Testimony service was time set aside in each church service intended to give the saints an opportunity to stand and share what the Lord had done for them during the week. In this original context, I’m sure testimony service was a great blessing to the church. What it actually became was something entirely different. Testimony service gave people with nothing to say a place to say it and a captive audience. Somewhere along the line people stopped testifying and started telling stories, or letting everyone know how hard life was. At it’s worst, a testimony service could quickly derail into a rant. It wasn’t always negative though, testimony service had the potential to be hilarious and would have been particularly entertaining had we not been trying to have church. It would have been the kind of simple entertainment you get from listening to people call in on the radio.
I had a cousin that was the king of testifiers. He would always start out with the obligatory, “I love the Lord tonight, thankful to be here”, which is probably where he should have stopped. But he plowed on through with, “You know I was thinking.” After which he would unleash a yarn of hunting and fishing tales, or peculiar things that had happened to him during the week. On the odd times that he did actually mention the Lord beyond his opening sentence, it was usually an improper application of scripture, which made it all the more uncomfortable. One time he had been thinking, as he let us know in his opening statement, about the song Dead Skunk In the Middle Of the Road by Loudoun Wainwright III. The skunk, which according to his interpretation of the song, had died trying to cross the road, and although he didn’t make it, he was doing his best to help other people cross. He wrapped up with something like, “And I just want to help others get to heaven.” He once testified for twenty one minutes, just two minutes longer than my first sermon.
There was another gentleman that really looked forward to testimony service. As a seven year old boy I would listen to this boisterous man with a crew cut ramble on in a disjointed way about events in history that didn’t seem to fit in what I learned from reading the World Book Encyclopedia. I have one of these testimonies forever burned in my memory.
“I love the Lord tonight”, this was how most of the testimonies began in my church, “I’m thankful to be here, thankful for a sound mind. You know I was thinking about the how the Pinta, the Nina, and the Santa Maria, and how they were loaded down with rubies and diamonds and gold, and how they sank in the harbor! I don’t want to be weighted down with things that don’t matter! I want to be like the Mayflower, that was able to make it across the ocean because she wasn’t loaded down! I just want the Lord to make me humble and ‘umble. Y’all remember me in prayer.”
Not long after that I had the word “humble” as a vocabulary word, which did irreparable damage to his credibility. Someone told me that this same gentleman called into the radio station and gave a similar testimony, only it went on air over the Classic Rock Station instead of the Southern Gospel Station. I know they were lying, but if it was true I wouldn’t have been surprised.
Eventually, our church voted in a new pastor, my Dad, and one of the first decisions he made was to get rid of testimony service, frankly, because it was no longer edifying the church. But old habits die hard and I recall an elderly man who was new to our church that would holler out during the preaching, “Pastor Wells! I need to testify! I got something to say!”
In many ways social media has replaced testimony service. It’s a place where people can sound off, which sadly, is what testimony service became. Social media allows people to feel like they’re being heard. Now you probably think that the church I grew up in just had a lot of crazy people, but they’re in your church too. If you don’t believe me, just have a testimony service.