I’m not the guy who gives words for the New Year. I usually think that things like this are things men dream up rather than actually hear from Jesus.
So when my 11 year old son gave a short prayer before our New Year’s Eve gathering, I was a little taken aback. Normally those kind of prayers are short and help move us along to dinner. We have a rule in our house churches: “No warring over the nations before dinner.”
So when Joel prayed, “Lord, make this a faithful and fruitful new year…” in the midst of blessing the food, I was taken aback. He doesn’t normally pray like that.
Especially before meals.
So, may I commend to you this prayer (and prophetic word) for 2020. May it be a faithful and fruitful year. May you stay the course on the things the Lord has called you to. May God reward you with seeing the fruit of that faithfulness.
I did a lot of reading this year.
I read so much I surprised myself. Over the course of the next few days, we’ll talk about the how’s, why’s, and what’s of my reading this year. For now, lets just say I read more books this year than in any single year of my life.
While that level of reading by necessity must be broad, I did have one goal in my reading this year—read as many books as I could about evangelism. Now, why, you may ask would I read as many books as I could on evangelism? Well, the simple answers is I want to get better at it. The more complex answer is that I find that the more I think about a topic, the more central it becomes in my life. One easy way for me to think about evangelism more was to read more about it.
There were a lot of books. I didn’t get through all of them. I plan to continue the emphasis going forward in the New Year. Because evangelism is not just something I need to get better at, but I believe the whole body of Christ in America needs to get better at, I created a list of the ten best books on evangelism I’ve read this year. There’s a short blurb below each link that tells a bit of my journey with the book and why it might interest you.
This was the second or third book about evangelism I read this year and it was easily the best. Jean is a prophetic minister who regularly hears from Jesus and shares His heart with lost people around her. This may seem really scary and difficult, but Jean makes the process seem so simple and friendly that by the end of the book you’ll be wanting to put it into practice. Not only did I learn about hearing from Jesus and sharing what I’m hearing with the lost by reading this book, but I encountered the love of Jesus as I read the author’s testimony. I highly recommend picking up the audio book where you’ll get to hear a very personal evangelism testiomony told in the author’s own voice toward the end of the book. It’s well worth it.
Spirit Led Evangelism was such an encouraging read. The book is by Che Ahn, a stalwart in the charismatic renewal movement who has been moving in Holy Spirit-inspired evangelism since his days in the Jesus People movement. Che covered the whole spectrum of evangelism, from sharing the Gospel and partnering with the Holy Spirit in signs and wonders to church planting and its impact in the harvest. Ahn encourages believers to follow the Holy Spirit and be persistent and faithful in evangelism, which is a rare combination. I think you’ll be helped by this book.
This book is a classic. You can’t go anywhere in American Evangelicalism without encountering someone whose thoughts have been impacted by this book. What I found interesting is that so much of the house church movement’s thinking finds its origin and support in the discipleship principles laid out here. The key to effective evangelism is found in sharing the Gospel and training up converts in a way of life that leads them to do the same. Without this plan in place, both our evangelism and our churches will suffer. If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend it.
This book has one clear focus—convincing you that you need to be more bold for Jesus. The author believes in the West, we don’t share the Gospel because we are afraid, and I agree with him. His answer is to regularly ask Jesus for boldness to share the Gospel. It’s a simple formula and a long book. I hesitated putting this book so high on this list, because the book repeats the premise so much, but I believe that the premise is so true and accurate that I think you should read it and put some of his recommendations into practice.
Many of the books I read on evangelism were written from a perspective that would have worked in 1990, but no longer work in 2019. This book was the first book that acknowledged that we are no longer culturally in the same place that we were in 1990 and that the tactics that worked in 1990 might not be as helpful as they used to be. My big takeaway from this book is that people need to be exposed to Christians in normal, everyday life in order to see that Christians aren’t the odd cultural phenomenon that the media makes them out to be. If you struggle with the culture being less receptive to Christianity than it used to be, I would highly recommend this book.
This book is written by Peyton Jones, a missionary to Wales who spent time planting a church in a Starbucks there. Peyton writes from the perspective of someone who has been to Western countries who have rejected Christianity at a far higher level than the United States and he plants churches and trains church planters to reach those same types of people here. I came to this book looking for strategies, I left with the conviction that God loves lost people and if we spend time with people who are far away from God and have the Gospel at the ready, we will see people come to Jesus.
This is a good book written by Alvin Reid, a professor of evangelism at a Southern Baptist university who wrote this book to help people who don’t see themselves as evangelists get better at sharing the good news. There is a lot of good, practical advice about sharing the Gospel as part of your everyday life. If you struggle with fear in evangelism or need a good, practical starting point, this is a good book for you.
