Review: The Reluctant Witness

reluctant witness

The Reluctant WitnessDon Everts. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019.

Summary: One reluctant witness shares personal narrative, helpful principles, and survey data that indicate that spiritual conversations may be delightful rather than dreadful.

Most Christians are reluctant to bear witness to their faith. The idea of this raises images of street preachers, intolerance, arguments, and offended friends. Most of us don’t want to be those kind of persons. We love people too much, and frankly want to be loved by them as well. Don Everts was like so many of us, except for a small problem. He was a campus minister, part of whose job was to witness to his faith, and help others learn to do this.

In this book, Everts shares his own journey of discovery that spiritual conversations can be delightful, not just for the believing person, but also for the other person in the conversation. He also shares Barna research that both offers support for his contention, and a bleak picture that indicates that if anything, there is far more reluctance on the part of Christians to engage in spiritual conversations, even with each other, than a couple decades ago.

First the bad news. We are having fewer spiritual conversations, our level of discomfort in having these conversations has risen, we mention Jesus and the Bible less, even though we know we should have these conversations. Furthermore, these practices find parallels in the general culture. The main reason for our silence is fear, particularly the fear of offense. We also feel far less prepared by our churches. In 1993, 77% felt their churches prepare them well to speak of their faith. Today it is only 57%.

Through various conversations–on a long bus ride, with a neighbor, and others, Everts discovered that these conversations could be delightful, and that some of those he conversed with became friends, and some even changed their beliefs. He describes five myths and how these conversations gave the lie to them for him:

  1. Spiritual conversations take place in special places, at special moments, by special people. The reality is that most belief-changing conversations took place with friends in everyday settings.
  2. Spiritual conversations are serious and sober events. The reality is that laughter and joy are actually a significant part of conversations for both parties.
  3. In a spiritual conversation I need to be able to give the right answer. Actually, what is more important is having the chance to ask one’s questions and responses that are humble and honest, which sometimes means, “I don’t know.”
  4. Most spiritual conversations involve conflict, which ruins everything.  Actually, this turns out not to be a significant factor in the data, and most people expect some disagreement and even think it is healthy.
  5. Spiritual conversations are burdensome duties that are, in the end, painful and regrettable.  Actually, 35 percent of Americans report making a change in their lives because of a spiritual conversation. Among Christians, 38 percent report that someone has come to faith after a spiritual conversation. And only 14 percent of those who would identify as non-Christians said “no” to the statement “I’m glad about my latest spiritual conversation.”

This doesn’t mean that negative conversations never occur. Rather, all this suggests they are far less frequent than imagined, and especially as we grow in our conversation skills. Everts goes into the factors that turn reluctant conversationalists like him into eager conversationalists. He discovered that the difference was that eager conversationalists look for spiritual conversations in everyday life, they pursue and initiate conversations, they are open to share their faith in a wide variety of ways that are sensitive to those with whom they speak, and they gently push through awkward moments.

One thing Everts doesn’t name, although I think it is assumed in his account, is that Christians are genuinely persuaded of the goodness of what they have believed. I can’t help believe that for some, they have at least in part believed a mythical cultural narrative of Christian faith as naive, narrow-minded and intolerant. Sometimes, this is the case despite the transforming work that has taken place in their lives. One of the delightful moments in the book was when Everts admitted in a class where a professor belittled the idea of a chaste lifestyle, both the problems he faced when he previously had embraced the morality his professor commended, and how trusting Christ in the area of his sexuality had made a huge positive difference in his dating relationships.

Beyond all the interesting statistics, the most winsome part of this book was Everts’ own modest example. His story, and the principles he offers are so helpful for those who have a sense that their faith is too good to keep to themselves and want to break through their reluctance. He helps us see that much of it comes down to having good conversations with people, where we welcome questions, listen with respect, and share what we’ve found with honesty and humility. If Everts is right, we might even find ourselves laughing together with our friends. That would be delightful, wouldn’t it?

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Breaking the Huddle

Breaking the Huddle

Breaking the HuddleDon Everts, Val Gordon, Doug Schaupp. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016.

Summary: Explores how Christian communities can move from being huddled groups to become witnessing, and even “conversion” communities where growth through people coming to faith becomes the norm.

One of the realities of many Christian communities, whether they are churches, or campus groups or groups in other places is that they are huddled. It is not that they don’t believe in sharing their faith with those who don’t believe, but that’s not happening very often, and even less often does someone actually come to faith. If these churches or groups grow, they usually grow from people who already believe and have joined them after leaving another group.

The writers of this book (a pastor and two collegiate ministers) believe that can change and write in the early chapters of this book of how groups can go from being huddled, to witnessing to becoming conversion communities where most of the growth is through people coming to faith. In the first three chapters, they explore the characteristics of each type of community and what communities have done to move from one type to another. They also note the reality of entropy, and how vision for evangelism quickly leaks and energy is lost.

Discipleship cycle

Discipleship Cycle

In Part Two, they outline two “macrostrategies” to help groups transition from huddled to witnessing communities. One is to nurture discipleship momentum through incorporating the discipleship cycle in which hearing the word is followed by making an active response, which is then debriefed. This third step is often neglected meaning that people have experiences but do not reflect on their significance and to what God might next be calling one. Only this kind of transforming discipleship can sustain witness.

They then turn to the need to mobilize relational witness. Here they draw on earlier work by Everts and Schaupp (I Once Was Lost) in integrating an understanding of the “five thresholds of post-modern conversion” into a community’s life. These steps recognize that in coming to faith, many people cross thresholds from trusting a Christian to becoming curious to opening up to change to actively seeking to entering the kingdom. In this book, they extend these ideas to how communities can respond appropriately to people at different points in their journey to faith.

5 thresholds

Five Thresholds

Part Three is perhaps the most significant part of this book as the authors talk about the dynamics of conversion communities, where people are regularly coming to faith. They explore the significance of lingering in “God moments,” lifting up their eyes, and laboring in the harvest. In these ways, God moments become God movements. The most significant insight for me was the idea of not being content with individual conversions but looking for whether God may be doing something more in which many others might also come to faith. These communities also align their vision, their structures, and their efforts to develop people around these God movements. The concluding part talks about how one leads the change and in fact incarnates the change.

This is a hopeful book, even for the many who might still feel they are in the huddle. The authors write at the beginning:

“Every athlete needs to take a knee for some time as she circles up with her teammates to figure out the next play. But then the team breaks the huddle and heads back out to the playing field. Breaking the huddle is an inherently hopeful, purposeful thing to do. May all our communities break the huddle and engage in the next play God has for us.”

The authors give not only a number of practical how-to’s but share their own journeys of discovery along the way. They lay out the work to be done, but also the hope for real change in our communities. Each chapter concludes with a prayer, and questions groups studying through this book can use together, making this ideal for church or ministry leadership teams.

Doug and Val are colleagues and friends in the collegiate ministry which is my day job. What I most appreciate about what they have done here (along with Don Everts!) is to integrate into a seamless whole different “pieces” of ministry strategy, weaving them together with a narrative of transforming communities from huddled to witnessing to conversion, and moving from isolated “God moments” to ongoing “God movements.” They tell a story rooted in God’s gracious intentions to draw people to himself, and recover for us the wonder of being communities instrumental in seeing significant numbers of those people experience new life in Christ.