“Testimony occurs in particular settings — a courtroom or a church — where a community expects to hear the truth spoken.”

— Thomas Hoyt, Jr.


Thoughts and questions to help you consider this practice

In testimony, people speak truthfully about what they have experienced and seen, offering it to the community for the edification of all.

The practice of testimony requires that there be witnesses to testify and others to receive and evaluate their testimony. It is a deeply shared practice — one that is possible only in a community that recognizes that falsehood is strong, but that yearns nonetheless to know what is true and good.

What is testimony?

Testimony is basic to community and happens in every vital Christian community where words of freedom are spoken and heard. In Acts 2, Peter's testimony in Jerusalem defined the early church as an open, inclusive community. What part of corporate worship do you experience as testimony, i.e., people building up the faith community by telling what they've experienced and seen?

In North American society, advertising shapes most of our public discourse. How can people without economic and political power be heard when commercial gain drives the speech of advertising?

Testimony from marginal living

Storytellers in the brush arbors kept alive the heritage of African slaves throughout their years of oppression in a strange new land. In the same manner, African American preachers reinterpreted stories of the Hebrew slavery and liberation in light of their own people's needs and experiences. What therapy does hearing and giving testimony offer to oppressed communities?

Preaching as testimony

Preaching is a witness intended to evoke other forms of witness. Preaching is the activity of the whole church and not of the preacher alone. What challenge does this present to the preacher? What grace does it offer? How is the testimony of a preacher distinct from the other "testifiers"? How do preacher and people work together to practice testimony? How does the call and response pattern common in African American worship support the preacher in giving testimony? If this is not the pattern in your own community, by what other means do the people support the preacher in giving testimony?

Testimony in song

To know the real life and history of a people, study the testimony it makes in its songs. What tuneful testimony did Miriam make in Exodus 15:21? What testimony does the hymn "Amazing Grace" make? When have you been better able to sing your testimony than speak it? How do songs help people make sense of their lives? What songs point disenfranchised people to a time when their needs will be met?

Testimony beyond words

Sojourner Truth, Martin Luther King Jr., and Mohandas Gandhi all testified with their bodies, their actions, their lives. The New Testament word for witness is "martyr." How does the witness of martyrs — famous or not — inspire you to greater witness? When have you seen a quiet act of compassion speak powerfully of God's presence? In what ways do the church's rituals offer nonverbal testimony to the story of Jesus' life and death and continuing power in our lives?

Telling the truth

Christian testimony has two dimensions: telling the truth to God about our lives, and bearing witness to others about God's redemptive activity in the world. How are these two dimensions of testimony related to each other? How do groups like Alcoholic Anonymous draw upon the healing power of both dimensions of truth-telling?

In Central America, Archbishop Oscar Romero urged truth-telling that risked lives. What risks are inherent in giving unpopular testimony? How can people support one another in bearing witness and speaking the truth? How can we draw strength and inspiration from "the great cloud of witnesses" who have gone before us (Hebrews 12:1)?

  • Consider kerygma. Kerygma is the Greek word for "proclamation," meaning what is proclaimed as well as the act of proclaiming. Identify several dominant kerygma within our society: the messages that most shape our dreams, expectations, and values. In what form are these messages conveyed?
  • Watch selected television commercials with a group and discuss. Advertising is the platform for much of the public testimony we experience today. Consider:
    • What is being sold, and to whom?
    • What is the producer using to sell the product?
    • What do you suspect this product will in fact do?
    • What testimony does this ad give to the values and priorities of our society?
  • Compare your understandings of gossip and testimony. Can you think of times when speech that has been labeled "gossip" might be testimony that has not dared to go public for fear of reprisal?
  • Give testimony from marginal living. Invite people to meet with your group or faith community to give testimony from marginal living (migrant workers, refugees, unhoused people, etc.). Where do these people see God active in their lives?
man speaking at podium
worship service
  • Plan time for testimony. Using a recent bulletin, review the typical order of worship for your church. Mark places where there is opportunity for testimony — spoken, sung, and nonverbal. Create space for testimony during worship. Invite members to speak about what they have experienced and seen, to testify to God's activity in their lives.
  • Ask each congregation member to choose a hymn that best expresses his or her faith. Use at least one of these hymns each week in a series of worship services, accompanied by a story of why the hymn is important in the life of the member who chose it.
  • Consider your gathered faith community. Preaching is not simply the personal testimony of the preacher, but it is the public testimony for the sake of the gathered faith community. How does your congregation inform this weekly public testimony?
  • Write an epitaph for someone whose living and/or dying has been a testimony of faith. Or begin a goodbye letter for when you die, giving testimony to your faith journey, to your hopes for the future, blessing those you leave behind.


  • Jean Kilbourne is recognized for her pioneering work on alcohol and tobacco advertising and the image of women in advertising. She is best known for her award-winning documentaries Killing Us Softly, Slim Hopes, and Pack of Lies. Kilbourne is the author of Can't Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel (2000).
  • Visit The Center for Media Literacy, an organization that provides curriculum and training for analyzing and evaluating the powerful images, words, and sounds that make up our contemporary mass media culture.
  • Learn more about the art of preaching by reading the Journal for Preachers. Write a letter in response to your pastor's Sunday sermon. Use the opportunity to testify to your own beliefs as well.

Worship Materials

Then I said, "Ah Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy." But the LORD said to me, "Do not say, 'I am only a boy'; for you shall go to all whom I send you, and shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD." Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the LORD said to me, "Now I have put my words in your mouth."

— Jeremiah 1:6-9

Beyond joys and concerns

There are two dimensions to testimony: telling the truth to God about our lives, and telling the truth about God. Testimony is the task of every Christian. The following resource helps people make their own testimony. It could be used during the testimony time in worship, or as a part of the offering, since we offer testimony. It has two parts: a guided meditation, and a guided sharing of testimony within the faith community.

