In the Power of Testimony, I shared that I believe testimony and witness are the most powerful ways to share the Gospel because they make God come alive in the world. We also explored the National Study of Youth and Religion‘s (NSYR) findings that youth are incredibly inarticulate about their faith and that God makes very little difference in their everyday lives. Teaching youth how to testify and witness to God’s work in the world will not only spread the Good News, but will also anchor their own faith. But how do we do it? Below are five ways you can teach youth to testify and witness to what God has done in their lives.
1. Tell the Little Stories
Our Baptist brothers and sisters are obsessed with telling the “big stories”—the Good News of Jesus Christ and their salvation moments. Most of the other protestants are scared to share the “big stories” because we might offend someone. The “big stories” have their time and place and certainly believe all Christians should grow to a place where they can share these stories with others. But I believe to teach youth and adults to testify and witness we must focus on the “little stories.”
“Little stories” are the moments of God that happen in the world everyday—an answered prayer, God’s presence in a time of trouble, the joy of the sunrise, new insights from the scriptures, a cup of cold water with someone in need, etc. Additionally, aren’t the scriptures a lot of “little stories” that make up God’s big story of redemption?
Because these “little stories” happen all the time, they give youth and adults plenty to talk about. We simply have to help them learn to talk about these things.
One activity that I have used to help people begin to see the “little stories” of their lives is the shrinking timeline. I have youth or adults write out an extensive timeline of significant events in their faith lives. I encourage them to write down everything they can think of, both positive and possibly negative. We take time to share in small groups or even one-on-one a couple of the “little stories” of our lives.
Then, I point out that their story is made up of a bunch of “little stories” and that their story is a part of God’s big story of redemption that stretches through history and continues today through people like you and me.
Your story is made up of a bunch of little stories; learn to tell the little ones and people will experience the big one.
It is rare that youth or adults will write down more than one or two events a year. (Really, you only experienced God twice in a year?) So, I begin to shrink the timeline:
- Make a list of the ways you have experience God this year
- This month
- This week
God may not make a difference in youth’s everyday lives, because they fail to recognize God’s activity in their lives. They need practice looking for God in their everyday lives.
The next four tools are ways to help youth learn how to tell their “little stories” and were informed by Kenda Creasy Dean’s book The Godbearing Life.
In The Godbearing Life, Kenda tells the story of a mom walking with her daughter home from the store through the park. The mother allows her daughter to wander through the park investigating flowers, rabbits, trees, and people. As they go along the way, the mother occasionally points towards home to help steer the child towards the goal. The mother shows incredible patience and sets a wonderful model for us in how we can walk alongside others who are on a faith journey. Their journey through the park was not a straight one or the fastest route, but they did end up at their destination and the child got to get there on her own.
Pointing is an important tool for youth ministry and testimony in three ways:
- Adults get to point out how we see God at work in a young person’s life.
- Adults and youth can model testimony and witness by pointing out God’s work in their own lives.
- Youth learn notice for themselves and to point out to others God’s activity in the world.
Questions invite a response. A great way to model testifying and witnessing is to ask faith questions like:
- Do you believe in God?
- Have you ever had a prayer answered?
- When have you felt closest to God?
- Have you ever been mad at God?
- What is your favorite scripture?
All of these questions invite a “little story” from someone else. Teaching our youth to ask questions is just half of teaching them to testify and witness. To have a faith conversation, they must be prepared and willing to answer the questions themselves–to share their “little story.”
A great youth group activity is to brainstorm a list of questions and practice asking and responding to them with folks you know. Set up a time to do it with the older members of the church; let the youth practice outside the walls of the church, too.
4. Awe and Wonder
God’s creation is so cool. A simple way to testify and witness to God’s awesomeness is to stand in awe and wonder at it. Model for young people how to stop and take in God’s creation. Create opportunities for them to stop and see God all around them in creation and in other people. Stopping in and of itself is not witnessing. But stopping, pointing, and saying out loud to those around that you see God’s handwork is!
This one seems obvious and this generation is all about doing things for others. We witness and give testimony not only with our words, but also with our actions. Jesus said, “When you give a cup of cold water in my name…” The NSYR shows that teenagers are not connecting their mission and justice projects to their faith. We need to model and teach our youth that we serve and love others because God first loved us. We come in Jesus’ name. We serve and love you because you are a child of the living God.
Help youth connect what they do to why they do it!
Your story is about hope, doubt, failure, and triumph. It’s about standing up for justice, showing mercy, and living for God. —Tony Campolo