Category Archives: Church Growth

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.

Book Review | Family to Family: Leaving a Lasting Legacy | Jerry Pipes and Victor Lee

Bibliographical Entry: Pipes, Jerry, and Victor Lee. Family to Family: Leaving a Lasting Legacy. USA: North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention 1999.

Author Information

Dr. Jerry Pipes works with the North American Mission Board as team leader of the Prayer and Spiritual Awakening Team, and is also president of his own company, Jerry Pipes Productions.  Jerry speaks to millions internationally and here at home in assemblies, crusades, and conferences.  More than 18 million copies of his four books and numerous booklets have been produced.  Dr Pipes completed his M.A. at Southwestern Theological Seminary and his D. Min. at Luther Rice Seminary.  Dr. Pipes is married to Debra and they have two children, Paige and Josh.

Victor Lee ministers to single adults at First Baptist Church in Concord, Tennessee.  He has not only been writing professionally for over two decades, but is also a veteran journalist and minister in the areas of discipleship, sports evangelism, singles ministry, family living, and evangelism.  Mr. Lee is a sports evangelism consultant for the North American Mission Board, as well as a journalist for Sports Spectrum magazine.  Mr. Lee and his wife Judy have a daughter and three foster children.

Content Summary

Family to Family is a book about finding God’s intended purpose for the family.  This book helps families decide what decisions should be made in order to fulfill that purpose.  Pipes’ book doesn’t just tell people what they should do in order to be a family who lives under God’s purpose; it goes a step further by telling them how to go about it.  The book is divided into six short chapters spanning about 120 pages, and includes a conclusion and end notes.

In chapter one, Family to Family describes what a healthy family is.  The authors do this by first showing its contrast – an unhealthy family.  This unhealthy family is a family who is running to and fro doing all of the “activities” of life.  Pipes’ objective in chapter one is to help families discover whether or not they are on the “activity-driven merry-go-round”, or if they are doing their very best for God (p. 1).  Pipes describes many American families today as being “Stretched, stressed, and losing touch with one another” (p. 5).  Pipes intends to help families measure themselves against God’s standard and not fall victim to American culture.  Pipes suggests that readers examine their families to determine how much quality time they spend together, to determine their commitment level to each other in the family, and to discover where their purpose is centered – on themselves or on God.  Pipes then gives seven realities of experiencing God to help families know if in fact their lives, both individually and corporately, are centered on God’s purposes.

In Chapter two Pipes discusses the family mission statement.  Pipes’ goal in chapter two is to help families to realize that in order to get where they are going, they have got to know how to get there. “A family mission statement will serve as a centerline and guardrails for your family on the road through life” (p. 25). Pipes spends about 15% of his book dealing with this one subject, indicating that this subject is indeed an important one.  Families need a stated purpose, goal, and mission and a family mission statement helps them to have just that.  Without it the journey on the “road through life” will be much more difficult and much less fulfilling spiritually.  Pipes begins his section on the family mission statement by telling his readers that family missions begin with the mother and father, and that “the heartbeat of family evangelism is with the parents” (p. 26).  The family mission statement describes a lifestyle – one that is centered on God’s purpose and plan.  Pipes then sheds some insight on Jesus’ stated purposes to help the family know what their purposes are as well.  Some of the examples Pipes gives are seeking after the lost, bearing witness to the truth, serving others, pointing others toward Christ, and many others.  Pipes does this in an effort to help families frame their own mission statement.  Pipes not only suggests a mission statement and tells why families should have one, he also takes the time to tell the reader how to develop a family mission statement step by step.

In chapter three, Pipes discusses passing the baton.  Pipes correctly contends that it is the responsibility of the parent and not the church to evangelize to children and disciple them.  He uses Deuteronomy 6:4-7 as evidence for his case. In this chapter Pipes helps the reader understand when a child might be ready to receive Christ as Savior and gives some signs of possible accountability before God for children.  He also helps the reader learn how to present the Gospel message clearly and concisely, and gives five recommended scripture passages that should be included in any Gospel presentation.  He encourages parents to live a life of integrity and trust so that their children will know that their Christianity is real.  Parents have to be open with their children, and must not displace themselves from the things that are in their children’s culture. Additionally, parents must talk to their children about salvation when the time is right.  He concludes this chapter with pointers for mentoring.

In chapter four Pipes seeks to remind the reader that the world is watching when their family leaves the house.  This makes for a great opportunity for a Christian family to live out their faith in full view of their friends, neighbors, and community.  He then shares tips for family evangelism.  Using the Concentric Circles of Concern model developed by Oscar Thompson, Pipes reminds the reader that there are opportunities for evangelism in every circle of a believer’s life.  He then shares specific ideas for how to reach individuals within circles 2-7.

In chapter five Pipes gives ways in which families can be healthy and on mission by drawing others into churches where they can have fellowship with Christians and mature with Christ.  Family ministry should not be independent of the church, nor should church ministry be independent of the family.  Rather, both the church and the family should be centered, together, on Christ.  Pipes then offers suggestions on how Christian families might most effectively build bridges between the community and the church.  In the final chapter, chapter six, Pipes discusses the importance of family evangelism.  For families to be healthy they must be ready to give a defense for the hope that is within them.  The family must be willing and able to share the Gospel and tell someone about Jesus.  At the end of this chapter he shares some evangelism methodologies to help the novice evangelist carry out his or her task.

At the end of each of these chapters, Pipes concludes with a section entitled “Steps to making it yours”.  In this, he gives family readiness questions, family applications, family building activities, supporting Scripture references, as well as additional resources covering material similar to that chapter.

Evaluation

Evangelism isn’t always for Person X (Person X is a complete stranger, as discussed in Oscar Thompson’s Concentric Circles of Concern). Evangelism is a matter for the home, first and foremost. Pipes does a wonderful job bringing this fact to the surface. So many times those who are excited about evangelism feel that they are to go out into the highways and byways and share with the Gospel with lost strangers – and they should. But there’s a need at home too – a need that should come first. Pipes brings a message to the reader – one about the centrality of the home in evangelism. For that, Pipes is to be applauded!

Many books exist on how to evangelize, yet few books teach the evangelist that his or her first mission field is in the home. Family to Family accomplishes this goal by reminding the reader that they are to be on mission by “intestinally carrying His love and His hope to friends, neighbors, community, and acquaintances out of the overflow of an intimate heart” (p. 10).  Families can and must make a difference in the world by reaching out to the lost. Pipes encourages the reader and challenges them at the same time to be obedient in an area that so many Christians aren’t.

Sadly, families live busy, crammed, packed lives. Families have everything from soccer practice to cheerleading practice to football going on. There is less expendable time in the family now than ever before. It’s an epidemic. But Pipes offers a solution. His contrast of the unhealthy family against the healthy family in the beginning of the book was brilliant. His use of the hectic family most undoubtedly served, successfully, to convict many more than just the writer of this paper. Families don’t realize how busy their lives are until it’s too late some times. Family to Family is an alarm – a wakeup call – to the family. It’s a wakeup call to slow down, relax, and ensure that priorities are in line. This book helps its reader take a moment to evaluate his or her heart to see where they are at with the Lord and within their own family. Are we “stretched, stressed, and losing touch with each other” (p. 5), as many unhealthy families are? Or are we healthy, vital families who are on mission, and following the will and Word of the Lord? Family to Family challenges us to ask those very questions!

