Beyond the Crickets: I Killed Testimony Meeting

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 This past month we have been talking about Testimony in Sunday School. I was recently reminded of this post, and since it is the time of campfires and testimonies, I figured I should dust it off.
campfire1

A few years ago, I heard someone say something that stuck with me. Here it is years later, and I can’t find where I heard it, who said it, or exactly what was said, or even if I just thought it – so I won’t attribute it to anyone, or claim it to be doctrine or policy. But it stuck in my head.  (If any of you can source this, please let me know.)

The gist of the quote is this:

“I am concerned that we are raising a generation of youth who can only bear their testimony in the mountains, or around a campfire.

It probably stuck in my head because I agree with it.  Having had the privilege of serving a large chunk of my adult life with the youth of the Church, I know that testimony meetings around a campfire are often the only place a young man or woman will ever bear their testimony.  I get it. Testimony meetings are scary. Campfires are safe, semi-occluded, and peer-pressure responsive. I have been witness to some wonderful testimony meetings around campfires – important, life-changing testimony meetings. I am not trying to denigrate this experience, rather I hope to add to it.

A few years back, when I was privileged to serve as bishop of a large and vibrant youth program (90+ kids), one of my favorite things was to go to Girl’s Camp.  I don’t know how other stakes do it, but in ours, the bishops were all invited to come up one day to participate in activities with the girls, and end the night with a bishop’s fireside and testimony meeting. I loved this experience, and it is one of the things I miss most about being a bishop.

For many of the young women, and we adult leaders, this testimony meeting was often the high point of the week at Girl’s Camp. It was as close to a guaranteed spiritual experience as you could find.

One particular year, we cleared out an area in a grove of trees and hauled in enough stumps, logs and chairs for everyone to be seated. We decided against having a fire because it can be so distracting. Lanterns and flashlights were placed strategically. We had an opening prayer and sang a hymn, after which I had a few moments to talk to the girls and deliver my message to them. Such good girls. Strong, pure, and happy.

Before I opened the meeting to testimonies, I had a idea come to mind that made me instantly uncomfortable. I tried to dismiss it, but it persisted – so I went with it.  After I shared my thought and testimony, I closed with the following request -as best that I can remember:

“As you bear your testimonies, I would like you to do something a little different this year. Let’s do away with some of our traditions and try something new. This year I would like to hear what you know. I would like to hear your testimonies about the Gospel and the Savior.

For example: We all know that you love coming to Girl’s Camp. So, nobody needs to stand up and tell us that they love Girl’s Camp. We also know that you love your friends, and your leaders. Your friends already know, and so do your leaders, so you don’t need to share that with us either.

We also know that you are thankful for a lot of things – parents, brothers and sisters, friends, etc. We don’t need to hear that, either.  What I am hoping, is that we can hear from each of you and understand what you believe, and what you know in your hearts to be true.  That is a testimony.  I know it’s different, but I feel that it will be worth it.

Finally, I would also ask our wonderful Young Women leaders to abstain from bearing their testimonies tonight, and leave the time for our young women.”

Then I sat down. Terrified.  I caught a few of glances from Young Women leaders. One of concern, one of confusion, and one of irritation. So I just looked at the ground in front of me and waited.

Crickets. That’s all I heard. Literally, crickets.

Nobody stood up.

Crickets.

Five minutes passed.

Ten minutes.

Silence, except for the crickets.

I did it. I actually destroyed a testimony meeting. I ruined a grand tradition – the high point of Girl’s Camp.

As I sat there in the dark, trying to figure out how to dig myself out of this disaster, I heard a sound. One of our sweet, shy young women stood up, and cleared her throat. She testified that she knew that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, and that through him, Jesus restored the true Church to the earth. I don’t remember what else she said, but I remember what I felt.  I felt the Holy Ghost surge into my heart and confirm what this courageous young lady had said.

The dam burst. One by one, every one of the young women stood and testified to the things they knew to be true. The prophet, the Book of Mormon, the Priesthood, the Plan of Salvation, the temple, and mostly, the Savior. It was powerful. No fluff, no filler.

These sweet, strong young women were rewarded for their courage with an outpouring of the Spirit that I had never felt around at a camp before. The girls had risen to a challenge from a priesthood leader, and all were blessed because of it.

Two stuck out in my mind: The first was a young woman who stood and explained how she was not to a point in her testimony where she could declare knowledge, but that she believed many things to be true. It was humble, and honest. The other, which happened to be the last girl, was not a member of the Church. But she stood and bore testimony that she knew the Church was true. (She was later baptized.)