I don’t remember who, but some semi-famous preacher who has led a lot of people to Christ said this was the book that has informed all of his evangelism. After reading this book, I can understand why this book would be a solid introduction to evangelism. It’s mostly about creating a system that enables evangelism and discipleship and that works extremely well in a college environment. The trick is making it work in a post-college environment.
This is an older book, but one that is full of stories of the author learning how to share Jesus with people. The premise of the book is that Christians need to get out in the world and bring the Gospel to where people are. There are a lot of encouraging stories that will benefit Christians trying to learn how to share Jesus with others.
I didn’t intend to learn much about evangelism from this book but I couldn’t ignore the forward by David Platt that commended the author as a model for evangelism. I think the core thought that was helpful in this book was an emphasis on teaching in aiding people to come to Christ. Especially if you identify as a teacher, this book may give you insights into how you can lead people to Jesus.
So, there you have it. The top ten books on evangelism that I’ve read this year. If you haven’t read a good book on evangelism this year, pick a book from this list and start reading.
You won’t regret it.
What It’s About:
This is an old book written in the six century by a political prisoner, Boethius, who formerly was a high ranking official in the Roman Empire. The book presents Boethius in jail being visited by Philosophy personified as a glorious woman that councils him about the meaning of life and the pursuit of virtue in his darkest hour.
What I Liked:
The book was a dialogue about the nature of life, the pursuit of virtue, and why it’s worth pursuing virtue even in the face of tremendous difficulty. In a way, this book reminded me of the book of Ecclesiastes or reading one of the well known stoic philosophers. In particular, there were a few chapters that focused on the futility of honor and titles that are conferred on you by higher authorities that is worth reading the entire book.
What I Didn’t Like:
This book was recommended to me by another believer on Twitter. I had asked my followers for their favorite Christian books that were written over 100 years ago. Having never heard of this book, I picked it up and gave it a read.
My problem with this book was that it was recommended as a Christian book when, after finishing it, I don’t believe it was. Philosophy talks to Boethisu about God regularly, but she refers to God as the highest or ultimate good. She never quotes or mentions Jesus or the Scriptures, but at length quotes Plato, Aristotle, and others.
All of this is fine if you planned on reading a book on philosophy and life. Again, there was at least one really helpful section that I felt contained a measure of earthly wisdom. But let’s not buy into the fact that just because an author uses the name “God” in a monotheistic way, that somehow baptizes the book and makes it Christian. In many ways this book follows in the footsteps of Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoic philosophers, which doesn’t make it bad, but also doesn’t make Boethius a follower of Christ.
Should You Get It:
You should pick this book up for two reasons:
- You love philosophical works from over 1500 years ago.
- If you struggle with pursuing honor from others. Again, there is a section in the first half of the book about that topic that makes the whole book worth the read for just that section.
Otherwise, I would not really recommend this book.
What It’s About: A.J. Dejonge tells the autobiographical story of their time as Campus Crusade for Christ (CCC) University missionaries when he and his team made a transition from a staff-led campus ministry to a student-led campus ministry. This allowed CCC staff to start and oversee multiple campus ministries at different colleges. Based on this experience, he argues that student-led (or lay-led) ministries can reach more people than any revival through the means of disciple multiplication. Dejonge contends that only catalytic ministry styles will allow CCC, other college ministries, and even the church itself achieve the multiplication disciples it is called to.
What I Liked: There was so much to like here!
First, Dejonge is clearly interested in starting movements where people need to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is something people who have fallen in love with Jesus should be pursuing and his passion to reach the lost is contagious. Everything that is found within the pages of this book is focused on getting more people involved in reaching those who haven’t come to love Jesus.
While the book tells the story of their campus ministry expansion, it’s organized around different proverbs that their ministry has discovered. These proverbs help tease out the wisdom of their approach of putting every day students in charge of the ministry of reaching the campus. A few of the proverbs include: “Lead only to train,” “Value transferability over personal genius,” and “The empowered masses will always outperform the professionalism of a few.” Many of these proverbs are designed to help navigate the tricky balance between being a too-heavily centralized ministry or a healthy decentralized movement.
I love how the principles found in this book don’t just apply to CCC. While everything he learned during his time is taught through the lens of a college ministry, many of the concepts of multiplication have been borrowed from experienced church multiplication experts and can be easily implemented in multiplying ministry in the church. Dejonge essentially said part of this process was designed to help his college students start churches if they graduate and move to towns where no churches exist. At the very end of the book he acknowledges he is now in the process of planting a church outside of CCC using the very principles he is writing about.