Pipes nicely quotes statistics that have led to the epidemic of unhealthy families that is seen in America today. According to Pipes families are too busy for each other. Only 34 percent of American families have enough time to sit down and have one meal together. Beyond this, many fathers spend less than 10 minutes each day with their children. Beyond this, another alarming fact is disclosed. Only 12 percent of families have time to pray together (p. 6). Pipes brings some urgent issues to the forefront. These are all issues that are eroding the family, and are deteriorating the Christian fabric of America.  Pipes is correct. The American family is in trouble. Just in the last 50 years American culture has shifted tremendously, and this has had a tremendous negative influence on evangelism, as unhealthy families almost always fail to evangelize. It is right, then, that Pipes then should begin with a discussion on the healthy family before discussing the families’ purposes.

One of the strongest sections in the book is found in chapter 2, where Pipes discusses the family mission statement. Families need a blueprint as their family builds and moves along the journey called life, just as builders need blueprints to build a building. I would venture to say that 99+ percent of families do not have a family mission statement. Again, yet another sign of the erosion of the family structure. Families that genuinely know where they are going in life know how to get there. A family mission statement does just that. It helps build healthy families by centering their purposes on those of Christ. As families begin to center their lives on Christ, amazing things happen. They become purpose driven, they become missional, they become evangelistic, they pray together, they eat together, and on and on and on. It’s amazing how one simple thing such as a family mission statement can change the entire family dynamic. Pipes does an excellent job of conveying this idea to the reader.

The chapters in Family to Family build upon each other quite nicely. Pipes begin by discussing what a healthy family should look like. Then he encourages the healthy family to be missional, with a purpose. From there, Pipes does an excellent job conveying to the reader the need to be evangelistic and ministry driven. Families miss opportunities every day to reach people with the Gospel. Pipes’ objective is to help the family realize that the opportunities they are missing don’t have to be “missed” at all. Rather, families should be on mission all the time, looking for ways to share, to serve, and to exhibit Christ’s love, and exhibiting any opportunity that may come their way to share Christ and His love. But families can’t do it alone. They must rely on prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit. Christian families have to be strategic in their mission – they can’t go at it with no strategy. Family to Family gives the family who desires to be missional strategies on which they can build upon.

Pipes’ book is nicely divided into 6 small sections, making it ideal for a quick read by either the novice evangelist or the most seasoned one. The sections at the end of each chapter make this an ideal study for a small family group study or a group Bible study in the church. The “Steps to Making it Yours” section is perfectly laid out and evaluates the reader’s recognition of key principles taught throughout the chapter, and serves to reinforce the scriptures references uses throughout the chapter to support Pipes’ premises.

This is a book every parent or future parent should read. This book gives practical steps to help any family, Christian or non-Christian. It helps people realize how important their families are, and seeks to reinforce the idea of the family structure. If nothing else, the reader should glean from this book the importance of spending quality, not quantity, time with their families, as well as the need to be a family with a purpose. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone!

Liberty University, Evan 565, Family Evangelism, Personal Evangelism, Church Growth, Critical Book Review: Family to Family.

Book Review | Concentric Circles of Concern: Seven Stages for Making Disciples | (The Late) Oscar Thompson

Bibliographical Entry: Thompson Jr., W. Oscar and Claude V. King. Concentric Circles of Concern: Seven Stages for Making Disciples. Nashville. Broadman & Holman Publishing, 1999.

Author information

W. Oscar Thompson JR served in pastoral ministry for 20 years before founding the Oscar Thompson Evangelistic Association.   He served as a pastoral consultant for the Cancer Counseling and Research Foundation and as a consultant for the Trinity Valley Hospice Association before cancer claimed his life in 1980.  This book was released posthumously after a revision and update by Claude V. King, who is an evangelism teacher at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and co-author of the top-selling book Experiencing God.

Content Summary

If one were to ask Oscar Thompson what his book is about or what it contains, he would say, “relationships”.  Everything in Thompson’s book, although about evangelism and discipleship, centers on the foundational principle of relationships.  Thompson’s approach toward evangelism is to help the evangelist understand the importance of relationships in every aspect of their life.  It is through relationships that the evangelist can show the love of Christ to their world – their concentric circles of concern.

Thompson begins by declaring that “the most important word in the English language, apart from proper nouns, is relationship”.  Right relationships allow a person to experience the best life has to offer and to experience the very character of God in the Christian life.  Broken or ruptured relationships with people result in broken and ruptured relationships with God.  Thompson correctly contends that ruptured relationships are the cause of most of life’s major problems including broken marriages, broken homes, unsuccessful businesses, divided churches, weak governments, and chaotic nations.  It is imperative that Christians have right relationships with both God and others so that they can experience all that God has to offer and effectively share the love of Christ and the gospel with others in their concentric circles.

Thompson, after discussing the importance of relationships in chapter 1, elaborates further on relationships in chapters 2-4.  In chapter 2 Thompson brilliantly demonstrates how the gospel moves not only through the spoken words of an evangelist, but also through relationships.  Thompson gives several examples of how lifestyle evangelism was successful in the New Testament such as with Andrew and Simon Peter (Thompson, 17), Phillip and Nathaniel (Thompson, 17-18), and Cornelius and his household (Thompson, 19).  “The gospel moves on contiguous lines – on lines of relationship.”   Right relationships open doors and opportunities to share the gospel, and are thus, as seen in chapter 3, a wonderful way in which to share the good news of Christ.

Beginning in chapter 5, Thompson shares the seven stages for making disciples.  Stage one again involves relationships – relationships with God, self, and others.  In order to share the gospel with someone, a person’s life must be right with God and others, as well as themselves.  Thompson urges the evangelist to “Get right with God, self, and others” so that they can be used as a channel to show Christ’s love and to share the Gospel.  When a person has a severed relationship with God, with themselves, or with others in their concentric circles, they “will be limited in their ability to be used by God to make disciples of others”.

Stage two involves surveying one’s relationships.  It is in chapters 10-11 that Thompson introduces us to the “person x” (Thompson, 109).  Thompson invites the evangelist to literally survey and list as many people as possible that the evangelist could share the gospel with.  This includes those who are closest to the evangelist, such as persons in circles 2, 3, and 4, neighbors and acquaintances in circles 4, 5, and 6, and strangers in circle 7.  Thompson reminds the evangelist that they should not forget about those persons in circles 2-6, and skip to person x in circle 7.  Many evangelists will share the gospel with a complete stranger, but will not share with those people they are closest to.  However, Thompson says, “If you are not the channel of God’s love to meet the needs of those in your family, forget about reaching Afghanistan for Christ.  We get concerned about the ends of the earth, yet often we cannot meet the needs of our own families” (Thompson, 98).

Stage 3 involves prayer.  The evangelist is encouraged to work with God through prayer.  Prayer is a powerful spiritual weapon that breaks down strongholds and opens up opportunities to show the love of Christ and share the Good News.  Thompson offers several real life experiences of a sovereign God who answers prayers and engineers circumstances to draw a life to himself.  “When we join God in his work through prayer, the all-present God can touch people anywhere they are and draw them to himself” (Thompson, 120).

Stage 4 involves building bridges.  Thompson encourages Christians to build relationship bridges to create opportunities in which they can be channels of God’s love.  One can build bridges by simply “meeting needs in a person’s life or showing an interest in him or her in such a way that a relationship is established” (Thompson, 135).  Thompson uses 1 Corinthians 9:19-22 where Paul stated he was willing to become all things to all men so that he could reach them.  Building bridges allows the Christian more opportunities to share Christ with others while at the same time allowing them to experience more of the abundant life Jesus came to give.

Stage 5 involves showing God’s love by meeting the needs of people in one’s concentric circles.  Thompson argues that love is not an emotion, nor is it a feeling.  Love is an action by which one meets the needs of another.  Meeting other’s needs allows a person to become a channel for God to share his love with others.

