Today, I’d like to describe an example of how we created a special moment in a morning service we organized with our youth group. I had been to the Willow Creek Leadership Summit a few times and at one time there had been an intermezzo where people gave their ‘testimony’ using big white pieces of paper (or cardboard). One side would show their old situation, described in one or two words, the other side what Jesus had changed in their life. It was a moving moment as a stream of people walked on stage, showed their sign, flipped it and walked off. Ever since, I had wanted to use that same idea.
A couple of years ago we organized a morning service with the youth ministry around the theme ‘Change? Yes, He can!’. Our goal was to show that God can change us and that we need to stop at certain moments in our life and celebrate what God has already done in us, instead of focusing on those things that aren’t going well yet. That’s where the idea of the ‘cardboard-testimonies’ came in. Just before the sermon and right after worship, about fifteen youth group members came on stage and gave their testimony that way.
Their signs were so moving. One said adulterer on one side, faithful on the other. One said proud and humble. One said broken and whole. Since I knew the stories behind their testimonies, it touched me deeply (the sign in Dutch below says ‘Dead through the world’ – it said ‘Alive through Jesus’ on the other side)
In the sermon I then talked about Joseph and how he would have felt halfway in his journey, for instance when he was in prison. We know how the story ends, but Joseph didn’t. Yet he remained true to God, who was changing him in every way to prepare Joseph for the task God would give him. In the same way, we need to take a moment in the middle of our life, and thank God that He is already changing us for whatever task He wants us to take on. It’s not just the end result we need to celebrate, it’s every step in between as well.
At the end of the sermon I invited everyone who wanted to, to write their own testimony on big carton boards and come up on stage to show it to us. I had no idea what to expect. As we prepared for the service, I had discussed with the worship leader what we should do if only a few people would come. We had some ‘emergency scenarios’ in place, so to speak. But the response was overwhelming.
There was an incredibly long line of people wanting to show to everyone what God had done in their life and everyone waited patiently for their turn. People came on stage with their signs and the auditorium responded with applause, with praise, sometimes with shouts of joy or tears of happiness. It was an unbelievably moving moment and one that I will never forget. It really brought us together as a church, it created a sense of community. We had to change the order of the service, skip some songs, to make time for everyone to share. It was simply awesome.
Looking back, I think that there were several factors that contributed to this ‘success’. The first was that it was quite simply a great creative way, one that I had seen in action and that I knew worked. Secondly, we planned the whole service around it. We took time to worship, then showed the testimonies of the youth. The ‘special moment’ was an answer to the sermon, so that people’s heart would be prepared for what we were to ask them. In the third place, we asked people to do something relatively simple and practical, the instructions were clear and since they had seen the fifteen examples in the service earlier, they knew what was asked.
But the most important thing was this: we prayed about it and prepared the whole service as a team in the presence of the Holy Spirit. Creating special moments doesn’t ‘just happen’ – it takes intentional planning. We discussed every step, prepared all transitions, thought of possible things that could go wrong and anticipated. And then we let go and we trusted God to do the rest. And he did.
God received honor and glory that morning. All those people on stage, they were giving testimony to what God had done in their life. If you prepare a service and your desire is to see God’s name honored, you can be sure He will bless it and respond in a way that surpasses anything you could have imagined.