What God is Doing in Byron GA! Please read.

Church-PlantingI have some very exciting news to report to you. After more than five years of prayer and seeking the Lord, Heidi and I both know the Lord has called us to plant a new church in the middle Georgia area, very likely Byron, GA (Peach County). This is because starting a new church, often called church “planting,” is the best way we know today to evangelize the lost.

Why plant a new church when there is a church on every corner already, one might ask? Most Christians are unaware of the fact that nearly 3,750 churches die every year (that’s 72 or so per week!!), closing their doors for the last time, never to reopen. As if that is not bad enough news, solid research shows that nearly 85% of churches in the United States are in plateau or decline, and are winning less than 1 (yes, I said “one”) lost person to Christ each year. Not only that, there are tens of thousands of lost and/or unchurched people in the middle Georgia area, people who are not being reached by those “churches on every corner.” Within just 3 miles of our church, for example, there are an estimated 27,000 lost and over 29,000 unchurched people, and well over 100,000 in our county.

As I (Myke) started my first graduate degree (in church planting and growth [Liberty University]), I remember hearing these statistics for the first time and thinking, “There is no possible way these numbers are right.” I remember my first pastor and mentor, Matt Johnson, telling me the same thing, yet I didn’t want to accept such a hard truth. Yet through time I came to the sad reality that the church is in trouble. Most churches win only 1 convert per year for every 85 current members, and many, many times this new addition, often called a “convert,” is nothing more than “transfer growth,” that is, a person moving from one church to another, as opposed to a person who has just given their life to Christ (compare this with newer churches, which are proven to reach as many as 5 converts for every 75 members). Sadly, many churches are nothing more than lethargic dinosaurs, pre-historic, unfriendly, and on their way to extinction!

Bevins-How-to-Get-Involved-in-Church-Planting-QuoteThe Bible says that if we will delight ourselves in the Lord, he will give us the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4). The Lord has placed a calling, a burden in fact, in our hearts and lives, a burden to plant churches that are new, refreshing, culturally relevant while holding fast to the message of the faith, and that engage younger generations. Many churches are dying because they have told younger generations, “Do church our way or hit the highway.” Unfortunately, younger generations will not tolerate this type of religious exclusivism and elitism, and are yearning for something more, something new, something they can be a part of. This is the kind of church we desire to start – a new kind of church, yet with a biblically faithful message of hope in Jesus Christ.

So what will this church look like? This church will hold fast to the foundations of the faith, unwaveringly (Catering to younger generations in no way means compromising the faith!). In fact, doing so is a Christ-honoring way of propagating Christianity and “being all things to all people,” as the Apostle Paul so aptly understood (1 Corinthians 9:21-23). This church will teach and preach the Gospel and the whole counsel of God’s Word verse by verse, book by book. It will focus on worship that is vertical, that is, directly unto God, not “about” God, man, or man’s experience. It will place a heavy emphasis on fellowship, evangelism, missions, servanthood, doctrine, the ordinances of communion and baptism. The goal of the church, in fact its very mission, is to make Christ the central point of its member’s lives and of each family within, hence the name of the church, “CentralPoint Chapel.”

church_plantingWell, now for the tough part. In confession, I (Myke) should have written this letter months ago. In my pride and stubbornness, I resisted the duty of asking for money, even though that is an essential task in planting. The only part about being called to church planting that I do not enjoy is asking others to donate their own hard-earned money. However, a new church plant, especially in its embryonic stage when there are but a few members for support, can only survive if God’s people support it. This is where you come in. I want to ask you to prayerfully consider joining Heidi and I in planting this church. Not many people are called to take the exciting yet risky step of planting a new church. However, anyone can become a church planter by helping fund a new church plant (see 3 John 8).

Imagine 10 years down the road, a church where 100s have come to know the Lord through genuine repentance, where 100s are being discipled by verse by verse teaching through the Word of God, where worship is powerful, and were missionaries find support to move out into the mission field. That would be a great church wouldn’t it? That’s the church we dream of!!! You can help make that a reality.

