If you chose to read this post because you want to share the hope of Jesus with people, you are bold and brave and have a beautiful heart.
Our world isn’t really looking for people to tell them about God these days, as I’m sure you’re aware. People are wary of religion. Many people are fed up with Christians. And in many cases, not without good reason.
We can’t choose to wear rose-colored glasses on this reality, because pretending the polarization of Jesus doesn’t exist will take us out of the conversation.
And the Jesus conversation is one we need to stay in.
So how do we stay in the conversation? Is it by sharing our testimony? Our Jesus story? Our faith journey? Or whatever you may call the mode for explaining what you believe, why you believe it and how it’s changed your life.
I believe we stay in the Jesus conversation, and contribute in a meaningful way, by revealing Jesus through our personal stories.
Now, so that this doesn’t become a distraction as you read, I want to make this clear from the start: the word choice between testimony and storytelling isn’t the main issue here. Rather, it’s our perspective and how we approach telling people about our relationship with Jesus that’s due for a refresh.
The word ‘testimony’ can come with a bad taste in the mouth. For me, it brings up ideas of hard-handed apologetics and an argumentative approach to explaining faith. It reminds me of methods I was taught in Sunday school to share Jesus’ love with my friends. But the methods felt more forced and judgmental than they did loving.
Or, on a less dramatic note, it reminds me of a 3-5 minute scripted rundown of my waywardness. Followed by the exclamation point that Jesus saved me from my sin, of course. To be fair, some people do amazingly well communicating Jesus’ forgiveness, redemption and the full-life offered in Christ from a stage in a rehearsed format.
But for most of us, an opportunity to share our testimony in a formal setting, like a worship service, happens once in a blue moon. So if you were to spend your time crafting and memorizing a scripted testimony, you may find there’d be a lack of opportunity to share it.
What’s so great about storytelling?
On the flipside of being apologetic, stories are invitations. They ask someone to consider our perspective, rather than telling them it is the right way to think or live. Stories create a conversation and dialogue. They are interesting and personal.
The Jesus you are able to explain through your personal story is far more appealing and intriguing than a definition of who he is.
Your story is unique to you. It’s not a regurgitation of something you’ve heard from a stage over and over, or what you think you are supposed to say when you are explaining what having faith in Jesus Christ means. It’s real life, and it’s glorious.
Storytelling in practice
One thing my church does that I absolutely love is called ‘All of Life’ interviews. About once a month, someone is invited up front at the beginning of the service to talk about how they see Jesus in their day to day.
The interviewees have come from a wide array of career fields, and it’s my favorite when someone with a seemingly average job is up on stage. Suddenly, I’m reminded that nothing is average when God is with us. The ‘All of Life’ interviews effectively position the person on stage to share their testimony. However the format of the interview is what makes it a story.
A story is prompted by saying, ‘Tell us about what you do’, followed up by ‘How do you see this as a reflection of God’s work?’. These are casual, broad questions, and they create the opportunity for a fresh story to be told.
The interviewees end up talking about God in active voice. They explain his character, grounded in personal experience. The ‘everydayness’ of their stories resonate. It begs the audience to consider how they relate to the interviewee, and how they too have seen, or desire to see, God in their life.
This type of story calls out the difference Jesus makes in our day to day.
If instead they were to say, ‘Tell us about your relationship with Jesus,’ not only is that an incredibly difficult question to answer (Where should I start? Do you mean today, or over my entire life?), but I bet that 90% of the interviews we’d hear would sound pretty much the same.
Personal storytelling means sharing your reality.
Which also means you don’t need to apologize for it or hide it. If Jesus is a big part of your life; if you love him, talk to him and try to follow him the best you can, he should be included in the stories you share about your life. For example, if someone asks you how you’re dealing with a difficult situation, it’s totally appropriate for you to interweave the real, maybe messy realities along with the reality of Jesus’ presence in your life. That may be just enough to pique the interest of someone who’s written God off for being distant and impersonal. And if it doesn’t? That’s okay, too! That part is up to God.