To help those who hear the Message, it is a good thing to show the power of the Good News of Christ can transform lives. How each one of us has embraced the Message and how it has changed our life is a story that is totally unique for each person and can only be told by that person. Click on the image at the right to hear a talk by Kyle Neilson, husband, father of five, and Director of the Office of Evangelization for the Archdiocese of Vancouver show you the importance of giving witness to the power of the Gospel Message in your own life.
In the talk, Kyle will refer to the illustration below of the “Three Stages” of the Message.The Basic Four Point Gospel Message
God so loved the world, he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him might not perish, but have eternal life. John 3.16
1. God created you for a relationship with Him
2. Our relationship is broken through sin
3. Jesus restores our relationship
4. We need to respond to his invitation for repentance and relationship
Here follows some further teaching on giving a testimony of faith. Click on the title to open a separate window.
For most of us, our story begins with our parents’ faith at our Baptism. In a variety of ways, we chose this faith for ourselves as an adult or at an age of reason. It is important for Christians to be able to articulate how they have come to accept Jesus as saviour.
If we are not convinced of our NEED for Christ, how will we be able to effectively convey this truth and present this Person to others? To be effective in our evangelization, we should be able to articulate our conversion story: “What happened to me? How and when did I have a conversion? What has changed? How did I come to know God’s love and forgiveness in my life?”
Being able to give clear testimony to your faith and to glorify God’s saving action in your life is very important for every Catholic who wants to share his faith. However, some people struggle to find their exact conversion moment. Receiving training in how to give a testimony can be very helpful.
Why a Testimony?
Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. 1Peter 3:15-16
God wants to use you as an instrument of salvation in another person’s life. The best tool you have is the story of your own experience! Here are some of the reasons why this tool is so effective:
• It is the Good News presented in terms of your own experience. It is the “subjective” or “experiential” side of the Gospel as opposed to the objective truths of the Gospel message (which are also essential!);
• It is the truth of a changed life that no one can deny because it happened to you. No one can argue with your experience;
• It is non-confrontational. When you share your personal story with someone, it does not appear that you are trying to convince them of anything. People are touched because you are opening your life to them;
• It makes the facts of salvation, the reality of God’s Kingdom, concrete, real, specific and personal. It puts flesh and bones on the truths of salvation.
Conversion happens in many ways. Someone might truly understand Jesus as Saviour at their initial conversion, but this understanding can also be gained through prayer, the confessional, Mass, hearing a talk, a faith-sharing group or growing up in a faithful family. Somehow, in these situations the individual has a meaningful encounter with the forgiveness, mercy and love of Jesus. Generally, there are three types of faith journeys/testimonies:
1) Definite Adult Conversion Moment. Many people can identify a definitive moment when they acknowledged Jesus as their Redeemer. They have a personal encounter with God and his truth at a very specific time and place (for example, on a retreat, praying to put Jesus at the centre of their life, etc.). There is often a “Paul” connected with their experience who assisted in reconciling them with the Father.
2) Season of Adult Conversion. Some people have a general idea of when things began to change, but they are not sure when they gave God permission to have Lordship in their lives. This may be a fair assessment of how they became a disciple. However, sometimes with more reflection, they can find a decision moment. It is very liberating for them when they do! Is it necessary to dig endlessly for a conversion moment? Of course not! What is important is that the person can say, “I see that during this period of my life I received the love and forgiveness of Christ and chose to follow him as a disciple.”
3) Faithful One’s Whole Life. Some people have sought to put their trust in God and follow Jesus throughout their entire life. Instead of having a dramatic adult conversion, their story is one of faithfulness to God with many “yes’s” over the years. They have lived daily in the graces of Baptism, Reconciliation, Eucharist and Confirmation – as should be the ordinary faith journey for all Catholics. This is a beautiful testimony of God’s grace, empowering them to habitually avoid and repent of sin, and reminding them of Jesus’ saving action in their lives.
It can be challenging to help people develop their testimony. Often the moment or season of conversion is not clearly defined in a person’s mind. He/she sees how life is different before and after conversion, but when this change occurred is not so clear.
Our challenge is to help illuminate the conversion process. There are two aspects we can help people to identify:
• Their personal decision to open their heart to Jesus or,
• If they have remained faithful to God since childhood, how has Jesus’ death and resurrection been personally understood or experienced?
The following story illustrates both scenarios:
A CCO staff member describes helping a student identify the moment of his adult faith decision.
I was working with a student on his testimony. He spent much of his energy trying to convince me that he always believed in Jesus and practiced his faith. That was fine, but pretty vague. I wanted to hear more. He wanted me to understand that he did not have a dramatic conversion. It was more of a gradual awareness and intimacy with Jesus. He tried to explain how there was not a moment he could identify but a whole lot of experiences, one of which was a weekend retreat he went on that had a particular impact on his faith. Seeing an opening, I asked him what it was that specifically affected him on that weekend. Frustrated with my line of questioning, he emphasized that it was not a moment or realization but that it was more simply a process of opening up his heart to Jesus. That sounded good but I wanted to know what moved him to open his heart. His patience with me was running thin. He repeated that it was not a moment, but the whole weekend that had affected him. I recognized that he had lived an authentic life-changing experience on this weekend but, like him, I was confused as to how the conversion came about.
After more probing questions, his story began to unfold. He explained how he went to the retreat feeling very distant from God, yet desiring to be closer to him. These words caught my attention, as I noticed that there had been a struggle of faith and that he was crying out. When I asked more about this, he started to see more clearly how things began to change for him. He recalled one of the retreat leaders explaining to him that Jesus would have died even if he were the only person in the world. He said that he had been moved to tears. It was at this point that he realized, probably for the first time in his life, that Jesus knows and is concerned with him personally. It was soon after this talk that the retreat participants were invited to give their hearts to Jesus. He was the first to go forward.