In stage 6, Thompson discusses the importance of making disciples and ways to help them grow.  Introducing people to Christ is only the first step in making disciples.  Christians must share the gospel verbally and not rely on lifestyle evangelism alone.  Evangelists must realize that those around them are lost without Jesus and are headed for “A Christ-less eternity without God in hell” (Thompson, 184). If Christians really care about the lost and value human life, they will share the gospel.  Christians must confront people in order to make disciples.  Christians should be concerned with building disciples and not building “church goers”.  Thompson, in chapter 17, discusses the great commission and its emphasis on the word “disciple”.  When Jesus commanded people to make disciples, he was referring to a person who would have a personal relationship with him, would be totally under his authority, would possess and demonstrate his character, and be prepared to suffer for Christ (Thompson, 191). True salvation is about a personal relationship with Christ whereby someone becomes a disciple and grows in the Lord daily.  Discipleship is not praying a sinner’s prayer with a stranger and leaving them never to return.

In the final stage, stage 7, Christians are reminded that the cycle never really ends.  Christians are to begin again by helping new Christians make more disciples.  “Making disciples does not end with the decision to follow Christ.”  The decision to follow Christ is merely the beginning.  The church should help new Christians grow into fully devoted disciples who will then take part in the church’s commission to make more disciples.  Each time it seems that the cycle ends, the cycle begins again.  Every new Christian should be discipled, and part of their discipleship training should involve making more disciples.

Evaluation

At the core of Thompson’s thesis is the idea that relationships are of the utmost importance in reaching a lost and dying world with the hope of Jesus Christ.  Thompson does an excellent job proving his thesis throughout this book and remaining loyal to the intrinsic idea of relationships in evangelism.  Thompson rightly begins his book with a discussion on the evangelist’s relationship with God.  For if a person is not right with God, how can they encourage anyone else to be right with God?  1 John 1:3 reminds the believer that his fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ.  If a person’s vertical relationship with God is broken, that person’s horizontal relationships with others will most likely be ruptured as well thus rendering the person useless and ineffective in the evangelistic task.  The beginning of Thompson’s book was a refreshing call for one to survey his or her relationship with the Lord and with others and immediately repair any damaged relationships in order that the love of Christ may flow through those relationships.

Thompson wasn’t just an author who wrote about evangelism.  He was someone who lived out the evangelistic task each day in his life.  The real life experiences of both he and his colleagues served as a type of “you can do this” pep talk for the potential evangelist.  Thompson was always searching for opportunities to share the gospel, whether it is on the streets, at a family gathering, or on an airplane thousands of feet in the air.

A very strong point in Thompson’s book is the requirement that disciples, not just converts, be produced as a result of the evangelistic task.  So often an individual church or a denomination of churches will carry out an evangelism campaign where x number of new believers are converted and baptized. Sadly, churches are impressed not with the number of disciples that are being made in the church, but rather with the number of professions of faith and baptisms.  It’s no wonder that an alarmingly high number of those converts cannot be found in the church just one year later.  However, if a church were to take Thompson’s advice and be concerned with producing disciples, this would not be the case.  New converts should be taught to observe all of Christ’s commands and should be taught the importance of surrender, obedience, and commitment to Christ.  Discipleship should be the goal of evangelism, not a tally of professions of faith or baptisms.

Thompson gives the reader a glimpse into his personal life, making the book warm and attractive to its readers.  Thompson shares many experiences concerning his relationship with his wife, Carolyn, and his daughter, Damaris. Thompson takes his readers into a seminary class with him, to the streets of Las Vegas, on the airplane with him, and many other places.  He does this undoubtedly to illustrate the success that relationship building has in evangelism and discipleship.  Thompson even takes the readers back to his childhood and gives us a glimpse of his father and the loving relationship which they shared.  With examples such as these, the reader has no means by which to challenge either the success of Thompson’s methodology or his credentials for recommending his methodology.  He offers sound, Biblical advice and guidance as well as practical down-to-earth strategies to reach people in every concentric circle of their life.  This reviewer felt that Thompson was my professor, that he loved me personally, and that he was personally sharing with me ways in which I might reach the lost members of my family.

This reviewer could find very little within the confines of this book that warranted a critique.  After having read “Share Jesus Without Fear” by Bill Faye and “Radically Unchurched” by Alvin Reid, one might have expected to find some specific tools that could be used to lead someone to God, such as step by step evangelism methods.  However, Thompson’s book was more concerned with the overarching idea of relationships and less concerned with specific methodologies for verbalizing the gospel message.  Perhaps Thompson supposed the reader would find more one on one witnessing instructions in other evangelism resources.

Thompson is successful in supporting his thesis that believers should be concerned with building relationships – relationships with God, relationships with themselves, and relationships with others.  Through these relationships, the love of God can flow to others, and God can be glorified.  Every word in Thompson’s book is filled with love and compassion for God, and for those in Thompson’s concentric circles, whether lost or saved.  Concentric Circles of Concern is an excellent tool in the arsenal of evangelism resources for any evangelist.  The love of God and the importance of a strong relationship with him and others permeates through every page of this book.  It is a must have for the library of any Christian serious about evangelism and discipleship.

Liberty University, Evan 550, Critical Book Review, Concentric Circles of Concern: Seven Stages for Making Disciples. Oscar Thompson. Evangelism and Church Planting.

Book Review | Planting Missional Churches | Ed Stetzer

Bibliographical Entry: Stetzer, Ed. Planting Missional Churches (2nd edition). Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Publishing Group, 2006.

Author Information

Ed Stetzer has planted, revitalized, and pastored numerous churches. Of the three churches he personally planted, he planted one directly out of college. He has done planting more than anything else in his ministry life, according to page xi of his introduction. He has spent thousands of hours training pastors and church planters on five continents. He holds two masters degrees and two doctorates (as well as an undergraduate degree), and has written dozens of articles and books.

Dr. Stetzer is a columnist for Outreach Magazine and Catalyst Monthly, serves on the advisory council of Sermon Central and Christianity Today’s Building Church Leaders, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USA Today and CNN. Dr. Stetzer is a visiting Professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and has taught at more than fifteen other colleges and seminaries. He also serves on the Church Services Team at the International Mission Board. He currently works for LifeWay Research as President and Staff Missiologist.  Dr. Stetzer maintains several websites, such as http://www.EdStetzer.com, http://www.lifewayresearch.com, and http://www.newchurches.com, where one can “experience Dr. Stetzer’s passion and love for church planting and missions.

Content Summary

Planting Missional Churches contains 350 pages of invaluable information, in addition to a 12 page annotated bibliography and a 7 page comprehensive index. The book is broken down in to 29 short chapters that are easily read. These 29 chapters are not broken into sections like many other books of similar size (such as Planting Growing Churches for the 21 Century, which has 3 major sections), yet it seems to still follow a general pattern that many church planting books follow, developing ideas based on the natural life cycle of the church: conception, development, birth, growth, maturity, plateau, and reproduction.

In his introduction, Stetzer begins by declaring a sort of thesis statement for his book. His statement, which is different than many other writings on church planting, is that “The term postmodern has lost much of its meaning, (and indeed it has. It now lends itself to an entirely negative connotation). I believe it is better to focus on missional, a broader term which emphasizes the approach rather than the population” (p. xii). Therefore, Stetzer sets the stage brilliantly for a journey on how to be missional – that is, “taking the approach of a missionary—being indigenous to the culture, seeking to understand and learn, adapting methods to the mission field—but winding up in the biblical form of the church” (p. xxi). Stetzer’s book, then, is not about compromise, but about compassion for the lost, and a desire to be missional so as to seek and save that which is lost.

