In the First Epistle of Peter, the apostle gives a command to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15).
It is one of many times in the Bible when followers of Jesus are instructed to share the Gospel with others. There are a lot of ways to share the Gospel. You can use a Gospel presentation on GodTools such as the Four Spiritual Laws. You can share a video from the Jesus Film App and talk about it. But Peter also says that we must be able to make it personal.
If you’re a follower of Jesus, your life has been changed by Jesus and He is the reason for the hope that you have. Therefore, you should always be prepared to talk about your relationship with Jesus. But that’s easier said than done, right?
This story is often called your “testimony,” although Karl Udy doesn’t like to use that term, since it’s a rather Christian-ese term that comes with a lot of baggage. Karl is the digital strategies leader for Tandem Ministries in New Zealand. In a recent episode of Indigitous PULSE, we spoke with him about how to share your personal story in an impactful way.
Changing the model
Karl was getting frustrated with the existing training about how to share a personal testimony. The training focused on giving a chronological account of what happened in three parts:
- Your life before giving your life to Jesus
- How you came to God
- How your life changed after
“This works well if someone has had a particularly dramatic conversion experience,” Karl says. But what about those of us who don’t? Given that structure, it can be easy to think you don’t have any story worth sharing.
In the book Becoming a Contagious Christian, the authors Bill Hybels and Mark Mittelberg argue that dramatic testimonies can actually make it more difficult for people to relate to the Gospel. “As a matter of fact, the difficulty of personally relating to the dramatic testimony may give your friends an excuse. ‘People like that need religion,’ they might say. But your everyday story will relate to their everyday life and show them that they, too, need the grace and leadership of God that you’ve found,” they write.
So how can you share that everyday life story? Karl recently developed a new training program to help people share their simple personal stories. “What I try to focus on when I’m doing the training is helping people think about one particular way that Jesus changed your life and being able to put that in a story structure,” Karl says.
The first step is to think about what that one thing is. Through prayer and introspection, you’ll probably come up with many things. That’s an additional benefit of this technique.
“The really good thing about this is, for people who have had their lives changed by Jesus, there are multiple ways that Jesus has changed their life,” Karl says. You might come up with several different personal stories that you can share, and you would choose which one to share based on things like to whom you’re speaking, how well you know them, and how much time you have. “One day you might give one particular … testimony about one way that Jesus changed your life. Another day, talking to a different person, you’re telling another testimony about another way that Jesus changed your life.”
Why to share personal story
But why share stories at all, when there are other ways to tell someone about God? Well, for one thing, the Bible says so, and it’s always good to follow that advice. But also because that’s the most powerful way to share any information.
Pastors know this. That’s why sermons almost always have at least one story. After you walk out of church, those stories will probably be the only parts that you remember. It’s why motivational speakers always tell stories. It’s why political candidates tell stories on the campaign trail. It’s why Jesus told so many parables. “As humans, we’re made to see the world through story,” Karl says.
We’ll forget most of the data that we read in textbooks and see in charts. But we’ll remember the novels we read and the movies we watch. Stories are more memorable and, just as importantly, they’re more relational.
“As humans, we’re relational beings. So when we have that personal connection, we’re able to develop empathy and build that common ground. That’s really important, in any part of life, but particularly as we want to encourage people towards taking steps of spiritual growth,” Karl says.
Elements of a good story
When thinking about the ways in which Jesus has changed your life and how to turn it into a story, it helps to keep in mind important elements of a good story. Karl stresses three elements:
Vulnerability: Let down that facade and be honest and vulnerable when sharing your story. “It helps to develop that empathy. We’re helping to let people into our lives,” Karl says. “And when one person shows vulnerability and shares something deep about themselves, then that makes it a lot easier for the other person to open up and be vulnerable themselves.”
Honesty: Your life didn’t become perfect when you came to Christ. You still sin and you still have struggles. So be honest about that and let people see the true picture of who you are in Christ and what your life with Him is like.
Surprise: Not all good stories have a surprise, but when there is one, that makes it a bit more engaging and memorable.
Sharing your story digitally
Once you’ve gone through an exercise of figuring out your stories, you should write them down, save them on your phone, or do whatever you need to do to have them handy. The next step is to actually share your story.
You can do this in person over coffee or on a peaceful hike. But in the digital age, you have the ability to share your story in many other ways with many other groups of people. You can share multiple stories in TikTok posts or in Instagram stories. You can share on WhatsApp with groups or one-on-one. You can tweet your personal stories.
The medium that you choose impacts how you share your message. When sharing things online, Karl stresses the importance of being brief. “Keep things as short as you can while being able to tell the story,” he says.
With some social media channels, such as Instagram and TikTok, brevity is forced by the way the apps work. Others, such as YouTube and Facebook, allow you to post much longer content, but Karl cautions against this. “There are a lot of long videos that are on the internet that people perhaps never get more than a couple minutes into,” Karl says. “In any sort of online storytelling, I would say aim for brevity.”
When sharing your personal story digitally, it’s important to think about your audience. You might tell your story differently in a private WhatsApp group than you would on a public YouTube channel. If you’re sharing with one person, think about what they know about you, what they know about Jesus, what preconceived notions they might have, and more.
And whether you’re sharing with one person or with a group, make sure you’re sharing in a way that they understand. Christians have a lot of insider language — terms like “testimony” for example — and are used to a lot of theological principles that the average person might not understand, such as the concepts of sin and atonement. So use plain language and explain anything that might be unfamiliar. “You need to be very careful about assuming what people already know and also assuming that people know what you mean when you use certain words,” Karl says.
Karl’s personal story
To provide an example, Karl shared one of his personal stories. There are a number of ways in which Jesus has changed Karl’s life, but he chose a story highlighting how He changed Karl’s view of success and failure:
“Growing up, one of the things that I’ve struggled with is worrying about things but also regret about where things haven’t gone as well as I’ve wanted. So if I had made a mistake, failed a test — I can remember doing badly on a test in school and I just couldn’t cope with the feeling that I didn’t do as well as I wanted to. It just felt as though my life had gone off-track. These feelings were really hard to control and they come up at different times when different things go wrong. For me, an important thing in terms of my relationship with Jesus is that it says that Jesus is the author and perfecter of our faith. So that means that Jesus is writing our stories and he’s writing our stories to have a perfect ending. So that was something which is really great in that I can trust Jesus with all of these things that are happening in my life. It’s like, I’m not happy about that, I didn’t want it to happen that way. But it helps to remind me that I’m not at the end of the story. I’m in the middle of the story right now. And with all the great stories that we love, we know that so often, the hero in the middle of the story is at a point where you don’t know how they’re going to come out to a good ending, but you know that they will, in certain types of stories. We know that we will come out to a good ending and we can trust Jesus in terms of how that’s going to happen and not worry so much about the future or have so much regret about mistakes I’ve made or things that haven’t worked out the way I’ve wanted in the past.”Karl Udy
Share your story
Whether you’ve shared your faith dozens of times or you’ve never done it, we encourage you to take time this week to think about your personal story. Do some introspection. Pray to God for Him to reveal the moments where Jesus has impacted your life. Come up with at least one story and share it using at least one digital channel. God can use your story to make a profound impact.
“We all have stories and stories that are actually going to be engaging for other people,” Karl says. “God has given you those stories because He is writing your story. And I just encourage you to find those stories and to share them with people, because people love to hear those genuine stories about how our life is unfolding.”