None of the digging to find this moment was intended to deny the journey of faith this young man had lived. All of his life’s experiences were leading him to faith. However, it was very important for him to identify that he had in fact made an adult decision to make his faith his own. He was so excited that he had concretely encountered Jesus’ love and forgiveness, and chosen to follow him. With great joy and enthusiasm, he left that meeting telling everyone about his conversion moment, because now he recognized it.
We want every person to grasp that he/she is desperately in need of a Saviour. You may find that some Catholics are not able to articulate their conversion convincingly (or at all). In order to be effective witnesses to the Gospel, it is important for Christians to be able to answer: “How have I experienced Jesus as the one who saved me from sin, death and separation from God?”. As leaders, we can play a role in helping our faith study participants articulate their conversions in a way that is effective and relatable.
Step 1: Unveiling
The first step is to help participants unveil their faith journey. You can do this in two ways:
• Interview: You can take notes while you ask the participant questions about their lives, noting themes and key moments, and relaying it to them.
• Journaling: You can give them time to read the questions and they can spend time alone journaling their answers.
A testimony should include the following three aspects:
• What did your life look like prior to knowing Jesus as your personal Lord and Saviour? (The Before)
• What was the turning point? How did you make the decision to live for Jesus? (The Central Turning-Point)
• How has your life changed since you have invited Jesus to be at the centre of your life? Since you have recognized Him as your Saviour? (The Now)
Here are some helpful questions you can ask during this important step:
• Where were you spiritually before committing your life to Christ, and how did that affect you – your feelings, attitudes, actions, and relationships?
• What caused you to begin considering God/Christ as a solution to your needs?
The Central Turning-Point:
• Who was the “Paul” in your life? Where there several “Pauls”?
• What was it about this “Paul” and what they communicated to you that brought you to a clearer understanding of Jesus?
• At what time(s) of your life did you really understand that Jesus died on the cross for you, to save you from your sin and weaknesses?
• Did you ever make a decision to put Jesus at the centre of your life?
• From what has Jesus rescued you?
• How is your relationship with Jesus different now?
• How did your life begin to change after you trusted Christ?
• What other benefits have you experienced since placing Jesus at the centre of your life?
NOTE: During the Interview or after they are done journaling, it is important to ask many clarifying questions to help them realize clearly how they came to be in a relationship with God. This is especially important for the Turning Point section; typically people don’t recognize they have one (yet many do), or they gloss over it. For example: “I went on a retreat and now I just want to tell everyone about Jesus!” You need to be asking: “What happened on the retreat? When? Where were you? What were you thinking/ feeling? What did you feel God was telling you? How did you respond? How did you feel after?” You will need to do this sort of digging away to get to the treasure below. God will be glorified when we expose the great miracle that was done in this person’s heart!
This step will help unveil any themes surrounding their stories and create an outline for their testimony.
Step 2: Writing a draft
Now that the participant has a basic outline for their testimony, they can start writing it out. We don’t need to worry about length at this point (we will refine it in step 3). The goal is to get a testimony with a beginning, middle, and end written out.
Just hand them your notes about their story and give them a few days to write something out using these guidelines:
• Give some background (your family, education, etc) when appropriate.
• Don’t overemphasize the bad things that happened. This can be distracting and can glorify sin.
• Don’t generalize. Be specific when focusing in on important events or aspects.
• Own up to your mistakes. Our words should not blame anyone else.
• Leave out incriminating names and/or details.
The Central Turning-Point:
• Keep it simple, clear, and repeatable. Give specific details of what happened so that someone would have a model to follow in committing their life to Christ.
• Be specific.
• Concentrate on Christ, not on yourself. The key is what God did and your response.
• If conversion happened over a period of time, share the content of what you realized and asked for as you began to open your life to Christ’s forgiveness and leadership.
• For Example: “I can’t pinpoint an exact moment over the course of the year where something specific happened to me, but I can tell you right now the result of it is that I know God loves me! I know that Jesus died on the cross for me! I feel Him close to me every day and I know He has given me forgiveness and hope!”
• Was there one key Scripture verse that had an impact on you? Share it. If not, do not force it.
• Give concrete differences in your life. Share benefits of having a new (or deeper) relationship with Christ (e.g. new outlook on life, forgiveness, freedom from fear, anger, etc.).
• Do not give the impression that everything is now 100%, but instead share how Christ helps you in your struggles (e.g. “I still get afraid, but the difference is now I know I am not alone.”).
• Invite/challenge them to look at giving Jesus a chance. End with a question or statement that requires a response.
Step 3: Finishing Touches
When the participant brings you back their first draft, it will most likely be too long. A 3-minute testimony is approximately one single spaced, typed, page. Sit down with them (or do so via email if necessary) and help them see what can be taken out. Often, in the first draft, there are many details that are unnecessary or unrelatable.
Here are some other tips to help you refine testimonies:
• Help the participant know how to communicate sensitive/personal aspects of their story in a discreet yet real way. For example: sexual immorality – I was caught up in unhealthy and impure relationships; or suicidal – I had gotten so low that I didn’t see why I should go on living.
• Using people’s names in testimony can make new people feel more like an outsider; use more generic terms. Example: “A friend invited me to be in a Discovery faith study”, not “Frank invited me to…”
This step might take more than one try. Keep refining until you have a finished 3-minute testimony that is relatable and transferable.