Tag Archives: evangelize

Re-Imagining the Three-Minute Testimony [at Cru Press]

Photo by Julian Lim, Flickr Creative Commons

I’ve made it no secret that I really don’t love the concept of the three-minute-testimony. My angst stems, I’m sure, from a dozen missions trips in which I kept trying to jam my own faith into that prescribed mold and feeling like it never measured up. Of trying to make it pretty and perfect; of trying to make it matter more somehow.

I wrote about all of that in my book, and when my Cru Press friend Neil Downey read it, he noted that organizations like Cru work hard to coach students how to share the story of how God changed their life without going on huge tangents.

And I agree that there’s a legitimate place for that. But I also think that the danger is to make it a formula. A one-size fits all. A neat and tidy thing.

After all, we live in a Pinterest world where the Before and After is emphasized over the messy middle — and yet this is where we live the majority of our faith lives. Trying to figure it out. And in my experience, God is anything but neat and tidy, before and after. He blows into your life and makes a mess of things. And it is beautiful.

So anyway. I’m over at Cru Press today, thinking about redefining that three-minute testimony.Here’s the beginning.

I could tell it to you in my sleep: my “three minute testimony.” The story of how I “prayed the prayer” at age five in my parents’ bedroom after a nightmare about hell.

I’ve written it on two dozen different notecards and carried it with me on several missions trips. I hoped that I wouldn’t be asked to share it in front of a crowd – not because I was ashamed of the Gospel, but because the story felt so disconnected from the life I was living.

I knew it was real, what happened when I was small. I knew it mattered. But it felt strange to make the climactic moment of my story a moment that I could barely remember, a moment that happened ten years in the past.

They said, “Your testimony is just as exciting as someone who’s been to jail! Who’s been on drugs! Who’s been redeemed from the unimaginable!!” And I believed them in theory…but in reality… well, let’s just say that I hoped I wouldn’t be asked to share. [Continue reading here.]

One Small Change: Letting Go of the Plastic Jesus

I feel grateful to have met Preston Yancey on the Internet. He is kind, insightful, and he’s working on his first book in which he’s seeking to change the conversation about God’s silence. I can’t wait to read it…and I wish something like that had existed when I was experiencing my own difficult absence. Preston’s thoughts here are beautiful and profound. 

plastic jesusIn my days of youth rallies and midweek praise services, justice was a narrow and particular construct. Justice was food for the starving, clothes for the naked, and shelter for the homeless bundled up with a white plastic Jesus attached.

The plastic Jesus was the point.

The plastic Jesus was the plan of salvation, an itemized check-list that ensured the recipient, upon saying a prayer, would be granted access to Heaven.

See, no one ever really needed food, clothing, or shelter. They needed Jesus. They needed the white plastic version of Jesus that my hard earned money could buy them, which I dropped into a bucket that got passed around on the last day of camp.

I never had to see them, never had to really interact with them. I saw a picture of a nondescript hungry black baby on a screen and shelled out ten dollars because of a vague mention of the Spirit.

That was justice. The ten dollars dropped in the bucket and the fingers-crossed prayers that the unreached would believe in Jesus and that would make it alright.

I want to extend a kind of grace to the past self, make room for the good intentions of that heart. I want to be able to hold the tension that what was done perhaps erroneously nonetheless was still used by God, but I don’t want to flatter myself into believing that dropping that ten dollars into that bucket was justice. Maybe it was justice as I u
nderstood it then, but it’s not justice as I understand it now.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Jesus, the real Jesus and not the plastic version I’ve worn around my neck for too long of my life. The real Jesus is not God in the abstracted, clinical way we sometimes speak of Him. The real Jesus is the embodiment of the God of Israel, the God of a particular people with a particular history that we have been invited into.

The Old Testament gets a bad rap sometimes for a portrayal of a jealous and petulant God, but it’s some of the richest in the argument for a holistic view of justice. Both in the Law and the Prophets, we encounter a God who is radically concerned with the well being of people regardless of whether or not they are of Israel. Indeed, God commands the people to look out for those who are not their own: “But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

If Jesus is the God of Israel, then His justice cannot be bastardized into a form of help to convert. The God of Israel said that even those not of Israel and therefore not of God were still to be extended the same love as an Israelite would have for themselves.

So too are we called as Christians. We are to hand over food, clothes, and shelter without a plastic Jesus attached, but with a radical belief that God is being made known in the act of giving itself.

open hand

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

These days, I’ve come to see justice a bit more complexly. I don’t drop ten dollars into a bucket anymore, but thirty-five into Food for the Hungry which sponsors children. Child sponsorship is one of the most significant ways to directly participate in justice on a global scale.

For one, child sponsorship focuses on enabling a child with education, which in turn helps their family as a whole. Second, it helps disentangle the church from the fetish of orphan care, in which we have made it glamorous to rescue “an orphan” or “build an orphanage” without a long term solution for the betterment of that child and their community. Not to mention, orphans are not the only ones who are in need of our care and giving.

