Book Review:Eats with Sinners

I’ve been in the Church for so long that deep friendships with people apart from Christ have been neglected.

I’ve filled my day with work, managing the lives of my children, administrative and planning for the local church, and running an international ministry.

Recently, I’ve been having a season of reading and re-reading a bunch of books relating to personal evangelism in a more relational style.

My recent evangelism books reading list

I’m particularly looking at intentional ways of building relationships of with people who are apart from Christ.

A recent contribution to Building Relationships

One recent good book in this area is Eats with Sinners: Reaching Hungry People Like Jesus Did by Arron Chambers.

This pastor from Colorado shares lots of his experiences in developing relationships with people who don’t know Christ.

Arron suggests that we set up regular times to meet with people who don’t know Christ, and to share a meal with them.

They are framed in the context of characteristics that Jesus used in His recipe to reach lost people. The list is

  • My review on Aaron Chambers Eats with Sinnersintegrity
  • accessibility
  • grace
  • faith
  • intimacy
  • tolerance
  • resolve
  • urgency
  • mercy
  • humility
  • investment
  •  joy
  • vision.

Meal times allow for that context for authentic relationships to happen.

Over those meal times, we develop a genuine relationship, and eventually get to the place share sharing needs and concerns between us.

We’ve moved from weather, to family, to deep personal concerns.

There, we find opportunities to share our stories of what Christ has done for us, and how our lives have been changed because of this.

Where Eats with Sinners will inspire challenge or push

As you read Eats with Sinners: Reaching Hungry People Like Jesus Did, I believe you will be challenged by the intentionally that we must have to spend quality time with people who don’t yet know Christ.

In my coaching ministry, I see churches that want instant results – like baptisms within a week of a huge weekend outreach.

In a conversation with my own pastor recently, I looked at my own life and this week and realize that I’ve not made enough space to be with people outside the church.

One church I coached last year got intentional.  In 6 months, 6 new people belonged to the Lord and 3 had already taken baptism.  It was the fruit of being intentionally present with people.

Taking the time to develop true relationships will lead to stronger disciplemaking and deeper faith committments in a local church.  It increases the “stickyness factor” and relational strength to the local church.

Chambers gives different creative ways of bringing Christ into your conversations and your daily life and using it to share the Word.

Get out there and enjoy some food

Since sharing meals is the theme of Eats with Sinners: Reaching Hungry People Like Jesus Did, recipes are peppered in sidebars and call out pages.  Some of them look really good.

At the end of each chapter are questions for digging deeper. Also, there are practical suggestions throughout the book for how we can put into practice — some practical ways that we can do more to reach the lost.

You could use Eats with Sinners: Reaching Hungry People Like Jesus Did as a personal devotional book, or use it in your small group that is focused on holding one another accountable to being with people.

Note:  The publisher provided me a review copy, with perfect liberty to say what I really think.  If you buy this book from Amazon through any of the links, Amazon will send me a thank you gift.

Sharing your faith with no results

Why do some people express great interest in the gospel of Jesus Christ, yet they never cross the line of faith and discipleship?

Perhaps you’ve spent time sharing your faith (maybe a few years) by

  • Developing authentic relationships with non-believers
  • Faith sharing conversations over dinner
  • Answering difficult questions

Yet, they never seem to get the faith you share with them.

Years of faith sharing with little results

Some of you probably have encountered this.

I know I have.

There are people in my life that no matter how much I share my faith, they remain apart from Christ.

As an evangelist, that’s hard.

I remember one person with whom I shared my faith with for four years.  Nothing.

Apostle Paul shared his faith with the same person for two years!

At the end of Acts 23, the apostle Paul was sent to Felix, the governor. Felix had Paul guarded in Herod’s palace (Acts 23: 35) until he had the chance to hear Paul himself (Acts 24).

After the hearing, Felix gave Paul some “freedom and permit his friends to take care of his needs” (24:23)

Felix had some level of spiritual curiosity, and some working knowledge about the followers of Jesus (Acts 24:22), even if it was only on a political level as the movement of Christianity spread.

Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. (v24)

Paul and Felix discussed Jesus and what it means to follow Jesus.

 25 As Paul talked about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, “That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.”

I can imagine that Felix even experienced the convicting work of the Holy Spirit in some of those conversations.  Even if there were some hidden motives for hearing Paul (like bribery – v. 26), Felix still got to hear of Jesus and the implications of being a disciple of Christ.

These faith sharing conversations went on for the next two years (v.27).

Even though Paul was a prisoner, it’s hard not to imagine that a friendship developed, or at least a level of mutual respect between these two men as Paul shared his faith.

We can speculate some of the relationship dynamics that changed over the course of the next two years.

Two years of faith sharing, no immediate fruit

I can imagine (and this is santicified imagination) Paul doing the following

  • Praying for Felix on a regular basis.
  • Asking God for how to talk with Felix.
  • Waiting for God to open the heart of Felix to respond.
  • Frustration when Felix cuts the conversation short when it gets personal.
  • Rejoicing when questions were answered to the satisfaction of Felix
  • Celebrating the apparent progress Felix was making on the journey to faith.

