Tuesday 25th June 2024
Just Walk Across the Room: How to Tell Your Personal Faith Story
Audio / Equipping

Just Walk Across the Room: How to Tell Your Personal Faith Story

Adrian Holloway on November 16, 2008 with 0 Comments

2 Corinthians 5:17 – Preaching from ChristChurch London’s Sunday Service

SLIDE 1: ‘Just Walk Across the Room,’ week 3 of 4

I wonder what is it that we will do differently as a result of what we’ve heard today. I once went on rugby tour in Cornwall and Devon. And because I was a Christian, I decided that I’d draw the line very early on in the tour and I wouldn’t drink at all to kind of make a point. I don’t know whether you’ve ever been on a rugby tour. Every day there’s a judge and a court. You have Defence and prosecution. So every day I was up for not drinking on tour. And every day I got forfeits. So I had to eat chillies and lots of other stuff that I can’t share with you right now. I also had to wear a toilet seat round my head, and I also had to throughout the tour dress as a woman. So I had this dress on. We were going to this night club in Torquay at about 11.00 at night and myself and the first XV scrum half were refused entry to this night club. We’re heading back to the tour hotel, 11.00 at night, and he asked me: “Why are you not drinking on tour?” And I explained the reasons. I said: “I’m a Christian . . . “ And he started to ask me more and more So I am really sharing the gospel with him as we are walking home and then it occurs to me, this is the first time in my whole life that I have shared the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, dressed as a woman. So I don’t know whether you’ll do anything differently, I don’t recommend any of you to share the gospel dressed as a woman, though, obviously if you’re a woman that’s fine.

Bill Hybels has shown us that when you’ve been a Christian for a while, you can go so deep into Christian community that somehow you become numb to the fact that there are people far from God just across the room.

So in the book, Bill points out that it was Jesus style to, from time to time, excuse himself from the circle of believers, and to walk in the direction of someone who needed to be shown the way to the father. So we often see Jesus in the gospels, walking into the zone of the unknown, as he follows the promptings of the Spirit.

For example in Luke 19, in Jericho, Jesus sees a tax collector called Zaccheus, and Jesus goes over to Zaccheus’ house.

Same thing in John 4, in Samaria, the disciples go into town to buy food. Jesus makes a point of not doing so. He goes and talks to a woman at a well instead.

On both occasions, a life-changing conversation follows.

So that’s what we’ve been talking about for the past fortnight.

We’re now going to pick up in chapter 6. Tonight’s talk is chapter 6.

So let’s imagine that you’ve been talking to a colleague at work. You get on well with them and a good friendship is developing. They know that you are into the church/God thing, but they have never ever asked you about it.

Anyway, you’re on the tube together. It’s the end of the day, and you’ve just asked them:

“What are you up to this weekend?”

They say: “I’m going to see my parents in Skegness. It’s the Las Vegas of Lincolnshire.”

They ask you: “How about you? What are you up to this weekend?”

And you’ve just mentioned church, as part of your answer.

And then they ask you: “Have you always been religious?”

Oh no! You weren’t expecting that, for two reasons:
1) They have never asked you anything like that before, and
2) Your friend is due to get off the tube at the next stop, so you’ve only got about 45 seconds to answer their question.

This is a defining moment, when someone far from God asks you: “Have you always been religious?” What is going to come out of your mouth next?

You can now use one of the most powerful tools in your evangelistic toolbox, which is simply, your story.

In the book of Acts we see the apostle Paul repeatedly telling his story, giving his testimony, particularly when he’s in a tight spot. Why? Why did Paul start with his testimony, when he’s got more revelation of gospel truth in his brain than anyone else living on the planet.

Remember Paul had been chosen by God to write half the New Testament. It was all there in his mind. Why, when you are actually getting doctrine by direct revelation from God? Why when you’ve got the Holy Spirit downloading the gospel into your brain, you’re getting all these unique insights into the Old Testament . . . Why not preach? Why not do Philippians or at least 1 Corinthians 15? But he doesn’t. He tells his story. He gives a simple a narrative of “here’s what happened to me?”