As I sat and listened I prayed inwardly that the young women and their leaders would feel what I was feeling, and poured out my heart in gratitude for permitting me to witness this wonderful event.

We closed with a gentle hymn, had a prayer, and quietly made our way back to camp – to the sound of crickets.

(An amazing talk that has had great influence on my perception of testimonies is ‘Pure Testimony,” given by Elder Ballard in October of 2004.  I highly recommend it.

Originally publish October 23, 2012

51 COMMENTS

  1. What an amazing testimony meeting. By listening to the prompting of the spirit, you taught the girls andtheir leaders exactly what a testimony meeting should be.

  2. You ARE a brave man! I tried to imagine if our Bishop had said something similar this year at girls camp. I don’t know how it would have gone over. I take that back. I know my girls would have risen to the occasion. Every one of them. Because I deep down believe if you give them the opportunity, they will exceed your expectations. Our downfall as leaders is to make it too easy on them. I think the only thing we would have missed is hearing from a Young Woman whose mother passed away suddenly a few months prior. She won’t speak of it often (occasionally with me) but that night she really opened her heart. It was good for her and good for our girls. I guess another nod for individual inspiration eh?

    Side note: totally off topic. I heard a comment last week in SS about the interesting timing of the church lowering it’s missionary age worldwide in relation to the Nation’s presidential election. Noting the number of newly endowed young voters we will have and the power that comes with the temple endowment.
    Interesting thought. Blog fodder? Yes, you would do better with it than would…. : )

  3. If for no other reason than then you have a better grip on not swearing than I do. And I would for sure find a way a way to let a less than lady-like word drop.

  4. That is awesome! I think it took courage for you to do that, change the game plan a little and it sounds like it really was worth it. I have found throughout my life that often the person who is kind of quiet and doesn’t always say as much is usually the person who has the most profound insights and when they do share they share big. I also really appreciate what you said about the young lady who was honest and humble about where she is in her own spiritual journey. That she was able to admit that and also share what she does in fact know and is certain of at that point. The church really is a tapestry of beautiful souls all on their own unique journeys. Amazing really. Thanks for sharing this MMM, I really enjoyed reading this one. It relates to a bunch of other stuff going on in my life right now and helps me put things into perspective…Your cool!

  5. I like the example of the young woman was able to say what she believed, so often (read-always) people say I KNOW this and I KNOW that… and it feels like there is no room for some one who just “believes” to bear their testimony. I feel like a lot of years ago people stood up in testimony meeting and said I believe In Christ Joseph Smith-whatever, now you have to say I know it, which would be a lie for some people so the “believers” don’t get to stand up.

  6. What an awesome lesson on so many levels for all that were there. Kudos to you! Scary – yes! Rewarding – definitely! What a way to invoke the spirit for all to feel. Thank you for listening to your prompting.

  7. Awesome! I wish a member of the bishopric would get up in testimony meeting and say something similar. Although I always appreciate those who get up to share, I have NEVER in my life been in a testimony where everyone or even most people actually bore their testimony. It’s mostly filler. We need experiences like what you provided to realize that is exactly what a testimony meeting should be. Why is it such a difficult concept for us all to grasp? ( :
    I think the way you worded your request was nice- letting everyone know that you were certain they did love camp, their friends and leaders, etc. but that was not going to be the focus that night.

  8. Love this. In a stake conference following Elder Ballard’s talk, our new stake president announced that our stake was to have a “new tradition of pure testimonies.” He was very blunt in that we were not to have thanktimonies, travelmonies, or mini-talkimonies, but were to bear testimony of what we know to be true about Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ and the gospel. At first, many were irritated (“how can he dictate what I can say in my testimony?!”) or scared or doubtful (“I don’t know that I can just say my testimony without leading up to my point with a little story”) but I can testify that, over the past few years, our testimony meetings have grown powerful and I love it. We do notice quite a difference when we’re traveling & attend a testimony meeting in another ward – the thanktimonies with some testimony added in are nice, but the Spirit isn’t there as powerfully as when all the testimonies are focused on the Savior. I am grateful for a stake president who saw that we needed to change, and encouraged us to do so.

    • I like it when people give a little life story to go along with the gospel principle they are testifying of. I feel uplifted and inspired by those short and REAL stories of faith and endurance. I don’t mine when people list what they know, however I would be terribly bored if that was all everyone did.

    • I had a bishop address this, too. I always notice now if someone just gives a Thankimony or a travelmony and doesn’t actually bear witness of what they know. He explained that we should give thanks in our prayers, or to people personally. Your testimony is a spiritual witness of what you believe or know to be true. An account of how you came upon what you know can help others, but I almost cringe if their testimony is just a long list of what they’re thankful for with no bearing witness of our Savior or Heavenly Father.