Stetzer begins his first chapter with some basics about church planting, reminding the reader that the goal is not merely to plant churches, but to “plant a church that’s part of the culture [the reader] is trying to reach” (p. 1). Church planting has regained popularity, as more than 50,000 churches were planted in North America between 1980 and 2000 (p. 14). However, that is not enough. Stetzer gives a mission statement of sorts, in that this book is written to “inform, clarify, encourage, and persuade evangelicals to embrace church planting” (p. 14).

After a brief introduction on the basics of church planting, Stetzer moves quickly into the meat of the book, beginning early, at chapter two. Here he argues that North America is no longer just the country seeking to do missions – it is now the mission field itself. Ripe with opportunity, Stetzer contends that the most effective mission methodology for North America, and anywhere for that matter, is planting new churches.

One of Stetzer’s strongest chapters is chapter three, where he lays out the biblical basis for church planting, based upon examples from Paul, as well as four Gospel accounts of Jesus’ commands to be missional. Having laid the case for the biblical basis for church planting successfully, Stetzer moves through the fundamentals of church planting, including church plant models, leadership issues, lay leadership, emerging cultures, focus groups, koinos churches, core launch teams, how to choose a meeting place, worship, church growth, and churches planting churches. Stetzer even includes a chapter on how to choose a name and a logo, yes, a logo, for the new church plant. He includes this chapter because first impressions are important, and therefore the name of a church should be “meaningful and contemporary” (p. 233).

Stetzer concludes his book with a small but interesting chapter entitled “Church-Planting Movements”, where he gives examples of a few previous movements and the lessons learned from these movements, as well as some important aspects of any successful church-plant movement. After the closing chapter, Stetzer gives a detailed end-notes section that is jam-packed with references, additional comments, and web links to church planting sites. Beyond this, there is even a bibliography that is annotated and comprehensive, spanning 29 pages.

Evaluation

Ed Stetzer’s work, Planting Missional Churches, is often referred to as the church-planting Bible. It’s no wonder; considering all of the information contained within this volume. This is an updated (2nd) edition of the 1st entitled Planting Churches in a Postmodern Age and is packed with Stetzer’s personal wisdom, experience, and passion – and every page proves it! This book is one of the most comprehensive works on church planting.

Planting Mission Churches is written as a text, yet doesn’t have the dry, boring flavor of a text book. It is exciting, like taking an exciting venture with leaps and turns that bring new, refreshing ideas at every turn. It is the church planting book. There are questions for reflections and dialogue at the end of each chapter.  Although questions such as these typically serve to add to the dryness of most textbooks, these questions that Stetzer poses help provoke deeper thought and challenge the reader to apply the principles contained in each chapter to not only his head, but his heart as well.  The questions help the reader retrace the primary thoughts within each chapter and are ideally suited for a classroom, a Bible study, or any small group who desires to enhance their knowledge about the topic of church planting.

Another reason why Stetzer’s book is refreshing is his writing style.  Most writers, especially those who are writing text book type material write in a more formal academic style of writing.  Stetzer’s work however is much different.  Stetzer writes in a “conversation” style. As the reader turns through the pages it is as if Stetzer is sitting down at the table talking to the reader.  This makes the book a much easier read than the average text book, and quite frankly, makes for a much more relaxed and enjoyable read.  Although Stetzer clearly has a strong background in academia he writes in a simple and informal style that allows the reader to comprehend most all of what he says and to retain much of it.

Not only is Stetzer’s work comprehensive, refreshing, and conversational, it is also accurate and much needed.  Sadly, there are many in Christian circles who object to church planting.  Stetzer is right on target with the objections that people raise concerning church planting and his claims that their objections, for the most part, is unsubstantiated is valid.  Stetzer’s work will do much to help combat those objections and to help both the planters and the anti-planters to understand both the purposes and the intentions of planting a new church.  One of the common threads throughout Stetzer’s book is that “the goal of missional church planting is glorifying God, growing His kingdom, and developing healthy churches with new converts (p. 5).”  Stetzer realizes something that many Christian leaders overlook – the fact that church planting is needed in order to prevent denominational decline as well as a decline in the overall Christian population.  It is quite encouraging to see Stetzer pouring his soul into such a noble and honorable cause.  This book will equip those with a passion for church planting with the ability to help change long-held objections to church planting that many hold, and will help its readers to teach people that church planting is not about competition, professionalism, or anything else other than using culturally relevant methodology to reach people with the Good News of Jesus Christ for the glory of God.

One of the reasons Stetzer’s work is so successful and so effective is that it is “birthed out of the struggle and failure of church planting” (p.4).  Stetzer hasn’t just studied church planting, he has lived church planting.  As was previously noted, Stetzer has planted three churches, and they all weren’t complete successes.  Stetzer is honest with the fact that he made mistakes along the way and this lends much credibility to the book.  The fact that his ventures at times were not as great of a success as he would have liked, serves as a source of encouragement for others who may be struggling in their church planting venture in light of Stetzer’s eventual success.  His mistakes, and the disclosure of them in this book, may help countless church planters avoid the same.

This reviewer could find very little in terms of critical analysis within this book. A couple of issues, though minor, are worth mentioning.  First, in a volume this exciting it would be nice to see footnotes as opposed to endnotes.  There are many notes in this book and constantly turning to the back of the book distracts from the flow of information on particular topics or sections.  It would be much easier to stay with Stetzer’s train of thought if the notes were footnotes as opposed to endnotes.  Additionally a few of Stetzer’s thoughts seemed a little naieve or impractical.  For instance, he mentions in at least a couple of places the idea of sending out a mailer to prospective new church members in the community as a form of outreach (pp. 12,296).  However, it is not likely that anyone would respond to a mailer without a personal visit. In fairness to Stetzer, however, he does mention personal visits and door knocks on multiple occasions.  Finally, Stetzer seems to focus much of his thought on the large or mega church models which require large up front financial investments, a large staff, and extensive resources.  What about the church planter who desires a small startup in a rural area- the pastor who wants to plant a church but does not have all of the “big church” resources at his disposal. Indeed Stetzer’s experience and success lies with the larger model, however it would have been nice to have seen a little more focus on the smaller, more simple, less structured church plants.

Planting Missional Churches is a church planting manual that every church planter should have on their bookshelf.  Stetzer brings together a wide spectrum of church planting thoughts, visions, and concerns in an informative, culturally relevant way.  Although the term “culturally relevant” is a concern to some because it is often associated with a watered down expression of the gospel, Stetzer’s book is refreshing in that he consistently commands the need for solid theology that is delivered through culturally relevant methodologies.  Stetzer’s book is much needed because Christians need to end their discussions on missions and become missional.  Stetzer’s work encourages people to do just that.  Stetzer’s work affirms the biblical basis for church planting and challenges the reader to search and discover how they can most effectively understand and learn their local culture in order to bring the message of hope to those within the culture. Planting Missional Churches is the book to have for planting biblically faithful and culturally relevant churches.

Key words: Liberty University, EVAN 550, Church Planting, Critical Book Review of Planting Missional Churches

Book Review | Planting Churches Cross-Culturally: North America and Beyond | David Hesselgrave

Bibliography: Hesselgrave, David J. Planting Churches Cross-Culturally: North America and Beyond.  2nd edition. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academics), 2000.

Author information:

David Hesselgrave is a retired professor from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.  He holds a doctorate from the University of Minnesota in Rhetoric and Public Addresswith a cross-cultural communications emphasis.  He has served both as a pastor (for 5 years) and as a missionary in Japan (for 12 years).  Before retiring in 1991, Hesselgrave taught for nearly three decades.  In addition to Planting Churches Cross-Culturally, he has also written Contextualization, Paradigms in Conflict, and Communicating Christ Cross-Culturally.  Hesselgrave brings to this book both his extensive educational ministry and his research background.