Why? Especially, in Acts chapter 22. There Paul is, surrounded by a crowd of rioting Jews in Jerusalem. And they are trying to kill him because they think he’s broken the Jewish law by bringing an Ephesian called Trophimus into the temple. In fact, he’s done nothing of the sort.

Paul gets arrested. The Jews want to kill him. And Paul makes his defence. The rioting crowd fall silent when they hear him speaking in Aramaic. If I’d been Paul, I would have been tempted to share some of my supernatural insights into the Jewish law. I would have started off with my Romans 2 and Romans 7 material. And just let the Holy Spirit convict them. Remember if I’m reciting Romans, every word I speak is inspired by the Holy Spirit. If I’d been Paul, I would then have delivered my masterly Romans 4 argument, about how Abraham was justified by faith. Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. And then that would have led me onto my Romans 5 and 6 material, where I’d bring it round to talk about Jesus, who on the cross fulfilled all the righteous requirements of the law. Game set and match. I mean that would have been ideal for a Jewish audience who were caught up in legalism.

But Paul doesn’t do that. He just tells his story . . .

He must have thought there was power in his story . . .

So let’s pretend, right now, I’m your friend at work

And I’ve just asked you “have you always been religious?”

Here’s the thing, ‘could you, in 45 seconds, could you tell me your faith story sincerely, compellingly, intelligently in that amount of time?’

Do you know your story that well?

Have you thought about your story? Have you practiced your story and refined it?

OK I’m now deliberately springing this on you by surprise . . . In a second I’m going to ask you to get into pairs . . .

Person A asks: “Have you always been religious?”
Person B: You have 45 seconds to answer Person A’s question

The person sitting nearest that wall, you are person A, and you get to ask the question. The person in your pair who’s nearest this wall, you are person B, and you have the privilege of answering the question. And in a few minutes, we’ll swap.

OK, here are the ground rules:

If you are telling your story you have to stop when I say ‘stop,’ because the whole point of the exercise is to see what you can do in 45 seconds. The truth is your new friend has chosen to ask you moments before leaving the train, just in case you get weird on them.

Now don’t panic! If you’re here in the theatre and you don’t yet have a faith story, because you don’t have any faith yet, then that’s fine, pair up anyway, and just let the other person talk. Or, if you are totally on your own, just join the nearest pair and make it a threesome. The point is that someone sitting near you will have a faith story, and you can just listen to their story. You don’t have to say anything.

Now because some of you will be pairing up with a total stranger, I will give you all an extra 15 seconds to say “hello” to the person you’re pairing up with.

OK, you have 15 seconds to find a partner and say hello, plus 45 seconds to tell your story.

Which gives you a total of 60 seconds starting from . . . now!


OK, this is a hands up question to all those of you who just told your story.
• Put your hand up if you feel happy with your presentation? If you felt your presentation was good, your hand should be up!
• Put your hand up if you felt unhappy with your presentation? If you felt your presentation was weak, your hand should be up!

OK, let’s just review for a second, why was that experience so traumatic and embarrassing?

1. Because we felt unprepared! The opportunity to share our testimony arrived with no prior warning. You say: “Adrian. I’ve been coming to this church ever since it started, and there’s never ever been role-play in any sermon ever before! I felt totally unprepared. I wasn’t ready.”

Exactly. In real life, non-Christians ask us when we are not ready. They ask when they want to, not when we want them to. They ask us when we’re having a bad day etc.

In The Message translation, 1 Peter 3:15 says “Always be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you’re living the way you are,”

In the NIV, 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)

2. We didn’t have long enough. 45 seconds was a ridiculously short amount of time. We didn’t have enough time to do justice to what is such an important subject. I was only half way through my story, when I got interrupted.

Exactly. In real life, there are so many interruptions. Mobile phones ring, someone else walks over, the subject gets changed. You’ve waited ages for an opportunity like this and it’s gone in 60 seconds.

Friends, one of the reasons why we are taking the whole church through this book is so that when the real opportunity comes, with someone who is far from God, you can give an excellent winsome testimony that you feel really happy with.

But we’re only half-way through our role-play exercise . . .

OK, person B. Now it’s your turn, you have 45 seconds.

