42 Seconds to Talk Like Jesus: a book review

I  read a book by Carl Medearis half a dozen years ago on the art of Not-Evangelism (Speaking of Jesus, David Cook, 2011).  It was a breath of fresh air. Medearis didn’t advocate manipulative techniques to talk about your faith. He said to not get stuck trying to defend the faith but he pointed at talking about our experience of Jesus in ways that were winsome, inviting and authentic. That was the only one of Medearis’s books I’ve read, though I’d hear him as a podcast guest occasionally, talking about his work as a peacemaker and his advocacy for Arab-American and Muslim-Christian relations. He is very much evangelical, but he has sought to respond to terror and Islam in ways that reflect the manner and character of Jesus.

978-1-63146-489-8His newest book, 42 seconds, was birthed after a casual conversation he had with his neighbor as they both were working in their yards. Afterward, he emailed his assistant Jesse and asked him to look up every conversation Jesus ever had in the gospels. Hesse compiled a list, and the two of them read through each conversation, out loud, discovering the average conversation Jesus got in was 42 seconds long (ix, at least the portion of the conversation recorded in the Gospels). Medearis notes, “Because Jesus being Jesus, his conversations were typically anything but normal. and when I realized this—when I realized Jesus managed to turn otherwise everyday conversations into something profound—I knew I had to figure out how he did it” (ix).

So Medearis compiled a month’s worth of meditations on Jesus’ conversations, to be read for the course of four weeks. Each week has five readings on a theme, plus ‘a final word’ which tie it together with some reflections and suggestions for practice. These reflections are organized under the headings: “Be Kind,” “Be Present,” “Be Brave,
and, putting it all together, “Be Jesus.” Sorry, Melania, No “Be Best.”

Each daily entry has some practical reflections for engaging people in conversation about things that matter. The “Be Kind” section begins by exhorting us to say hi to people and acknowledge the people we fail to see (e.g. like the waiter or busboy filling your water). Medearis encourages us to ask questions, find some small act of service to do,  to pay attention to children (the way Jesus did). The “Be Present” section describes cultivating attention to the person we are talking to, and what may really be going on with them (instead of rushing to some strategic end, letting conversations go where they go).

The “Be Brave” section presses into the challenging things that Jesus said. Jesus says hard things, but not to everybody, and not always (religious insiders bore the brunt of his criticisms). The final section, “Be Jesus” prompts us to make sure our words and life are consistent with the life and witness of Jesus.

Medearis weaves stories of his own interactions with strangers and friends—evangelistic conversations or otherwise—with  Jesus’ conversations with people in the Bible. Medearis is winsome and this book is pretty accessible. If you read it over the course of a month, there are small challenges to be more like Jesus in our conversations and make every 42 seconds count. This isn’t a book on evangelism but on entering into more significant conversations (which includes evangelism or something like it). I give this four stars. -★★★★

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from NavPress through the Tyndale Blog Network in exchange for my honest review.


You Don’t Have To Be A Bad Evangelist! a book review

If you are like me, you have a lot of mixed feelings about evangelism. I mean, there is Jesus’ Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), So I guess I believe evangelism is really great, right?  But there is so much bad evangelism. I know, I’ve done my share of it. I’m really good at bad evangelism.

978-1-63146-856-8There are lots of things that make evangelism bad. Some evangelism is bad because people don’t hear good news from the evangelist. I remember once listening as an open-air-evangelist berated a passerby for wearing his baseball caps backwards, “Your hat’s on backward! You must have your head on backward, or you wouldn’t be sinning!” Needless to say, that guy didn’t hear the good news in that evangelist’s message. Other attempts at evangelization miss their mark because the message is irrelevant to the listeners or too full of religious-insider-jargon to make any sort of impact.

Matt Mikalatos wrote Good News For a Change to help those of us who struggle with evangelism talk to others about Jesus. The double entendre title speaks of both the way the good news has been complicated by bad evangelism and the good news of transformation available to those who come to faith in Jesus (sometimes in spite of our bad evangelism). Mikalatos is experienced at sharing his faith, whether it is by leading atheist Bible studies, or leading student outreaches with Cru (the artist formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ), or through his imaginative writing. I first became aware of Mikalatos through his brilliantly funny Night of the Living Dead Christian and My Imaginary Jesus, and his modern retelling of Jesus’ parables in The First Time We Saw Him. He is an engaging and insightful author. In Good News, he turns his attention to helping the rest of us share the good news of Jesus, with imagination, verve, and whimsy.

