Don’t you hate people who only want to talk about themselves? You know the type. They're fascinated by themselves: their talents, their achievements, and precisely how incredible they are. Change the subject as many times as you want, and somehow it always come back to them.
Boring isn’t it?
We hate having to listen to people talk about themselves all the time. It gets in the way of talking about more important things. Like us.
There’s a shadow of Narcissus in each of us. You may know the story of Narcissus. He’s the guy who was so handsome that when he glimpsed his own reflection in a smooth pond, he couldn’t take his eyes off himself. So he remained by the still water, gazing at himself until he died. Completely self-absorbed.
As much as we hate to admit it, we’re all a little like Narcissus. We’re fascinated by ourselves, focused on our own needs, desires, and problems. And there's one place where I think that often comes across loud and clear: baptisms.
I love baptisms. Not only is the rite of baptism itself a powerful and important part of the Gospel story, but many baptismal services provide an opportunity for people to share their “testimony,” their story of how they came to understand the Gospel and what that means. And I’m fascinated by what people say. Or, more importantly, I’m fascinated by what people don’t say.
Most testimonies have one thing in common: me. Well, not “me,” of course. I wouldn't mind so much if people just wanted to talk about me. But they don't. The “me” in this context is the me of the person who’s telling the story. That's their real interest.
Just listen. The testimony will usually be all about what their life was like before they were saved and how different everything has been since their conversion. They’ll share about how they’ve been set free from addiction, depression, financial bondage, or some other painful reality. And now they're filled with joy and peace. Throughout the testimony, you’ll hear a lot about them and their story. And this are amazing things that we should celebrate.
But most of the time, you hear surprisingly little about God.
I realize that this often isn't entirely the person's fault. Someone prepped them to share their testimony by focusing on their story. So that's exactly what they did. But apparently no one helped them see that a testimony can be so much more.
So here are a few tips for when you need to share your baptism testimony, or help someone prepare theirs.
6 Things to Avoid:
1. Wing It
I'm surprised by the number of people who try to "wing" their testimony. Really? For most people, this is the first time you will have told large numbers of people about the most important truths in your life. And you're going to wing it? Can you imagine a business person walking into an important business meeting without preparation? Of course not. Surely the Gospel deserves at least as much.
2. Focus on You
This sounds obvious, but apparently it isn't. In most baptism testimonies, I hear far more about the person being baptized than the One the baptism is supposed to be all about. Start with Jesus, end with Jesus, and make most of the stuff in the middle about Jesus. Read through your testimony. If you use "I" or "me" more than you use "Jesus," start over.
3. Forget to Put Your Story in Context
There's nothing wrong with telling your story. That's a great way of helping people see why the gospel is so amazing. So use your story, but don't focus on your story. Help people see that your story is nestled within a much larger and ore significant story, and that your story only makes sense when viewed within that broader context. Help them see how the gospel has reshaped how you understand yourself and your place in the universe. Use your story to point people toward the story of the gospel.
4. Highlight Your Personal Transformation
The gospel changes people. That is true. But the story of your own transformation is not the most important thing you can share. Help people see that the goal of the Gospel is God's own glory. Whatever happens in your life is just a means toward that end. So tell the story that way.
5. Be Naively Unrealistic
I hate to be a jerk, but there's a good chance your amazing transformation isn't going to last. At least it won't last with the same kind of exuberance and excitement as it did at first. Many of those bad habits will come roaring back, and those bad decisions you've made will still bear their fateful fruit. God is faithful, and the Spirit will absolutely begin transforming you from the inside out. But the road before you stretches long, and it rarely moves in a straight line. Help people see reality. Tell them that you're excited about having begun the journey, but that you fully expect reversal, challenge, and failure as well as growth, blessing, and success. The most beautiful pictures display the world with all its flaws. Paint it for them.
6. Ramble on
Okay, so this one isn't terribly deep or theological. But I hate long testimonies. Keep in mind this simple formula: the longer you talk, the more likely it is that you'll say something stupid. Tell them about Jesus and sit down.
There once was a man so beautiful that when he caught a glimpse of his own reflection in a smooth pond, he couldn't tear his eyes away. He got stuck on himself. And he died.
Don't be Narcissus. When you get the chance, tell the story that matters: the gospel. Celebrate the fact that you get to be part of that story. Feel free to mention how blessed you are to have been adopted into God's family and receive all the benefits that come from that new reality, but don't make it about you. Make it about Jesus.
Of course, if that doesn't work, you can always tell people about me. That's what I like to do.
Marc Cortez is a theology professor, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general. Visit him at marccortez.com.