Book Study: Surprise the World! by Michael Frost

We have just finished a series on prayer; now, I would like to reflect on how our prayer life ‘spills out’ into our everyday lives. While prayer is always present in the Christian life, God is also calling us outward into the world to point people to the Kingdom of God.

This may sound like I am talking about evangelism. I am not, or at least not like we often imagine it. Michael Frost has written a splendid little book that is really helpful on this issue: Surprise the World. Frost is a missiologist from Australia and is one of the leading voices in helping churches understand their missional context. I am going to spend the next several reflections going through the main ideas in this book.

Being an Evangelist and/or Being Missional

The first issue he deals with is this question of evangelism and who is comfortable doing it. He knows that there are many evangelists who believe that everyone should be an evangelist. But he points out that “certainly the vast majority of Christians I know don’t feel much like evangelists.” He says that, contrary to popular myths, not everyone is called to this ministry, although some are. He goes on to say that if people ask about our faith, we should be prepared to answer. But most people are not comfortable intentionally striking up a faith conversation, and that is okay. That may not be your calling. And yet… to be missional is to point people to the Kingdom of God. How does that work?

Living Missionally

This is what he says: “Evangelistic mission works effectively when we are living generous, hospitable, Spirit-led, Christlike lives as missionaries to our own neighbourhoods – and when the gifted evangelists in our midst join us in sharing Christ with our neighbours.” For most us, the mission comes when we lead ‘surprising—and even questionable—lives.’ When I first read that, I did a double take because, for me, questionable means doing something that most people would disapprove of! Instead, he means that our lives should move others to ask why we live that way. The fact of the matter is that living a ‘fine, upstanding, middle-class lifestyle in the suburbs’ isn’t going to raise a lot of questions. It is just ‘normal.’

Surprise the World by Leading “Questionable Lives”

Frost considers the story of the rise of Christianity in the ancient Roman Empire. It is surprising that the faith should have grown at all because the Roman Emperors violently persecuted the early Christians. They expected that they could suppress the church so much that it would evaporate over time. Instead, they were shocked to find that it was growing by leaps and bounds. Many factors were responsible for this growth, but one of the key reasons was that Christians led ‘questionable lives.’

In the ancient pagan world, there was no concept of the dignity of every human being. The Emperors were quite content to have people starve and live in abject poverty. There was no charity as we understand it today. If the Emperor gave bread to the masses, it was to buy their support.

St. Francis caring for people with leprosy.

In this difficult environment, the Christians relentlessly out-loved the Empire. They fed the poor and invited them to their tables. They buried the dead whom others had left to rot. Christians took care of the sick when no one else would. When their neighbours saw that kind of love, they started to ask questions, converting by the thousands. The love of Jesus lived out was evangelistic because it pointed to the Kingdom of God.

Develop “Missional Habits”

Even though we inhabit a different time and place, Frost believes we can learn the same basic truth: we need to develop ‘Missional Habits’. These form the acronym B.E.L.L.S. (Bless others, Eat together, Listen to the Spirit, Learn Christ, understand yourselves as Sent by God into others’ lives), and they are a simple way to live out the Gospel in our everyday lives. In this way, we can live in a way that raises good ‘questions’ from those around us. We will look at each of these habits over the next five reflections.

Questions for Further Reflection

  • When you hear the words “evangelism” and “mission”, what comes to mind?
  • Have you known someone who leads a surprising, ‘questionable life’? How did they live that made you take notice?
  • How have you received and shown the love of Jesus?

(NOTE: These reflections are only meant to be a synopsis and study of Michael Frost’s work, Surprise the World! Our purpose is to encourage our readers with these great ideas. If you interested in going further, please go read the book. We encourage you to support your local independent bookstore.)

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