by Lisa Birle (college ministry leader)
Every week at Crave, the college ministry at Saddleback Church, a student shares his or her testimony as part of our weekly service. Students’ stories are a powerful reminder of how God’s love radically transforms and his grace rescues us from anything and everything—not in an abstract way, but in the lives of the people in our own community, people that we can put names and faces to, people who remind us that we can hope and expect the same freedom and healing in Christ.
One of the joys of my job is helping students write out their stories and prepare them to share each week. Some students have never written out their stories before, and the process itself is a great way for them to reflect on how God has revealed himself to them and worked in their lives. Often, they see how he was working in ways they never realized before as they journey through their past. It can be a difficult process, and many students are nervous on stage, but it is ultimately a faith-stretching, cathartic, and rewarding experience for them that helps cultivate a community of safety, healing, and acceptance.
When students inquire about sharing their stories, I send them an e-mail with some basic guidelines:
#1. I tell students not to worry about the length of their story as they first write it out. I encourage them to write it ALL DOWN. I find it’s easier to condense than to elaborate on points later.
#2. Their story needs to answer the following questions:
—What was your life like growing up before you fully committed to following Christ? (This should not be a voyeuristic journey of every poor choice you’ve made and not the bulk of your testimony, but rather a few paragraphs of your childhood and how that shaped your faith and worldview.)
—What was the catalyst for change in your life? Describe how you encountered Christ and the transformation that he made in your life. (For students who have always known Christ, I ask them to try to pin-point that moment in which they came to understand what following Christ meant at a new/deeper level.)
—What is your life like now as an authentic follower of Christ?
#3. We love for our students to include something on their church community/mentor/small group in that last section of their story because we want to make sure our students (the audience) can hear through testimonies the importance of community and relationships in our lives.
Once I receive their draft, I work on edits to make sure the story is clear, that churchy words are avoided, and that it’s the length it needs to be. Part of my challenge in editing is to make sure that the final draft is still the voice of the student’s and that I did not hijack their story, so I work closely with them as we make slight changes for the sake of clarity and length. Typically, a finished testimony is about 1200-1400 words and about five minutes long, and finishes with a challenge/action step to our community…join a small group, trust God’s Word, seek help, pray, etc.
At Crave, we have seen the profound impact that sharing testimonies has on those who share as well as those who hear. Ultimately, these stories remind us not only of how broken we are and how desperately we need God in our lives, but also that God has the power to transform us and that his heart’s desire is to lavish us with his rescuing love and amazing grace.