This book is helpful in several ways. First, Mikalatos reminds us that the gospel is good news:

With the gospel, we need to get past the sales tactics and high-pressure techniques because we don’t need them. A well honed sales pitch reveals that we’ve forgotten the gospel is, at its core, good news. It was good news for us, and it’s good
news for the people with whom we’re sharing (xvii).

Because we have good news, we don’t need to rely on sales pitches and scripts. Instead, we can share with people the unchanging good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as well as our own personal good news— the ways that a relationship with Jesus has transformed our lives and given us hope.

But Mikalatos doesn’t stop there. Much of Good News For a Change is dedicated to dedicating to listening to others, even as we share our faith with them. This helps us describe how Jesus is good news for them. Mikalatos translates the gospel into Brony (the language of My Little Pony enthusiasts) and shares stories of conversations he’s had with Buddhists and door-to-door salespeople. But he also challenges us to craft messages that speak to people (communicate well, avoid jargon and live lives cognizant of the good news of God’s welcome in Christ and gives us some tips on how to engage in conversation those who are antagonistic to our faith. One of the greatest things about Mikalatos’s approach to evangelism is how attentive he is to the people he’s talking to. Bad evangelism is often bad because of how tone-deaf it is. Mikalatos helps us to speak in ways that are responsive and engaging.

This book is both entertaining and helpful. In the end, talking to others about Jesus is just bearing witness to the ways we’ve experienced life in Him. Mikalatos encourages us to share our experience of Christ, and listen for and connect with ways that the Spirit is already at work in their lives. This is helpful, and like Mikalatos other books, a fun read. I give it four stars. ★★★★

I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Transform Your City by Putting on Christian Conferences: a book review.

Mac Pier is the founder and CEO of the New York City Leadership Center. In that capacity he also helped found the inaugural Movement Day conference in New York City (in cooperation with Tim Keller’s Redeemer City to City and the Concerts of Prayer Greater New York). The conference was a gathering of missional leaders in New York, to cast vison and strategize together which later helped the Evangelical community have a tangible effect on the city.

In A Disruptive Gospel, Pier  shares his passion for disrupting cities and transforpier_disruptivegospel_wSpine.inddming them with the gospel of Jesus Christ. He tells the story of his ministry in New York City, the formation of the first Movement Day and how the fruit of that endeavor led to an impact on the city through service with organizations like  Cityserve New York. Pier also shares the story of Movement Day Dallas and how it led to initiatives welcoming Millennials into the church and greater racial reconciliation among the churches. After discussing these American cities he examines similar movements around the globe  (places like Manila, Mumbai, Chennai, Dubai, Singapore, Port-au-Prince, Pretoria and Kigali, London, Gothenburg and Berlin).

Several convictions guide Pier’s work and analysis. First, following Rodney Stark and Wayne Meeks, he believes cities are strategic centers for mission and the proliferation of the gospel(43-44). Second, the thinking behind the inter-church gatherings like Movement Day stem from a convictions that “the vibrancy of the gospel in any city is proportionate to the depth of relationship and visible unity between [Christian] leaders in that same city”(53). Third, Pier operates on the premise that whenever there is a new move of God, anywhere, God raises up leaders to lead that movement.

This book suffers from the range of cities which Pier  attempts to cover—thirteen  different cities. The book is only 236 pages, so Pier, by necessity,  speaks in broad generalities.  I learned about some cool gatherings around the world of missional leaders, and Pier boils each chapter to a couple of pages of “what [each] story teaches us.” But the overall effect is pretty vague. There is not much here in the way of practical strategy.

I  also have questions about Pier’s premise that mission and ministry begins with the leaders and influencers, instead of the marginalized, the little and the least. Leadership is valuable, but you can gather Christian and marketplace leaders and still fail to intersect the needs of the poor. When I read here about how New York city leaders endeavored to respond to the needs of Port-Au-Prince through organizations like World Vision (170), I think of the reality on the ground and how well meaning Americans and large organizations often fail to meet the tangible needs of Haitians. (To be fair, Haitian church leaders were also included in their vision casting, and I personally support World Vision for their thoughtful approach to mission and relief work). Pier’s approach feels too top down to me. Perhaps this is effective and they are making a real impact, but the sparse details makes me skeptical.

