Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Testimony Meeting

Mennonite church meeting in the Canary Islands

"I sat in many testimony meetings as a child and still occasionally hear our pastor call for words from the congregation.  If I think I should speak, my palms still perspire and my knees tremble.  Will people think my ideas foolish?  Will they trust my experience? Is my life consistent enough that I dare open my mouth publicly?  What I have to say is nothing new anyway!

."..let's look at what a testimony meeting tries to do.  Such a meeting does not report how God acts or how people always respond.  It never assumes common experience--otherwise there would be no point at all in holding it..  A testimony meeting expects that God gives unique skills and experiences to people and communities, and that sharing stories will strengthen everyone who hears.  A testimony meeting believes in 'many gifts, one Spirit'." [1st Corinthians 12]
~Doris Janzen Longacre, Living More With Less, p. 31-32

Longacre was a devout Mennonite.  I have benefited from what she wrote and compiled over the years.  And this passage struck me today.  

I listened to a diverse array of testimonies in my congregation last Sunday.  Did you?

It's easy for me to sit there grading testimonies:  
"Makes sense."  
"Not a chance, Buster". 
"Still has much to learn."  
"Some truth there."   
"Uh oh.  La-la land".  
And then compare what I hear with my own understanding and faith and consider whether or not my testimony, if expressed, would be helpful at all to people who are listening the way I am.

Our testimony meetings are, I realize, better understood and more beneficial if we see them as an opportunity to listen to people talk about experiences and belief that they feel have been touched by the Spirit of God rather than only an opportunity to listen to others confirm, by the Spirit, what we in the congregation already know.  We should not see testimony meetings primarily as an opportunity for people to only talk, when spiritually moved to stand and speak, about aspects of commitment and faith that feel common to our mutual experience.  As I listen to a diversity of experiences I widen my understanding of how God is perceived to work in many different lives, and that gives me much to consider and softens my heart. 

When we listen to testimonies born that reflect experiences different from our own with a kind heart, it is a gift both to the speaker and to ourselves.  Of course we live in an imperfect world with imperfect people and so not everyone will listen to you that way when you stand and speak.  I certainly slip into testimony critique mode easily and I assume that others do too.  And not everyone who bears testimony feels free to express, fully, what they feel in their heart.  So I acknowledge that what I am proposing may seem a bit daunting if you look at it from the point of view of a potential testimony bearer.  But I believe that the more of us who understand this way of listening to and bearing testimony, the more edifying our listening experiences will be.

Many Gifts, One Spirit  (a nice song to listen to)

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