For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
– Romans 12:3-8
“During the very first phone call in 1876, Alexander Graham Bell said, “Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you.” In response, his assistant came from the next room and told Bell he heard and understood.
“A conversation takes two. That’s obvious, but the same goes with your relationship with God. He calls people into fellowship of His Son and wants people from all over to call to Him (1 Corinthians 1:2). When God speaks, He expects you to listen (Psalm 81:8), and when you speak, His “ears are open” to your prayers (1 Peter 3:12). He also gave believers the Holy Spirit to aid communication. “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). Plus, as you commune with God, you’ll keep your love for Him burning bright and hot.
“Call on the Lord. He is faithful to hear and answer your prayers. Pray He’ll extend His mercy and grace to the United States. And take a few moments to listen and reply to His words. You’ll enjoy the conversation.”
– Presidential Prayer Team Devotion
A month or so ago, I had a conversation with an ordained pastor in passing. I said that as a layman, I should not preach, but the best way to tell of my faith was to tell stories, testimonies. That stemmed from my time in Lay Witness Missions, as our rule. Our rule then was to tell our audience that we have been in the hard place that they are in now. It is a very effective tool, but that does not mean in a different setting that a layman cannot ‘preach’.
But then I started thinking. I have been a Sunday school teacher for a long time. That requires something more than just telling my testimony. That led me to think of three ways in passing along the message of Jesus Christ: Preaching, teaching, and giving testimonies.
PREACHING: In some denominations, only well-educated, ordained personnel can preach. Some of the churches within those denominations bend the rules at times, but some are very strict. Others require a ‘call’ to the ministry with no formal education requirements. Of course, there are other denominations in between.
But my focus is on the nature of a sermon. A sermon is a speech by one individual. It can be an apologetic sermon (an explanation of the Bible or a key element of Faith). It can be a first-person sermon where the ‘preacher’ acts out a part, usually of a Biblical character or a witness to a story in the Bible. Regardless, only one person is physically talking. Of course, there are those denominations that traditionally have people encouraging the pastor with an “Amen!” I don’t know if this encouragement stems from Romans 12:8 or not. (Those with the gift to encourage, should give encouragement.)
Let’s review who is worshipping during a worship service. All participants are worshipping. Sure, the people in attendance will read a prayer. Some will sing, but in some churches, the noise is much less than joyful – possibly pathetic? Everyone mumbles the Lord’s Prayer. Some churches recite a statement of faith, like the Apostle’s Creed. (Our church uses a variety of different faith statements so that the Apostle’s Creed becomes the special one.) There is a lot of standing and sitting during the worship service. Some denominations add kneeling to that. (My knees are so bad, if we were members of one of those denominations, I’d move my membership.)
But what about during the sermon? Only the preacher is talking, right? Everyone else is actively trying to not fall asleep, right? I contend that there are two talking if you are actively listening. The preacher is physically talking, and the Holy Spirit is touching your heart – provoking you into action. The action comes later in the week or immediately after the service. The action could be picking up the Bible and reading. It could be giving to the poor. It could be fixing someone’s roof. I encourage one action during the sermon – Take Notes. As an industrial training manager, you retain more of the subject if you hear and do anything else with what you hear (speak it, read it, write it – of course the greatest retention is when you DO IT). If we don’t change our lives to become more like Jesus as a result of every sermon, the sermon was wasted on us.
Yet, our only moment to give the preacher feedback is when we leave the church. That is usually a handshake, and a “Nice sermon, Reverend.” Yes, I am often guilty, but it is a pathetic response.
TEACHING: In teaching, there are a variety of methods available today. Some are more interactive than others. I taught the Video College of Biblical Knowledge for over ten years, which means a video had to be used. Even then there were options – Bible Study Lectures (R. C. Sproul, for example), Travel videos to the Holy Land, short vignettes that essentially give a little story (often testimony style) to illustrate a principle (Max Lucado, for example, followed by a book and study guide with ready-made questions for discussion), or a movie. When I did a movie, I broke the movie into twenty-minute segments so that there would be 40 minutes of discussion each week.
Yet, the nature of the teaching is that the teacher can either lecture with one-way communication or there can be a discussion. Lectures, then, become an extra hour on Sunday similar to the sermon. It then becomes the listener’s requirement to actively listen. In a discussion, a variety of views may be brought up for discussion by the teacher and the class. The teacher needs to be prepared to fend off heresies and misconceptions. Imagine having the ‘preacher’ having a Q&A session after the sermon where the ‘preacher’ must defend what has been said. That could get interesting. In an adult Sunday school classroom, you have that quite often, and the Sunday school teacher may not have half the Biblical education of the ‘preacher’.
GIVING TESTIMONIES: I used the plural on purpose. In evangelical circles, a testimony seems to be limited to conversion testimonies, but we need to expand our thinking. The old adage applies. What have you done, lately? So, if you became born-again 50 years ago, that story may be interesting, but how has God moved you into action lately? If you have been a Christian for a long time, there is usually more than one story to tell, and each of those stories may help someone else who is experiencing the same thing.
I heard or read a famous evangelist not too long ago say that people could attack just about anything that you say, but they cannot attack your testimony. Your testimony is what you experienced. If others have not experienced the same thing, it does not mean that you haven’t. But, don’t be too sure. In the last few decades, non-believers are all too willing to consider the Christian insane or at a minimum, an unreliable witness. In a court of law, the witness should not be badgered, yet Christian witnesses often are badgered. I have even overheard non-believers say of me that if they could only disabuse me of my beliefs, I might be an ‘okay guy’. It is one thing to disbelieve what you say. It is another thing entirely when they attack what you say to find holes in your statements.
Yet, some of the most powerful “sermons” that I have ever heard were from people who simply told a few hundred people in one sitting how they were lost, and now they were found. And the growth-in-faith testimonies are very effective in rededications. “I was saved as a youth, but God showed me that I was on the wrong path…” Those stories are equally powerful.
Again, the active listener is the one who is involved in the worship, but in actively listening, listening to a testimony means drawing parallels between the speaker’s story and your own story. That is why they may be the most effective means of sharing the faith of any of these three. You can relate to people who have had similar circumstances. POW! Or as I heard Ben Witherington III say about Jesus (on a video), Shazam! You hear in an instant that you are not alone. You hear that an ordinary person just like you had the same problem. They turned to Jesus as the solution. You can too.
So, regardless of how you present the words that God has placed on your heart, we each must rely on God to touch the listener, maybe weeks before we say anything. Once the Holy Spirit has touched their heart, we are just an instrument that explains what that innermost urging from the Holy Spirit means. That is when the listener has that Shazam moment.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.