Few things are as influential as positive testimonies, be they for products, or for faith. The practice of telling the story of how you came to faith, a.k.a. the personal testimony, has waned of late in many churches, in no small part because either people are not getting born again, or those who are are not being challenged to step out and live for God in daring ways.
But even when we do have times of personal testimony in front of the church, things can go awry if we don’t first (a) ask the speaker to submit what they are going to say in writing beforehand, and (b) make sure they are coached and trained on how to do a good job, and (c) make sure the pastor is ready to gently guide people towards concise and helpful testimony.
Here are some types of testimony that you can get if you just open up the pulpit to anyone:
1. The Superstitionist
This person sees a sign from God in every circumstance, every coincidence, and expects us to buy in to their incredulity with “Isn’t God amazing?!?” I’m thinking it’s amazing the Pastor hasn’t stepped in and stopped you!
2. The Demonist
This person sees a demon behind every difficulty, and every thwarting of their will. They ‘bless God,’ though, that they persevered against these arrows of the enemy, even though it was just normal life that brought the electric bill to the mailbox, not demons.
3. The Unregenerate
This person is obviously unsaved and does not understand what it means to know God. They rattle on about the blessings of church and family and food like a happy Reader’s Digest article, but everyone gets the sense that God is not really part of their blessing any more than it would be if they gave the same ‘testimony’ at the National Humanist Association dinner.
4. The Dramatist
This person is afraid of sharing themselves directly, so they decide they are going to talk about themselves in the third person, and act out what happened, playing the parts of God, the Devil, and themselves. What starts as an interesting delivery method can devolve into a macabre fugue of strange facial expressions and voices, awkward and unbelievable dialogue (“then the Devil said…”) followed by an awkward silence at the end (“are they done?”)
5. The TMI Testimony
In an effort to be genuine, this person shares details about their personal life which can be inappropriate for children and adults (“I was so addicted to porn that…”).
6. The Longwinded Detailist
This person needs to tell us every detail of their life before Christ, their relationships down to the their 3rd cousins, and the fifteen things that led them to accept Christ. A good pastor will intervene at 10 minutes and ask them to wind it up. A better pastor will make sure they’ve submitted what they are going to say in advance :D.
7. The Quietist
This person is so shy, that even with a microphone, they talk so softly and indistinctly that everyone is trying not to breathe, and giving their children glares to keep quiet so that they can hear. “Did he say ‘born again’ or ‘burger joint’? Is it lunch yet?
8. The Halelujahist
This person believes that the more enthusiasm they show, and the louder they talk, the better their testimony will be. They inject shouts of halelujah (more often than is clearly necessary), and talk so loudly that that the sound tech has to keep turning down the mic to avoid distortion. They mistake the wincing of the audience for lack of agreement, and shout louder to get the point across.
9. The Wannabe Preacher
This person thinks that their testimony is a sermon, and ends up exegeting a passage without ever referencing what God has done for them. Often, they are intent on making sure that we learn a very specific lesson or understanding for ourselves, rather than sharing what God has actually done for them.
10. The Wordless Tearjerker
This person is so choked up that all they can muster between sniffles and choked back emotions is “I’m sorry, God has been so good to me. That’s my testimony.” Ditto, my friend, ditto.