The latest book to be read by the CONCRETE Theology and Youth Ministry reading group is Saying is Believing by Amanda Hontz Drury. Tim Broadbent offers some reflections.
Young People and the power of Testimony
Imagine you had to send a message to all your young people, how might you do it? Whatsapp, Email, Snapchat or Facebook? The cost of sending a message on any one of those mediums is so insignificant we don't even think about it. But things were not always so easy, in fact sending a message during the time that the New Testament was written was costly. Very costly. It’s been worked out that conservative estimates of writing and sending a letter like Acts, would cost about £18,000 in today’s money. In those days you had to pay a secretary, make a draft, make multiple copies and the paper itself was expensive . There are about 18000 english words in Acts, even allowing some wiggle room as the original text was in Greek, it roughly workouts that every word in the letter of Acts cost about £1. That is a huge cost. You might remember a time before mobile phones, when payphones were essential. If you only had 30p to make a call, you chose your words wisely. How much would you say if each word cost you £1? This is a dilemma the New Testament writers faced.
The choice here of the letter of Acts is important because there is something peculiar about this letter. If you read it through you will notice that the testimony of Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus is repeated three times! In a letter that costs the writer roughly £1 per word, Luke who most scholars believe wrote Acts, tells the same story three times. Did Luke think his listeners didn’t hear it the first time, or even the second? Why write this testimony three times and why is this significant to youth ministry?
We can only speculate, but maybe a book about young people and testimony that was published recently can help us. The book is by Amanda Hontz Drury and is called ‘Saying is Believing.’ Drury recalls that in many churches a testimony is shared as a way of building up, or encouraging the listeners. In her book, Drury shows us that testimony does bring encouragement but not so much in the hearing but in the telling, she writes:
‘People were not just describing the past; people were being changed as they spoke. And this kind of construction was not just present for the speaker; those of us receiving the testimony were also being formed.’
Perhaps the reason why Luke told that same story three times was because he actually enjoyed telling the story, and who could blame him? Imagine you are trying to encourage others in the fledgling way of life and you hear how someone who was actively trying to destroy this movement had turned and become one of its chief proponents. You would tell that story a lot! So when Luke tells the testimony of Paul’s conversion, he’s letting that story shape him into a person who believes nobody is beyond redemption. If murderous Saul can be redeemed through Christ, who else can be?
The question all this leaves for us as youth ministers is how can we get young people telling their story of God’s action in their lives? Here are some ideas.
Create a safe space
This takes time and boundaries. This mainly boils down to the relationships that have been fostered in the group. In the book Saying is Believing, Drury encourages youth workers to get young people to talk about a time God seemed present in their lives. This is hard even for some adults to do. But don’t be afraid to answer it and leave enough of a pause for thinking time. If there is an awkward silence, that’s ok, keep waiting
Keep it simple
Ask the young people to share their story irrespective of God’s action within in. It could be a simple question such as, can they share some good things in their lives. If we take a cue from James 1:17 then if it’s a good thing, then it is a God thing. As Drury points out, this isn’t about articulating beliefs, but telling stories.
Make it a regular thing
Drury emphasised that the more you talk about something the easier time you will have believing it is true. How can you make testimony a regular part of time you spend with young people?
Don’t be afraid to tell your story
By opening up yourself you will help create that safe space mentioned earlier. So be willing to share your story. It will do you good!
If it goes bleak, stay with it
A young person might not be able to share when a good thing or a God thing happened to them. As we know life can be very difficult for young people. They might be going through a parental separation, suffering under extreme academic expectations or peer pressure. If this happens let the young person share with you what they want to share. Remember to let the young person know that you cannot promise confidentiality and their welfare is your primary concern, but sharing this information might be part of their long road to understanding their situation.
Amanda Hontz Drury’s book ‘Saying is Believing.’ was read by the CONCRETE Youth ministry and Theology book group that you are welcome to join. Contact Tim Broadbent for more info: email@example.com.
1. Please see Cost Gospel. Acts is based on estimates for the Gospel of Luke. Luke is seen as part one of the two part letter that is Luke-Acts. They are similar in size, Luke is 19482 words and Acts is 18451 words.