Have you been in a fast and testimony meeting with long drawn out silence? Most members of the church are used to this and don’t necessarily find the moment “awkward”. However, If you are a leader, those minutes feel like hours. All these people that have come seeking a spiritual meeting and now they sit in silence.
In contrast, there are testimony meetings when the speakers line up and time runs short. This is good–sometimes. What about that lady that stands and talks about her cats. Or the testimony full of expressions of roommate love. This LDS dynamic of “Open Mic Sunday” could probably be studied in university psychology classes.
Here’s the bottom line, each church meeting is under the direction of a presiding authority. That means, if you preside, you own it. You can’t blame the bad meetings on yakking cat ladies. You have the power to guide and direct the meeting in any way necessary. Most sitting in the pews don’t realize you are guiding the meeting (if you are good at it) but all are thankful you are. Nobody likes their time wasted.
Give them reason to stand
It is customary for the conductor of the testimony meeting to kick-off the testimony football–be the first to share a testimony and then open up the mic for others to carry on. This task comes with more responsibility than one may think. The words you speak will set the tone for the rest of the meeting. Not only do the attendees need to hear your testimony and feel the spirit, but they also need to feel a spirit of invitation–to stand and testify. I don’t mean a mumbled sentence at the end of your testimony: “We now invite you, brothers and sister, to share your testimony…” They need more inspiration than that. They need specific direction.
Members in a fast and testimony meeting are in various states of mind. You have people that can’t wait to stand and share their testimony (unfortunately some of these share travel-monies, cat-a-monies, or just ramble). There are also people whom wouldn’t stand even if Angel Gabriel himself appeared and told them to (the fear of public speaking is powerful). You also have people who don’t mind sharing their testimony but simply forgot it was even fast Sunday. They shamefully hid their pop-tart breath when they realize they are not participating in the ward fast. If you concede the meeting to those that have a preconceived plan to participate you may end up with a lot of silence of a lot of cat stories.
The leader needs to mix the pot with ideas. With a simple topic suggestion the lethargic suddenly have a reason to stand. “I invite all to stand today and share your testimony of Jesus Christ. If you don’t know where to start, tell us about why temples are important to you, tell us why you serve, tell us why your scripture study changes your daily life, tell us what priesthood means to you.” Your testimony invited the spirit and now you have given them a way to participate. You will be amazed at how effective this is to getting people to stand and share sincere testimonies.
Invite the doubter
In most fast and testimony meetings you will have a handful of people stand and give the most convincing testimony–almost to a degree that is unbelievable. These individuals stand and use phrases like, “I know with ever fiber of my being…” or “The gospel’s validity is a fact in my life…” or “I know without a shadow of a doubt…”. These testimonies are inspiring to hear and I would never discourage these people to participate in the meeting. I must admit, sometimes I second guess the validity of a testimony when little room is left to question or even doubt; however, it isn’t my place to judge the strength of individual testimonies.
The reason I bring this up, is there are many that sit in the pews during fast and testimony meeting that aren’t so certain of each doctrine of the gospel. Paul encouraged saints with unbelieving spouses to “not put her away” (1 Cor 7:12-15). Most of these individuals that are less than certain will say God is real and Jesus Christ lives, but there are holes in their belief they are still trying to reconcile. Being at church is right where they need to be because they have come with an attitude of “Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9:24). When they hear testimonies of absolutes and conviction they begin to think they are the only one still “working” on their testimony and see no need to stand and share what they do know.
A leader should encourage the doubter to stand as well. President Packer taught, “a testimony is found in the bearing of it.” Hearing words in testimony meeting such as, “I’m not quite sure yet…” or “I’m working on it…” will only add to the spirit of the meeting. However, these individuals won’t stand unless the leader who kicked off the meeting let them know there is room for their growing testimonies as well.
How do you approach a fast and testimony meeting?
These are just a few suggestions I have when conducting a fast & testimony meeting. I’m sure there are other approaches the work as well, but we need you to share them. Comment below and let us know how else a leader can enhance a testimony meeting.