A Spirit-Led Testimony Service: Spontaneous or Structured--or Both?

9/27 Advance Planning for Next Month

That “testimony” service is coming up soon. Part of me knows it’s a good thing, yet another part of me is nervous. Just about anything could happen if we just open things up for students to come forward and talk. Like open mike night at improv. How worshipful is that? I still remember an Easter service at an Episcopal church where a fellow stood up and droned on and on about El Salvador or something until the pastor finally cut him off. Ouch!

I wonder if this being uncomfortable with personal testimony in worship isn’t some “Reformed” sensibility. Testimony is, after all, so very personal, and our tradition is all about the community, the covenant people.

At the same time, part of being the covenant people is testifying to one another about what we’ve seen, what we’ve heard, what we’ve experienced. We need to do this. “We testify to these things so that we may have fellowship with one another and with the Father and with Jesus Christ.” That’s 1 John, straight up. Can’t we make room for testimony in corporate, covenantal worship?


I talked to Aaron today about my concerns, which, it turns out, are not mine alone. He pointed out that one testimony service in the past had been billed, at least to the worship leaders, as a “Spirit-Filled Free-for-All.” A few songs were chosen to start things up, and then … whatever. There is something exciting and spontaneous and … all right, authentic about that. I get it. I even like it. But yikes! The Spirit leads us into freedom, but is it freedom for “all”? Freedom to do anything? Does the Spirit work only in the direction of liberation from perceived stricture and structure? Surely this is appealing—especially to young people. But doesn’t the Holy Spirit also work, as in Genesis 1, in the direction of creating order from chaos? Finding true freedom only in slavery to Christ? How do we balance these two?

Apart from theological considerations are more pressing practical considerations. How do we, as a worship team, as musicians, prepare for such a service? Do we choose no songs at all ahead of time? Do we rehearse anything? Do we wait and hope for students to suggest songs that we know? Do we pray for the Spirit to move us in the moment, and move us to play the same song in the same key? What if the Spirit tells us, like that old joke has it, “Oops. You should done more planning.”

And what happens if someone’s testimony turns inappropriate? We can’t control what folks will and won’t say…


At working group today we began mentioning and praying for some student concerns: midterm anxiety; homesickness and loneliness, a student whose father just died. I’d imagine these are the sorts of things students will bring to their peers in this testimony service. Maybe we can do some discernment and make plans, however tentative and squishy, to sing and pray on Sunday in response to a few broad themes, and then “wing it” from there. It might take a deft touch in leadership, and a generous spirit in the congregation, but I think we’ve got both those.

To do: e-mail students on the LOFTtalk listserve to ask what sorts of things of things are on their minds and hearts.

Do the same sort of spiritual survey at rehearsal.

10/14 Rehearsal Notes

Spiritual survey: Do these themes resonate and do these songs respond?

God is faithful in the midst of trouble.

“Good to Me”
“Great Is Thy Faithfulness”
“On Eagle’s Wings”
“Saving Light”
“When Peace Like a River”

God has a plan for us; God guides us

(assurance of and request for that guidance).

“Be Thou My Vision”
“Cry of My Heart”
“Here I Am, Lord”
“He’s Got the Whole World”
“If You But Trust in God”
“I Offer My Life”
“Lead Me, Lord”
“Let Us Hold to the Hope”

We long to know God intimately.

“Beautiful Savior”
“Holiness”“I Could Sing of Your Love Forever”
“Knowing You”
“My Jesus, I Love Thee”
“Santo Santo Santo”

Plan “standard” opening: song of gathering, praise, confession, redemption (ask for requests).

10/14 Post Rehearsal

To do: Pull the music for the songs we know and have it ready for the band Sunday.


Sarah talked to me today about speaking at LOFT. She’d heard it was a testimony service, and she wanted to ask if she could begin her testimony with a bit of Scripture. “All right?” I said—“That’s ideal!” How perfect to start even a testimony not with us, but with God’s Word as we’ve heard and understood and applied and experienced it in our own lives!

If she begins with Scripture (which uses a really interesting image), moves to an exploration of the Scriptural image, and then ties them both to her own story, there will be three places for the congregation to draw connections to their lives. It will also be a guide, a model testimony for other students. It’s not “control” over what they’ll say, or what will happen on Sunday; but maybe a little precedent, a little preparation, and a lot of prayer will help us to worship well this week.


I often color-code song lists as a visual tool to assess whether or not we’ve got a balanced musical diet in a particular service. Sometimes I use the computer, and sometimes I color a list by hand

with a set of highlighting markers. That way I can see at a glance whether a service, or a whole semester of services, is deficient in some way (looks too hymn-heavy, or is overgrown with songs from the Vineyard, and so on)

The way I code looks like this:

— Newer, guitar-driven songs from Vineyard and from EMI (Kingsway, Curious?, and so on) (about 15 percent).

— Most (about 35 percent) of all the songs we use at LOFT are “standard” Praise & Worship songs from the big publishing houses (Word, Maranatha! Integrity, and so on).

— Another 20 percent are from the classic repertoire of Christian hymnody.

— Songs from the world church (about 15 percent ).

— Songs from the Roman Catholic sources GIA and OCP—what I call “folk-liturgical” music (another 10 percent).

— Songs that are “homegrown”—written by members of our leadership team or by LOFT alumni (about 5 percent).

A new resource, So You’ve Been Asked to Lead Congregational Singing, (co-authored by Randall D. Engle and Ron Rienstra) addresses the issue of song leadership from the perspective of pastors as well as musicians. To order, call 1-800-333-8300 or order online at www.crcpublications.org and ask for #1-56212-564-8. Single copies are $1.25US/$1.80CDN.

Rev. Dr. Ron Rienstra has been a regular contributor to Reformed Worship over the years. He is the director of worship life and professor of preaching and worship arts at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan. He is an ordained minister in the Reformed Church in America , author of Church at Church, and coauthor with his wife, Debra, of Worship Words: Discipling Language for Faithful Ministry. Together they have three grown children, a multiplicity of living-room instruments, and a tame backyard they are slowly rewilding.

Reformed Worship 59 © March 2001, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.