Third, child sponsorship supports the health of the child in-country and in-culture, removing the white Jesus salvation superhero mentality we often bring into spaces we identify as “the mission field” and instead builds a multi-cultural relationship that honors and uplifts the community a child was born into and can be an effective leader within.

(There are problems, too, with some child sponsorship programs, which some have done a good job of pointing out.)

I’ve let go of my need for that to be explicitly Jesus-y in order to count. Justice, the justice of God, does not need a plastic Jesus attached to be realized. It needs the willingness of God’s people to work small actions of justice right where they are and believe that a big God is able to draw people to Godself in the midst of that, that God really does care about food, clothing, and shelter as much as the ultimate state of the soul.

I think this has something to do with on earth as it is in Heaven.

Some Child Sponsorship Options:

Food for the Hungry
World Vision
Help One Now

preston yanceyPreston Yancey is an author and speaker with a Masters of Letters in Theology & the Arts from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and a B.A. in Great Texts of the Western Tradition from Baylor University. His first book, Tables in the Wilderness: A Memoir of God Found, Lost, and Found Again is to be published by Zondervan in October 2014. A native Texan, he is currently the Administrative Assistant to the Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of the Western Gulf Coast, working on his second book, and engaged to be married next June. He runs on a diet of caffeine and God’s grace.

Announcing the When We Were On Fire Synchroblog

NOTE: This synchroblog is now live. Check it out here!

Today is October 1st, which means that my extremely-vulnerable memoir (choked full of spiritual angst, personal details and four-letter words) comes out in exactly TWO WEEKS.

I have been preparing for the release in the following ways:

  • Junk food. Cookies for breakfast! Pasta for dinner! Eight thousand cans of Diet Coke a day!! I bought a bag of dark-chocolate Milky Way Minis last week and ate them all, I’m sorry to say, in three days. I’m not even going to tell you how many times we’ve been to McDonalds in the last couple of weeks, and I just polished off my second bag of cheese puffs this month.
  • Watching Nikita on Netflix…because there’s really nothing better for a mental breakdown than a really bad CWTV show. Particularly if said show has super-spies, cringe-worthy plot-twists, and a couple of drama-filled love triangles.
  • Naps.
  • A couple desperate, last minute web searches to find a new, local therapist. (Mine moved way to the other side of the city. Sarah, if you’re reading this PLEASE MOVE TO ANDOVER IMMEDIATELY!)
  • Spontaneous and completely unnecessary Target purchases. (Clearly I need to re-read Abby Norman’s One Small Change post on Putting Things Back. Sigh.)

I’m writing guest posts and articles and – here’s a new one – video scripts. (My kind, wise editor told me that I need to put my face on YouTube soon, and though I know he’s probably right, it didn’t stop me from going into a full ten-minute panic coma about it during the sermon this past Sunday.)

I have seventeen lists on my kitchen table, and I’m not really sure which one of them is the official “To Do” list.

My book is coming out. In TWO WEEKS. I think I’m getting an ulcer. This is, apparently, what Living The Dream looks like.


When I started thinking about what it might look like to “Promote My Book,” I knew that I wanted it to be about more than just me and my story. The title is, after all, When We Were On Fire, and, in one way or another, you were there too.

You were somewhere on the other side of that giant arena downtown, singing along to “Jesus Freak,” jumping up and down with your hands raised high.

(Or you were outside the concert, smoking surreptitiously by the dumpster with other youth-group bad-asses. I’m not here to judge.)

You were waking up at 6:00 in the morning, bleary-eyed and fuzzy, driving to your school’s Bible study. You were standing at your school’s flagpole. You were attending Wednesday night youth group. You were saying all the right things, believing it all…or not. You were singing loud and soulful, or you were doodling on your youth group handout in the back row, feeling indescribably lonely.

You were hiking through foreign countries in matching t-shirts, reciting your three-minute testimony in your head. You were signing a True Love Waits pledge card, promising purity before you understood what it meant.

Or maybe you weren’t in this world at all…but you knew people who were. You had barbed interactions with them…or beautiful ones. Or both.

Whatever it looked like for you, your life was touched by the 90s Christian Culture: this world where it was a kind of success to be “on fire for the Lord,” and you were measured – however inadvertently – by the power of your passion.

I want to hear your story.

On or before Tuesday, October 15th, write a blog post about your “on fire” days.

The good of it or the bad of it. The beauty or the pain or all of it wrapped up together somehow. Tell me about the time you broke the rules on a missions trip. Tell me that funny story from Bible camp…or that heartbreaking one. Did you wear the t-shirts, the one with messages like Life’s Hard, Pray Harder? Did you string WWJD bracelets, one-by-one, up your wrist?

Maybe it wasn’t you, exactly, but it was your daughter. Your son. Your niece or nephew or granddaughter. Tell what that was like, watching them sort out God under the fluorescent light of this strange subculture.

When you think about those days now, what comes back? What rises to the surface? Tell me. Write it all down.

