Amy Carroll » Speaking Tips » Reader Question 8

Reader Question 8

Let’s keep the questions about testimonies rolling! 

I have recently written down my testimony. I wrote it all down so that I could really process and think through what God has done in my life, and also so that I could more clearly share my story. This written form of course leaves out so many details along the way, as I limited it to about 2 pages. Part of my story is that I grew up in the church and chose to follow God from a young age. Although I never wavered from the faith, I did struggle with sin in certain areas of my life (as we all do). I feel like I could tell my story in so many different ways, focusing on so many different pieces of who I was and what God has done in my life. So my question is:

Is it always appropriate to share all of your testimony, or is it better to share pieces based on your audience’s needs or speaking topic?

For me, there were so many things that God was doing in me simultaneously because of the fact that I was a believer from a young age. I remember when I asked Jesus to be my Savior, but my life didn’t have this dramatic turn around moment. God took me from:

Impure thoughts/actions – to purity

Shyness – to boldness

Plagued by Perfection – to complete in Christ

Jealousy – to contentment

And, the list goes on and will continue to grow.

Basically, I have been struggling with feeling guilty if I don’t admit what I would consider to be my “darkest sin” all the time. But then again, I don’t know if it is always appropriate to share. I think God uses that piece of my testimony when it will directly minister to the individual I am talking with or the audience I am talking to. Any thoughts?

Thank you! ~Emily

Emily, I think you’ve actually got two questions here, and both of them are important.

#1– Is it always appropriate to share all of your testimony, or is it better to share pieces based on your audience’s needs or speaking topic?

It’s almost never appropriate to share all of your testimony simply because all of us have too much to tell. The details of our story can easily begin to overwhelm our listeners and obscure our point. If we keep our testimonies audience-centered like I talked about last week, we won’t include every detail. Instead, we’ll have a point that leads people to transformation.

In a Q & A one time, a woman told me that it would be impossible to NOT tell her whole story. As lovingly as possible, I gently said something she didn’t like at all. I told her that any time we’re in love with every detail of our story, we might not be ready to tell it. Until we love our audience and their needs more than the gratification we get from spilling our own story, we’re not ready. Because you’re asking the question, it shows a willingness to share pieces, so I know you are ready, Emily!

Note: Every part of our story is important and precious to God. Please don’t hear my response to that woman’s question as heartless. It just has to be more about them than us in ministry. I apply it painfully that truth to myself all the time–I promise!

#2– Does our audience have the right to every part of our story?

Years ago at a conference, I found a friend who had led a breakout session literally cornered by an attendee who was berating her for not sharing intimate details of her story publicly. Another friend of mine in ministry felt guilty for not revealing a personal crisis to her audience since she felt she owed it to them to be honest about her life.

Here’s my blunt take. In my opinion, our reality tv culture is wildly out of control. Those of us in ministry are called to be beyond reproach, but that doesn’t mean that we must tell every private detail of our lives to our audiences even if they demand it. There must be enough of a separation between public and private for us to protect our families and ourselves. Don’t hear me saying that we should hide personal sin because that’s not what I mean at all. I simply mean that our lives’ priorities should line up like the rest of the world’s–God, family, others, us. Our stories often overlap with others’, and we don’t have the right to expose them.

Here are questions that we can ask ourselves about sensitive parts of our story:

  • Does this story involve someone else? Do I have their permission to share?
  • Will sharing hurt a personal relationship that’s already on rocky ground?
  • Is this hurt a fresh hurt? Have I found healing that I can share?
  • Will this story benefit my audience or feed a voyeuristic/reality tv mentality?

I’ll give my own example. I have a son who has struggled with a pornography addiction. This is something lots of families face, but I didn’t include that part of my story in my messages until time had passed, he had shared it publicly first, our family had experienced healing and some victory, and I had his permission to share it. Now that all those markers are met, I include it in my messages sometimes (not all the time), and it has opened lots of doors to help other moms whose kids are also struggling.

My goal in this answer is to give each of you permission to keep parts of your story private. No one has a right to your story. You should only share it as God leads and as you have considered all the points above.

Do you all have thoughts on this? I’d love to hear!

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8 Comments

  1. Love these questions & your advice! I totally agree with the answers to
    this particular question. I have an example that I often use about how my
    husband & I met.

    We met online, like many people now do, but we met on a site that was less
    than reputable. In our testimony we share that God used a not-so-good
    situation & turned it into something beautiful for His glory.

    Many have asked us to reveal the name of the site & my answer has been
    “well it wasn’t Match.com!” But I also add that I don’t want to give any
    credibility to that other website by revealing their name. Most people seem
    to be okay with that answer & respect our privacy.

    Thanks for the opportunity to share our experiences with you!

    Kelly

    1. Great example! Thanks for sharing, Kelly.

  2. Great question and wonderful answers. I was once asked to share my story on a specific topic. A few people knew enough to know I had experience in the subject. As I prayed about it, I felt that I needed to approach my immediate and extended family for their permission to share because it would affect them. I gained permission from all but one. I still have yet to share about this topic because of that one. If God’s plans include my sharing then He will work in that one’s life and grant me permission. Until then I share broadly without broaching the topic and mainly the lesson God brought me to learn.

    1. I so respect how you’ve honored your loved one, Cynthia!

  3. Thanks Amy for your wise words. These are excellent points and I really want to keep them in mind.

  4. Amy, this post has confirmed some convictions I’ve had for a while but still had some questions about. Thanks!

    I agree, we need to weigh whether or not what we tell will add value to the listeners. Depending on the spiritual maturity of your audience, some may take it as a license to sin: “Look, she did that and she’s fine now. So I can do it too, and I’ll be forgiven and fine.” Always make sure to include some of the hard consequences.

  5. Hi Amy – this question – and your answer – reminds me of what you and I talked about over the phone. While my sons have been through major events that might be truly relatable for others who may hear me speak about them, as of this juncture I do not have the rights or permission from them to share their unique and individual stories. Perhaps one day I will, but these are also their stories to share, if they so desire.

    In wondering how that affects what I can say or write about, I read an interesting quote the other day that went something like this, “You don’t have to write about the whole war, but you can write about the smaller events that happened during the war that impacted you.” I realize I can take what I learned about God and myself from their stories and weave that into my own.
    My prayer is that one day they will want to share what they have learned with the world, and that God will be glorified through that telling.

    Beth