It’s time for me to tackle another one of your testimony questions. This one comes from Heidi. She asks, “What is too much for a testimony? Should it be tailored for a certain audience? Is it a release time to be more dramatic or draw someone to you to help? “How “real” or deep should we be?”
Heidi is addressing an important issue. Many of us have testimonies that are filled with some spiritually and emotionally heavy material. For unbelieving audiences, it might be a lot to handle. Do we tone it down for unbelievers?
Awhile ago, I wrote a post on the topic of custom tailoring your testimony. Click here to read it. In short, I think it’s important to recognize that each audience has different needs, and we should be prepared to choose our words carefully for each specific group. Paul ministered with this mindset, and he was willing to transform himself and his way of speaking to best reach those in need: “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22). In no way was Paul being dishonest or sinful. He was simply being sensitive to the needs of his audience.
One way we can best meet the needs of our unbelieving audience is to be aware that they don’t always speak our language. No, I’m not talking about English. I’m talking about “Churchese.” Sometimes, we Christians talk about spiritual things in a way that is nonsensical to unbelievers. Here are some words and phrases that might baffle our non-believing friends: saved, born again, redeemed, washed in the blood of the lamb, baptized, anointed, testimony, salvation, sin, and messiah. There are plenty more, but you get the point. Choose words that are “real” but make sense to your audience. When talking about salvation, why not talk about how you gave Jesus control of your life or how you believe in him and want to be close to him.
Another consideration is that non-Christians might not be ready to hear some of the “deeper” more intense spiritual topics. Paul addresses this issue in 1 Corinthians, when he’s writing to new believers, who are acting very immaturely. He calls them “mere infants in Christ.” He tells them that he can’t give them the hard spiritual material yet because they can’t handle it: “I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready” (1 Corinthians 3:1-4). The author of Hebrews expands this analogy further and explains how Christians can move to more solid food (the more intense and deep spiritual things): “But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (5:14). Paul doesn’t alter the truth, but he does decide that his audience isn’t ready to hear some of it yet. Think of it like a movie. For a more mature audience, you might not mind having some battle scenes with some gore, but if the movie is targeting kids, you might want to skip that stuff. They’re not ready to see it, and they wouldn’t understand it anyway.
Our testimonies can be powerful and emotional, but we need to be sensitive to our audiences and their unique needs and abilities to understand and interpret the information that we present. Faithfully present the truth and be “real,” but serve milk when necessary.
(For more on this subject, check out my new page: “Testimony Tips“)