The Power of a Good Testimony

By James M. Rochford

A testimony is a firsthand account of an event. It is just like being tried as a “witness” in a court case: You appear before the jury to tell them what you have seen and heard.

Paul would often give his testimony to others (Phil. 3:3-11; Gal. 1:11-24; Acts 22:1ff; 26:1ff), and this was persuasive to the people around him. Every Christian worker should have their testimony prepared.

What if you’re a “church kid”? Aren’t these testimonies worse than others?

Believers who grow up in Christian homes are often embarrassed at giving their Christian testimony. Sometimes, they feel that they lack authority, because they didn’t do drugs, womanize, or live radically apart from God. Is this embarrassment justified?

Of course not. Some of the best Christian workers that we encounter grew up in Christian homes. For instance, Timothy grew up as a mama’s boy in a biblically based home (2 Tim. 3:14-15). And yet, he was surely Paul’s most influential and capable disciple! Paul Little writes,

If we came to new life in Christ as a child, we probably did not notice much change in our lives. We need not feel inferior or apologetic about this, as though somehow our experience were not as genuine as the more spectacular. Paul’s conversion was wonderfully dramatic, but we must always remember that Timothy’s was just as real.[1]

We shouldn’t be embarrassed if we came to Christ through the influence of our parents. We learned most things through our parents. Would a writer be embarrassed for learning about the alphabet from his mother as a boy? Would a history teacher feel embarrassed for learning about the Civil War from his father? This objection really commits the genetic fallacy. The origin of a belief does not invalidate the belief itself.

Christian workers who radically live by faith always have great stories of answers to prayer, sacrifices that they’ve made for Christ, and periods of doubt that they’ve encountered. All of these stories comprise our witness for Christ—not just stories about being drunk, high, or far from God! For instance, Sean McDowell (son of the famous apologist Josh McDowell) tells the story of doubting his faith in high school. His father famously told him, “Son, I’m not worried about your doubts. Just seek the truth, and you’ll find Christ.” Today, Sean McDowell has become a major influence for Christ, as a major speaker, writer, and professor at Biola University in apologetics.

According to David Kinnaman, people aged 16 to 29 were asked what word they would pick to describe “Christians” or “Christianity.” 85% used the word ‘hypocritical.’”[2] When church kids can explain how God changed them from being a hypocrite or a cold and unloving people, this has a potent effect on listeners.

It’s true that church kids shouldn’t focus on their conversion as a child in their testimony. Church kids often focus on receiving Christ when they were six years old on their parent’s bed. While explaining our moment of conversion is important, it is much more beneficial to explain the reasons for why they made an adult and informed decision. Emphasize something like, “I grew up going to church, but I really went through a period of doubt as an adult. I really surrendered my life to Christ when ___________.” A childhood conversion isn’t very impactful to a non-Christian, but an adult decision to surrender to Christ is much more powerful.

It’s also true for a church kid to emphasize how thankful they were to grow up in a Christian home. But they should be careful not to come off self-righteous. Perhaps saying something like, “I saw all of my friends go through depression, addiction, etc. I know myself, and I’m sure I would’ve gone the same direction. Instead, God gave me a sense of purpose and meaning in my life and spared me from many scars.”

Tips for explaining our testimony

Keep it short. Most of my Christian friends aren’t willing to listen to me for longer than 5 to 10 minutes! How long do we expect a stranger to listen to us?

Focus on God. It’s okay to talk about the Body of Christ and Christian friends, but keep the focus on God—for God’s sakes! Nothing is worse than a testimony that doesn’t mention Jesus Christ.

Don’t preach. Explain what you discovered from coming to Christ, but remember to share—not declare—this. Make sure not to bash other churches or religions. We should be sensitive to our audience in this regard.

Eliminate Christianese. “Christianese” is a word that describes a strange, cultural language that only Christians speak. Purge these words from your vocabulary, because they alienate friends and family who are unaware of Christian culture. For instance, using the words church kid, saved, or outreach should all be replaced with “grew up in a Christian family” or “met Christ” or “shared the message of Christ with a friend.”

Explain what you were like BEFORE meeting Christ. What worldview did you hold? What did you struggle with the most in that worldview that got you to reconsider? What doubts did you struggle with concerning Christianity or the Bible? What was your emotional state? How did you feel the despair living apart from Christ? What happened in your life that led you to investigate Christianity? In what ways did God try to reach you?

Explain how you MET Christ. What finally clicked with you in order for you to finally understand the gospel? Specifically, how did you receive Christ? Where were you? What did you pray? Did you feel a sudden joy or excitement afterwards? If not, what did you feel? What felt different in your life?

Explain what happened AFTER Christ. How did your life begin to change? Was it a slow or sudden change? What other benefits have you experienced since becoming a Christian? What misconceptions did you have about Christianity that are now debunked after following Christ? What has been the best part about following Christ?

[1] Little, Paul E. How to Give Away Your Faith. Chicago: Inter-Varsity, 1966. 38-39.

[2] Kinnaman, David, and Gabe Lyons. Unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity… and Why It Matters. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2007. 28-29.