OK, person B, are you ready? Person A asks you: “have you always been religious?” you have 45 seconds to answer that question starting from now.

Person A asks: “Have you always been religious?”
Person B: You have 45 seconds to answer this question

OK, this is a hands up question to all those of you who just told your story.

Put your hand up if you feel happy with your presentation? If you felt your presentation was good, your hand should be up!
Put your hand up if you felt unhappy with your presentation? If you felt your presentation was weak, your hand should be up!

We all know how powerful, well-chosen words can be. The power of words—is undeniable throughout the Bible. Can I flood your consciousness here for a moment with a few reminders of how supremely useful, how incomparably potent, how supernaturally empowered, words can be?

Psalm 119:130 says that words can actually give light. Words can give understanding to those who don’t yet understand.
Proverbs 12:18 says that although reckless words pierce like a sword, words from the tongue of the wise can actually bring healing!
Proverbs 17:27 says that when used with restraint, words prove you’re a person of knowledge!
Proverbs 16:24 says that pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. Isn’t that a great image?
Ecclesiastes 10:12 says that although a fool is consumed by his own lips, the words from a wise man’s mouth are … gracious.
Deuteronomy 32:2 says words can actually descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants.

Words. Humble words. Healing words. Wise words. Gentle words. Grace-filled words.

It seems to me that if we could find a way to use words for good in people’s lives—if we could be known for being clear and humble and succinct and relevant—then we can start changing the world one person at a time!

Now Bill Hybels spends much of this time travelling the world, and because our friend Bill, is a reasonably out-going person, who makes small talk with strangers, he often gets evangelised by well-meaning Christians who don’t recognize him. These Christians don’t know that they are talking to the pastor of America’s largest church. Bill says that over the past 30 years, he’s heard hundreds of testimonies, and he has 4 criticisms:

He says:

1. “In almost every single situation, when I ask someone to tell me their faith story . . . it’s too long.” (Bill Hybels)

Here’s the best reason for the 45 second rule . . . if we tell our story briefly, the other person might want to ask a follow up question. And that allows them to feel that they are still in control of the conversation.

I have found that if you are brief but interesting in your opening 45 seconds, a non-Christian is 10 times more likely to feel safe enough and intrigued enough to pursue a much longer conversation with you.

To tell your story succinctly, will take a bit of work, but it’s so worth it!

Bill’s second criticism, “a lot of the stories that Christians tell me,

2. It’s just not clear. It’s fuzzy

Bill says: “The fact it’s too long is bad enough, but when it’s fuzzy and incoherent that’s far worse.

I ask people, ‘how did you come to faith?’

And they weave about a half dozen different plots and story lines in.

They talk about books they’ve read, supernatural experiences they’ve had, conferences they’ve attended, aisles they walked down, angels that appeared in their bedrooms, dead relatives they talked to in the middle of the night.”

Bill says: “For the love of God, it just needs to be brief and coherent. It needs to follow a line of reasoning.”

Bill says: “All of us have, what I call, weird God stories

“If right now I passed the microphone out, and I said: ‘Tell us something kind of crazy and supernatural, that happened to you one time,’ almost everyone has got one.

When you’re telling your testimony to a non-Christian for the first time, leave out your weird God story!”

Bill Hybels had a guy one time who tried to witness to him. Bill was travelling. They were in the departure lounge at an airport. This Christian guy is trying to evangelize Bill. He wants to tell Bill about his faith in Christ.

The Christian guy says to Bill: “One night, God woke me up, I looked at the clock. It was 2.22”

Bill said: “Wow”

The guy continues: “The next night, God woke me up in the middle of the night, it was 3.33”

“The next night,” he said.

Bill interrupts: “Let me guess . . . 4.44?”

The guy says: “How did you know?”

I have a weird God story.

You don’t need to tell that story to strangers. That’s not the first card I lay down, when someone says: “Why are you a Christian?

“Because one night, at 2.22”

I don’t need to do that.

When you’re telling your story. One plot line. One succinct, coherent, compelling story.

Bill’s third criticism . . .

3. The use of religious terminology

Words like salvation.

