A week or so ago I shared an image of a Testimony Generator on a social media platform that shall remain nameless. It reminded me of an experience I had shortly after Liz and I moved to Ithaca, NY. The churches we were involved with back then placed a big emphasis on testimonies.
And while a testimony may involve something God recently in your life, it was normally about sharing how you got from where you were before…to Jesus.
If you had been a drug dealer, gang member, prostitute or whatever, and then “found Jesus”, (I am only half-joking) people wanted to hear your story. Some people actually travel around from church to church sharing their “testimony”. As a former pastor of ours used to say, “You make ‘em laugh, you make ‘em cry, they give you fifty bucks.”
There are a lot of problems with this culture.
- The process often seemed voyeuristic. People sharing information you normally wouldn’t allow in those churches with people hanging on the edge of their seats. (I often wondered, if people saw someone on the street who was still caught up in whatever testimony guy had been, would they show them the same level of interest and compassion).
- If you want to be someone asked to speak, you better have a good story. And if you didn’t, you just need to embellish a bit. One of my mentors bragged of his ability to turn a “pig’s ear into a silk purse.”
- Also, I met so many people who felt like second class Christians because they grew up in the church, didn’t have any stories of debauchery, and have simply been following Jesus as long as they can remember. And while those stories should be celebrated, in “testimony culture,” if it doesn’t titillate, it doesn’t often get told.
So I was invited to share my testimony once. Shortly after moving to Ithaca, NY to start a campus ministry at Cornell, a Cornell professor invited me to share at a monthly breakfast meeting of organisation of Christian businessmen.
I typed up my testimony ahead of time and sent it in so they could prepare the programs. One part of my story was that in high school, I never drank. Then I went to college, stopped going to church, and began drinking a lot. All good so far.
After a couple years, of really struggling in life, I stopped drinking. (for context: I was never an alcoholic, and generally drank maybe a couple times a week. Also for context, the denomination I was ordained with did not allow clergy to consume alcohol.)
Then a while later, I began going to church, recommitted my life to Jesus and now (well, back then) was working with university students.
I emailed my testimony in and got a response that I had made a mistake. Clearly I meant to say I quit drinking after I recommitted my life to Jesus, not before. I did a quick scan of that period of my life and said no, I actually quit drinking before. He asked if I was sure I didn’t want to switch it around.
And as you can guess, I never made it on the testimony circuit.
As I was writing this, I had some insight into my life that relates to this story. That will have to wait until next week.