Our goal is to initially raise $25,000 to secure a building, chairs, sound equipment, utilities, insurance, instruments, etc. Some of our specific needs, for which we would love to have sponsors, at the moment include:

Sound system:           $5000
Chairs:                           $6500
Video equipment:     $3000
Advertising promos:$2500
Outreach events:       $7500
Rent deposits             $2000
Church build out:     $10,000
Total immediate needs: $36,500

Will you prayerfully consider helping us by both an initial contribution, and then a monthly recurring donation until the church can be self-sustaining? You generous support will go to work starting a church in middle GA in the next 8-12 weeks. I have no doubt that this will be a successful endeavor, as the Lord never calls people to failure. You have an opportunity to share in the success and the rewards of a new church vibrantly glorifying God, since the “the goal of church planting is glorifying God, growing His kingdom, and developing healthy churches with new converts” (Ed Stetzer, planting expert). I hope you realize something that many Christian leaders refuse to admit – the fact that church planting is needed in order to prevent church decline as well as a decline in the overall Christian population.

The mailing address is listed below. Contributors will be made aware of our progress on a regular basis, and will be notified when the church’s website is online as well. Thank you for your generosity, and for your fervent prayer. May Christ be and remain the CentralPoint of your life!

In Christ alone! Myke and Heidi Harbuck

Send tax-deductible donations to:
CentralPoint Chapel
C/O Northside Baptist Church
1013 Carl Vinson Parkway
Centerville GA 31028

Exponential Church Planting Conference – Beyond the Call session notes/transcript

The passion and love for church planting has been down deep within my heart for many years. I get excited just thinking about being used by God to build the kingdom through planting new churches. My heart bares witness with the heart of Robert Wagner when he says, “There is no better evangelistic endeavor under the sun than church planting.”

While looking for sermons/lectures on church planting, I stumbled upon the Exponential Series, a series of hundreds of hours of wisdom from some of church plantings greatest. What follows are notes from some of the sessions, so that I can glean the most from these valuable resources.

Exponential Church Multiplication

This session: “Beyond the Call, Building a Launch Plans,” By Hal Mayer and Ron Sylvia, Pastor of The Springs, Ocalla Florida.

Church planting is the “extreme sport” of church ministry. It is fun, exciting, adventurous, and it is full of ups and downs.

The Confirmation

Expect a lot of confirmation from the Lord before diving into this extreme sport of ministry. The prospective planter will have a “dump truck” of confirmation if called to plant churches. It will be clear (the call, the vision, etc.).

The Calling

The planter needs MORE than a calling from God – that’s the beginning, not all there is to planting. It is best to have a plan, purpose, values, demographics, core values, etc. It takes more than just a calling to get the plant firing. The calling is just the beginning. It takes a plan, strategy, and leadership, among many other things. The planter should not think he can go into the field armed with just a calling and simply fall into success after success.

Regarding the plan, exercise discernment. Church planting takes discernment, as there are many different, varying, and seemingly contradictory viewpoints on plans, strategies etc. Church planter must be able to discern from God which plan is the right plan within their particular ministry context. There are a thousand different plans out there, and discernment must be used to determine the right one.

Plans take time to develop. There is a long, involved process before the church plant plan ever comes to fruition. Websites such as http://www.nextchurch.com (“Starting New Churches on Purpose” ebook located here) and http://www.newchurches.com (Ed Stetzer) offer examples of plans and other resources for church planters, but his plan must come after a diligent search of the will of God and His instructions for the planter within their particular ministry context.

This lecture is about evaulating the processes to to develop the right plan. If the wrong plan in developed, the chances increase exponentially that failure wll occur.

Church planting is in vogue; everyone wants to start church. Since it is so hip and cool to plant a church (really???), leaders who are not truly called or have not planned accordingly will experience major burnout rapidly. So many have “played the video game of church planting” and think they have everything under control and feel they understand the process fully, yet incorrectly assert that church planting is an effortlessly painless task. They are, then, very surprised once they hit the ground and determine how trying the profession can be.

The importance of the call cannot be over stressed. As a matter of fact if it is at all possible for anyone to “talk the planter out of planting a church,” then it is highly suggested that they do not go forward, because there must be an absolute undisputable sure call or the church will fail as soon as the inevitable tough times approach.

This is very important: “If God has not called the planter to church planting then he will be alone in the venture!!” And if he are alone in such a tough business, he will surely fail. If God is not in the church plant it is impossible to succeed, at least in terms of heavenly success for kingdom success.

The Costs

A major, major principle of this session is “counting the cost of church planting.” Luke 14:28 – 31 says, “For which of you, wanting to build a tower, doesn’t first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, after he has laid the foundation and cannot finish it, all the onlookers will begin to make fun of him, saying, ‘This man started to build and wasn’t able to finish.’ Or what king, going to war against another king, will not first sit down and decide if he is able with 10,000 to oppose the one who comes against him with 20,000?”

