Telling Your Story: Sharing your mission experience without boring your audience
If you’re reading this, it’s likely you went on a summer mission trip. You built a home, hosted a medical clinic, ran a VBS, or shared the Gospel on the streets – either way, you’ve got a story to tell. And if your home church took part in sending you on a mission trip, you probably owe them an update.
Problem is, most of us despise public speaking. So whether stage fright has you stuck, or you’re one of the foolhardy few who enjoys the spotlight, here are a few tips to help you testify.
- Tell ONE Story
You read that right: just one! No one needs to hear a detailed itinerary or a play-by-play of the whole trip. Choose one story that encapsulates what the trip was about. Then tell that story well.
Bear in mind, the best story to share may not be your favorite story. Often our most memorable moment is a way God met us or an experience that challenged our perspective. Those stories have their place, but they may be more meaningful to you because of their impact on you personally. When you’re giving a testimony from your mission trip, it’s often best to choose the story that highlights what God did through you and your team, not just what he accomplished in you.
To tell your story well, have a plan. Choose an opening statement that draws people in. Describe the setting – the need that existed, the person that you encountered, etc. The climax of the story should be what God did to turn things around. Conclude your story by describing why things are different now.
You know what ruins a story? When it moves too slowly. Unnecessary details bog down a good testimony, so go back through your outline and ruthlessly eliminate those descriptors that keep the story from moving forward.
If you tell just one story and tell it well, chances are you’ll leave people wanting more. Save the rest for personal conversations, or your social media or blog posts.
2. Honor God
While we’d surely agree that we have nothing to offer apart from Jesus, our testimonies don’t always come across that way. Here are some ways we get off track:
Exalting the people you ministered to.
Mission trips tend to impact us deeply. Perhaps you were gripped by the impoverished conditions of the families you were serving. Maybe the church you served alongside challenged you with their willingness to suffer for the Gospel. It’s wonderful to get God’s heart for people, and there’s no harm in shout-outs. Just make sure that, ultimately, it’s Jesus you’re lifting up.
Giving credit (even unwittingly) to ourselves, our team, or our hosts.
We all need an ego check sometimes, of course, but I doubt any of us would say, “Awesome things happened because I am awesome.” (Even if we did think in such an arrogant way, we’d know it’s impolite to say so!)
But public speaking makes us nervous. Nervousness makes us ramble. And rambling, by definition, is saying lots of words without thinking through their implications.
Take time to choose words that connect well with the people you’re sharing with. Consider whether they leave room for misunderstanding, and refine them accordingly.
Emphasizing what God didn’t do instead of giving him glory for what he did do.
Maybe you formed a relationship with someone, investing time and energy into loving them and sharing Jesus with them – but they didn’t make a decision for Christ. It’s tempting to make apologies when you’re sharing your story, but instead of saying, “She didn’t actually get saved…but I’m still praying,” point to the ways you saw God at work. Then trust the rest to him.
3. Don’t Preach
Everyone needs to go on a mission trip! People are dying without Jesus! The church wastes money on programs that should be given to missions!
Maybe. And there might be ways that God is calling you to take the lead in involving others in his worldwide mission.
But don’t turn your mission trip into someone else’s guilt trip. Tell your story. Honor God. If conviction is needed, the Holy Spirit is pretty good at doing that. Unless you were given the Sunday morning service and asked to preach, put your soapbox away.
4. Avoid these testimony traps.
We’ve all sat awkwardly listening to someone tank a presentation. Here are some of the top public speaking pitfalls to avoid.
Don’t exceed your timeframe.
After 16 years of giving missionary updates in supporting churches, the most common compliment I’ve received is this one: “You always stay within your time limit.”
Yup. Not my slick slideshows, not my inspiring stories, not the occasional ethnic garb. When I’m given five minutes, I talk for four and a half. And that’s why I get invited back.
Use a timer while you practice, and honor the pastor and the church by sticking to the amount of time they’ve given you. The best way to do this? It’s back to my first point: tell one story and leave people wanting more.
We call it “YWAMese” around here, but every group has its own culture and lingo. Make sure the words you choose make sense to your audience. Whether it’s an acronym used by the host organization or a local food staple that’s unfamiliar to people back home, communicate clearly.
Another way to put this? Don’t be weird!
Know when to stop.
Ever been on a plane that circled the airport, waiting for its turn to land?
It’s excruciating. And that’s how your audience feels when you don’t know when to stop talking.
We often make the mistake of carefully planning our opening statement and the content of the story, but neglecting to plan our conclusion. Instead, we ramble on, repeating details that have already been mentioned. Other times we launch into preach mode (see above for how I feel about that.) Plan ahead of time exactly how you want to end your story.
Here are some examples of strong closing statements:
“I’m so grateful that God gave me the opportunity to share the Gospel with Carlos.”
“I’m humbled that God chose to work through our team to get his Word into people’s hands.”
“Not only did God change this family’s life by giving them a new home – he changed my life as well.”
End it strong by wrapping up your story in one simple sentence. Then stop talking. You’ve landed the plane and lived to fly another day.