Part 1: [Leader pauses after each question.]

Why are you here (this morning, today, this evening)?
Do you come to give thanks?
Do you come because someone has coerced you to come?
Do you come out of habit?
Do you come out of obligation?
Do you come out of desperate need?
Tell God the truth. God's Spirit will listen.

What obstacles kept you from God this week?
Anxiety about money?
Anger with someone?
Lack of time?
Disappointment with God?

You own reluctance to lay open your heart even to God, the one who knows you better than you know yourself?
Tell God the truth. God's Spirit will listen.

Where did you meet God this week?
In worship?
In your family?
In a store?
On a street?
By water?
Tell God the truth. God's Spirit will listen.

Photo of man speaking with microphone in front of church crowd
woman speaking
Part 2: [Offer these questions for silent musing, then invite people to share the answers with their neighbors, or with the congregation as a whole.]

Where did you meet God this week?
What was God doing?
How did you know?

What witness would you like to be able to make this week? About what issue?
Will you make this witness with words or with your body?

What do you hope for this body of believers in the next month?
How might this body be Christ to you?
How might this body be Christ to your community?

— Lani Wright, Cottage Grove, Oregon


I Love to Tell the Story

"I love to tell the story of unseen things above,
of Jesus and his glory, of Jesus and his love.
I love to tell the story because I know 'tis true.
It satisfies my longings as nothing else could do.
I love to tell the story, 'twill be my theme in glory,
to tell the old, old story of Jesus and his love."
Text: Catherine Hankey

Go, Tell It on the Mountain

"Go, tell it on the mountain
Over the hills and everywhere
Go, tell it on the mountain
That Jesus Christ is born."
Text: African-American spiritual

O Sacred Head, Now Wounded

"What language shall I borrow to thank thee, dearest friend,
For this thy dying sorrow, thy pity without end?
O make me thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never, outlive my love to thee."
Text: Attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux, tr. James W. Alexander

Tú Has Venido a la Orilla (Lord, You Have Come to the Lakeshore)

"O Lord, with your eyes you have searched me,
kindly smiling, have spoken my name.
Now my boat's left on the shoreline behind me;
by your side I will seek other seas."
Text and music: Cesáreo Gabaráin
Translation copyright (c) 1989 The United Methodist Publishing House

Photo of someone holding up bible in crowd

Books & Films

Read more about Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith
Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith
Anne Lamott

At once tough, personal, affectionate, wise, and very funny, Traveling Mercies tells in exuberant detail how Anne Lamott learned to shine the light of faith on the darkest part of ordinary life, exposing surprising pockets of meaning and hope.

Read more about Ragman and Other Cries of Faith
Ragman and Other Cries of Faith
Walter Wangerin, Jr.

Ranging from gentle reflections to heart-rending invocations, these selections are powerful, thought-provoking explorations of the meaning of faith, the person of Christ, and the communion of believers.

Read more about The Preaching Life
The Preaching Life
Barbara Brown Taylor

In her bestselling preaching autobiography, Barbara Brown Taylor writes of how she came to be a preacher of the gospel as a priest in the Episcopal Church.

Read more about The Sacred Journey
The Sacred Journey
Frederick Buechner

This memoir reflects on key moments of the author’s early life, from childhood to his entering seminary, that reveal how God speaks to us in a variety of ways every moment of every day.

Read more about The Witness of Preaching
The Witness of Preaching
Thomas G. Long

Beginning with a solid theological basis, veteran preacher and best-selling author Thomas G. Long offers a practical, step-by-step guide to writing a sermon. Long centers his approach around the biblical concept of witness. To be a preacher, Long posits, is to be a witness to God’s work in the world — one who sees before speaking, one whose task is to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about what is seen.”

Read more about The Apostle
The Apostle

“Sonny” Dewey is a Texas evangelist on the lam after clubbing his wife’s lover into a coma with a baseball bat. Baptizing himself with the new name “Apostle E.F.,” he flees to a small town in the Louisiana Delta and continues his ministry by preaching on a local radio station and renovating an old church.

Read more about Amistad

The story of an 1839 slave mutiny and the legal status of the Africans who rose up against their captors on the high seas and are brought to trial in a New England court. The court must decide whether the defendants were born of slaves — in which case they are guilty of murder — or were illegally brought from Africa and therefore had a right to defend themselves against kidnapping.

Read more about Matewan

Set in Mingo County, West Virginia, in 1920, this story relates the experiences of a local teenage preacher caught in a struggle between coal miners, union organizers, company operators, and gun thugs. Note the testimony shared about the power of non-violent resistance (Mennonite bravery). Note also the young preacher’s skill in using indirect communication through his clever recounting of Joseph being framed by Potiphar’s wife.

Read more about Tell It Like It Is: Reclaiming the Practice of Testimony
Tell It Like It Is: Reclaiming the Practice of Testimony
Lillian Daniel

Lillian Daniel shares how her congregation re-appropriated the practice of testimony one Lenten season, a practice that would eventually revitalize their worship and transform their congregational culture.

What Others Are Doing

Read more about Why storytelling matters
Poet and writer Carolina Hinojosa-Cisneros and her daughter, Brooklyn Yesenia Cisneros. Hinojosa-Cisneros says a story can be a thread between generations. Photo by Erasmo Cisneros


read more about Study Guide for “Testimony: Talking Ourselves into Being Christian”

Study Guide for “Testimony: Talking Ourselves into Being Christian”

Don C. Richter

This is the companion study guide for the book “Testimony: Talking Ourselves into Being Christian,” by Thomas G. Long.