Church Planting

Planting Churches for Exponential Growth

Some of the costs are marriage and family costs. It has been said, “Previous generations of pastors sacrifice their families for the church. Current generations of pastors sacrifice the church for their families.” That is, pastors of old put too much time into the church, and many current pastors do not put enough time into the church. There should be no sacrifice, but rather balance. While planting a church will not cause one to sacrifice their family, it will, however, cost the planter a lot in terms of his family time.

Since it will cost so much, the planter must ensure that his spouse has been called and is 1000% on board, or there will be trouble. Planting will draw lots of energy that usually goes into the planter’s marriage. It will also cost the planter’s children a lot, as they will lose some of the energy usually reserved for them. So include them as much as possible, so they can share in the exertion of energy.

Another cost is in the area of finances. The planter must do an assessment to make sure they are good with money, because most planters will not be “rolling in the dough.” Finances will be limited and sacrifices will have to be made. Lifestyle changes will have to occur. This is a faith journey.

Another cost is emotional and spiritual costs. Stress levels will be high. Leadership is emotionally draining, especially when the leader is trying to cast his vision and people are not catching it. There will be some spiritual mountaintops, but there will also, sadly, be some emotional and spiritual valleys. Emotional drains will wear the planter out and they will happen frequently. It is a war!!! The planter and the new church will be trying to depopulate hell, thus its leaders are Satan’s prime targets. If the Enemy can take out the leader he can take out the movement, and stop the losses to his evil kingdom. It is a spiritual war and the planter must be prepared for that battle!!

The Clarification

Clarify the Vision. The planter can have a call all day long, but if he has no clear plan, he will not succeed. The planter should clarify the vision and discover clearly what God has called him to do. Saying “God has called me to plant a church” is never enough. God is much more specific than that!! God is a God of organization and planning, and planning is a way to glorify God and show how serious one takes the call to plant. What type of church will the new plant be? What people group is the plant trying to reach? What resourced does the church have, or will they need, etc.

“Vision and uncertainty are inseparably linked,” says Andy Stanley. This means that one will have to lead where he has never been before, into uncertain and chartered territory, thus planning and clarifying vision are vitally important. Vision helps the planter get where he are going. It helps him grow, form the team, and keeps the church on track after launch. It keeps the church heading in the right direction. The better and clearer ones vision is cast in the more likely one is to reach their goal.

Furthermore, vision casting and clarity are never done. The leader is constantly reevaluating and re-shaping vision to ensure that the church is headed in the right direction. Vision must be crystal clear. Continually cast it and find new ways to phrase it so that it is always fresh with people and always crystal-clear, so that all know where the church is headed.

Important: Vision is not found in consensus. Vision is born in a man or a woman. Remember that God has called the planter to lead the church towards the vision God has given him, not towards others’ vision. Vision is not found in the consensus of the congregation or in a controlling few (or a controlling one). Church planters will experience “vision hijackers” in his church.  These people will try to take the church in a direction away from the vision and try to get the planter to adopt a different vision. The problem with this is that this will be a path and vision that the planter does not own and that cannot be defended or supported by him, thus he cannot adequately plan and move people towards a vision that is not his own.

Planters must not let people distract them from the vision God has given them. As Rick Warren has said, “Love everyone, but move with the movers.” In other words, move with the people who own the vision and who buy in, those whom God has sent around the planter to help support them and help them move forward with the vision that God has given him, those who get excited about the visiting God has given them. Don’t move with people who are not moving in the direction of the vision God has placed within the planter’s heart. Love eveyone, even if you can’t move with him. Dont fail to love those who are moving in a different direction. However, don’t let those people influence the movenemt towards the vision.

Wrap Up (Miscellaneous)

God will provide, and God will surprise you at every turn. Paint a clear and beautiful portrait of the vision so that people will want to partner with the planter to be used by God to fulfill the vision.

Try to plant within 6 months of entering a community. Launching is about connecting, and the connections should happen as fast as possible. When launch date is set, keep it. Do not get distracted by the Enemy and let him convince you to postpone the work of God.

Launch with as much money as possible, but do not let a large bank account dimminish passion. It is better to start with limited resources, as this keeps the team focused and faith-filled.