Here’s How to Participate:

  1. Write your “When We Were On Fire” story on your blog on or before Tuesday, October 15. If you don’t have a blog, don’t worry! Send me your story in an email, and I’ll compile those somehow in a post called When We Were On Fire: The Non-Blogger Edition.
  2. If you’re a blogger, make sure you include this image and link in your post so that others can click back and see the roundup! (Link the image to this blog post: http://addiezierman.com/?p=2500)

when we were on fire synchroblog

3.   Come back here on Tuesday, October 15, and use the link-up tool to add your post here. Easy peasy.
4.   Click around to other people’s posts and feel way less crazy.
5.   If you want to share your post on Twitter, use the hashtag #WWWoF so that we can all keep track of what’s happening. (This is the hashtag for the book, by the way. I just invented it. You can use it for all of your nice comments about my memoir…but none of your mean ones. That will only drive me back to the cheese puffs.)

I’m looking so forward to hearing your stories.

Thank you for joining me to remember and to redefine. To celebrate, expose and to begin to understand those years when we were on fire, burning wild, burning out. Becoming the people we are today.

Outreach Events and the Old Bait-and-Switch

The church gym smelled like sweat and pizza and the sharp vinyl of a giant, inflatable obstacle course.

Sumo Suits were new-ish then, all the rage, and we lined up to take our turn bumbling toward a similarly outfitted opponent.

(Remember laughing your suddenly fat BFF, at yourself, the awkward heaviness of all that plastic draped over your body?)

The place pulsed with Christian rock and the buzz of air pumping into inflatables and laughter, and what else could you really ask for? For weeks, there had been fliers, reminders. Bring your friend, bring your friends, bring your friends! And so I did, a whole vanload of high school freshman that I knew from orchestra and from class and from lunch at the cafeteria table.

When we sat down at the end of the night, a mess of sweaty bodies folded onto the floor at the back of the gym, my heart flopped wild in my chest. A couple of seniors got up to give their three-minute-testimonies, and I kept glancing at the profiles of my friends to see if they were moved by these words. By these fun-size bits of Gospel Truth.

I understood that this night with its extreme fun and its 35 greasy pizzas was about something bigger. It was about bringing in those who were outside. It was about showing them that Jesus and fun were not mutually exclusive but instead part of the same great package. And they could have it all, have it right now, this minute – absolutely free.

I remember the ride home in our minivan, listening to conversation, praying silently in my heart. I remember feeling proud that I went to such a fun church; I remember feeling wildly nervous, desperate for this to make sense to them, for them to say to me, “Actually, I’d really like to invite Jesus into my heart, like that guy talked about. Can you help me do that?”

In four years of youth group outreaches, not one of them ever did.


When they introduce the upcoming outreach at our church they use words like “non-threatening” and “fun.” There’s a slide on the screens with zany fonts and lots of colors; they mention something about giving away free TVs.

There is some statistic thrown out there about people and church; about how a very high percentage would go if they were invited. They say, “We are having an outreach!” They say, “Invite, invite, invite!” And I sit very still in my chair, knowing in my heart that I will not.

And I remember it, that desire to bring people in, to make my evangelical world accessible. I remember how much it helped to be able to offer inflatables and free pizza and sumo suits instead of just a straight-shot of Jesus Christ to the arm.

But these days, the whole thing feels a little dishonest to me. Like a sales ploy, like a bait-and-switch. You came for free food, but we have something even better to offer: eternal life!

The longer I live this life of faith, the less it resembles a pizza party or an inflatable obstacle course. It is sometimes dark, sometimes empty, sometimes trudging, your feet heavy on the road. Sometimes it feels like he isn’t here. Sometimes you have to believe anyway.

I believe that this Jesus thing is the truest thing in the world. That grace saved my life, and that when I’m sitting, looking out the window in the quiet mornings, the peace I feel is Him. I want my friends to know it, the deep-down truth of it, the life-giving stillness of it.

And I don’t think they can find all of that at an outreach event.

So, if we’re being honest, no – I will probably not invite my friends to that thing at the church with all of its hype and freebies. It’s just not my thing anymore.

Instead, I’ll invite them into my home, with its giant pile of shoes in the entryway and that fruit snack that Liam dropped out of his mouth the other day still stuck to the floor. There is a Bible and a prayer book on my kitchen table, a verse propped up on the kitchen window over a sink overflowing with dishes.

I’ll say, “Take off your shoes…or leave them on if you want, cause the floor is really crusty.” I’ll let them all the way in.

I’ll invite them into my own small, contradictory life. They will know what I believe. They will see the ways that I live it and the ways that I fail to live it. I will invite them into my knowing and my unknowing, my peace and my fear. I will choose love because I have been chosen by Love. I will choose to tell the big Truth and all the little truths of my life at the same time.

I cannot, probably, offer free TVs, but I can offer a frozen pizza. Some guilt-free babysitting, some fresh-baked cookies. A listening ear.

I won’t do the outreach, but I’ll try my best to reach – just reach – every day, toward others.

I’ll reach as far as my arms will go. I’ll grab them by the hand in the small ways that I can. I’ll hold on for dear life.

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