Content Summary:

Hesselgrave’s 317 page work, Planting Churches Cross Culturally, is written to convey the importance of evangelistic church planting and missions. Additionally, it seeks to provide a manual of sorts for doing missions and church planting. Each of the five sections and seventeen chapters is filled with information that builds upon the last.

In part one, Hesselgrave devotes three chapters to ‘The Christian and the Christian Mission’. It is here that Hesselgrave states his intended purpose for the book which is the proclamation of the Gospel and the gathering of believers into the church, which is the heart of the Christian mission, according to Hesselgrave.  Hesselgrave also spends much time emphasizing the need to plan one’s work before working one’s plan.  According to Hesselgrave, “Too often [missions] is undertaken haphazardly and without thinking it through”(p.33),  After all, “God is the greatest planner of all”(p. 33) If God inspired and encouraged men of old to plan, why shouldn’t the church planters and missionaries of today plan for the tasks at hand?  Hesselgrave concludes this section with an emphasis on the strategy on church planting, a strategy which can be found by studying the missionary endeavors of Paul in the Book of Acts.

In part two of Planting Churches Cross-Culturally, Hesselgrave devotes four chapters to his section entitled ‘The Christian Leader and the Christian Message’.  Here Hesselgrave emphasizes the need for solid strategic leadership in the mission as well as the need to carefully analyze and select the right target areas for missions and evangelism.  It is only after the right leaders have been selected and the right target areas have been discovered that the appropriate resources can be deployed.  The church should, as a body dedicated to Christ, deploy all of the resources that are necessary for the church planting endeavor, according to God’s will.

In parts three, four, and five, Hesselgrave devotes ten chapters to the development and discussion of “The Pauline cycle”, which is a biblical synopsis and analysis of the church planting strategies employed by Paul in the Book of Acts.  The Pauline Cycle begins with God’s call on the missionary.  Once the missionary has been commissioned (step one), a potential audience is contacted and surveyed and widespread evangelism is performed in order to form relationships that will lead to further contacts and further relationships (step two).  Once an audience has been contacted, the Gospel should be communicated (step three) as clearly as possible in a way that is relevant to the hearers in the target area or community.  Prayerfully, those who hear the Gospel message will be converted (step four) and the believers will be gathered together (step five) where their faith is then confirmed (step 6) and leaders for that congregation are consecrated (step seven).  Hesselgrave reminds the reader of the importance of the newly planted congregation training and selecting its own pastor and other leaders.  In step eight, once leaders are consecrated, there should be “an amicable withdraw of church planters” and “an orderly transition of leadership in the congregation”; a transition that creates a seamless “continuation of effective ministries that have been undertaken by the pioneer” (p.279). Through church fellowships, the relationships that have previously been established should continue on indefinitely.  Since Christian churches have a common bond in Christ, they should encourage one another and cooperate “in the common cause of evangelism” (step nine, p.279).  In step ten, which is the last step, the sending church is convened so that the missionary – evangelist can be relocated to a new target area, thus beginning the Pauline cycle all over again.  “And so the Pauline cycle has been and will be repeated, on and on, over and over, until Christ comes again and the church militant becomes the church triumphant. Maranatha!” (p. 321).

Evaluation:

Hesselgrave declares in his preface that this book grew out of “fifty years of pioneering and pastoring, reading and researching, and learning and lecturing in company with literally thousands of people who have been my instructors and inspiration in service for Christ and His Church” (p.13). As one reads through this volume, it becomes quite evident that indeed the reader is experiencing Hesselgrave’s experiences, and not just a third-party narrative from a novice in the field. Any doubts as to Hesselgrave’s credentials or qualifications are quickly squashed as one begins to delve into this exciting and exhaustive handbook for church planting.

Planting Churches Cross-Culturally is one of the most extensive books on church planning that this review has ever seen, and certainly the most extensive that he has ever read. His is not just a concise overview, but an exhaustive, extensive, and information filled volume. Most certainly the person who said, “Information is knowledge” had Hesselgrave’s work in mind, for the person who reads this book and retains only a percentage of the information contained within its pages has at his disposal a wealth of knowledge on how to plant a church biblically and practically.

An important strength of Hesselgrave’s work is his dire commitment to remain true to the biblical model for church planting, and for basically anything, for that matter. This is a breath of fresh air in a world where liberal theologians freely offer up opinions that are not substantiated by the Word of God. Since the church’s primary mission is to “proclaim the gospel of Christ and gather believers in to a local church where they can be built up in faith and made effective in service” (p. 17), it’s not only a good idea to follow the biblical model for church planting, it’s crucial. Sadly, many church planting ventures fail to take the biblical revelation into account when planning their task, which often leads to their demise. However, Hesselgrave is committed to leading his readers in a journey that uses the Bible as the primary source of revelation and information for the task of planting church, and he should be commended for this! Why shouldn’t a person interested in church planting look to the Bible for planning and strategy? After all, “it is possible…to extrapolate from the biblical record specific aspects of Paul’s overall strategy and specific methods that can be applied to contemporary situation”(p. 38). Hesselgrave gives further encouragement to go to God’s Word as he states, “In planning for church planting and growth, on the other hand, we have recourse to God’s Word” (p. 39).

Specificity is yet another strong point of Hesselgrave’s book as he discusses the many aspects of church planting and the Pauline cycle. He doesn’t speak in broad, generic, nonspecific terms, but fills each section of his book with practical, specific instructions concerning the topic at hand. For instance, he doesn’t just mention the need to pray, but reinforces that need by wonderfully stating that, “The new is replete with exhortations to prayer….Clearly, the selection of the missionary-evangelist candidates should be bathed in payer. The first deacons were commissioned only after prayer…[Prayer] is the continuing force behind the entire program” (pp. 99-100).  Hesselgrave drives home his points on prayer, and everything else, by reinforcing it in such a way that one cannot offer an argument to his view.

Another strong point, one worthy of mention, is the ‘Relevant Research’ and ‘Practical Reflection’ additions to almost every section in his book. Not only does he bathe each section in relevant Scriptures and appropriate theories that support his theses, he also gives research, sometimes scientific, and practical applications that bring the issue at hand to life. It’s as if Hesselgrave wrote this book with a ‘break out all the stops’ attitude for his readers. For instance, in a section on communication methodologies, Hesselgrave, after making his case for the need for clear, concise, biblically based communication in evangelism and missions, gives research data which supports the idea that personal, one on one, close up communication is not always the ideal way to communicate a message. Likewise, sometimes, as science has proven, a message may be more widely received by the receiver if it is given from a distance, as in a public, or semi-public setting. He follows up this idea with practical reflection which stresses thet need for innovation in communication. “If our abilities to innovate are not exhausted in exploiting the potential of biblical models, we can go on to attempt new methods for communicating Christ” (p.156).

This reviewer could find very little by the way of criticism with this book. One small area of critique would be the amount of time and words that Hesselgrave puts into each segment or section. It seems at time that Hesselgrave could have said the same thing with fewer words, possibly half the words, and yet not lose any substance in his points. The verboseness of his narrative sometimes works against Hesselgrave, causing this reader to lose focus on the point at hand. A more concise narrative on many of his topics could have help the reader to comprehend the subject matter much faster, and quite frankly, could have saved a tree or two (with less pages).