However, I do appreciate the focus on cities and there are initiatives, city-wide actions and missional ventures that are worth getting excited about. I just didn’t feel like I got enough of the details. I give this book two-and-a-half stars. ★★½

Note: I received this book from Baker Books in exchange for my honest review.

Evangelism and Honor: a book review

Perhaps, like me, you know you ought to share your faith with others. You believe the good news and want others come to saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, but you are as turned off as anyone by  that tone-deaf-evangelism. Formulaic presentations and canned sales-pitches  and one-size-fits-all approaches don’t ring true or require you actually listen to the story of those you are doing evangelism to. How do we share our faith in a way that is warm, inviting and honoring of the faith journeys of those we are talking too? Mary Schaller and John Crilly suggest a different approach in  The 9 Arts of Spiritual Conservation.

978-1-4964-0576-0Schaller is the president of Q place and Crilly is its former national field director. Q place is an organization which works with churches to create environments for small group participants to explore questions of God and the Bible together. In The 9 Arts of Spiritual Conversations they suggest a orientation, and a set of practices which enable Christians to share their faith which honors other worldviews, and life experiences. Yes, evangelism remains important, but it doesn’t explode.  It happens organically in the context of relationship as we seek to love, welcome and engage unbelievers as they are. Seeing them as they are and listening well to their stories is as important as sharing our faith with them.

The “nine arts” are described under three major headings. Part I: Getting Ready gives us an orientation toward sharing our faith through noticing who are neighbors are, committing to praying for them and relationally listening to their stories (instead of transactionally listening as we wait our turn to speak). Part II:  Getting Started suggests three practices which help us create welcoming, engaging and safe environments, learning to ask good questions, loving well, and hospitality. Part III: Keeping it Going, explores practices that keep faith-based discussions going: facilitating, serving together and sharing (your faith). Additionally,  Part IV: Ongoing Spiritual Conversations provides practical suggestions and encouragement for making your own “Q place.”

The “nine arts” are important for anyone who seeks to share their faith with others organically. It is significant that the ‘evangelism’ part of this book only comes into focus as the final practice. If you follow the trajectory of this book, you will not vomit your faith on others but will share your journey with Jesus in the context of real relationship. I like the approach a lot. And appreciated Crilly and Schaller’s stories of friends they have shared life and their faith with. I give this four stars.

Note: I received this book from the Tyndale Blog Network in exchange for my honest review.


Beautiful Feet in Real Life: a book review

The denomination I’ve served as a pastor in, affirms women  as ‘called and gifted for ministry and mission.’  I know quite a few female pastors and am blessed by their perspectives, their  leadership, their insights, empathy and pastoral skill.  While there is increased openness to women in ministry within Evangelicalism, female evangelists seem much rarer than pastors. Yes Rebecca Manley Pippert wrote one of the best evangelism manuals around, but that was in the late 70s. Where are the women evangelists these days? 

9780830843206Enter Jessica Leep Fick. Fick lives in Cleveland and describes herself as a writer, speaker, dance party enthusiast. She is also an evangelist. In Beautiful Feet she explores the joy and challenges women face as they engage in the work of evangelism. Fick acknowledges that systemic and institutional problems  cause women to devalue their contribution to sharing good news (i.e. sexism, harsh complementarianism, etc.). She wants women to see they are fearfully and wonderfully made and their beautiful feet are capable of bringing good news to a world which can use some.

Beautiful Feet is chockful of stories about evangelism, from Fick and stories she tells from fellow evangelistas.  She talks about the challenges women face as they share their faith (i.e. disingenuous listeners that use evangelistic conversations as an opportunity to hit on you); yet in getting women to step out and share the gospel, women embody the good news of Jesus Christ in their context for those they encounter. Women have different opportunities and different doors open to talk about Jesus.

This book was written by a woman for women on how to share their faith. As a male reader, much of what Fick says applies to me, but I had to adjust the script a little (women do this all the time when they read male-centered books ). While I am not the intended audience, I am a sympathetic reader and enjoyed Fick’s stories and good humor. I recommend this book for women who are interested in sharing their faith. I give this five stars.

Note: I received this book from IVP in exchange for my honest review.