Accepting Jesus Christ to be my personal saviour and Lord. What does that mean to a non-Christian? Is that code? Who understands that? We do, but they don’t.

It takes a bit of work to expunge religious terminology from your story. You’ve got to say it in such a way that someone goes: ‘I understood every word.’ It’s not God talk, it’s not religion talk. It’s normal talk.

Can I just say, if you’re thinking, “I don’t know if I can do this.” You can do this, everyone here can do this.

Bill’s final criticism . . .

4. A sense of superiority

Avoid any sense of “I have my act together and you don’t”.

Your story is really important, it’s one of the most impactful tools you carry in your little toolbag, but we need to tell it briefly, clearly, using common language and sincerely and humbly.

So here’s what we’re going to do with the few minutes that remain, and in terms of the rest of your life, these next few minutes could be some of the most useful ones that you’ve ever spent in church. In the next 5 minutes you get to identify the two words, the two pegs on which you can hang your story. And those two words will be different for every single person here.

Here’s the framework, we’re going to use, it’s 2 Cor 5: 17:

“Those who become Christians, become new persons. They’ re not the same anymore. The old life has gone. A new life has begun.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) The Message

Here’s what the scriptures are saying:

There’s the old you, and then there’s the cross, (when you met Christ) and then there’s the new you. OK?

I’m going to use a terrible analogy here.

You say to your friend: “I am on the South Beach Diet.” Here’s two things your friend wants to know:
1) Did the diet work?
2) Was the pain worth the gain? Because if I’m going to have to spend the rest of my life living on carrot juice you can forget it.

So, what’s the old? What’s the new? What has changed? How much weight have you lost?

Or here’s a second deliberately awful analogy:

You say to a friend: “Guess what! I’ve started going to see a counsellor.”

OK, what they want to know is:
1. Why? What issues were you facing that led you to even think of seeing a counsellor?
2. What difference has the counsellor made?
3. How much did it cost? Because if it’s £50 an hour you can forget it.

You may be sitting here in this theatre thinking, ‘Adrian, I’m not interested in going on a diet or seeing a counsellor, because I’m not a diet or a counsellor kind of person’ – exactly. That is exactly how your friend feels about Christianity. Your friend does not want to become a Christian, but out of personal loyalty to you, or out of politeness, they are asking you about your faith story, which in their mind is in the same category as diets and shrinks. So they just want the absolute basic information at this early stage. But here’s why it’s so exciting . . . a compelling, authentic, well thought through faith story could get them positively intrigued! And that person could end up spending eternity with God, rather than eternity without God.

We have to capture just that basic, “here’s what was going on before I came into a relationship with Christ. And here’s what’s going on since.”

It doesn’t have to be dramatic, it just has to true and focused and coherent and brief.

Now right now, about half of us here tonight are saying: “Hold on. This is all irrelevant to me Adrian, because I don’t have a testimony. I was 8 years old when I gave my life to Christ. I was raised in a Christian home. So when it comes to my “before” I came to Christ, I can’t say: “Dude, I had a thousand dollar a day crack cocaine habit. I was raised in the ghetto. My life was a blur of gang violence. I was being chased by the feds, but then one night in prison.” You can’t say that because before you were a Christian, you were 7 years old and you went to a Church of England primary school in Guildford.”

Now logically speaking, you might expect that the most effective evangelists would be the ones who have a dramatic testimony. However I can prove to you from church history that that is not the case.

Before that, let me start with my wife Julia. Because Julia is the most effective personal evangelist I know. She has led more of her friends to Christ than anyone I personally know. Yet she grew up in a wonderful loving Christian family and she never “backslid.” She of all people could very easily say: “I don’t really have a testimony.”

So what does she do? Does she make one up? Does she say: “yeah, I was abandoned by my parents and raised by a pack of wolves. I learned to hunt and kill with my bare hands. And that’s when I first got involved in voodoo.”

No, Julia, didn’t’ grow up in the Bronx. She never saw action in Vietnam. She did once go to Cheltenham. But before she came to Christ she went to Croydon High School for girls. About the most rebellious thing Julia’s ever done is one time when she handed in her Latin homework late.