This book is a must-have for anyone who purports to be a serious student of missions and church planting. This is a book that won’t sit on a bookshelf and collect dust. It’s a practical, useful, invaluable tool for anyone who desires to learn all they can about both the need to plant churches and the how-to of planting churches. This book is filled with resource after resource that combines to make a sound survey of biblical church planting. It is a scholarly approach to missions and plating churches, yet is excitingly readable by anyone with a desire to be all they can be in the area of church planting.  It’s about missions….it’s about evangelism….it’s about missional theology….it’s about the church…..it’s about so much more. I recommend that everyone who desires to grow their church read this book. This is one book that the reader will be glad he read.

Key search words: Planting Churches Cross-Culturally, EVAN 550, Liberty University, Evangelism, Church Planting

Book Review | An Unstoppable Force | Erwin McManus

Bibliographical Information: McManus, Erwin Raphael. An Unstoppable Force: Daring to Become the Church God Had in Mind.  (Loveland, Colorado: Group Publishing),  2001.

Author Information: Erwin McManus, originally a citizen of El Salvador, has a passion unlike most for people of all nationalities. After planting a Hispanic church in inner-city Dallas, Texas, McManus then took on the heavy responsibility of leading Los Angeles based Mosaic Church (formerly known as The Church on Brady), an 800 plus member church made of many diverse nationalities, including Hispanics, Asians, and Caucasian and African and Americans. In addition to his role as a Pastor, he serves in many other roles, including husband, father, futurist, artist, cultural leader, church plant adviser, and youth event speaker. A graduate of both the University of North Carolina and Southwestern Theological Seminary, McManus has written many dynamic books, including The Barbarian Way, Chasing Daylight, and Soul Cravings, Wide Awake, and Uprising.

Content Summary:

McManus wastes no time giving his position on the church – it’s an organism, not an organization (McManus, 14). This being the case, the church should be concerned about issues of life and spirituality within the church, not about technicalities and traditions, such as that of running the church’s business meeting according to the Robert’s Rules of Order instead of by “the pattern of the apostolic church” (McManus, 14). In order to be a healthy organism, churches must care for her young, reproduce and prepare the next generation of the body of Christ, and “awaken an apostolic ethos” in the church (McManus, 20).

In the next section, “First Movement”, McManus gives an alarming wakeup call by painting a portrait of what happens as the church fades away into nothing. In His chapter called “Atrophy”, McManus reminds the reader of the far-too-often sad reality that churches waste away from defective nutrition. This is because churches are so concerned with thriving or even surviving that they forget their purpose as the body of Christ – to serve. “The Church must raise her sails and move with the Spirit if we are not to be left behind. It isn’t enough to simply hold on; we must boldly move forward” (McManus, 23).

In the next section, “First Movement”, McManus gives motivation for the church to take those first steps to become the church God had in mind. The church that God had in mind will not run from the culture that is at their back door, they will face it head on. “We’re running scared, and because we are, we’re hitting the cultural obstacles rather than overcoming them”. The church must overcome the cultural obstacles within their community so that they can effectively reach those people who are buried deep below the culture. The church God had in mind will not compromise, but rather will engage in battle to overcome cultural barriers that keep people away from church and keep the church away from people. Once the barriers are removed, great opportunity exists. “The nations are at our front door, we have an opportunity to love our neighbors as ourselves, and the practical application of reconciliation is right across the street” (McManus, 45).

Once the first movements towards becoming the church God had in mind occur, momentum begins to form. From this momentum, the church can find the strength and wherewithal to transform a culture and to not only produce followers of Jesus Christ, but also to be a part of a movement of Jesus Christ. Within this movement, an ethos is found – an ethos that is a “corporate-intense mental state that arises…..[within] the entire community” (McManus, 97). In this state, the entire community feels the same way and everyone has everything in common, much like the first century church.

In the next section, entitled “Third Movement”, McManus discusses many aspects of the healthy, growing church, including one who is engaging a broken world by “passing on the deep teachings of being a disciple of Jesus Christ” (McManus, 131). The church, in order to be the church God had in mind, must use the spiritual gifts God has given to “engage the power of faith, hope, and love” (McManus, 147).

In his last official chapter, the Epilogue withstanding, the church should remember that as they seek to continually reform themselves to reach the ever changing culture, they should prepare for obstacles, discouragement, and resistance. However, with God’s help, the church can indeed move forward to align and realign themselves with God’s purpose. God people should be led, through solid leadership, through “a journey that leads them from a transition to a transformation” (McManus, 198).

Evaluation:

It is evident from the first few pages of An Unstoppable Force: Daring to Become the Church God Had in Mind that McManus is creative, energetic, passionate, and a list of other positive adjectives. He exhibits the enthusiasm necessary to kindle a fire in anyone who genuinely desires to be a part of the church God has in mind. He is a bold visioneer who isn’t afraid to take large, bold steps. He’s proven this with his Texas church plant as well as his move to Mosaic. His book gives his unique, fresh perspective on how to build a church that will impact both the local community and the world. Furthermore, McManus has the goods to back up his vision – his church is impacting both the community and the world as I write this paper.

McManus seemed to have a relevant story and illustration for almost every primary point he made, possibly too many. For every point he made, he had a picture to paint through creative, flashy, culturally relevant words and through illustrations that made sense logically. For example, as he described the church that is afraid to move, thus failing to gain momentum, he paints a picture of himself as a small child, afraid of roller coasters (McManus, 63-63). He discusses his fear of the roller coaster and the five years he spent being afraid of them. Once he overcame that fear, he began to gain momentum incredibly fast, always looking for that next roller coaster ride and he never looked back. The church must get over the fears they have – fears about the changing culture that’s right outside their door. If they can conquer those fears, they too can begin to gain momentum in their church – momentum that will sky rocket their spiritual growth as a congregation and put them on the path to becoming the kind of church God had in mind.

This book was a challenge for this reviewer. The energetic, modernistic vocabulary style was hard for me to follow. Although I cannot quite place the writing style, it seemed a bit New Age or Postmodern – and maybe that was the intention of the author. I had to read and reread many of the sections, yet still did not grasp the entirety of his message. Many of his metaphors, illustrations, and flashy vocabulary simply did not resonate with this reviewer. I often found myself asking, “What is McManus trying to say here?” For instance, on pages 40-41, McManus discusses being “afraid to cross the street”. Yet I was never able to grasp what this figurative language represented in the church growth world. Just what is it that the church is afraid of here? I do not know.

McManus has a tendency, at least in this book, to be a little wordy and vague. Some of his points, though likely present, seem to get lost in the flashy, verbose writing style that McManus has. For instance, on page 54, McManus says that the church “has an opportunity to…. become an expression of the nations coming together and hearing the gospel in their own language”.  Yet he fails to disclose exactly how this will happen. How will the nations come together through the church? What steps are involved in this process? He goes on to give an example of a church coming together in this fashion – Cornerstone Church – yet still fails to describe how he led his church to accomplish this task. This seemed to be a common occurrence throughout his book. He gave instances of success or visions for success, yet did not readily offer the solutions or processes to accomplish these goals. He didn’t offer any ideas for changes that could be made within the local church to achieve the goals that he achieved.

McManus’ uses of modern, New Age terminology seemed to be a hindrance in conveying his message of growth to the church. As a Pastor of a small church in a rural area, I know personally that the churches that need growth the most cannot relate to the modernistic terminology that is prevalent in his book. The book seemed to be more geared towards those who McManus desires to reach, rather than those that he is trying to encourage (IE: the church). This would be like speaking only Spanish to an English speaking community that you wish to teach Spanish. During my first year of Spanish in college, my professor spoke English, so that I could learn the language without complication. McManus should speak English too, so that those of us who need to grow our churches can learn his language without complication. His complicated vocabulary style made his theological conveyances light. I wish he would be heavier in his ecclesiology and light in his terminology. I was expecting a book much deeper in the theology of the church – a book that used that theology to lay a foundation that could be used to grow a church. If a church could be grown on modern vocabulary and terminology, McManus’ book is right on it. However, this isn’t the case.

