“Whoever, then, acknowledges me before people, I will acknowledge before my Father in heaven.”
We love testimonies. It’s why books from unknown authors have blurbs on the back written by authors we like. It’s why every business student is taught that word of mouth is the most powerful marketing tool. It’s why companies are so eager to invest in Social Media, where ordinary people are constantly telling their friends about their latest purchase, their most recent meal, or the service provider they’ve just discovered. Hearing a recommendation from a friend just works.
We also hate testimonies. Everybody’s got at least one friend who seems like they’re a walking advertisement; no matter how the conversation starts out, it always seems to find its way to the product they think everyone should buy, or the diet everyone should adopt, or the new gym everyone should join. While we can appreciate their enthusiasm, we’re not looking for what they have, and we wish they would just stop talking about it already.
What accounts for the difference? When does a testimony stop being the most powerful marketing tool, and become the biggest turnoff?
There are, I think, two key differences.
First, a welcome testimony is preceded by evidence of a life changed for the better. If you have not shown others the improvement something has made in your life, they will not be interested – it doesn’t matter whether that’s an improvement to your health and well-being, or an improvement to your Tuesday taco lunch. People want evidence something has benefited you before they will believe it can benefit them.
Second, a welcome testimony comes when the thing benefiting you will also benefit your audience. If they are not seeking what you have found, they will not be interested – they may believe you have located the best taco place in the state, but if they’re not into tacos, they’re not going to care. People want to hear about things relevant to their own lives.
These two principles are codified in the twelfth step of the AA Big Book: “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” Carrying the message is not step one or two – it happens after a recovering alcoholic’s life has been visibly changed. This doesn’t mean it’s been perfected, but there is noticeable improvement. And when working step twelve, you are encouraged to carry this message not just to anyone, but to other alcoholics – that is, people who need what you have.
This is the essence of being a public disciple, as well. It’s not approaching random strangers and trying to sell them Jesus. It’s not thinking up some gimmick to get people to go to church. And it’s not a spiritual Ponzi scheme where people are continually invited to join an organization with no tangible benefit.
Being a public disciple is about having experienced a real life change – a spiritual awakening, even – and sharing the experience with others who are in need of the same.
Where will you carry the message of your changed life?