The task of evangelism often includes telling our individual story along with the larger gospel story. Weaving the two together makes for a powerful articulation of God’s gracious work through all times and his specific salvific work in an individual heart – namely, yours.
Many have supported their emphasis on sharing a personal testimony by pointing out that Paul did so numerous times in the book of Acts. In Acts 26:1, for example, Paul tells Agrippa about his Damascus Road experience with the hopes that he, along with all who were listening to him “may become what I am, except for these chains” (Acts 26:29).
As an encouragement for us to follow Paul’s model, some have argued, “People can’t dismiss your personal testimony because it’s your story. They can’t deny it.”
I’m all for people sharing their personal testimony. But a bit more careful thought needs to shape the process.
It is worth noting that Paul did not merely share his subjective, personal experience. He wove together that story with the more objective, universal Gospel story that must be proclaimed to all people. Paul crafted a dual-themed masterpiece that spoke of his unique encounter with Jesus along with these objective propositions:
Paul’s hope is what God had promised the fathers (Acts 26:6)
Paul’s message included the fact that conversion (anyone’s!) is from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God, involves forgiveness from sins, and leads to sanctification (Acts 26:18)
People must “repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds” (Acts 26:20)
This message is in line with the prophets and Moses (Acts 26:22)
- The crux of the matter is not Paul’s subjective experience but the objective truth that Christ suffered and rose from the dead (Acts 26:23)
So, as we consider sharing our testimony, we should, like Paul, weave together a twofold-story that combines our individual experience with the Gospel for all. Otherwise they will indeed dismiss what we say as something merely our experience. They won’t deny it. But they won’t embrace it either. They won’t disagree but they won’t feel its sting.
How do we do this? Here are two suggestions:
Prepare. Few of us can compose Pauline brilliance on the spot. Think through which events were pivotal in your coming to faith. Be sure to include both strands of the two stories (your experience and the gospel message). Decide ahead of time what you will and will not say. And choose your vocabulary carefully.
- Proclaim that the gospel is both true and good. It’s one thing to tell the story of how you became a Christian and what convinced you of its truth. It’s another thing to tell why you’re thankful for the gospel’s work in you – how it’s made you a better person, a more gracious husband, a more patient parent, a more compassionate friend, etc. People need to hear both aspects of the gospel – that Jesus rose from the dead and that you actually wish others could be like you.
Randy Newman has been with the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ since 1980 and currently serves with Faculty Commons, their ministry to university professors. Randy is a Jewish Believer in Jesus and is the former editor of The Messiah-On-Campus Bulletin. He is the author of numerous articles and books including questioning evangelism: engaging people's hearts the way jesus did and bringing the gospel home: witnessing to family members, close friends, and others who know you well.
To find out more, visit his blog, integration points.