So what’s her 45 second faith story?

Well this is what she says: “As a child I worried a lot, even though I had nothing to worry about. Like many people, I was a born worrier. My parents brought me up to believe the bible and I became a Christian aged 12, and I was baptised at 13. But when I was 17 years old I got glandular fever and I missed a lot of school. I could have got really worried, but I felt God’s presence and I learned not to get worried about things. I had this amazing sense of peace. I went to university and could easily have turned my back on Jesus, but I found I didn’t want to. God had done something real in my life. I was a born worrier, but God gave me peace.” That’s it!

Billy Graham is the greatest evangelist, in terms of numbers, that the world has ever seen. He was taken to church every Sunday as a child. He became a Christian at 16 at a local mission in Charlotte, North Carolina. Nothing dramatic happened. He prayed a prayer, and went home. About the wildest thing Billy ever did before he became a Christian was play baseball and grow tomatoes. He worked on a farm.

Bill Hybels built the world’s largest soul-winning church in South Barrington, Illinois. Bill was raised in church and never backslid. Yet he’s the one who’s teaching us how to share our testimony.

So if you’ve been brought up in a Christian home, you’ve “known Jesus all your life”, the question is “has God done anything in your life that you identify? Not everyone raised in a Christian home is living for God today! How come you are? Was there a moment when you could have walked away? What did God do? You’ll see me go along the line at a baptismal service and if someone’s been a Christian since they were 6 years old. I’ll ask: What difference does Jesus make to you? And they always have a great answer. So do you. You have a great answer.

Now to make your story clear and memorable, let’s see if we can’t come up with two buzz words.

Let me see if I can explain what I’m driving at with a few biblical examples you’ll immediately recognize . . .

Remember the woman who was caught in middle of an act of adultery.

She’s dragged out in the public square. And she’s about to be stoned. Jesus confronts the self-righteousness of the Pharisees. They decide not to stone her. Jesus says: “I don’t condemn you, but don’t sin like this any more. Walk a new walk.”

What story is that woman going to tell?

She’s going to say: “You know what I reached a low point in my life. I was filled with shame. My shame was overwhelming to me. I met Jesus Christ and he gave me a new start. He didn’t condemn me. He showed me grace.”

Born worrier . . . peace
Shame . . . grace
Money . . . poor
Self-righteousness . . . grace
Earning . . . gift
Cool . . . loved

What about Zaccheus?

He’s living for money. His whole thing is money. Jesus goes to his house for dinner.

Zaccheus says at the end of that dinner: “I’m going to pay back all that I stole and extorted from people. And I’m going to give half of my net worth to the poor.”

Zaccheus is going to say: “I fell into a pattern where my whole life was about money. Greed had a grip on me I couldn’t break. It distorted my whole life. I met Jesus Christ, and he set me free from the tyranny of greed to really care about other people, particularly the poor.

How many times is he going to tell that story?

You take the apostle Paul. He said: “I got so caught up in self-righteousness, that was my gig. I was going around killing people because they weren’t committed enough to God in the way I thought they should be. Then I met Jesus Christ. I realised the full extent of my sin, and I stumbled across this thing called grace. That’s what happened to me.”

It’s just about self-righteousness and grace.

What about Bill Hybels’ story? His story is that “somehow when I was growing up, I got the idea that the only way I could gain God’s acceptance was by spiritual striving, it was all about spiritual performance, earning, meriting, trying to impress God. I met Jesus Christ at a summer camp when I was 17 years old. And I found out that it’s a gift. Acceptance before God is a gift. A gift made available through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And it’s free for the asking.”

I told my story last night to Tone from Orpington. He asked me “all those atoms colliding, where did they come from?” “How big is infinity?” I said: “Tone, I have no idea.”

This week, before you arrive at Life Group, think about the words you’re going to choose for your ‘before’ and the word for your ‘after’ you met Christ in a personal way. What is the key concept that is immediately accessible to someone who is far from God?

“I was self-destructive … but now I have power.”
“He’s moving me from success . . . to significance
“Fear-stricken, but now confident.”
“From fame . . . to servanthood.”
“From aloneness . . . to adoption.”
“I was striving … but now I’m at peace.”
“Guilty, but now liberated.”
“Despairing, but now hopeful!”

