I think the story changes every time I tell it. Sometimes it's a long story. Sometimes it's a short story. Some things get emphasized sometimes, some things don't.
I've shied away from my coming-to-Christ story (also known as a "testimony") over the years. Other things would come up in evangelistic conversations, but not my story. And I certainly would never, ever, not ever dream of bringing my story up in a conversation with other Christians. I've become more and more aware of this recently, thanks to a little help from a friend.
My friend Abby is an amazing follower of Jesus. She's one of those people who is excited about Jesus, smiles when she talks about him and talks about him like he's a real person and not just some idea in which she believes (this, by the way, is one of the reasons she's an excellent evangelist). Abby told me at some point last year (when she was still new to her relationship with Jesus) that no one in GCF ever explained "grace" to her. Not that we preached salvation by works, just that we threw the word - "grace" - around like everyone knew what we were talking about. Why was that?
The main reason I never defined the word "grace" to Abby is the same reason I stopped sharing my testimony and relied on non-story or impersonal means of verbal witness.
I assumed that all the Christians in our community had been Christians for a long time. I have been a Christian for over 16 years myself. And with this dangerous assumption came an assumed conclusion, the reason I didn't share my testimony or define "grace": what God did in my life when I was 11 couldn't really be relevant to the lives of 18-22 year olds.
Think about it. If they've been following Jesus for 5, 10 or 15 years, why do they need to hear my testimony? They'll have heard better, more exciting stories of coming to Christ. And if they're not following Jesus at age 18, what good would it do to hear a story about me and a fight and a Christian school chapel and Sherrie Leatherwood? Is there any chance in the world that Sherrie is going to invite them to Sunday School? Unless they're Tampa-bound middle schoolers, it's a long shot. Why do they need to hear my testimony?
I'm not sure I have an answer, but I think it has something to do with this:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.
- 1 John 1:1-4
Is it possible that, because "the life appeared," our sharing "what we have seen and heard" creates space for real people to really connect with us and with the God who can be seen and heard, that sharing what we've seen and heard is necessary for our joy to be complete? Relevancy isn't the reason we share. We're not trying to make the gospel relevant. We're trying to make it personal. And nothing, no story's more personal than my testimony.
Why else? Why else do we shy away from sharing our testimonies?
Here're three more reasons why I wrongly back off from sharing my testimony:
1) I don't have a very sexy testimony
2) My point of conversion changes with my theology, making it complicated
3) I learned that "how" does not equal "why," so I thought "how" didn't matter