What I Didn’t Like: There’s really only one chapter of the book I didn’t like. Chapter 10 is called “Ownership and Control” and Dejonge wrestles with the question of who really owns the ministry in this chapter. By the end of the chapter, it’s clear that while Dejonge is clearly in favor of giving much of the ministry happening on each campus to the college students on each campus, at the end of the day it’s still the staff who are ultimately in charge. This seemed odd from a book called “Giving Up Control.” He talks about a nearby college ministry that wanted support, but ultimately did not want to become a CCC affiliate and then goes on to speak about the wisdom of franchises. I think here, he misses the point of humility, being teachable, and healthy response to mentors in favor a business model that is man-centered. He makes some understandable points about why CCC staff is still ultimately in control of each ministry and yet there is a sense in reading this chapter that the name and brand of the ministry may still occupy a little too high of place in the author’s mind.
Should You Get It: Probably! If you’ve never been in ministry or never thought about multiplying disciples and churches, I would likely point you to an easier entry point like “The Master Plan of Evangelism” by Robert Coleman, because it’s more accessible for every Christian. However, if you are in any kind of leadership capacity, if you have a heart for making disciples that make disciples, if you have apostolic leanings, or you’re part of a house church or church plant, I would seriously encourage you to pick up a copy of this book. It has a lot of practical wisdom about instilling skills and competencies in people so that you can entrust the work of the Gospel to them with minimal oversight and this is critical to raising up movements of the Gospel.
What It’s About: Written by Bill Johnson, the book sets out to convince the reader that their current perception about God is wrong. Johnson argues that God is not like the abusive step-father we believe Him to be and more like a good Father that Jesus portrays in the Gospel. Johnson invites us to believe in a God who is good and desires good things for His children.
What I Liked: I love Johnson’s approach to healing and the supernatural. He pushes us to not settle for hopelessness and the idea that God desires sickness and defeat. There is war in his spirit that comes out in this book that will be helpful to the body of Christ. I found myself encouraged to pursue God more, believe Him more, and contend in prayer for the things He wants to do.
What I Didn’t Like: Unfortunately, while I love Bill and some of the things he represents in the Kingdom, there are some things I didn’t like about this book at all.
The first thing I didn’t like is his spurious treatment of the Old Testament. He spends an inordinate amount of time talking about it, defending his love for it, and even showing the goodness of God in it in places, all while he simultaneously seems to diminish its importance. It should be said that I’m a big believer in the following statement from Paul: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness,” (2 Timothy 3:16). So, when Johnson makes arguments that the Gospels/Jesus reveal the true nature of God and juxtaposes that argument with a quote from C.S. Lewis that pits the doctrine of the goodness of God against the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Johnson dances dangerously close to setting up a set of books in the Bible that is more inspired than other parts of Scripture. I believe the fullest and most exact expression of God is Jesus (Hebrews 1:1-2), but I don’t believe we have to dismiss the rest of Scripture in order to get there.
Secondly, this book would have more aptly been titled “The Failure of Man: We’re God’s PR Problem.” I say this a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I had bought this book to wash my spirit in the goodness of God and hoped not only to get a theological treatment of the topic, but an experiential one that Johnson would be able to provide. Instead, the main thrust of Johnson’s argument is that God is not perceived as good because we have failed to represent Him (especially in the area of manifesting His power) the way He really is. In Johnson’s view, more people would think God is good if we got our act together and believed for the things God wants to do.
Do I believe God wants to do more through his people? Absolutely. Do I think sometimes we focus too much on unclear passages in Scripture and what they say about God’s character than we do about the clear example of God we see in Jesus? Yes. Can we believe God is better than we currently think and become a sign of God’s goodness to others? Undoubtedly. But is diminishing the importance of God’s inspired word and pointing to our failures a good way to help us see God’s goodness? I don’t think so.
Should You Get It: There are a lot of good books by Bill Johnson. I just finished “Raising Giant Killers” by Johnson earlier this year and LOVED it. There are some beneficial things in the book and if you can “eat the chicken and spit out the bones” of this book, you may grow from this book, however, for most, I find it generally hard to recommend.
What It’s About:
Rising Tides is Neil Cole’s most recent published book that looks at four “rising tides” or trends in the Earth that are changing society and are changing the narrative for how and why we “do” church. Those four trends are rapid population growth, extreme technological innovation, growing economic disparity, and increasing political polarization. After discussing these four trends he spends the rest of the book talking about changes the church as a people must make to remain relevant in a society that is increasingly different than the one the church was so successful in reaching a generation or two ago.