As a potential planter, one is in a wonderful position, as they are about to have the best time of their life. This will be hard, but the planter’s fact will become faith as he see God work in incredible ways throughout the planting process!

Let’s get to planting everyone!

More notes to come as time permits….

Ed Stetzer – Acts 17 Connection in Brazil: Three Statements that Keep Them Focused on Planting

Ed Stetzer – Acts 17 Connection in Brazil: Three Statements that Keep Them Focused on Planting.

Ed Stetzer – A LifeWay Research blog on theology, missiology, missional church, church planting, church revlitalization, and innovation.

Ed Stetzer – A LifeWay Research blog on theology, missiology, missional church, church planting, church revlitalization, and innovation..

Desination: Israel

 

Dear family and friends,

As some of you may know God has opened doors for me to be able to study abroad in Israel this February.  I am going as a student with Luther Rice Seminary and will be able to use the credits for the course toward my degree in Christian Education with Liberty Baptist Seminary.  I am very excited about the opportunity to learn the Bible and grow in my spiritual life as I study abroad in the ‘land where Jesus walked’ February 20-29th 2012. You can view trip details by clicking here and here.

I am excited about the impact this trip and the studies along the way will have in my ministry and education.  As you can expect, there are many expenses that are involved in taking a study abroad trip like this.  Aside from the seminary tuition, there are travel fees, books, lectures, etc.  You can be a part of this and help me obtain this “once in a lifetime” opportunity, and essentially be a ministry partner with me.  You can commit to pray for traveling mercies, security and safety while in the now hostile region, and God’s provision regarding finances. Please also pray for my family while I am out of the country.  My cost (which includes the tuition) is nearly $4000.00. Please prayerfully consider how God might use you to further the Gospel through my education so that I might better minister to those He has called me to serve. It is only through the generosity of friends and family that this trip will be possible for me, so both Heidi and I appreciate any help you are able to give.

Some of the places we will visit include:

  • Capernaum
  • Megiddo
  • The Dead Sea
  • Baptism in the Jordan River
  • Mt. Carmel
  • Western Wall
  • Place where Jesus was most likely flogged before His crucifixion
  • Temple Mount and Eastern Steps Jesus and family would have used
  • Caesarea Philippi
  • Garden of Gethsemane with olive trees from time of Christ
  • Calvary
  • Qumran
  • Jesus’ Garden Tomb
  • Sermon on the Mount site
  • The shores of the Sea of Galilee
  • And Much, Much More

This is a trip I will remember and talk about the rest of my life. Not only that, it is a trip that will help me bring the Bible to life for myself and those I teach! If you are able to be a partner in prayer, and will commit to pray daily for me (and my family that I will be away from), please let me know via mail, email, Facebook or reply comment here. Thank you in advance for prayerfully considering this opportunity to pray and give to further the Kingdom of God and my knowledge of our Savior’s blessed Word, the Bible.

If you are able to give financially, please make checks payable to: Northside Baptist Church, 1013 Carl Vinson Parkway, Centerville, GA 31028  (Re: Israel Trip, Pastor Myke)

Love in Christ,

Myke and family

 

 

How to overcome fear of doing the things of God?

Below is my latest article for GotQuestions.org, a website devoted to helping people find answers to questions about Christianity and the Bible. Hope you enjoy. Give me your feedback, won’t you?

People can have fear of many things, including doing the things of God. Fear is something that all people experience in their life at one point or another, some more than others. The word “fear” appears approximately 450 times in the Bible (although many instances discuss a “healthy fear”, which is respect and reverence for God). The word “afraid” appears in the Bible approximately 215 times. This means that fear, or being afraid, is a common occurrence in the Bible, and thus the Bible has much to say about being afraid. Fear is one of the biggest problems facing people today, and it undergirds many other problems that people have in life. Fear causes people to lose focus on the things of God, can steal people’s joy, and can consume their lives. This is why it is so important to know what the Bible has to say about being afraid.

