Titles or Testimonies?
A few months ago, I heard my minister (who also happens to be my husband) tell a story during his sermon that resonated with me. I felt like my students needed to hear the story. Whether you’re a “church-goer” or not, it doesn’t matter. What matters to me is that my students begin to think about their lives differently and the impact they can have on our world, now and in the future.
A few months ago, I heard my minister (who also happens to be my husband) tell a story during his sermon that resonated with me. I felt like my students needed to hear the story. Whether you’re a “church-goer” or not, it doesn’t matter. What matters to me is that my students begin to think about their lives differently and the impact they can have on the world, now and in the future.
I know this story gets a little “preachy” but follow it to the end. Here is the story that was shared titled “Don’t Collect Titles, Collect Testimonies!” told by Tony Campolo:
Since my late teenage years, I have been a member of the Mount Carmel Baptist Church, an African American congregation in West Philadelphia. Once a year at my church, we have student recognition day. I remember one of those Sundays when more than 20 college and university students sat on the first two pews. The pastor looked at them and, with pride and great affection, called them one by one to come forward and tell the congregation what they were studying and what they hoped to become. One young man said, I’m studying at Harvard and I am going to be a lawyer. Elderly grandmothers and grandfathers responded with delight…my my, oh yes, thank you Jesus. Another student said I’m studying engineering at MIT. Again, there were cries of approval and the clapping of hands. A young woman announced, I am studying music at Julliard, and I heard grandmothers and grandfathers all over the congregation saying wonderful, wonderful, good, good, thank you Jesus. You may think you have heard great music, but you haven’t heard the greatest music until you hear about forty or fifty grandmothers and grandfathers moaning and groaning the moans and groans of joy because their grandchildren are becoming what America never let them be. Always, after all the students have finished their brief presentations and are sitting there bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, the pastor gets up, looks right at them, and in a stern, loud voice, declares, Children! You’re gonna die! You don’t think you’re gonna die, You can’t even imagine dying right now, but one of these days they’re gonna take you out to the cemetery, drop you in a hole, throw dirt in your face and go back to the church and eat potato salad. When you were born, you were the only one who cried. Everybody else was happy. That’s not what’s important. Here’s what’s important. When you die, will you be the only one who’s happy and will everybody else cry? It depends on what you’re living for. Are you trying to get titles: bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, doctor’s degrees? Is that what your life is all about? Collecting titles? Or is it about collecting testimonies. That’s black preaching at its best. It’s got rhythm. It’s got music. It’s got poetry. I can still hear my pastor saying it over and over again—titles or testimonies…titles or testimonies…He said, Pharaoh had the title, Ruler of Egypt. Now that’s a good title, but when it was over that’s all Pharaoh had—a title. He had the title, but Moses had the testimonies…There was King Darius. Good title, king. He threw Daniel in the lion’s den, but when it was over all he had was the title. Darius had the title, but Daniel had…and the congregation yelled back, the testimonies! The pastor went on, rhythmically chanting, and the people responded with joy and clapped their hands. And I can still hear my pastor as he looked down at those two rows of young people, saying, When it’s all over for you, and they lay you in a grave, what will you have? Do you want a tombstone with all your titles or do you want people standing around your grave giving testimonies about how you loved them, how you cared for them in the name of Christ, and how you made a difference in their lives? I wish for you both titles and testimonies, but if you have to make a choice—go for the testimonies!
As I work with my students through the college process, I see so much potential for our world. These students are going to be change-makers – some of them already are! It restores my hope seeing what some of them are already doing in their communities. However, I find students sometimes lose their true motivation, their focus gets fuzzy, when considering the daunting college process. They get hung up on what they should study in college or what they want to do for a career, or the titles they’ll receive once they earn their degree or eventually become a _______________ (fill in the blank) making a six figure income. Actually, parents can get hung up on the titles too.
I stress to them that if they focus on what makes them happy and brings them the most joy, they’ll never work a day in their life. We can probably all learn from this old saying, right? Go for the testimonies!