Abstractions Are Killing Your Testimony, Silencing Your Song, Pt. 1

by Bobby Gilles

in Songwriting/Hymn Workshop,Testimony Tips

Painting by Jackson Pollock with caption "Sure, Abstraction worked for Jackson Pollock"

Sure, Abstraction worked for Jackson Pollock ...

Abstractions run amuck in bad writing and bland public speaking. Abstractions are weak-kneed, slack-jawed pansies that infest second-rate poetry (as demonstrated here), songs, sermons, stories and personal testimonies – even stories of redemption, healing and salvation.

Although skilled writers learn how to make abstractions work for them in small doses, a little dab will do ya. Strive for the concrete, particularly when it comes to congregational praise and worship songs and hymns, as well as personal testimonies.

Let’s see what this looks like for both testimonies and songs. We’ll tackle it in a two part series, but trust me – whether you’re a worship songwriter or a Christian who wants to give your testimony, you’ll benefit from Part One and Part Two.

Part 1: Abstract Testimonies Rob Your Story Of Its God-breathed Power

As Director Of Communications at a large, multi-site church and as an avid reader and listener, I come across many testimonies like this make-believe example:

I praise God that he’s teaching me patience. I used to lose my patience all the time but God’s been showing me and guiding me. He turned me around and started me on a different path. I lose patience less often and I don’t feel as angry. I have setbacks but thank the Lord that he is dealing with me everyday, conforming me to the image of his son Jesus.

I would like to praise God with you but I’m having trouble keeping my eyes open. Okay, that’s not true. I rejoice over testimonies like this, but I’ve been a Christian a long time, and I have an avid imagination, and I speak “Christianese.” You should aim for a wider target audience than me, like, your unsaved neighbor, your skeptical coworker and your easily bored cousin.

If you’ve read our How To Write A Testimony” you know that the testimony above is lacking the crucial “But then …,” a common trait of testimonies that have surrendered their power to engage, provoke and encourage the listener. But in this case it’s not that the writer went from Point A:

I couldn’t control my temper

To Point C:

But now I can

Photo of artist Jackson Pollock while painting, with caption "... but I don't think you look like him."

... but I don't think you look like him

Bypassing Point B. He took you to Point B, he just did so at night, while you were blindfolded, after you’d swallowed some NyQuil:

 “… but God’s been showing me and guiding me. He turned me around and started me on a different path.

What does that mean? A journalist would know how to dig up the story hidden in that abstract statement, but you can’t expect Unsaved Sally or Distracted Dan to go digging. You’ve lost them because your testimony was vague. Although the following example would require you to put yourself more “out there,” to be vulnerable, to exercise courage, it would be powerful:

 “I used to fly into a rage at the slightest thing. Without even meaning to, I’ve scared the kids and upset Mindy more times than I can count. One time I even got so mad at a bill collector who kept calling me that I threw the phone across the room and it smashed into our dining room hutch. The glass broke and flew all over the place. Thank God no one got hurt but it was frightening, even for me.

A couple times Mindy threatened to leave with the kids. And this was even after I got saved and was serving as a deacon at First Baptist. “

Isn’t this more gripping? Do you think people now care how the story turns out? I think so. And I think you’ll maintain their interest if you keep going with your concrete, true account of gospel transformation, whether that involved things like:

  • Bible verses God brought to your rememberance
  • A sermon series at your church
  • Marriage counseling
  • Being challenged by brothers in Christ in your small group or one-on-one accountability
  • A vivid dream where you saw your grown-up kids wanting nothing to do with you
  • The counsel of a pastor

Maybe it was a combination of several things listed above, or other things.  Tell it.

God calls us to a life of honest vulnerability. Don’t hide behind abstractions or make a habit of sliding into shortcut-Christianese. Lay aside these hindrances and introduce honest vulnerability into your testimony.

Next week: Abstract language in praise & worship music.

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