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FIRST-PERSON: Testimony services aren’t ‘old-fashioned’

FORT SMITH, Ark. (BP) — Growing up as a pastor’s son in a small church, some of my fondest memories are linked to those occasional Sunday nights when my dad, rather than preaching, would moderate a “testimony service.”

In those services, our song leader Wally Chandler would give the pianist a night off, and he would just play his guitar while he and his wife Jo would lead us in a medley of hymns and choruses. Then, my dad would read a Scripture and open the floor for anyone to share a brief testimony. Between testimonies, Wally and Jo always seemed to have a song to go along with, or reinforce, the previous testimony.

As a congregation, we celebrated with those who shared testimonies of salvation, healing from addictions, reuniting of marriages and answers to prayer. My favorite was hearing all of the different stories about how individuals were saved — through the years, we heard many of the same stories over and over again.

Maranatha Baptist Church was a special place to me. This is where my dad pastored throughout my elementary school years. During those years, we watched the church grow from 20 in attendance to more than 220, mostly from conversion growth.

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I believe that much of the growth was spurred by those testimony services. Here’s why:

First, testimony nights provided a forum for people to formulate and practice sharing personal testimonies. Individuals grew in both confidence and skill with regard to recounting their salvation. This exercise prepared individuals for sharing their stories outside the walls of the church with friends, family and coworkers.

Second, it helped us to get to know each other and deepened our love for each other. Those testimonies reminded each of us that we are all sinners saved by grace. I remember the night that Jim Marrujo, a recently retired professional baseball player, a “man’s man” and one of those “I-want-to-grow-up-and-be-like-him” men, stood and shared his salvation testimony with tears streaming down his cheeks. While I do not recall any of the details, it so impressed this 9-year-old boy that a man who had played in Yankee Stadium was broken over his sin and the grace that God extended to him through Jesus Christ. Suddenly, Marrujo was a just a “regular old guy” saved by grace — and that’s what most mattered to him.

Third, these nights were often evangelistic. My dad would wrap up the service by saying something like, “Tonight we have heard a lot of great stories of Jesus doing what Jesus does — forgiving, restoring and giving new life. Do you have a story like that? If not, your story can begin tonight.” Often, people were saved at those services.

Scripture tells us to “encourage one another” (1 Thessalonians 5:11) and to “spur one another on” (Hebrews 10:24). Hearing testimonies from one another does this and more. And it doesn’t have to happen in a Sunday night service. Bible study classes, prayer groups, fellowships, Sunday School or anywhere God’s people gather can potentially be great forums for hearing, sharing and bragging on Jesus.

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