Am I jaded and cynical after 40 years of hearing Christian testimonies? Probably. But maybe there’s something here that could help you tell your testimony in a more effective way.
Don’t make your old life sound more exciting than your new life . . . Tell us how the radical Christ is challenging you to live a radical life.
1. I was smoking and drinking . . .
This is classic Adventist shorthand. “Smoking and drinking” has become a cultural marker for rebellion against God. But what does this really mean? There are thousands of other Christians who continue to smoke and drink and would still say they love God. Or do you mean binge drinking, regularly getting drunk to escape from your problems, running the family finances into the wall with your spending on addictions? If the smoking and drinking was an expression of a careless or self-loathing attitude, tell us about it. If the smoking and drinking was destroying your health, tell us about the signs that your health was being damaged, even if you ignored those at the time.
If you limit your conversion story to the mere fact that you stopped smoking and drinking, you’re only saying, “I used to be one of them, now I’m one of you.” That can breed a sense of smugness among Adventists—“Thank you Lord, that I’m not like that cancer-inhaler over there . . .” The fact is there are likely to be Adventists in your audience who are struggling with self-loathing, profligate spending, idolatrous hobbies or other self-destructive or addictive behaviours. If your testimony is really going to help them, they need to hear how God transformed your attitudes, gave you power to overcome your bad habits and helped you realise how much He values you.
2. Drugs, parties, women . . .
Male testimony-givers, I just want to point out that “women” are not an addictive substance—they’re people. And listing them as one in a series of vices can easily be interpreted as blaming them for your choices. Let’s be honest here: the mention of “women” in this context is shorthand for I used to see women as sex objects; there for my pursuit and pleasure. I manipulated them and used them; I seduced them and allowed myself to be seduced by them, taking advantage of their foolishness, bad choices and vulnerability. Explain clearly that the problem was not “women” but your attitudes about women and relationships.
Sadly, there may be men and women in your audience who still struggle with these issues. Your testimony can be very powerful if it involves God teaching you that every woman is a precious daughter of the King who deserves to be respected and related to as a whole person. Your sisters in Christ need to hear this and your brothers in Christ do too.
3. God brought me safely home . . .
You make being a Christian sound boring when you say this! Don’t make your old life sound more exciting than your new life. The story of an adventure through stormy seas is over when the boat finally reaches the tranquil harbour. Over. But should Christianity be so “safe”? Well, yes, in terms of eternal security, but if I read the stories of Bible heroes correctly, a true believer’s life is filled with challenges, some of which may even threaten life and limb. So tell us about the new frontiers God has asked you to cross since you started following Him. Tell us how the radical Christ is challenging you to live a radical life. Tell us about the struggles your new life involves and how God is battling alongside you. Let us know clearly that your true adventure is right here, right now.
Kent Kingston is an assistant editor of Adventist Record.