Reviewed by Steve Norman | February 14, 2018
In This Invitational Life, Steve Carter attempts to demystify and reframe our understanding of personal evangelism. Carter, who is a teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church in Barrington, Illinois, acknowledges two polar approaches that most evangelicals default to when seeking to share our faith with friends and family. The first is a monologue of proclamation, in which the speaker announces the essentials of the gospel and compels people to make faith decisions. The second is a passive, indirect lifestyle evangelism that hopes others will be won over by example.
Carter offers a third path—a gentle and bold, intentional and conversational model for communicating the story of Christ with others.
Carter’s model includes four steps: live, show up, relate, and risk. In the “live” portion he suggests that the story of God’s invitation to others begins with understanding and celebrating God’s invitation to us. Many of us responded to a truncated version of the gospel, a “pray this prayer to get into heaven” sort. Carter summarizes the biblical narrative in five acts: creation, fall, struggle, redemption, and restoration. Viewing the Jesus story through this wider lens allows us to communicate a more beautiful and robust gospel message.
“Showing up” includes the daily ministry of presence. Carter charges us to “live a life that demands an explanation,” a life that piques the curiosity of others. Such a life requires us to know our faith journey and the ability to articulate it to others. He says, “Nothing preaches more powerfully than your own story.” Finally, he calls readers to be more aware of God’s presence, more open to the Spirit’s promptings, and more expectant of God’s breaking into mundane moments with grace and power.
To “relate” is to engage in others’ lives by listening to them and relating to their stories. Carter reminds us that someone related to us at a critical turning point in our faith journey. Who was that person for you? What did they say? How did they engage and include you? What might it look like to “pay it forward” and be that person for someone else? The key, he notes, is authentic curiosity; we learn more about another person by asking honest questions than by dictating pre-rehearsed answers.
His final section focuses on risk. It’s an invitation to leave our respective comfort zones and enter into the sphere of faith and trust. Carter uses the Good Samaritan narrative to encourage us to love even our enemies and pursue relationships with those beyond our existing tribe.
This book is a helpful resource for anyone with a passion for evangelism or a desire to invite others into spiritual conversations without being overbearing or insensitive. I recommend it for church plant launch teams, high school and college students, and small groups looking to start a conversation around missional living.