Gentleness and respect? TV soaps rely on abrasive dialogue to maintain pace in a storyline – and they portray a world which is not about love and grace.
1. Tell the right kind of story
Everyone who has met with Jesus has a story about meeting with God – a testimony in Christian jargon. You may have heard some arresting ones at baptisms – stories of real life turnarounds. Maybe your story (and mine) seem a bit mundane by comparison. Less memorable, perhaps – but at the same time, easier to connect with. The story God will use will be your story, nothing more or less. Here’s how to tell your story and how to coach others.
A ‘Cross and Switchblade’ dramatic kind of story will connect with someone in the grip of gangs, vice and substances. How many people do you know like that? How many people do you know who are more like you were, before you met Jesus? Your own story will connect better for you, with the people God has for you to connect with. There is nothing mundane about God’s transforming work in your life. Most people’s stories will not sound like a basis for a film script; most people will have some difficulty trusting a story that does.
2. How you tell it counts
Building on what we learned earlier, the way you tell your story is more important than the actual content. Your hearers will feel trapped by a long story; they didn’t commit to the span of attention you are demanding.
The testimony stories we’ve heard have often been at baptisms. In much church culture, that’s the only place for testimonies (it’s a culture we need to change). The baptism testimony is really a different kind of story, because it is the time and place for a more comprehensive account which builds up to a salvation experience of God. No one minds too much if it is a bit long and rambly on these occasions. The baptism candidate already has the attention of friends and family who have gathered specially and are all on-side.
The story you have worked on to be ready to share with a stranger must be more instant and fast-moving. Your hearer isn’t on-side at all. You have to grab their attention and hold it.
3. Be able to tell it in 60 seconds
Work on your story until you can tell it in a minute or two – literally. That's 100 words or 200 max. Get the key facts in first: “I was at rock bottom. I’d lost my job and my wife had left me. Then…” or “I’d been attending church for years and had a faith – of sorts. But it all changed for me one day when God spoke so directly it seemed like it was just Him and me, so personal…”. Then continue the story in as few words as you can.
Make it a story about finding joy and being able to grow. Make it a story that is gracious in tone. Your story, if it’s typical, may well talk about life’s challenges. The way you now reflect on those difficult situations and people will be a story in itself. That’s giving the reason with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15), conversation that is full of grace (Col. 4:5) and it comes to the hearer like an antidote to television soaps like Neighbours and EastEnders and the point-scoring party conference season.
The world is judgmental and harsh and full of resentful people, but the Holy Spirit in us empowers to be different. God's love in us sounds like... love. God's grace in us conveys a graciousness that immediately flags up something that God has done in us.
4. Leave the door open
The person hearing the story may not understand why you are as you are. You may not get an opportunity to put it into words. But it will connect, and probably lead to questions and more explanation at another time. That's why you don't have to unload your whole story. Gain trust first. You want to leave open the opportunity to tell more of your story – this time, when you've been asked to.