If you’ve spent much time in evangelical Christian circles, you’re familiar with the concept of the personal testimony. At some point during a worship service—usually just before or right after the preaching of a Gospel-centered message—an individual stands before the congregation and shares the gruesome details of a troubled past, followed by an inspiring conversion story and a detailed account of the transformation that Jesus has brought about in the testifier’s life.
I love hearing these powerful, tear-inducing redemption stories, and in my younger years, I secretly regretted that I didn’t have a whopper of a testimony of my own. You see, I grew up in a Christian home and began attending church long before I could walk or talk. While I consider my baptism at age 10 as my official entrance into God’s family, I had committed my life to Christ countless times before that, and can’t remember a time when Jesus wasn’t my Lord and Savior. My life hasn’t been problem-free, and God continues to save me from myself and my sin each and every day, but I never walked away from Jesus, and I never needed to be rescued from life on the streets (or worse, the life of a partying high schooler). Compared with testimonies dominated by sex, drugs, and poor decisions, mine is remarkably mundane.
As I’ve matured in my faith, I’ve begun to recognize the beauty and graciousness within my very boring testimony. The story of how God captured my heart may not be scandalous or particularly memoir-worthy, but the fact that I never had to be knocked down by life in order to find solace in His arms is itself rather miraculous.
Recently, I had an epiphany about the bigger picture of my becoming a Christian: how God captured the hearts of my parents, and my parents’ parents, and how their beliefs and obedience to God led to my own early understanding of who Jesus is. What an incredible salvation story! To further extrapolate on this idea of a generational testimony, I’ve been reflecting on Charleston’s budding faith, and how the generations of Christians that came before him meant that he has been hearing about the love of Jesus since he was in the womb. I pray that Charleston’s children, and his children’s children, will reap the spiritual blessings of our family’s faith as well.
While not unique, our family story is indeed remarkable. I wonder why the Church is so eager to hear poignant testimonies from once-wayward individuals, but overlooks—or is even embarrassed by—stories of generational faith. Perhaps it’s the simple fact that those harrowing conversion tales make for more engaging stories, but I have a feeling there’s more to it than a predilection for the dramatic.
We live in a narcissistic culture that is obsessed with individualism. For thousands of years, communities of people depended on one another for their very survival. Life and meaning and purpose were grounded within the community, and the community’s well-being trumped that of a single person. Even the Old Testament focused more on families and large people groups (such as the nation of Israel) than on individuals within the bigger story.
As civilization has advanced, we’ve grown increasingly affluent, independent, and isolated. And our waning interdependence has been accompanied by a growing obsession with ourselves. Christianity has contributed to this shift in some positive ways, drawing attention to the inherent value of every life, and reminding the world that Jesus loves EACH of us and gave His life so that every one of us might have abundant life and a relationship with Him. Unfortunately, as we’ve begun finding meaning in the self (and, more recently, finding meaning in personal victimhood), we’ve lost sight of the role each of us plays in the Big Picture story that God is painting.
I’m thankful to live in a time and culture where I have a voice and a microphone, and were my own story and opinions are considered worthy of being shared and heard. Believe me, I recognize what a gift this is and don’t take it for granted. But in acknowledging my own individual freedoms, and in celebrating my personal Christian testimony, I’m careful to remember that I play but one tiny part in my family’s faithfulness to Christ, and an even smaller role in the remarkable love story between God and His people.
While our generational testimony is long and occasionally lacking in drama and intrigue, it is nonetheless one marked by redemption, mercy, and grace. It is a story worthy of being shared from every pulpit, and it deserves to be celebrated with the same joy and fervor as the testimony of a wayward prodigal who has been welcomed back into the fold.