The Bible is filled with exhortations to not be afraid, as well as practical instruction on how to overcome fear. Deuteronomy 31:6 says, “Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you” (NJKV). Although the context of this verse refers to fearing those whom the Israelites would encounter as they crossed over into the Promised Land, this verse applies to our lives today as we encounter those things that bring fear upon us. We should not be afraid of anything, including doing the things of God, because God goes before us. According to this verse, anytime we are doing the things of God, those things which God has ordained for our lives, God will always go before us and with us to prepare the way. Not only does He go with us, we can also find comfort in the other promise of God in this verse. God promises to “never leave you or forsake you”. This is a powerful promise from the omnipotent God of the universe who has never broken a single promise. How comforting it is to know that whether we are beginning a new ministry, planting a new church, heading off to the mission field, or doing the things of God, God has given us a clear promise that He will go with us and that He will never forsake us. This is a powerful promise from God, and should be memorized by Christians so that they might bury this verse in their heart (Jeremiah 31:33) and call it up each time they feel fearful in doing God’s work.

God has given many practical instructions in His word for overcoming fear. In addition to memorizing Scripture, such as Deuteronomy 31:6, to help combat fear, God has given other ways to combat fear throughout His Word. First, God has instructed us to pray to overcome anxiety and fear. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7, NKJV). God has promised that when we take our worries and concerns to Him, He will grant us a peace that surpasses all understanding. Not only will He grant us peace, He will guard our hearts from further onsets of fear and anxiety regarding the issue at hand. We can be confident that He will take away our fears, concerns, and anxiety because His Word makes it abundantly clear that “if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us” (1 John 5:14-15, NKJV). Notice in Philippians 4:6-7 there is yet another tool that can be used to overcome fear and anxiety, that of thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a way of not only thanking God for all that He has given us, but is also a way of celebrating God’s faithfulness and remembering that He does all He has promised to do and more. We can thank God for delivering us from a spirit of fear because His Word is abundantly clear that, as seen in Isaiah 54:17, “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper” (KJV). Second Timothy 2:13 tells us that God is faithful to His children, even when they are unfaithful, and this is great reason to celebrate and offer thanksgiving to Him. He will never leave us alone in our fear and anxiety, and is faithful to see us through the tough times. A third way to overcome the fear of doing the things of God is to simply rely on our faith. First John 5:4-5 says, “And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (NKJV). Our faith is a mighty weapon against fear and anxiety, and God’s Word tells us clearly that our faith in God can overcome even the world. What a wonderful promise from God’s Word! Finally, a fourth tool that is given to us from the Word of God is that of our own words. Sometimes when we are worried and concerned about something, we add fuel to the fire with our own discouraging, pessimistic words. The Bible says that we should speak words of life and encouragement, even to ourselves. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof” (Proverbs 18:21, KJV).

When we possess a spirit of fear and anxiety, we must remember that this is not from above. The Bible says that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). God has given us a spirit of power and love and a sound mind. Sometimes the Devil will try and take this spirit of power, love, and a sound mind away from us. In addition to the tools mentioned above, which are Scripture memory and recitation, prayer, thanksgiving, faith, and our own words, God has given many other tools to overcome fear. Reading the Bible, discussing our concerns with other Christians, including our Pastor or church leaders, asking for prayer from others, and God-exalting worship are other ways to overcome fear in one’s life.

Here are some other passages concerning fear, anxiety, and worry: 1 John 4:18, Luke 17:6, Joshua 1:9, Isaiah 41:13, 1 Chronicles 22:13, 1 Corinthians 16:13, Isaiah 41:10, Psalm 23, Proverbs 18:10, Proverbs 3:5-6, Psalm 27:1, and Isaiah 41:13.

We pray the Lord’s blessing upon you as you overcome fear and begin to do that which God has called you to do. Thank you for visiting GotQuestions.org. Please be sure to read the following articles from our site for more information concerning the Bible and fear.

http://www.gotquestions.org/faith-vs-fear.html

http://www.gotquestions.org/Bible-fear.html

Book Review | The Unexpected Journey: Conversations with People who Turned from other Beliefs to Jesus | Thom Rainer

Bibliographical entry: Rainer, Thom S. The Unexpected Journey: Conversations with People who Turned from other Beliefs to Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan: 2005

Author Information

Thom S. Rainer holds a PhD from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and founded the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism, and Church Growth at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  At the time of publication he was also the president of Church Central and the president of Lifeway Christian Stores.  Rainer also pastored many churches and is the president of the Rainer Group for Church Consulting.  Rainer is a brilliant author who has written many books including The Unchurched Next Door, Breakout Churches, Simple Church, Raising Dad, and Essential Church. Dr. Rainer is married to Nellie Jo and has three married sons.  He resides in the Louisville, Kentucky area.