Yet Felix was appointed somewhere else and was no longer in Paul’s life.  The end of the road together had come.

Two years, Felix and Paul talked about Christianity, salvation, following Jesus, etc, yet Felix still walked away without having surrendered his life to Christ.  I would imagine author Luke would have reported on Felix’s conversion if it had happened.

Sharing faith without results?

Perhaps you are in a similar situation of sharing your faith with someone who seems to have spiritual curiosity, but just won’t surrender.

Like Felix, they keep cutting the faith conversation short when it gets personal.

They simply avoid the hard questions of surrender.

What can we do?

1.  Don’t give up.

Keep praying for your friend.

Keep spending time with them.

Enjoy life together.

Keep sharing your faith and answering their questions.  They are on a spiritual journey

They are your friend, not your evangelistic project, so keep the relationship authentic.

2.  Trust God’s sovereignty.

I’ve heard testimony from people who have come to faith 15 years after I shared with them.

Remember the friend I shared my faith with for nearly 4 years without success?

Fifteen years later, she tells me she became a Christian.  Those seeds I planted produced a harvest.

God can keep the story going, even if you are no longer in the picture.


Sphere of Influence 3: Where do you play

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Building New Relationships

(Note: Join us for some practical faith sharing ideas at our upcoming free Webinar with Bill Tenny-Brittian March 26.  Bill’s book Hitchhiker’s Guide To Evangelism is full of more practical relationship building ideas.)

Continuing in our series Building New Relationships, we turn today to the third Sphere of Influence: Where do you play?

Where to playWhere do you play?

Consider the natural relationships you may already have with

  • People you meet at your kid’s sporting events.
  • People you play a sport with.
  • People in your social club (e.g., knitting, reading, bridge, poker)
  • People you consistently see at the same stores you visit.
  • People in your volunteer organizations.

Not always easy

For example, I used to visit a local Dunkin Donuts nearly every weekday morning to have my quiet time.  (No worries, I usually only drank a cup of coffee).

Within a few weeks, I noticed the same group of people meeting and talking for several hours each morning (they arrived before I did, and most left after I did).  The group would ebb and flow as people would visit for a while, then leave to their morning obligations.  But several were there the entire time, nearly every day.

It wasn’t easy to break into this group, rather, they had to let me in.  This is where prayer helped prepare the way.

After a while, they initiated conversation with me, as another regular attender. This led to several new relationships, some of which continue to this day, and some of which have provided some business for us.

Since I have moved to a different city, these folks are not in the course of my life anymore.  I still see a few when I visit and have had the opportunity to talk about my faith and calling with several of them over time.

Parent Teacher Student Organization

A friend of mine serves as volunteer for the school’s PTSO.  This puts her in contact weekly with over 40 other parents, and regular contact with many more.

One purpose for volunteering with this group is to build relationships with other parents that can provide the natural opportunity to talk about faith.  Some of those relationships are getting deep enough to talk about personal things.

This weekend, several of them have registered to attend one of the church’s outreach events.  This event has nothing to do with the PTSO, but the relationships built during the year and prayed over have helped several women to say yes, I’m coming.

Let me ask you this:

Where do you like to spend your non-work social time?

Who among those friends are unchurched?

Who can you be praying for today.

Would you share additional ideas on where you find such relationships outside of your neighborhood and work?

Spheres of Influence 2: Where do you Work?

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Building New Relationships

(Note: Download the MP3 podcast of the  free Webinar with Bill Tenny-Brittian.  Bill’s book Hitchhiker’s Guide To Evangelism is full of more practical relationship building ideas.)

Continuing in our series Building New Relationships, we turn today to the second Sphere of Influence: Where do you work.

In Bill Tenny-Brittian’s Hitchhiker’s Guide To Evangelism he devotes a whole chapter to this one and gives lots of practical relationship building tips.  He writes:

The average North American will spend about 90,000 hours at work before they finally punch-out on the time clock of life.

During that extended time, you and your faith is on display for all to see.

You may be able to fool the church people an hour or two each week, but you can’t fake-out the folks who see you eight hours a day, five days a week, twenty-two days a month—they know you as you really are (scary, huh?). Your workplace is faith’s litmus test.

What can you do in this sphere of influence?

I once worked for 3 years in a corporate office building, one of 6 buildings on the headquarter campus.

About 3 times a week, I saw

  • The same person delivering inter-company mail pushing a cart by my desk.
  • Saw the woman who’s only job was to water the house plants on people’s desks.
  • The same security guard doing their rounds through the complex.
  • The same checkout clerk in the cafeteria.