What I Liked:
I’m a fan of Cole’s thought process and writing. Cole was one of my early influences in my process of starting house churches. Many of the societal factors Cole describes in his book and their impact on the church are reasons why I have chosen to meet and help give birth to house churches, so I found myself nodding, agreeing, and being encouraged about how he connected daily new stories and trends in the earth to the need for a church to be simple, reproducible, and real. Towards the end of the book, the themes come together in a very prophetic way that will present a picture of how the church must change.
Of all the books of Cole’s that I have read, this book is the most “end-time-like.” While Cole dances around the idea of end-times a bit, it’s clear he sees some of these factors pointing to a definitive point in humanity’s future. While he doesn’t exactly say we are living in the last days, he makes a solid case that history is heading towards a climax of some kind and we need to make an adjustment to endure the days ahead.
In many ways this book was much like a tract for those who might not be convinced by biblical reasoning to start an organic church but may be convinced by the need and the shifting atmosphere to adjust how the church is oriented. I love books that are more like tracts and as a “convert” it was a fun read.
What I Didn’t Like:
For those of us who have read “Organic Church,” “Organic Leadership,” “Church 3.0,” and some of Neil’s other books, there’s not as many new ideas here. If you’re like me, you’ve enjoyed all these reads and came for something maybe a little fresher. There is some of that, but most of the fresh material relates to the trends affecting us currently. It’s not that these sections were bad, but they weren’t really a surprise. There was maybe a new idea every chapter or two, but much of what was found here was repackaged from some of Cole’s other works. This isn’t a problem if you’re new to Cole’s work, but for someone familiar it served mostly as a good refresher.
The other thing I struggled with was the book seemed to raise the four “rising tides” as shifts the church needed to address, but the solutions seemed to still be forming in Cole’s mind. It wasn’t that they were bad ideas–most of the problems presented by the rising tides Cole addressed with the answer of a more organic, reproducing church. Again, here I agree, but in some ways these ideas didn’t seem robust or well connected to the problems. The one Cole most thoroughly covered was how a multiplying church could keep up with population growth, but with the tides of technological innovation or economic disparity the connections to his solution were less clear. Cole himself admitted this book was written quickly in order to not become out of date and it may be that some of the ideas needed a little more time to develop.
Should You Get It:
If you’ve never read a book by Cole, I would strongly suggest it. Cole loves the church and he writes a love letter to the church begging her to recognize the times she’s living in. Once you’ve read this book, I would strongly suggest you pick up a copy of Church 3.0 or Organic Church to further explore the ideas he suggests within this book.
If you love Neil, have heard him speak a lot, or kept up with his other books, I would be a little more wary. Unless you have a need to read every book of his or haven’t thought much about how house churches keep up with an ever-changing society, this might be a redundant book.
One of the things I think we all love about zoos it the ability to see animals many of us would never be able to afford to see in the wild. Most of us would never seen a tiger, hippo, or a monkey in real life. Zoos bring the animals to us and allow us to capture the exotic nature of a wild safari without the danger or the cost.
One of the things I think we would all acknowledge about zoos, though, is that the animals we love to see in them are rarely as full of life as they are in wild. On a recent trip to a zoo with my family, we stopped to look at the lions. There were three of them laying on the ground, sunning themselves. My wife leaned over to me and whispered, “I don’t know how many times I’ve been to a zoo and every time they look exactly like this.” Animals that are fed, caged, and have their every need cared for rarely have the spark of life that we think of when we picture an animal in the wild.
My wife’s comment reminded me of a trip to Africa several years ago. In the midst of different wings of our ministry trip, we had a down day for rest and recuperation. Our contact asked what we wanted to do that day. I told him I wanted to see a giraffe or a hippo. He got a delighted look on his face and said, “We can go to the zoo!” I quickly shot back, “Paul, this is Africa. I don’t want to go to the zoo!” I wanted to see what the animals operating like God designed them.
Often, Christians live in cages, too. These are cages of their own making. They are regularly “fed.” They have all their needs met. In these cages, they are safe to do everything Christians do. People from the outside can even come in and look at what Christians are and what they do.
The question is, like the monkey or the lion that has lost his spark in the zoo, have you lost your spark? Have you settled for less than what God has intended for you? Maybe it’s time for Christians to venture out into the wild and learn what it means to feed themselves and function without the cage. You might be surprised what a Christian released into their natural habitat is capable of.