Content Summary

It only takes reading a few pages of The Unexpected Journey to stir many emotions within the reader.  The reader learns very quickly just how important evangelism really is.  From the onset, readers become both excited as they experience the life-changing power of Christ in the conversion process and guilty as one realizes how much work there remains to be done.  Rainer takes his readers through twelve conversion stories, each of which are real-life accounts of how the Holy Spirit worked in the lives of non-believers to convert them.  Rainer shares in these stories the catalysts that the Holy Spirit used to draw each of these people to God.  Each story is an amazing, heartfelt account of someone who, at one time, was anti-Christian.  However, this book reminds the reader of how powerful and influential the Holy Spirit can be.

As Rainer takes the reader through each of these conversion experiences they learn several things.  First, the reader gets a glimpse into the childhood upbringing of the convert.  Next Rainer takes the reader through the convert’s exposure to their respective world religion.  Along the way, in many of these stories, the reader is privy to bad experiences the person had with Christians or the church.  Next Rainer has the convert share about the events that led to their conversion, as well as their actual conversion story.  Finally, Rainer has the convert give some simple straight-forward advice on how Christians could reach others in the convert’s former religion.

Rainer takes his reader on a true journey that spans thousands of miles from the West to the Mid-west to the North-east, and back down to the South.  Rainer begins in Salt Lake City, Utah with the Higleys.  The Higleys were devout Mormons who were granted inside access to the Mormon Church.  The Higleys discovered falsities in the Book of Mormon as translators and subsequently came to know Christ in a powerful way.  From Utah, Rainer’s journey takes him to Chicago where he talks with a former Jew by the name of Steve Barack.  Barack was a devout Jew who came to know Christ through “a cute blonde and a charismatic pastor” (p. 38).  Because these people showed Steve the love of Christ, he now serves as pastor of a Messianic Congregational Church he planted in Chicago.

Rainer’s journey took him to meet Dr. Ravi, a former Hindu who was rejected by his family but accepted by his Savior.  This former Hindu-turned-Christian went on to serve as Vice President and professor for Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (p. 54). After talking with Dr. Ravi in Kansas City, Rainer makes his way to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to hear the dynamic story of an atheist who could chew Christians up and spit them out.  However, she was no match for the infallibility of the Bible or the love of Christ.  Mrs. J., having spent many years running away from God, is now an avid defender of the faith she holds so dear.

Dr. Rainer talked with the Blizards about their conversion from Jehovah’s Witness to Christianity.  Their story is a heart-wrenching story about parents who almost lost their daughter because of strict anti-blood transfusion rules in the church.  Although they were third generation Jehovah’s Witness, their doubts, the health of their daughter, and a woman with “a pan of chicken” (p. 87) all worked together to lead this family to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  After this dynamic story, Rainer headed south to South Carolina to talk with a former agnostic who at one time didn’t know if God really existed.  Her life was a wild one, headed for destruction, with one bad relationship after another. One Sunday morning a Sunday school teacher who was obedient to the Lord skipped his originally planned message and taught about the existence of God. It proved to be the catalyst that the Holy Spirit used to draw Mia into fellowship with God.

After talking with an agnostic in South Carolina, Rainer heads north to talk to the next person, a former witch in North Carolina.  Kathi Sharpe was formerly a Wiccan who was a runaway as a teenager and lived on the streets as a young adult.  After becoming obsessed with the occult and paranormal activity, God did a mighty work in her life as a co-worker began to pray for her and a computer tech support representative took time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions for her.  Rainer’s next story of the power of God comes from Columbus, Ohio where he meets Helena Li who was a former Buddhist. After worshipping many wooden statues of Buddha for years, Helena was invited to church by some friends.  At this church service, God providentially arranged for an evangelist to be there.  This evangelist presented the gospel so clearly that Helena could not resist.

From Columbus, Ohio Rainer headed home to Louisville, Kentucky.  Later, a former Unitarian from Washington DC by the name of Karen Townsend came to visit him.  She was a very intelligent woman who, although professed to be a Christian, “rejected the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible, the miracles, and the deity of Christ” (p.143).  Karen believed in pluralism and open-mindedness.  She felt that people can “never really know God” (p.147).  Karen did however, in fact, come to know God through a family member and the writings of C.S. Lewis.  From there Rainer went to Virginia where he met Marsha Montenegro, a former New Ager whose life was deeply committed to astrology.  But God had other plans for this former New Ager.  God used a cross to let her experience “the love of Christ reaching out to her” (p. 163).