Think about your

  • Clients
  • Vendors who visit you regularly
  • Immediate Co-workers (boss, people you supervise)
  • Other co-workers that you regularly interact with
  • Custodial staff
  • Mail delivery person.
  • Cafeteria Staff

Which of connections can you develop a little deeper today?  Who doesn’t go to church or have a faith?

Take a moment today to pray and ask the Lord to show you who he is underlining for you to intentionally develop a deeper relationship.

What about pastors?

I was in the pastorate for 11-12 years.  The biggest challenge to pastors is spending too much time in the office, surrounding by your church-going employees and visiting with congregation members who come to see you.

The unchurched do not hang out at church.

  • Clearly set office hours clearly when you are available to meet with members and keep those boundaries.
  • Do your praying, sermon writing and reading outside of the office.
  • Hold meetings in restaurants, bookstores, or cafe’s.
  • Do your writing at a bookstore or coffee shop.
  • Meet your parishioners in a coffee shop (if it’s not for pastoral counseling).
  • Become a regular at some particular places and pretty soon, people will start talking with you.

Starbucks and Barnes and Noble became my second office.  Didn’t take but a few weeks before strangers and staff started talking with me and becoming friends.

Sphere of Influence 1: Where do You Live

Picking up from the Last post (Spheres of Influence), here is one example of taking a look at where do you live as a sphere of influence:

This example comes from Bill Tenny-Brittian, Hitchhiker’s Guide To Evangelism

Hitchhikers Guide to Evangelism coverSeveral years ago we moved into a planned subdivision that hosts over 5,000 homes.

I was a church planter launching a church in a nearby town and so I was “too busy” to get to know my neighbors.

However, that didn’t stop me from encouraging my flock that they should be busy inviting their friends, relatives, acquaintances, neighbors, and coworkers. And I personally spent a good bit of time in the area near the church doing the same.

But after living in my neighborhood almost two years, the Lord convicted me that I had a nodding acquaintance with only one neighbor and didn’t know the names of any of my neighbors.

I also knew that in my section of the nation there was about a 97 percent chance that each of my neighbors were unchurched. I decided it was well past time to do something.

And so I started praying for opportunities to meet them and I began to make appearances at timely intervals in order to meet those who lived around me.

He goes on to discuss how he connected with one of his neighbors.

(Note: Join us for some practical faith sharing ideas at our upcoming free Webinar with Bill Tenny-Brittian March 26.  Bill’s book Hitchhiker’s Guide To Evangelism is full of more practical relationship building ideas.)

Getting to know my neighbors

From my own life, we began praying for all the families on our cul-de-sac during the 5 years we lived in one subdivision.
Above New Jersey

By the time we moved, we had made friendships with nearly every couple there

  • Opening our house for Bring your own side dish – grilling events.
  • Parties around the Superbowl, Christmas, Memorial and Labor Day.
  • Talking with the neighbors while doing exterior work around the property (mowing the yard, raking leaves, etc).

Eventually, those kinds of friendships opened up to more personal discussions on life and eventually spiritual matters.

At the end of 5 years, no one had come to faith directly as a result of our efforts.

However, within 2 years after we had moved, 3 of the households found faith and started attending church somewhere.

We attribute that to the hours of prayer, hours of relationship building, and hours of deep conversation that occurred while pausing our leaf raking. . .

Getting to know my new neighbors

coral-plazaNow we live in a condo tower.

30 condos.

We have lived here for over 18 months.

The turnover in rentals in the building keeps changing the make up of the residents.

Over the past 6 months, we have gotten to know the family we share a floor with.

We’ve been praying for them, for their needs, and doing life with them.  Going to the beach as families, celebrating birthdays, kids playing together.    Simply doing life together.

The friendship is deep now, and the struggles of life are beginning to be shared.  We have liberty to share what God is doing in our life, how we are aware of God’s presence in our midst, and how God is providing for our needs.

While we have not prayed with them for their needs, we certainly are praying for them.  With each passing week, more relational bonds are built between our families.

Our faith has been on display: praying for our kids during birthday celebrations, grace at meals, inviting our neighbors to church, our small group.  Their son occasionally comes with us, and even attended a vacation Bible school with our kids.

He talks with my son about who is the Lord and why are we living where we do.

The curiosity of our family practices begins to raise questions and provide opportunity to talk about the relevance of our faith to our daily life.

  • Why do we invest our time in church?
  • What does the Bible say about parenting?
  • What does “Honor thy father and mother” look like?
  • How to we still have peace in our heart when life hurts?
  • Why do your kids have such a servant’s heart that my kids don’t?

These are natural conversations that are occurring and give us ample opportunity to demonstrate the relevance of our faith to life.

Our neighbors are on a journey towards Christ.   We walk this path with them because we took the time to get to know them.

Coaching Corner

With whom do you live?

Not just your immediate family members, but consider your neighbors.

Who might the Lord be calling you to be praying for and get to know better?

Take 5 minutes today and in quiet prayer, simply ask the Lord to underline someone for you.

What next steps will you take?