Before people in the USA sang karaoke, they spoke it spontaneously, from the heart as they told how the living, resurrected Jesus Christ had changed their life. It was called Lay Witness Missions. This spoken karaoke began in United Methodist Church in the late 1950s and spread into other churches.
I was fortunate to be a part of numerous Lay Witness Missions during the early 1970s. Here’s how they worked:
A team of lay people (no preachers were allowed on the team) would be invited by a church to come and spend a weekend with them. We would stay in the homes of church members.
The team, led by a coordinator, would lead meetings for the church on Friday night, Saturday morning, Saturday night, and Sunday morning. However, these meetings contained no preaching. Instead, members of the visiting team would share spoken karaoke — spontaneous, heart-felt words about how they came to personally know and follow the living Jesus. Their true life stories were always deeply moving to everyone present.
We would also break into small groups and let people share what God was doing in their heart. (During these small groups, some people would realize that they had never personally experienced Jesus.) Through out the weekend there were many opportunities for team members to get to know the church members and to share Christ one-on-one with them.
Then on Sunday morning an altar call would be given and almost everybody present would be deeply moved and on their knees, responding to the awesome presence of Jesus. Many people were encountering the living Christ for the very first time and others were renewing their relationship with Him.
My experiences going on Lay Witness Missions greatly impacted my life and vividly demonstrated to me the power of ordinary people showing and telling what God has done in their lives. However, my life moved on and I lost contact with the Lay Witness Movement. Yet, I had been infected with a burning desire to see God work through the testimonies of everyday people.
I became a pastor and tried to develop a Lay-Witness-Mission-style church, but my denomination resisted me and rejected the idea. So I stepped down and I moved around the country for years, searching for a church like a Lay Witness Mission, but I never could find one. However, I never lost the burning desire to experience again a move of God like that.
Then in 2008, The Salvation Army asked my wife and me to start a “non-traditional” church for them in Nashville. I shared my vision with them about a Lay-Witness-Mission-style church where instead of a Sunday sermon, everyday people could show and tell what God has done for them. To my surprise, they gave us the go ahead.
So in March of 2008, we started The Salvation Army Berry Street and we have a Lay Witness Mission every Sunday morning. If you are in Nashville, come experience it for yourself on Sundays at 10:45 am., 225 Berry St., 37207.
Here’s a brief history of how the Lay Witness Movement began:
n the late 1950s, as Ben Johnson, a Methodist pastor, was preaching, he felt led to ask several people to come to the mic and share their experience with the living, resurrected Jesus Christ. Here’s how Frank Billman describes it: ” It was a God-inspired moment. Those chosen to share were anointed and the congregation was electrified. Hearing lay people talk about what God was doing in their lives stirred the church. Johnson was led by the Spirit to not preach after that; he just gave an altar call. The people rushed forward to kneel and the altar service lasted more than an hour. It was the witness of laypeople rather than the preacher’s sermon that stirred them.” (This was the beginning of the Lay Witness Movement in the United Methodist Church.)
Ben Johnson says a Lay Witness Mission is “laymen sharing with fellow laymen the reality of Christ in their life.”