In fairness to McManus, his book isn’t a step by step manual about how to fill up empty pews in the local rural congregation. McManus’ book is about how a church in a large, multicultural environment can reach people of many different cultures, pull them together in a cohesive unit, and transform themselves into the church God had in mind. McManus’ book exudes with passion, excitement, and vibrant ideas about how a church should be. Although there are many criticisms that can be made of this “New Age” book, the fact remains that this book is filled with many good insights and much wisdom on how to become the church God had in mind. Yes, this book is radical, yet it is also relevant. Both of these traits are needed in the church today if the church is going to engage and penetrate the culture that is awaiting them outside their church doors and around the corner. If you are looking for specific “how-to” concepts, this isn’t the right book. However, if you are looking for a fresh, radical, dynamic look at what the church should look like, then this might be the right book for you.

Liberty University, EVAN 550, Evangelism and Church Planting, Book Review, Critical Book Review: Unstoppable Force.

Book Review | Share Jesus Without Fear | Bill Faye

Dear friends, I would like to say before the onset of this review that I highly recommend this book.Given that 90% of professing Christians never share their faith with non-believers, this book is desperately needed in the church today! Many “intellectuals” are critics of this book, honestly because of its simple, straightforward approach to sharing the Gospel. Buy this book and give it a read. You’ll be surprised at how easy it really is to share your faith with the lost! Again, I highly recommend this book!!

Bibliographical Entry: Fay, William, and Linda Evans Shepherd. Sharing Jesus without Fear. Nashville: B & H Publishing, 1999.

Author information

Bill Fay is both an evangelist and a radio personality. He was the president and CEO of a multi-million-dollar corporation before the Lord took hold of him through a series of life-shattering events. He owned a house of prostitution and other not-so-morally correct businesses, and was hostile towards the Christian faith.

Trials and near-imprisonment brought him to his knees and to a saving relationship with Christ. Since then, it has been his passion to equip others to share the good news of Christ and overcome their fears of evangelism. Fay has witnessed to approximately 25,000 people since becoming a Christian, credentials far more impressive than his authorship or his Denver Seminary degree. Fay currently lives with his family in Englewood, Colorado.

Content Summary

Share Jesus without fear is a no nonsense down-to-earth, practical book about how easy it is to share one’s faith.  Its author, William Fay, had it all.  He was “successful” by the world’s standards and lacked for nothing, or so he thought.  As the leader of a multi-million dollar corporation, Fay thought he would never need God.  However, something happened in his life that would sever his ties from the mob, from his brothel house, and from his life of iniquity.  After an arrest, for running a house of prostitution, a friend who had been witnessing to him over the previous year reached out to him.  Paul and Kathie Grant invited him over for dinner one evening and shared about how the Lord had changed their lives.  Sometime later, after having been arrested for solicitation of prostitution and facing a 6-8 year jail sentence, Fay reached out to his former pastor who had married him and his fourth wife. The rest was history.  Fay immediately began sharing his faith, first witnessing to his daughter that he had not heard from in 23 years.  He then went on to share his faith with officers and detectives who had previously arrested him, and has over the past 20 years shared his faith with more than 25,000 people.  His message is simple; you cannot fail.

Fay begins his book where any book on evangelism should begin.  Chapter 1 is entitled “You can’t fail”.  Whether people are receptive to what one says is irrelevant.  What is important is that one is obedient to God in sharing their faith.  If someone is not receptive, the person sharing their faith has not failed, because “God is sovereign” (p. 3).   Sharing one’s faith has “nothing whatsoever to do with bringing anyone to the Lord.  It has everything to do with obedience. Even if you don’t have the privilege to see someone respond, you have not failed, because you were obedient” (p. 3).

Fay discusses in chapter 2 that as little as 5-10 percent of people in church have shared their faith in the past year (p. 6).  This means that 90-95 percent of people in the church are guilty of the sin of silence.  Fay expounds on the sin of “silence” by boldly stating that “the wound that killed [Jesus] was silence.  No one spoke up for Him.” Likewise, “we deny Jesus by never opening our mouths” to share our faith (p. 6).   Churches that choose not to evangelize will indeed fossilize, says Faye (p. 7).

Fay places the readers of his book into two categories: those who talk “about” the lost and those who talk “to” the lost.  Having a silver fish symbol on your car, or a “Honk if you love Jesus” bumper sticker will not suffice.  Evangelism involves telling one’s friends “how to go from the state of death to the state of life” (p. 8).  It doesn’t matter how new the Christian is, or how old the Christian is – every Christian is ready. Christians need not fear being qualified to share their faith.  Every Christian is qualified by being obedient to God’s command to go and make disciples. According to Fay, it takes an average of 7.6 times of hearing the gospel for a non-believer to respond, and one never knows if, when one shares their faith, if it isn’t the 6.6th time they’ve heard.  Sharing one’s faith is fundamentally important because “75-90 percent of new believers come to Christ through a friend or acquaintance who explained the good news on a one-to-one basis” (p. 12).

Chapter 3 addresses the biggest reason people give for not sharing their faith.  Whether one feels they have the “gift of evangelism” is irrelevant.  Each Christian is commanded in the Great Commission “to evangelize, to encourage evangelism and to urge evangelism” (p. 15). God has equipped Christians with the strength to share their faith (Phil 4:13) regardless of our gifts, talents, or abilities – whether they realize it or not.  Christians must lay their fears of rejection aside and be obedient to the commands of God.   One need not be afraid because success doesn’t rest within the confines of their actions.  The evangelist will never win someone to Christ.  God may indeed work through someone, despite their fears.  If people reject the message, they are not rejecting the messenger, “they are rejecting Jesus and God’s Word.  Therefore you did not fail in your obedience” (p. 17).  Excuses such as “I’m afraid of what my friends will think”, “I don’t know enough”, “I’m afraid of losing my friends”, and “I don’t know how” are just that – excuses.  Fay vehemently exclaims, “you will have to drop those excuses for not sharing your faith” (p. 27). As Christians learn to disregard those excuses, they experience new levels of joy and new depths in their relationship with God.

In chapters 4, 5, & 6, Fay reaches the heart of his subject matter.  In these chapters, Fay introduces us to his method for reaching the lost with the good news of Jesus Christ.  Fay begins with what he calls “conversation joggers” on page 30.  He uses questions that are like a thermometer to “determine if God is at work and to see if their hearts are open” (p. 30).  Such questions include “What are the biggest problems facing women today?” and “Do you go to church anywhere”? [These and many more optional conversation joggers are found in the handy appendix on page 145-146.] These conversation joggers are lead-in questions to “the five share Jesus questions”.  These include questions such as “Do you have any spiritual beliefs?”, “To you, who is Jesus?”, “Do you think there is a heaven and hell?”, If you died tonight where would you go?”, and “If what you were believing were not true would you want to know?”  These questions are meant to allow the evangelist to share his faith in a non-argumentative fashion without embarking on disagreements of intellect and world religions.  These questions put the evangelist in control without putting the unbeliever on the defensive.  Fay emphasizes that it is important to simply listen while administering these 5 questions.  After all, listening conveys love, and love for God and love for people should be one’s motive for evangelism.  After sharing these 5 questions, Fay encourages the evangelist to share 7 scripture passages with the unbeliever in a unique fashion – by asking the unbeliever to read each of these out loud.  After each passage is read, the person sharing their faith simply says, “What does this say to you?”  Asking this simple question is not a defense or an argument.  The evangelist simply turns the pages and stays out of God’s way.  For this reason, this book could be entitled “Turn pages without fear”. It’s just that simple.  After having shared these Bible passages, the evangelist may, if the opportunity is right, ask the 5 “commitment questions’ such as “Are you a sinner?” and “Do you want forgiveness of sins?”

