Before I was Lead Storyteller at The Austin Stone, I served as the bass player for the Aaron Ivey Band for over 10 years. We traveled the country all of those years leading worship at many kinds of churches and events. One spring we found ourselves leading at a college event, and the director wanted personal testimonies during each worship service that the week.
It was a great idea. Who wouldn’t want that? It’s encouraging for our people to hear the life-changing stories happening all around them. Personal testimonies remind the church that God is still alive, and in the business of changing lives. However, they are very unpredictable.
We experienced that unpredictability every single night of that event. What was supposed to be a five-minute personal testimony turned into a 45 minute telling that left the audience confused. As we sat there on stage listening to this person share their honest and genuine story of what God had done the entire crowd began to check out, check their phones, and nod off.
What was meant to encourage listeners and inspire them to worship Jesus turned into a distraction from worship altogether. Once the person was finished we were responsible for leading the people to re-engage and regain their focus. We had to lead them back to a place of worship. It was no easy task.
As leaders, we can’t fault our people for going over the five-minute time limit that we give them for their testimonies during a Sunday service. Their lives have been forever changed by the radical love of Jesus, and they want to tell people about it! It’s not surprising that they got excited and went over by 20 minutes. From their point of view, they are being faithful to share what God has done in their life, and that’s all that matters.
Most people who are asked to share their testimony aren’t trained communicators or storytellers. Nor we expect them to be. They are sincerely telling the story of how God changed their life. They aren’t thinking about the rest of the worship set, or the fact that the pastor might have to cut an illustration out of his sermon. They don’t know that if the service runs long the next service will start late. It’s not their job to think about those things. We asked them to tell their story, and that’s what they are doing.
The art of testimony can be found all over the bible. In Acts 14 we read about Paul and Barnabas and all of the things they encountered while on one of their missionary journeys. They preached the gospel, were nearly stoned to death, made many disciples, planted churches, and established elders. When they returned to Antioch, the place from which they were sent, the first thing they did was gather the church together and declare all that God had done for them. They wanted to share how God had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. Paul and Barnabas used storytelling to share of the mighty works of God they experienced in their lives for the sole purpose of giving him glory and encouraging the saints.
Just like Paul and Barnabas experienced, personal testimonies can have a powerful place in our Sunday services, when they are done well. However, I believe churches have moved away from testimonies because of their unpredictability. Because of this, the testimony as we know it has died in most churches.
As a former worship leader, now storyteller, I urge you not to let this happen. Our churches, the people God has entrusted to our care, need to be reminded of God’s goodness and faithfulness on a consistent basis. We need to be reminded that God still reigns and that Jesus is still saving the lost. One of the best ways we can do that is by giving them real-life examples of what’s happening in our churches.
We have to resurrect the Sunday Morning Testimony. One way we can do that is through creative gospel storytelling.
Pastors and Worship Leaders, when we empower and entrust the storytellers in our churches to tell stories of gospel transformation, we are letting our people share their testimonies. Instead of handing over a microphone, we can allow our storytellers to help them craft their story in a way that engages the whole church. When filmmakers, writers, or photographers work with someone to share their story, they hear the whole story. They can then use their artistic gifts to shape it in such a way that is the most concise and powerful that it can be.
Just as the Pastor is responsible for preaching the word of God in a relatable way, and just as the Worship Leader is responsible for pointing our hearts to worship Jesus through the songs he sings, the gospel storyteller is responsible for taking a person’s testimony and telling it in a creative and compelling way.
There is incredible power in a Christian’s personal telling of how they came to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Our churches need to experience testimonies again. I believe personal testimonies can be resurrected, and we can do it through the power of creative gospel storytelling.