For a time, my husband and I participated in a lot of lay-witness missions. During these, a team of lay-leaders descended upon a church and led the children, youth, and adults in a weekend-long retreat.
I loved many things about these lay-witness missions.
Sharing my testimony wasn't one of them.
During my evangelical days in college, I learned that a testimony is your story of accepting Christ. It's a conversion tale that highlights the “before” and “after” in your life (and therefore must rival Saul's dramatic conversion in Acts 9).
For me, this formula for testimonies was incredibly problematic.
I grew up in a church.
I was a good kid; A rule-follower; A leader.
I have no horrible, awful things in my past and thus, no Paul-like conversion tale.
As a result, when it came to sharing my testimony at these lay-witness missions, I always felt inadequate.
As a youth worker, that's not something I ever want my students to feel when it comes to sharing their faith.
Instead, I want my students – most of whom have also grown up in the church – to feel confident in sharing their testimonies.
I want them to know and understand that their testimonies are, in fact, the stories of what God has and is doing in their lives. Sometimes that's evident in small, seemingly mundane things.
To help students feel confident in sharing their faith with others, I frequently ask students a testimony-related question in our discussions. (Now, mind you, I don't tell them this is what we're doing, but it is.)
For example, in our recent discussion about Les Miserables, we discussed the song's finale. In it, Valjean gives Cosette his last confession, a story of “one who turned from hating, a man who only learned to love.”
I then asked students to think about their own journey of faith and to write their “confession” using Valjean's language, “I turned from __________ and learned to ____________.”
At first glance, you might think this format invites only the type of testimony I despise, the Paul-like “before” and “after” style conversion story, in which the confession and repentance of major sins is vital. But it doesn't.
Consider just one student's confession testimony:
“I turned from indifference and learned to question.”
Like so many church kids, this student's faith story doesn't involve turning away from drugs, alcohol, or any of the other sins we might consider most offensive.
But it does involve change.
As a result of this student's relationship with Christ, her attitude changed from one of indifference to one of questioning.
She started caring deeply about her faith, her friends, and other issues she's passionate about.
Unlike Paul, this student didn't go from murdering followers of the Way to becoming a follower of Christ. Nevertheless, her story is dramatic.
And that's just it.
Stories of what Jesus is doing in people's lives are always dramatic.
They're always powerful.
And they're always worth telling.
In those stories we're never inadequate. Instead, we are simply changed.