Fay’s approach is so simple one cannot fail, only be obedient.  The evangelist is in the page turning business, the evangelist doesn’t argue.  Additionally, Fay even tells the evangelist “In love, to please shut up” (p. 64). This is so the Holy Spirit can work in the unbeliever’s heart to convict the person.  The evangelist must remember that “The battle is not with you or me.  The battle is with God and His Word” (p. 64).

Just when one thought Fay’s methodology could not be any simpler, he introduces, “the Why principle” on page 65.  When unbelievers give objections to the 5 commitment questions, simply ask “Why?”  Asking “why” enough may allow the evangelist to filter through the myriad of alleged objections and get to the heart of the unbeliever’s concerns.  He also shares, in chapter 7, steps to take for believers who have accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior.  Additionally in Chapter 8, he goes even further to make the process of evangelism both easy and non-confrontational with his “ready responses to common objections” (p. 81).

In Chapter 9, Fay emphasizes the importance of keeping non-Christian friends.  He reminds us that Christ died for unbelievers, He loves them, they desperately need Him, and we were called to be fishers of men.  For this reason, believers need to make non-Christian friends.  If believers isolate themselves from unbelievers, they “will never know the joy of sharing their faith” (p. 114). Fay goes on to say that “God did not call you to hide from the world, He called you to go into the world… we need to go because we cannot make disciples at a distance” (p. 115). Fay offers suggestions on how to make non-Christian friends, with ideas such as meeting neighbors, asking unbelievers for prayer requests, video and story parties, kind deeds, block parties, community service, and reconnecting with people from the past.  All of these are avenues that can provide opportunities for the believer to share one’s faith.

Fay concludes his book with an encouragement to pray for non-believers.  He says, “I encourage you to take time out of your day to pray” (p. 129).  Not only does one pray before, during, and after you share one’s faith with a non-believer, but one also prays that God would open doors and give them opportunities for evangelism.  Believers are to also pray that God would give them love for unbelievers, that unbelievers will see Christ in them, and that, when given the opportunity, the believer will have boldness needed to share their faith.

Fay’s final chapter is a call to action and a reminder that the unbeliever’s eternal life is at stake.  Fay contends that the time is now, and that when one is burdened by God to share their faith, they must respond immediately with obedience, for “God has been preparing this moment before the world began” (p. 143).

Evaluation

Although Fay hammers home the idea that success isn’t measured in the response the unbeliever gives, he nonetheless uses considerably more positive responses from his experiences while sharing his faith. “Almost every example Fay used ended with the unbeliever accepting Christ. If his goal was to encourage believers to share the Gospel regardless the response, then he should have included more examples of unbelievers rejecting the Gospel” (Jared Moore, “An Honest Book Review of Share Jesus Without Fear). A believer could become disheartened and discouraged over the lack of acceptance, given the number of successful attempts portrayed in Fay’s journeys. Fay proclaims on several occasions that the believer is successful only by their obedience, however, “his examples are inconsistently positive if the response is irrelevant” (Jared Moore).

Another negative aspect is Fay’s implication that a definition of sin is not needed (pp. 99-100). Understandably, this is a method that attempts to impress upon the believer that argumentation will not gain results, and correctly so. However, intrinsically speaking, it seems important to at least interject a brief explanation of what sin is, especially given that one or two of the passages the believer is asked to share directly address sin themselves. Unbelievers desperately need to understand what sin is – that it is described in the Bible as transgression of the law of God and rebellion against God. They also need to understand what the penalty for sin is – a feat Fay accomplishes in his method of evangelism.

Believers struggle to share their faith. Some may simply not care, however many do care, but are unable to do so. This book provides the means for those who desire to share their faith to actually do something – to share about the hope that is within them.  The theme of the book is valid and necessary because there are a lot of believers who struggle sharing their faith. His arguments concerning the simplicity and ease of his methodology are foundationally well supported and convincing. Many believers struggle with and can improve upon [their witnessing skills] if they [would] apply the systems in Fay’s book.

The fact that Fay had been radically changed by God was not only a motivational factor in his evangelistic efforts, but serves as a motivation for thousands who will read his book. Fay is proof positive that God can change a person and make that person a new creation. “The personal testimony of Fay serves as one of the primary means of conveying the effectiveness of God’s word being used to convert lost souls”. Fay seeks to convey the important message that, through a few, simple, non-argumentative questions and scripture verses, the power of God’s Word can have an opportunity to change yet more people. No theological debate or lengthy apologetics sessions needed – merely a willing, obedient vessel through which God can work. All it takes to be “successful”, according to Fay’s method, is a willingness to be obedient and a love for both God and the lost.

Fay’s method of evangelism is simple and fail-proof, provided the believer can remember that success does not lie within their efforts.  Fay lays out an easy to follow, step by step, non-argumentative approach to sharing the gospel – an approach that allows the Holy Spirit and the power of Scripture to work.  This is a book that not only equips Christians to share their faith, but also inspires and encourages them.  Every Christian should have a copy of this book in their library.  All Christians can know, through reading this book, that they are indeed qualified to share their faith with even the most intellectual and argumentative unbeliever.  The book and the steps of evangelism are simple to understand, practical, and easy to memorize, making this a great tool for sharing one’s faith and allowing one’s self to be an instrument of God through which God can reach the unbeliever.

As long as believers are obedient and share their faith, they cannot fail. They are merely “page turners” who need to “shut up”, get out of the way, and let the Word and the Holy Spirit work in the unbelievers life!!

Summary of Key Questions and Verses

Questions to gage where the person is at spiritually:

  • What are your spiritual beliefs?
  • To you, who is Jesus?
  • Do you think there is heaven or hell?
  • If you died tonight, where would you go?
  • If what you believe is not right, would you want to know?


Verses to share with non-believers:

  • For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)
  • For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
  • Jesus replied, ” I assure you: Unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)  [Why did Jesus come to die?]
  • Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. (John 14:6)
  • If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,”  and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. With the heart one believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth one confesses, resulting in salvation. (Romans 10:9-10)
  • If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
  • And He died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for the One who died for them and was raised. (2 Corinthians 5:15)
  • Listen! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and have dinner with him, and he with Me. (Revelation 3:20)

Questions to ask the non-believer after sharing the Gospel with them?

  • Are you a sinner?
  • Do you want forgiveness of your sins?
  • Do you believe that Jesus died on the cross for you and rose again on the 3rd day?
  • Are you willing to surrender your life to Jesus and live for Him daily?
  • Are you willing to invite Jesus into your life and to submit your life to Him?

Things you want to hear the non-believer say as they pray. You should not pray for the non-believer, but should rather give them an opportunity to pray from their heart. Father, I have sinned against you. I want forgiveness for my sins. I believe Jesus died on the cross for me, and that he rose again on the 3rd day. I give you my life to do with as you wish. I surrender to you, Lord Jesus. I submit to you are the sovereign Lord of my life and will honor you with my life just as you gave your life for me. Forgive me and make me a new creation. Thank you for the blood that was shed on Calvary for the forgiveness of my sins! In Christ’s name I pray, amen.

Key words: Evangelism, The Great Commission, How to Witness, How to share my faith, church growth, Liberty University, EVAN565.