How to write your personal testimony.

effective writingWriting your personal testimony.

Telling your own story is perhaps one of the most effective methods in sharing the gospel message. 

  • It's Biblical - The Apostle Paul seemed to tell his story of the Damascus Road often.  (It is recorded three times in Acts). 
  • It's Attractive - People like to read about people.  (Think "Reader's Digest")
  • It's Effective - For a person to be saved, them must first be able to view themselves as a believer.  An effectively told story makes a person empathize with the story teller.

 

Let’s take a look at two ways that could tell a personal story about salvation.


1.    A story written in Christian language.  Phrases and terminology that are the jargon of the church fill this story.
2.    A story written about salvation, but with fewer jargon phrases and more explanation for Biblical ideas.

Version 1 - A story written in Christian jargon.


Vicky - My Testimony – A Sinner Saved by Grace

“The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” Romans 6:23

I was born and raised in a godly home.  My parents were saved at a young age and always took me to meeting.  At a very young age I learned that I was a sinner and would be in hell if I died. 

I experienced some soul trouble at a series of meetings with brother B. Newman and R. Glenwind.  They preached for several weeks at the Hall every night.  I read a few gospel tracts and tried to believe, but nothing seemed to work.

I got the courage to talk to them one night and they read some verses to me about salvation.  One that convicted me was Romans 6:23 “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (KJV).  I saw myself a sinner on the road to hell because of my sin.  I realized that Jesus died for my sins and that my debt was paid.

Ever since then my life has been full of indescribable peace.  Dear friend, you too must be born again. 



Analyze the story

1.    Vicky is writing in a style is often heard in church settings.  She uses many words that have little meaning to those who aren’t “insiders” to the system.  If she wants to write for an audience of non-Christians she should consider telling the story in a completely different style.
2.    Words that might sound completely normal to a member of the church are written in bold letters.  These words are likely to be misunderstood especially since there is no explanation around them. For someone who lacks the experience of going to church, these terms are like a foreign language. Now imagine someone for whom English actually is a foreign language, it is impossible to decipher the meaning.

•    “My Testimony – A Sinner Saved by Grace” – That’s a good title for a Christian audience, but for someone unfamiliar to the terms, they might ask “ What courtroom was she in?”  “What judge showed her grace?”
•    “My parents were saved at a young age” – were they drowning? 
•    “They always took me to meeting” – what?
•    “I worried about the Lord’s coming” – What is that? Why is it threatening to her?
•    “I experienced some soul trouble”- Might this be problems with black choir music?  Was she experiencing some mental breakdown due to stress?
•    “at a series of meetings” – Could be a predator-type person who she met in private after making a connection on Facebook.
•    “with brother B. Newman and R. Glenwind.” – First, why do her brothers have hidden first name and different last names? Second, even if the reader understands who a “brother” is there is no person connection to Mr. Newman and Glenwind.
•    “They preached for several weeks at the Hall every night.” – Why in the hall?  Why not the living room?
•    “I read a few gospel tracts” – Railroad tracks? Many people have never heard this word before.
•    “and tried to believe, but nothing seemed to work.” – Believe what? It is hard to know what was she thinking about unless one has heard other testimonies before.


3.    Who is Vicky?  The adage “people like to read about other people” works only if the person in the story is real.  More details need to be included about Vicky.  How old is she?  Is there anything unique about her? What are her interests?  How did she feel about her parent’s religion?  It’s hard to picture Vicky in our minds or empathize with her because we know nothing about her. 

You need to develop people in your story just as carefully as if you were writing fiction.  That doesn't mean you should stop and describe the color of their hair and eyes and what they're wearing. The key is the emotions associated with the story you're telling. If it's about a troubled soul, make sure we can see his body language; hear the frustration and fear in his voice. If you let us into your mind, let us know what you’re thinking as you face thoughts of eternity and how you either handle the situation well or were left empty.


4. Where was Vicky?  Stories don’t take place in a vacuum. People have meetings in offices, they run through the rain, they sip coffee in restaurants. They jump in and out of cars, talk while they're driving, and chat over a few drinks. They play golf or tennis; they sit behind the steering wheel in the driveway.

Help us to see the setting when you tell us the story. Don't just tell us what it looks like - use the five senses. Help us to smell the coffee; feel the heavy rain; hear the audience roar with laughter at a speaker's wit. All of these things make your story 'real' - and help your readers to believe in your story people and in your message.

5. Who is B. Newman?  Does he matter to the story?  If so, then us what he did to help Vicky or what he did to make her angry.  If he doesn’t drive the story foreword, then leave him out.

6. What is a sinner?  Do non-Christians identify with her previous life being a sinner, or whether she believes she's going to heaven?  Either explain the problem in other terms or focus on the emotional emptiness for which many people don’t have a name.

7.  What is “indescribable peace”?  Can you get this same peace from drugs?  How does being saved make one peaceful?  Perhaps the previous fear of the unknown is gone.

8.  The title is either a legal court document or a church story. Many non-Christians will stop reading at this point.

9. The last line is a preacher's appeal “Dear friend, you too must be born again” might work in a live testimony, but in a written item it sounds preachy.

After mercilessly tearing apart this fictitious story, let’s try to offer some positive help.  Using the above tips, let’s see another story, but using less terminology and more specific examples. 

Version 2 - A story written to non-Christians.


