The Personal Testimony type of sermon is a very powerful way to illustrate the preaching of the Gospel or an aspect of Christian growth.
Few who write about preaching and the sermon even admit that the Personal Testimony Sermon is a valid type of sermon. In fact, some blatantly say that it is not really preaching or not really a sermon, while most just ignore the fact that it exists.
I think that it is a valid type of sermon and that it was used in the Scriptures by various preachers. Let's take a look at this Personal Testimony type of sermon.
What is this type of sermon?
It is basically what it implies. It is the preacher telling of his own personal experience of salvation or personal experience of Christian growth. Gibbs, in his book "The Preacher and His Preaching", uses the old adage, "An ounce of experience is worth a ton of theory" to show the power of this type of sermon.
What is Positive about this type of sermon?
This may be one of the best ways to begin preaching. I know it is the best way to witness. A witness is just one who is summoned to tell the truth about what happened to them. If it happened to you and you can tell what happened to you, then you can witness and you can explain the Scripture as it relates to your experience of salvation and Christian growth.
Jesus often told those whom he saved to go home and tell your family and friends what just happened to you. (Mark 5:19). Now I know that it could be said that this is just for informal personal witnessing, but it was done often by those who were called to preach in their sermons as well.
And the fact is, people love to hear the personal story of a preacher. We like to hear the personal testimonies of those who have been cured by a medicine, especially if we suffer the same affliction. We love to hear the personal experience of someone who solved their financial problems, especially if we have financial needs.
It is no different when it comes to the gospel or Christian growth. We like to hear how someone else came to Christ and their sin problem was taken care of.
We like to hear how someone else grew in the knowledge and grace of the Savior and how they overcame the obstacles of spiritual growth. It inspires others to take the same measures for their own problem and its remedy.
God has used the personal stories of others including Personal Testimony Sermons to reach many. The Bible puts it this way, "As in water, face answereth to face (that is, reflects the image exposed to it), so does the heart of man to man." (Proverbs 27:19).
Some never saw their need of salvation until the Holy Spirit used the Word of God combined with the personal testimony of a preacher to show how they realized their own need. Some never saw their need of personal Christian growth until the Holy Spirit used the Word of God combined with the personal testimony of a preacher to show how they began to grow in the Lord themselves.
King David said, "Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what He hath done for my soul." (Psalm 66:16). And Psalm 107:1-2 says "...let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom He hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy." The Psalms have much of the personal testimony of David and his relationship with the Lord.
The Apostle Paul realized the importance and benefit of including his personal experience in his preaching. We see it six times (Acts 9; Acts 22; Acts 26; Galatians 1; Philippians 3, and 1 Timothy 1:12-17). Paul saw no problem with preaching his personal story.
One of the most positive things about the Personal Testimony Sermon is that it is difficult to refute. If the audience knows of the humility and integrity of the speaker, they will find it difficult to deny what he says personally happened to him in salvation and Christian growth. It is truly powerful in witnessing and preaching.
What is Negative about this type of sermon?
There can be negative aspects to this kind of preaching if one is not careful. And if one does not perform this type of sermon properly there can also be negative results. We must be careful.
When it comes to the Personal Testimony Sermon, there is the danger of exaggeration and overstatement that exalts the person preaching rather than exalting the person of Christ. Some make more of themselves than they do of Christ. They advertize themselves more than they advertize Christ. This can never be good for the preacher and especially for the hearer.
There is also a danger of comparing testimonies. Some begin to think that their experience is not as extraordinary or special as someone else's and it therefore has no value. The fact is, our experience has value for many in the same situation that we were in.
Experiences vary and all of them can encourage and inspire and enlighten someone. The good the bad and the ugly all need to be saved and grow in the Lord. Your testimony may be the one the Lord uses to help them take the next step toward the Lord.
Remember, the purpose of a testimony is to magnify Christ so keep Him preeminent in the sermon. Paul said, "We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus, the Lord." (2 Cor. 4:5). The most important issue is what Christ has done and will do, not what we have done or will do. Make Christ more important that us or our salvation or our Christian life.
Another danger in the Testimony Sermon is that we might allow our testimony to supersede the Word of God. Our experience should point people to the truth of the Word of God, because our experience is not an end in and of itself.
Our experience is not a substitute for the Word of God. It is not the gospel; it is only a testimony of the gospel and how it truly works for anyone.
This leads to another danger with is to make your experience of salvation or Christian growth the pattern for everyone else. As someone once said, "Spiritually, there are no 'identical twins.'"
Once again, don't direct people just to your experience; direct them to Christ. Your experience may help someone in the same situation, but make sure you don't try to make everyone have the same experience as you.
God draws and directs people in different ways to salvation and service. The salvation is the same, but the path to salvation may be very different for some than for others. I like what Gibbs said, "There are many ways to Christ, but only one way to God, and that is through Christ." (John 14:6).
Gibbs also said that some people are "kissed" into salvation, while others are "kicked" into it! We are reminded of the Scripture, "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh or whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit." (John 3:8).
What is Practical about this type of sermon?
One may legitimately ask how often a preacher can preach his personal testimony. And this is a good question. I can see where an Evangelist who moves from place to place could preach about his experience often, especially if it is a dynamic, glorious example of redemption and recovery.
However, for the pastor or other ministers who preach in one place, the Personal Testimony Sermon on salvation could not be preached that often. But various Testimony Sermons on Christian growth could be preached along the way, though even those would be infrequent.
Actually your testimony should constantly be changing as God continues to do a work in you heart and life. Consequently, new messages from God's Word that relate to how He is working in your life will be in order.
It would certainly not be practical for any preacher to use this type of sermon all the time. And when you do preach this kind of sermon, make sure it is a sermon and not just a personal testimony. Make sure that your testimony is mostly a personal illustration of the truth of the Word of God as it relates to salvation or Christian growth.
In other words, the exhortation to "Preach the Word" is still in effect. If you can appropriately use your personal testimony in preaching God's Word, it can be a powerful tool to help the hearer obey the truth.
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