Let's make our testimony meetings better. I mean, it's a pretty good meeting, but I think it could be a blow the doors off the building, waters rushing, full-on pentecostal feast month in and month out with a few small changes.
Here are my suggested rules:
1. Bishopric member why are you taking so long? We don't need a complete story about your week and the things you were reflecting upon while you knew you were going to be giving the testimony. You have a lot of chances to give sermons. You can expound on the scriptures another time. Here, keep it short and sweet. In fact, if you're not feeling moved by the Spirit to bear testimony, I don't think there would be anything wrong with skipping it altogether and saying, "We will now open the meeting for testimonies..." and sitting down.
2. Which brings us nicely to the next point: We have three or more meetings a month for talks and only one for testimonies. Please know the difference. Want to hear an explanation from someone with a really imposing voice and brow? Great. Enter Elder Oaks.
"A testimony of the gospel is a personal witness borne to our souls by the Holy Ghost that certain facts of eternal significance are true and that we know them to be true. Such facts include the nature of the Godhead and our relationship to its three members, the effectiveness of the Atonement, and the reality of the Restoration.
"A testimony of the gospel is not a travelogue, a health log, or an expression of love for family members. It is not a sermon. President Kimball taught that the moment we begin preaching to others, our testimony is ended." 1
You might also be thinking, "But I did have this really great experience on my church history tour and I feel like I should tell the ward about it!" I would respond, by suggesting that we don't need the whole story. It won't be the same for us anyway because we weren't there. So instead of: "This last summer me and the family had a chance to take a trip to Illinois where we were able to see Carthage jail... the tour guide took us through and showed us the... and my son said... and before we left... and I had the most powerful feeling that Joseph Smith was a prophet..." You could just say, "I stood in Carthage Jail and the Spirit testified to me that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God."
4. We know you're nervous and/or your heart was beating so fast. You don't need to bring it up. Also, we assume that you felt prompted to say something, so you can skip that too. Just say what you need to say and don't tell us about the ordeal of saying it.
5. You don't need a special insight or original material. One time I encouraged a young man to bear his testimony. He turned to me and whispered, "But I don't have anything to say besides the basics." I wanted to cry.
I would submit that if your material is original, it's probably inappropriate to share in this meeting. This meetings is all about the basics. God. The Atonement. Prayer. Scriptures. Repentance. Love. Etc.
6. Don't force it. Sometimes I hear people say, "Well, I don't have much to say but I couldn't stand the silence." I would rather let the Holy Ghost fill the time and maybe two minutes of silence is just what the congregation needed. (Which might be why no one was feeling prompted to stand up and share.)
7. No more testimony ventriloquism please. A testimony is to "know and declare." I don't think that threshold is met when a parent is whispering lines to her six year old. If your kid does have a testimony and he wants to share, then he should be able to walk up the stand and do it. If not, let them share during family home evening or in primary opening exercises.
So those are the rules, just off the top of my head. I think they are wise. But if anyone would like more convincing, I would submit this short video:
Thank you for your time.