the flames of self-conceit (see Proverbs 24:17).
E – Exult in God’s Work
Next, speak with visible joy. Often, joy is communicated with non-verbal cues (such as a smile) or excitement in the voice (e.g., energy in your words). Beware of sharing good news with a sour expression, or highlighting people, events, or problems that may unintentionally overshadow the main point.
Even when the testimony reports hardship, suffering, or loss, you can find reason for rejoicing. Paul’s command to “rejoice in the Lord” teaches us that there is never a time when the Christian is devoid of joy (Philippians 4:4). Even when Paul speaks of his sorrow, he says, “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10).
If Jesus can say to rejoice and be glad when suffering for his sake (Matt 5:10–12). If the disciples can rejoice when suffering for Christ (Acts 5:41). And if Job can bless the Lord when losing everything (Job 1:21). Then, we must learn how to share sorrow with hope.
F – Frame the Testimony with Scripture
Finally, in sharing a testimony that glorifies Christ and extols in the work of God it is vital to show how your testimony relates to God’s word. If everything God does—think creation (John 1:1–3), providence (Hebrews 1:3), and salvation (Romans 10:17; James 1:18)—is mediated by his word, then we should aim to show how our testimony is an example of God’s word at work.
Therefore, in the opening or closing of your testimony it is wise and good to include Scripture. You can either read or quote a verse and explain how your testimony bears witness to this word, or you can close by explaining how these events remind us of a certain biblical truth. Whatever the case, look for a way (or ways) to point people to the word of God as you share your testimony.
Following this rule myself, let me close with these words from Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” And don’t just think about them by yourself, share them with others so that your joy might be increased and their faith strengthened (1 John 1:4; 2 Corinthians 1:24).
Soli Deo Gloria, ds