As Rainer’s The Unexpected Journey wraps up, he meets a former racist Black Muslim by the name of Mumim Muhammad.  Mumim thought he had it all as a Black Muslim, but he too would experience the love of Christ and would enter into a relationship with Him – a relationship that would cost him much, including his wife (p.180).  Finally, Rainer meets a former Satanist by the name of Jeff Harshbarger.  Jeff was a very lonely man who searched for acceptance in all the wrong places.  Jeff eventually found the acceptance he needed in Christ alone.

Evaluation

The Unexpected Journey is a cry to the church.  This book cries, “Please tell others about the saving grace of Jesus Christ”.  This book cries, “Let your life exhibit the life and love of Christ”.  This book also cries, “Please pray for the unsaved for the Holy Spirit can bring about change in anyone’s life”. 

The Unexpected Journey is a reminder that no one’s life is hopeless.  There may be some that are deemed as “unreachable” among the unchurched, but they are in actuality reachable through the love of Christ, an obedient evangelist, and the convicting and moving power of the Holy Spirit.  Christians must be relentless in their pursuit of the unsaved.  They cannot give up.  As the old adage goes, “When at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again.”  How very true this is in evangelism, and Rainer’s work proves it.  The Christian Church cannot give up, regardless of how lost, wicked, or anti-Christian someone may be.

From the onset of this book, the reader understands Rainer’s intention, which is to instill within the reader a sense of urgency to reach the lost.  One never knows how a simple act of kindness can work in the life of an unbeliever.  Every kind word, every loving action, every attempt to speak the truth in love, and every prayer for the unsaved is a seed planted that can potentially yield a great harvest.  One never knows how those seeds might grow.  One never knows how one’s attempt at evangelism might affect the un-Christian community.

Many lessons can be gleaned from The Unexpected Journey – lessons not simply about evangelism, but about the Christian life as well.  For instance, all of the conversion stories in The Unexpected Journey share at least one common thread – that of prayer.  One never knows just how far reaching the power of prayer is.  As Christians pray for unbelievers they should realize that, although they may not directly see the fruits of their labor, their petitions before the Lord do not go unheard.  Rainer’s book is a call to a journey of prayer.  Christians should take an expected journey through prayer each day as they pray that the eyes of the lost will be opened to Christ.

The Unexpected Journey is not only a call to prayer, but it is a call to action.  The Christian never knows how a simple act of sharing can affect an unbeliever.  Just as the employee for the former Mormons offered three Bible study tapes on the book of John to the Higleys, Christians too must be ready to seize any opportunity to plant seeds in the life of the unbeliever.  Rainer’s book is a reminder to the Christian church that they can no longer sit by passively while the lost die without knowing the Savior and Redeemer.  Christians must rise up and get to work!

Not only is Rainer’s book a call to prayer and action, it is a call for Christians to actually share their faith with non-believers.  “It is absolutely amazing how few Christians are willing and eager to share the Gospel” (p.38) says a former Jew by the name of Steve.  Rainer’s book works to instill a sense of urgency within believers to confront the culture and verbally engage unbelievers.  Prayer and good deeds simply are not enough.  Unbelievers need to hear the true Gospel spoken boldly and accurately by Christians who care.  Rainer’s book reminds the reader that Christians must have a passion for reaching the lost and cannot isolate themselves within the confines of their comfortable churches.

Rainer’s book of real life stories reminds the reader of how important every action of the believer is. Many of the converts to Christianity quite possibly could have come to Christ much sooner had it not been for hypocritical Christians whose lives were lived in a manner inconsistent with the Word of God.  The unsaved desire to hear the truth, however, they want to hear the truth from someone who is real.  They don’t want to hear the truth from someone whose life is not lived in a manner consistent with the precepts in God’s Word.  Christians must know what the Bible says, and must live their life in accordance with it.  In The Unexpected Journey we are confronted with the sad reality of how dangerous the hypocritical Christian can be to the task of evangelism.