  9. Amazing!!! As Camp Director last year and now 1st Counselor I would have been cheering you on. I kept quiet till the very end to ensure that all the girls had their turn first. I noticed from my previous experiences as a YW and as a YW leader in my old ward that if the girls are on a “roll” and a leader jumps in often times it intimidates them to keep going. I’m impressed you had the strength to keep quite that long and to let the crickets be the only sound as the spirit worked in the girls and prompted them to share and give them the strength and courage to stand up.

  10. Fantastic! Yes, I think our children will not often rise higher than the expectations we have for them, and if we raise the bar, it may take time, but I believe that they will rise to the occasion! I wish we had such leadership here. I really feel like General Conference was a call for us all to really stretch ourselves and be more the disciples we are called to be. And as parents, we need to help our children see that need and give them the tools to do the same. Otherwise changing the age for missionaries will simply cause extra headaches for the mission presidents if the missionaries are not themselves converted and have experiences with the Spirit.

  11. Our ward uses one of the YW activity nights preceding camp to have a “lesson” on testimonies. It’s been taught by a dynamic speaker in the ward, so that helps, but it’s made a difference in camp testimony meeting and sometimes even in the fast and testimony meeting.

  12. That was definitely courageous for you to do, but highly necessary! I honestly have a hard time paying attention during testimony meetings (not just because I have two little ones) but because 80% of the testimonies are really “thank-a-monies”. I know this is gonna sound rude, but I don’t need to know what someone is grateful for. It’s so much powerful when I hear someone testify about the gospel, especially the Savior. Such testimonies help to kindle my testimony and frankly some months I could really use it. I’m sure the rambling list of “thank you’s” come from nerves or a lack of knowledge about what a testimony is, but I think we forget that a testimony doesn’t need to be all bells and whistles. It doesn’t need to even last that long. When I was single and living in California, there was a guy who joined the church after living a very wayward life (drugs, gangs, etc) and he made a goal for one year to bear his testimony every month. It was always the simplest and shortest testimony for the first 6 months, but as his knowledge and testimony increased, so did his testimony. He always testified of the Savior and kept his thank you’s to himself. Eventually his one or two line testimonies because 3-5 minutes while still staying true to what a testimony is. It was an AMAZING thing to witness! Thank you for sharing this up-lifting story.

  13. We had a stake presidency member recent extend the same challenge in our ward. It was one of the most powerful testimony meetings I have experienced. I think the best part is that everyone in the congregation gets to sit and think about what they know, versus what story they are going to tell, etc. Everyone is asking themselves “What do I know?”. I loved it.

  14. Every fast Sunday our bishopric get up and read a letter from the first Presidency about pure testimony and then part of a conference talk by someone about pure testimony and not travelogues, health matters, etc. Most of the testimonies are short and to the point.

    • I have always hoped that something like this would happen in my ward. That is awesome that your bishopric does that!
      And thank you, MMM for sharing the link to that talk. I have been trying to find it for a long time.

  15. Pretty awesome what the Lord can do with with a humble imperfect bishop, isn’t it? Good for you for listening.

    I believe it has nothing to do with young women “rising to the occassion” but everything to do with teaching them by the spirit.

  16. At our Stake’s Girls’ Camp we have one night for “Thankamonies” and the next night just for testimonies, as you have described in your post. It helps the YW differentiate between all that is wonderful in our lives that we are thankful for and what we believe or know concerning the Savior and his gospel.

  17. The most powerful YW testimony meeting I have been to was a stake YW camp in Nauvoo. We camped. Cooked our own meals over open fire – no luxeries. It was a hard week. I explained was a testimony was beofre we got started – and the girls really took to it, and it was powerful. I will never forget this beehive from Mirconesia, sayng “I know that Nauvoo belongs to me- this is my history.” I felt like- “Mission accomplished- lets go home!”

  18. truly inspired. One year at GC, a YW incorporated Bon Jovi’s
    “livin’ on a prayer” with her thoughts. It was interesting (to say the least)Not to say that you can’t find Gospel principles in anything, but I think the dance moves were distracting. Youth are learning from the adults how to bear testimony. I think, unfortunately, they aren’t always the best examples. Those girls learned the correct ways to testify of Christ that day. Good job sitting in panic, quietly, so they had an opportunity. That’s my favorite kind of inspiration. The kind that makes me uncomfortable, but the kind that yields more than I ever dreamed possible.
    The Lord is good.