Some people their life was all about fear, afraid of everything. They meet Christ and Christ gives them confidence.

Some people were all about fame. Impressing. Image management. Now it’s about servanthood, and hiddenness, the freedom to love, without having to impress.

Some people say, before Christ I just had this plaguing sense of aloneless. I met Christ, he adopted me into his family. I feel like his child now.

So what is the key concept before you met Christ? What’s the key word in the new?

That’s how you build your story. That’s how you keep it brief. That’s how you keep it focused. Stay away from churchy terminology with it. And you have no hint of arrogance about it.

But when you get it focused, and succinct, and you can tell it sincerely and humbly, you would be amazed at the power of your story.

Jesus told stories. Again and again. Why did he tell stories? Because they are memorable! Stories are enjoyable and accessible.

Most commentators on Matthew, Mark, Luke and John believe that Jesus told the same parables over and over and over again. So, what we’ve got in the gospels is effectively Jesus’ greatest hits. The stories he told over and over again.

And he was incredibly good at it, which is partly why so many people were drawn to him.

VISUAL AID: peach and coconut

I can’t believe I’m doing this.

Here’s the difference between Jesus and the Pharisees. The Pharisees were like a coconut. When you listened to them you immediately encountered the hard stuff, the law. It was hard on the outside, and inside, it was empty. The milk had drained away. Jesus said the Pharisees were rock hard on the outside and spiritually bankrupt and empty inside. When you listened to them, you immediately encountered doctrine, and rules that you couldn’t possibly live up to.

Jesus was so different because he was more like a peach. He told these great stories. Really tasty stories, that made you want to sit down and listen all day as he told one story after another. And the common people heard him gladly, they were drawn in by the stories, all this lush fruit, and then you’d say, “how can I inherit eternal life?” and you’d suddenly hit the core. The stone. The rock in the middle. It was Jesus who taught us about judgement day. It was Jesus who taught us that everyone goes to heaven or hell. There are only two destinations beyond this life.

When you are praying “Lord, make me more like Jesus”, what you are praying without realising it, is “make me a skilled and practiced story-teller”

Jesus was a travelling story-teller. Are you?

You may say: “Adrian, I don’t get many opportunities.” But here’s what you’ll find, as you become more confident about your story, more and more conversations will result in you telling your story, because you are allowing and in fact encouraging the conversation in the direction of your story.

It’s just a fact of life, the more confident and well practiced you get on any subject, the more often you’ll find yourself talking about it.

OK, so here’s what Bill says we need to do next. It’s very simple. Turn up at Life Group on Tuesday night, with a blank sheet of paper and a pen, and then we all get to write out our story in less than 100 words.

And then once you’ve done your first draft, pass them round. Let your fellow Life Group members shape your story. They will help you edit it, cut it down, bring out the best bits. It should be one of the most creative Life Group evenings we have ever had in this church.

And here’s what I love about it, on Tuesday night at 10.00pm you will walk home, carrying your story. You have finally got it down. You’ve got it clear. You are happy with it. A story that God can use time and time again to change lives.

You know what’s so energizing about it . . . there are empty seats here in this theatre that in years to come will be filled by people who you tell your story to.

There are people who will spend forever in heaven, and they’ll say, looking back, it all started when so-and-so told me their faith story.

Let’s stand

We are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were making his appeal through us.

Let’s pray . . .

Lord, I just want to pray for our life groups this week. We know that to tell our story briefly, intelligently, compellingly, sincerely, will require some work.

Lord when I first tried to get a real job, I put some time into making my CV look good. Why? Because I believed that something was at stake when I sent it off. Something is at stake on that tube as I present my faith story, because lost people matter to You.

Lord we spend a lot of time finding the right person to marry. But actually marriage is only temporary. There is no marriage in heaven. But our friend on the tube is going to live forever somewhere.

Our father in heaven, we are so grateful that we have a story to tell. Thank you that you sent Jesus. Help us to become more like you Lord Jesus, help us to become a church of wonderful travelling story-tellers, who lead many to heaven.