The Unexpected Journey is as much as anything else a call to Christian love.  As Rainer takes us from one world religion to another and from one convert to another, the reader learns that there is in fact another common thread.  Each of the converts needed to be loved.  Many of them were lonely, desolate, desperate, and hopeless.  They were poor, depressed, and in need of someone to exhibit genuine Christian love toward them.  Christians “must model the love of Christ in order to have an audience with those who are not Christians” (p.78).  We learn from people such as Mrs. J, the atheist, that as an atheist she didn’t see a lot of Christian love.  Thankfully, she became a Christian in spite of that fact.  Christians must be aware of any opportunity that becomes available through which they might show the love of Christ to a hurting and hopeless world.

Rainer’s book is written in such a simplistic style that it can benefit anyone – from the new Christian to the graduate seminary student. The Unexpected Journey is a journey that every Christian should read through.  Christians need to read this book so they might become aware of both the avenues through which they might reach the lost as well as those areas in their lives that might prove to be a hindrance to the unbeliever’s coming to Christ.  A definite plus to Rainer’s work is that he not only shares, from the convert’s experience, ways in which Christians might reach the lost, but he also gives poignant examples of areas in Christians’ lives that hindered the lost, at least temporarily, from meeting Jesus. One such example was the racist, hypocritical, bigoted white “Christians” who abused Mumin and hindered him from coming to Christ. He later turned to the Black Muslims for acceptance merely because Christians would not accept him.

The Unexpected Journey is also a call for the church to always preach the Gospel – the true, clear, pure Gospel. Several of the converts attended church as a child or young adult, but sadly never heard the message of the Gospel. How sad it is that Mia, who would later become an agnostic, would spend a week in Vacation Bible School yet never hear about Jesus. She had much “fun”, and enjoyed the “activities and crafts”, but never heard about Jesus (p. 96-97). Likewise, Kathy, who would later become a witch, attended church as child with her parents, yet “heard no message of salvation” (p.110) at this church, only a watered-down version of the Gospel.

The facts and narrative in the sidebars about each world religion is both an advantage and a disadvantage simultaneously.  These sidebars help the reader understand a little about the background origin and belief system of each world religion.  Their simplistic nature makes them easy to understand even for the novice theologian.  However, they seem to be oddly placed within the conversion narrative of each convert.  These sidebars, although very informative and beneficial overall, would have been better served as either a closing section in each chapter or an appendix at the end of the book.   Regardless, it was beneficial for the reader that this information was included within the reading as it helped to shed light on the world from which the convert came.

It’s also worth noting that some reviewers have given Rainer bad marks for his candidness concerning his stereotypes or preconceived notions about some of the converts. For instance, Rainer reports that he expected Jeff Harshbarger, a former Satanist, to be wearing a “black hooded robe and to have blood-red eyes” (p.186). These are not ill-felt, harmful stereotypes. Rather, they prove that Rainer is honest and forthcoming with his thoughts, which tends to give credibility to the authenticity of the conveyance of each of the stories. Since the reader can be sure that Rainer is in fact honest about his own personal feelings, there is therefore no reason to assume that Rainer hasn’t shared the truth and nothing but the truth, so help him God. He has honestly and openly shared both his preconceived notions as well as his heartfelt reaction to each converts personal story.

Conclusion

Overall, Rainer’s book was a wonderful, profound, and passionate read, yet simple. With the turning of each page, the reader was faced with nuggets of truth that could, if taken to heart, impact his or her life in a dynamic way. Rainer’s book is much more than a book about evangelism, be that as it may. It’s a book about the need to love others, the need to preach the Gospel in season and out of season, the need to be ready to give a defense concerning the hope that is within the believer, and much more. It’s a book that reminds the reader of just how effective each planted seed can be. Although the believer may never get to see, on this side of eternity, the flower that blossoms from the seed planted, one should never assume that the seeds they plant cannot or will not take root and grow.

Furthermore, Rainer’s book is a book about the power of the Holy Spirit. The evangelist cannot and must not underestimate the drawing power of the Holy Spirit. Many of the converts in this book were deemed unreachable, and in fact they might have been had it not been for one thing – the power of the Holy Spirit. The Unexpected Journey is a reminder that with the Holy Spirit’s help, anyone can be reached – a Muslim, a Jew, a Mormon, a Satanist, a New Ager, anyone. The Holy Spirit can draw anyone to the Father that He wills.

The Christian, as vessels of the Holy Spirit, must seize every opportunity as he or she lives out the journey of life. Each seed planted could bring an unbeliever though an unexpected journey – a journey from the road to Hell to the Hope of Salvation.


Key Words: Church Growth. Church Health. Evangelism. Liberty University EVAN 565, Personal Evangelism.