  19. I love that there was a silence. I think so often the girls get giddy and unsure of themselves and stuck in the tradition of the “I loves…” that they forget to really think about the gospel when it comes to testimony meeting. That long silence proves that they were forced to search deeper into their hearts and discover or rediscover all the beautiful things about he Gospel that they KNOW. Inspiring. Thank you for sharing.

  20. I have always said that if the stake leadership want to know what is going on with the YW, plan to attend the testimony meeting during girls camp. It is very revealing.

  21. MMM, are you taking flying lessons? Or am I just slow and it’s been up there a while now?

    As I read your post it reminded me of girl’s camp many years ago. I would have loved this type of testimony meeting. One year in particular all of the girls (except my sister and I) felt the need to bear their testimonies – twice. And they weren’t those like what was shared above, but more of what you asked the girls not to mention. It was a long testimony meeting.

    I know you’ll be tying this story into a post about sister missionaries, but this is such a great example of the need to listen to the promptings of the spirit. I loved it. Thanks.

  22. I actually really love this!! You sound like you and my former bishop would get along great. When he became bishop of our home ward he got up and read something from the First Presidency about sharing brief, heartfelt testimonies and then encouraged us to refrain from the traditions of coming up and telling us who you loved/were thankful for. It was a little hard for some people in the beginning. People would actually get up and say, “I apologize in advance for saying I’m thankful, but I am thankful for…” and then went on to say what they knew. After months and months (and maybe a year or two) of repeating the same thing at the pulpit the ward started going up and actually TESTIFYING of what they knew and believed. It brought such a wonderful spirit to our ward and F&T meeting. Unfortunately after he left, the next Bishop was a little more lenient and just let me people say what they wanted. But I will never forget the Spirit felt when we had a whole entire hour devoted to brief heartfelt testimonies of what people knew and believed about the Gospel and our Savior. I wish every testimony meeting could be like that. 🙂

  23. I loved this post. Loved loved loved the message. But I gotta be honest, as I’m reading it, loving it, I was really distracted by that goofy Twilight countdown thing off to the right of it.

  24. Normally I consume blog content but don’t contribute. This post touched me. Thank you for sharing this. I found the comment about some of the leaders being upset by the request that they don’t participate interesting. I would hope that their feelings come from a desire to publicly share what they know to be true and not for less edifying reasons. As a father of 8, my desire has always been that youth leaders don’t get between my kids and their Father in Heaven.

  25. This is great. I’ve only ever been to girls camp as a girl — I don’t remember much, other than I was glad it was at Camp Lo MIA with a cabin. I do remember the testimony meetings though. I too, wish the youth would bear their testimonies more in regular meetings. I would welcome their youth and vibrancy on a Fast Sunday.

  26. I enjoyed reading this. I wish the majority of our testimony meetings could be like this, instead of having it be something rare. So many people stand and tell stories, or give sermons or decide to lecture. The spirit just flies right out the window and it usually takes a child or a new convert to bring it back.

  27. Interesting coincidence, but when we lived in Gilbert years ago, my two oldest daughters came home from YW meeting (right before camp started) totally on fire from their lesson on testimonies that day. That sister taught the girls that it’s not wrong to cry under the influence of the spirit but NOT REQUIRED! She pointed out that some of the strongest testimonies ever heard were from General Authorities at Conference and most of them did not get emotional. She said that testimony meetings at girl’s camp often turned into big boo-hoo sessions and some of the girls seemed to think that the more emotion you displayed, the stronger your testimony. That good sister challenged them to try and keep it simple and spiritual without turning it into a big drama. And then she bore pure testimony to the class. My daughters never forgot that lesson!

  28. I Wish you could attend testimony meeting in the YSA ward where we serve (as advisors). It is unbelievably spirit filled and on point. This month the Bishop’s counselor started it off by inviting the young people to share their testimony “no matter where it was in developing” and promised them that even if they could only testify of one thing if they testified of that their testimony would grow. We had an amazing meeting. And BTW we NEVER have travelogues, thanktimonies or off track stories. These young adults are POWERFUL. One thing I really love is when they are directed by the spirit to share exactly the thing someone else in the congregation needs to hear. It happens all the time.

  29. Loved this post! What a special experience for those girls. I hope they always remember that night. Bearing testimonies has long been a pet peeve of mine. It’s so simple, yet very few people actually do, despite the many talks, lessons and reminders we’ve all heard. People who would panic if asked to give a 10-minute extemporaneous talk in Sacrament meeting can get up and do just that when bearing their “testimonies.” In my ward, it’s usually only the full-time missionaries who actually bear testimony of the Savior and the truthfulness of the gospel. Very few others ever get past being thankful.

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