“Oh God, No!”


Stu Thompson lives in Sherman, Michigan.

 “Oh God, No!”

Those were the first words I spoke as I dropped to the ground. Lying on the grass that hot June Sunday, I knew that God’s hand had touched my life. A collision with a competitors crashed motorcycle on a dusty moto-cross track had left me with a severely broken leg. My plan for a summer full of racing was now over.    My parents hoped this accident would be some sort of spiritual wake up call for me, but I determined not to let it hinder my way of living. Even with a plaster cast from hip to toe I went on to live the summer to the fullest, but without God.

Five months later, still in my cast, while I watched from the sidelines my best friend crashed practicing for an up-coming race. The paramedics hoisted his dirty, limp form from the track and I struggled into the ambulance with him.  The 15 mile drive to the hospital seemed like for ever. The sober manner and intense radio exchanges of the paramedics with the hospital were a powerful voice telling me, "Death is real.  And my buddy is not ready for this!" He slid into deep unconsciousness and upon arrival at the hospital was not responding. Wonderfully, two days later, he awoke. Later he returned to full-health, but I never was the same inside.  Through the fall and winter though still “having fun”, I was often reminded that I was not ready for life after death. I was not prepared to meet God.

New Year’s Eve found us at a party.  But even in the middle of a party I was troubled about my future in eternity. The next day while returning home, my companion lost control of his car on the ice glazed road.  As the tires skidded helplessly we came within a moment of a head on collision!  When the car finally came to a halt, it's headlights shining into a deep roadside ditch, I let out a sigh of relief.  But the thought stormed into my mind, I could have gone into eternity!
Two weeks later, my parents' church started a series of nightly messages. I went a few times to hear these messages, but I was struggling with an internal choice: continue pursuing fun or turn to God. The Bible made it very clear that the first choice would eventually find me lost for eternity. As I wearily undressed for bed, my mind was in a turmoil about what I had heard in the messages.  It was clear to me that God could not accept me into heaven the way I was. I had known for years that the Bible said I was a sinner. But now I fully realized that my sins would take me to hell. I needed forgiveness, or as God's word says, to be saved, but I could see nothing but darkness. There was no hope! Just then, another thought from the Bible flashed into my mind, “Christ died for me.”
Sitting there in my bed it was all settled. One moment I had been in dark turmoil now I had total peace! I was saved, saved from Hell!  My sins were forgiven!
I looked down at a pamphlet I had started to read about being saved, and there was a Bible verse that I had known as a child, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”. Yes it was true, I had just believed in Christ. His death on the cross had been for me. I had peace, I turned out the bedroom light and I went to sleep.

 

Analyze the story

•    Stu began the story with an action filled moment of crisis in his life.
•    The title is attention-getting.
•    Stu gives real detail about life – the accident, thoughts in his mind, the ambulance ride, the accident.  We can visualize these scenes.  Stu real conversation even in his own thoughts.  Because he seems 'real', it is easier to believe the story. 
•    Fewer jargon words are used. Some words from the Bible are used, but in the context of the story. He has avoided saying 'verse' and instead says a “phrase from the Bible”.  He decided not to mention the verse reference, though he could have done so. Many people are completely unfamiliar with verse references. Sometimes people put footnotes in the page instead of verses in parenthesis.   Instead of a series of gospel meetings, he says “a series of nightly messages”.
•    Eventually everyone can identify with the fear of death and the afterlife.  Uncertainty is a real felt need.
•    Stu had his moment of understanding about salvation outside of church.  While lying in bed he talked to God and remembered things he had read from the Bible.  People don’t have to be in any particular church to be saved.


People like to read about People

Novels and television shows sell well because we like to live virtually.  That is, we love to experience other people’s pain and victories without having to endure the experience ourselves. We like to watch watching mini-soap operas being played out between warring couples or a family reunited after a military deployment.  But your story doesn’t have to be heroic to be interesting.  It just needs to be real.

A felt need

While planning how to write your testimony, ask yourself, what events made you even want to be saved?  Relief, success, security and good health are benefits that are being sold all the time in advertising. We are told that we have to buy insurance, education, cars and food to get these benefits.  In your testimony, try to show some concrete life experiences that made you want to be saved.

  • Did you admire someone else whose life was going well?  Did a losing something make you re-evaluate your life? 
  • Did you once suffer from uneasiness, conflict or lack of direction?  Uncertainty is one reason we search for God.
  • Did a close-call make you think of eternity? Salvation is all about our eternal future.
  • Did you waste your finances or strength chasing rainbows? 
  • Did you feel really empty with your current situation? 
  • Did someone change your opinion about life through a conversation? 
  • Did you get caught being bad or did someone point out an inconsistency in your life?  Relating that story is more effective than just saying “I knew I was a sinner” 
  • Did you have a previous attempt at trying to be good enough, but lacked assurance that it was enough to please God?  Relating that story is more effective than just saying “I knew I wasn’t saved” 
  • Did anyone ever counsel you about eternity in a conversation that you never forgot?  Relating that story is more effective than just saying “I learned about sin from Sunday school” 
  • Was there a moment when you laughed at God or mocked the Bible?  What did you say or think to yourself?


When you write your testimony, give a few specific examples to illustrate your points.  People are willing to be convinced by the experiences of others. Subconsciously you'll have them thinking: Look at the terrific benefits of searching for God!